Monday, December 31, 2012

BEST OF 2012 - #2 - JACK WHITE "BLUNDERBUSS"

It is probably no surprise that Jack White's debut solo album, Blunderbuss, placed so high on my Best of 2012 list.

Why did he finally do a solo record?  I think that this is his "divorce" album. I don't generally look too deeply into lives of artists, but this one was hard to miss:  Jack and Karen Elson sent out invitations to their 6 anniversary/divorce party.  So while it seems amicable, I'd imagine that every divorce has it's pain and that pain comes out in this album (which Elson provides backing vocals on, by the way).

Although he's the spotlight of every project he works on, I think he sees his bandmates as peers and friends.  I think that this time around, he'd rather just hire musicians, and not explain the songs.

Jack White being Jack White, his story is that he'd set up a session at Third Man Studios with The RZA; RZA didn't show up, and Jack started bashing out songs with the musicians that he hired.  But these songs don't sound like they were just cranked out on the spot.

The tour was really interesting:  he had an all-male band, and an all-female band, and each morning he'd announce who would get to play.  It's amazing that he still can manage to have some weird mystique to what he's doing, all these years after he started.  And that he'd go to such far lengths to bother to do so.  It was fun to hear him play White Stripes songs again (although a full band didn't seem to make up for Meg White missing), and cool to hear different takes on his Raconteurs and Dead Weather songs.

Anyway, the album is a classic: pretty much every song works.  A lot of them sound like they could maybe fit into his other bands.  "Hypocritical Kiss" and "Sixteen Saltines" remind me of The White Stripes for sure. I would love to hear Alison Mosshart singing "Freedom At 21."   "Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy" reminds me of The Raconteurs.  But they still have a fresh, different sound.  In the 2010's, I don't know any other artists who are this consistent, and this interesting.

BEST OF 2012 - #3 - MARK LANEGAN BAND "BLUES FUNERAL"

In March, I predicted that the Mark Lanegan Band's Blues Funeral would be one of my top 10 albums of 2012.  I was right.

It's interesting that Chris Cornell tried to combine his sound with electronic music by working with Timbaland on his Scream album, and it didn't really work.  But Lanegan worked with Alain Johannes on this album, and made a hybrid of Lanegan's dusty blues and electronic music that works really well.

Johannes (a former member of Eleven) has worked with Cornell before, it's too bad that they didn't go in this direction.

Lanegan isn't thought of as a "blues" artist per se, and he doesn't roll in Clapton circles.  But when I hear him sing, it just brings to mind scenes of dusty, lonely, scary places.  I hear the blues in his voice.  And this album makes the blues sound fresh, current and even futuristic.  I don't know many other records you could say that about.  If I were a film director (or musical director of a film), I'd be mining this album big time, and asking Lanegan and Johannes for more.

It's interesting that Lanegan chose to call this a "Mark Lanegan Band" album.  The "Band" is completed by drummer Jack Irons. A newly minted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (as a member of The Red Hot Chili Peppers) and a newly minted member of The Wallflowers, he didn't really get to promote the album with Lanegan.  But hopefully this particular group of musicians will work together again.

BEST OF 2012 - #4 - BOB DYLAN "TEMPEST"

One of the first big releases of 2012 was a 4 CD Bob Dylan tribute Chimes Of Freedom put out by Amnesty International.  It had legends (Elvis Costello, Joe Perry and Pete Townshend) younger acts (Band Of Skulls, Gaslight Anthem) and pop stars (Ke$ha, Miley Cyrus).  It was a great tribute and showed the man's far reaching influence.

But as if to remind us of his continued relevance and greatness, a few months later Bob released his latest album, Tempest. It's not a huge departure from what he's done lately:  he takes a lot of influence from pre-rock and roll Americana (a lot of the music that he used to play on his satellite radio show Theme Time Radio Hour), adding his distinct lyrical touch.

I don't love Tempest as much as his last album -- Together Through Life was my favorite album of 2009. Still, its another incredible addition to his untouchable cannon of songs.

I love the first single "Duquesne Whistle" (which, like all of Together Through Life, featured lyrics co-written with The Grateful Dead's lyricist Robert Hunter). The video kind of set the scene for the album, which turns out to be kind of violent.


My favorite song on the album is "Pay In Blood" ("... but not my own!").   There are other songs haunted by death.  The title track is about the Titanic, and even references James Cameron's famous movie.  And "Roll On John" is about John Lennon.  In the very Chess bluesy "Early Roman Kings" he says "I ain't afraid to make love to a bitch or a hag."

It's kind of shocking that this guy who is seventy-something, doing his thirty-something-est album, still has so much edginess to him.  But as he says in the aforementioned song, "I ain't dead yet/My bell still rings/I keep my fingers crossed/like the early Roman kings."  No doubt!

Other than the above video and one very contentious Rolling Stone cover story, he didn't promote the album too much, which is too bad.  On the other hand, it's fine and very Bob.  I guess the deal is, if you're a fan you have it already, and if you're not, it's probably not a good starting place for you.  But there's not a clunker here, the album is great from start to finish.

One other thing I have to mention: David Hildago of Los Lobos, who played on Together Through Life and Christmas In The Heart, joins Dylan again on this album.  He definitely adds a vibe to the album, and I hope Bob uses him again in the future.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

BEST OF 2012 - #5 - DR. JOHN - "LOCKED DOWN"

Dr. John's Locked Down is one of the few albums that I got around to writing about this year. That's because I was so excited about it, and I still am.  It's a great album.

Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys (a favorite of mine:  their album El Camino was my #4 album of 2011 even though it came out at the very end of the year, and Brothers was my #7 album of 2010) did a great job producing. I don't think this was a case of a hot artist just slapping his name on an album by a vet.  I feel like he had a vision for this album, and I would bet he was happy with the results.

The choice to keep Dr. John on electric keyboards (he doesn't play any grand piano) was an inspired one, it sort of prevented the album from being a waltz through traditional New Orleans roots.  It doesn't sound like a clapton-esque blues tribute at a fancy museum.  More like you turned around a corner you never turned down before, and ended up in a bar you never knew existed, but may have heard of.  It gave it the creepy vibe of the Doctor's early albums, where he created a very cool mix (or "gumbo") of New Orleans music with rock and roll.

On the other hand, the album ends with two really tender songs. "My Children, My Angels" is a song Dr. John wrote at Auerbach's insistence.  As the title insinuates, it's about his kids. And then "God's Sure Good."  I think that without those songs, the album could have been too much of a throwback of Dr. John trying to be his old "Night Tripper" character.  Too many songs like the last two would have made the album too grandfather-y.  So, putting the two sides together balanced each other out.

I'm not a huge Dr. John expert, but I think this is one of the best albums he's made.  Certainly the best from the past few decades.  He obviously brought his A-game to the collaboration, and here's hoping they work together again.

BEST OF 2012 - #6 - GARY CLARK JR. "BLAK AND BLU"

Only one artist made my best of lists in 2011 and 2012 and that's Gary Clark Jr., one of the most exciting new artists in music today.  Last year his Bright Lights EP was my #5 album of of the year, and this year Blak And Blu is my #6.

Yeah, Gary Clark Jr. is a great blues guitarist, and there are other great blues guitarists out there. Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Bonamassa, Jonny Lang.  But I think Gary will have a lot of appeal outside of blues circles, and outside of guitar player circles.  This year I saw him at Metallica's Orion Festival (Kirk Hammett introduced him from the stage) and at Jay-Z's Made In America Festival (Jay-Z and Beyonce watched him from the side of the stage).

So clearly, the man goes beyond the blues scene.  That's clear in the song "The Life" which could be a current R&B hit. "Ain't Messin' 'Round" could have been a hit in the '80s (it seems like an odd choice to lead off his major label full length debut) and then there's stuff that guitar fans can really sink their teeth into: full band versions of "Things Are Changin'" and "When My Train Pulls In" (acoustic versions were on The Bright Lights EP) and great songs like "Numb" (my favorite) and "Travis County."

People compare him to Hendrix (and he does in fact throw in a bit of "Third Stone From The Sun" on the album, but the way he reminds me of Hendrix isn't simply that he's a great guitar player that mixes blues with something psychedelic, it's the fact that he can go from genre to genre.  If Jimi started out today, I think he'd still be a killer guitar player, but he'd want to be able to do contemporary R&B; he'd want to be able to work in all different styles.  I think that that's what we're going to see from Gary Clark Jr. in the years to come, and that's why he's exciting.  And he'll always be rooted in the blues.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

BEST OF 2012 - #7 - NORAH JONES "LITTLE BROKEN HEARTS"

I think that Norah Jones' Little Broken Hearts is one of the most "slept-on" albums of 2012.

I loved her collaborations with Danger Mouse on the Rome project last year, and I thought it was cool that they decided to do a full Norah album together.

It's an interesting choice for her; when she started out, she was kind of the torch-bearer for more traditional music when she debuted with Come Away With Me in 2002, covering standards and Hank Williams and Bob Dylan. Of course there was her Grammy winning collaboration with Ray Charles on his final album, and she's worked with Willie Nelson a number of times.

On the other hand, she's collaborated with younger artists including Ryan Adams, Q-Tip, the Foo Fighters and Talib Kweli.

Anyway, you look at the album cover and you realize that this isn't really the same Norah.  Image-wise,  musically and lyrically, its an evolution.  To me, the standout track on the album is "Miriam." It's a deceptively gentle sounding song in which Norah sings to a woman who had a fling with her man. Check out the video.


Even if they play Norah's early songs in Pottery Barn... don't mess with her!

The first single, "Happy Pills," is funkier than most of what she'd done in the past.  When I listen to this album, it sounds like (a) someone who has been hurt and is writing about the sad and painful experience and (b) someone who has gotten a bit tired of her image, and maybe the way she is perceived.  I give Norah a lot of credit for this album, but more importantly, I think it's a really good album.

It's worth mentioning that she also did a great roots music album this year with The Little Willies, a band she is a member of. For The Good Times is great also, but Little Broken Hearts is what caught my attention this year.

BEST OF 2012 - #8 - BONNIE RAITT "SLIPSTREAM"

In her cover of Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down The Line" (one of the highlights of Slipstream), Bonnie Raitt sings "You've been as constant as the northern star," which could actually describe her work.  She's never let us down.

In the late '80s when she experienced her very incredible "comeback" starting with Nick Of Time, she actually got more popular than she ever had been before. I think she was great in the '70s, but with Nick Of Time, she really found her voice: she's a great blues interpreter, but she's not a blues pioneer.  What she is a pioneer in, is singing about what middle-age is like.  In many ways, that's a lot harder, so few people have been able to do it.

She doesn't always write her songs, but Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro and Glenn Close don't always write their lines either: they just make you believe them.  That's what Bonnie does so well.  Also, she can smoke nearly anyone on guitar. I remember watching a Rolling Stones DVD where Bonnie joined them on stage for "Shine A Light," but she was only singing, not playing guitar.  I thought that might have been because Keith and Ron didn't want to get blown off of their own stage.  I mean, can you imagine them having Clapton come on stage to sing a song but not play guitar?

Anyway, on Slipstream, Bonnie uses the more stripped down sound she's used since her Don Was trilogy of albums (all of which had a bit more of the "adult contemporary" sound of the late '80s/early '90s). And she picks some great songs.  "Right Down The Line" is amazing.  A '70s soft-rock classic, when you listen to Bonnie singing it, it gets heavier.  The video actually adds to it.  It shows couples that seem to have been together for a long time - and without making a big deal of it, some of those couples are same sex.  It's one of the lovliest videos you'll see.  Check it out:


But Bonnie's record isn't just about one song.  I also love the fact that she covered not one, but two songs from one of my favorite Dylan albums, 1997's Time Out Of Mind.  She does haunting versions of   "Million Miles" and "Standing In The Doorway."  There's also a song written by Loundon Wainwright (father of Rufus) called "You Can't Fail Me Now."  I never heard his version, but I can't believe it would cut like hers.

One of Bonnie's songwriting contributions to the album is "Down To You," which is pretty rocking and has a cool swagger to it.  And I guess that's how life is: there's heartbreak, but there's also long relationships that last (i.e. "Right Down The Line"). There's aging and there's sadness and there's still swagger. Bonnie seems to always be able to capture all of that.  Not in a rock-star mythologizing way -- or even a blue singer mythologizing way -- but in a way that real people actually experience.  That's why I think she resonates so much.  And of course, because of her gorgeous voice, her badass guitar playing and her impeccable song selection.  All of that is present on Slipstream.  This isn't a record that got too much attention in the mainstream, and that's a shame.  If I had my way, this would have been nominated for a ton of Grammys, not just the Americana one.

BEST OF 2012 - #9 - PATTERSON HOOD "HEAT LIGHTNING RUMBLES IN THE DISTANCE"

I'll just start this one out by saying that Patterson Hood is the most underrated songwriter out there right now, and also one of the best.

Of course, I'm a huge fan of his band The Drive-By Truckers.  Their album Go-Go Boots was my favorite album of 2010, and I named them one of my favorite artists of the '00s.

At first, I was not sure why Patterson didn't use these songs for a DBT record, especially since most of the Truckers are on the album (even singer/songwriter Mike Cooley contributes banjo).

There's so much heartbreak in the songs, and while I usually don't require real-world context to enjoy a record, sometimes I'm interested.  I generally don't follow the lives of the artists I love, just their music.  But I can't deny that, say, knowing a bit about Dylan's life makes Desire a bit heavier than it would be without that knowledge.  And I felt a genuine concern for Hood when listening to the record.  I hoped his marriage, and his life, was doing ok.  It's none of my business, but still.

So, I checked out the "bio" for the album on his website. He always writes pretty frankly on Facebook, I figured he'd provide some background.  And he did: the songs  on the album were written as part of a novel he was working on and hasn't finished, but was based on a terrible period in his life. Well, I was sorry he went through what he went through, but I'm glad it's not what he's going through now.

He starts out the album cinematically, as he often does with DBT.  In "12:01," the line "2:45, I know she's at home sleeping as I open number five," is devastating.  That's some Springsteen/Nebraska level scene setting.

But the song that really gets me is "Come Back Little Star," which features female vocals courtesy of Kelly Hogan. There's a stripped down acoustic version online without Hogan online, but for me, it doesn't cut as deep without the female vocal.  When he sings "Baby don't go: come back little star and take me with you in the night" with her, it just hurts.  I imagine the two voices singing to each other, wanting to make it work, reserved to the fact that it isn't going to work.  It kind of hurts listening to it.

I always think that his DBT songs are very personal, but this album is even more personal, so I guess that's another reason why it would be a solo record.  Still, I imagine the guys in the band might be bummed on one hand that some of these aren't on a DBT record (even if the guys from the band play on the album), and on the other hand, they're probably not going to play these songs live because they are not strictly DBT songs.  Still, they seem so heavy and so heartfelt, they seem like they deserve more than "side-project" status.

But anyway, I know that the Truckers will ride again in 2013, albeit in different form than the last time I saw them: bassist/singer Shonna Tucker and guitarist John Neff are no longer with the band. It kind of makes you wonder if that opens the door for guitarist/singer/songwriter Jason Isbell to rejoin, as there is not only a spot for a guitarist, but his ex-wife is no longer in the group (although I doubt it).  But however they move on, they're gonna move on, and any band with Hood and Cooley (and their great drummer Brad Morgan, and their great keyboardist Jay Gonzalez, both of whom play on Patterson's record) is a band I want to see.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

BEST OF 2012 - #10 - BIG BOI "VICIOUS LIES AND DANGEROUS RUMORS"

I'm definitely a big fan of Big Boi.  Ever since I started listening to OutKast (I was turned on to them when Stone Gossard played one of their songs on a Pearl Jam radio show).  He's a really interesting and underrated MC. But more than that, he has an interesting musical sensibility.  I think in OutKast, Andre 3000 got most of the credit for that. But if you listen to Big's two albums (Sir Luscious Leftfoot was one of my favorites of 2010).

His new one, Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors, came out late in the year and made me shuffle my year end list a bit.  I'm not mad, it's a great album.

There's some cool funky party jams, which I guess we'll always expect from him. I like "In The A" (which features T.I. and Ludacris) and also the new wave-y jam "Mama Told Me" with Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child. "Apple Of My Eye" is also a very strange, and very cool song. Then there's also a song called "Thom Pettie" that name drops "Free Fallin'."

But the ones that stand out to me are "She Hates Me" and "Tremendous Damage," which are both pretty revealing.  "She Hates Me" seems to be about his marriage.  When he says "Forgive me if I raise my voice, I won't raise my hand/But one thing I will do baby is raise my lil' man." What a line.

"Tremendous Damage" is about his father, a Vietnam vet, who passed away recently.  Not your average subject matter for a hip-hop song.  That's why I like Big Boi, and why (to me) he stand out above the pack of MCs.  Musically, he always looks for something a bit funkier and more creative, and lyrically he goes to different places.

Like everyone else, I hope that Andre 3000 wises up and agrees to an OutKast reunion.  But if that doesn't happen, Big Boi's second act is turning out to be a very strong one.

X AND THE REVEREND HORTON HEAT AT IRVING PLAZA

One of the best shows I've seen this year was X and The Reverend Horton Heat at Irving Plaza last week.  It was an inspired double bill. On one hand, it was totally off the radar; the tour didn't get too much attention in the press.  On the other hand, who gives a s***, people with good taste in music were there. Both bands were incredible.

The Reverend Horton Heat played first so let's start with them.  It's no secret that I'm a huge fan.  Their last album Laughin' And Cryin' was one of my favorites of 2009. I go and see them in concert any chance I get. They have never let me down, and they didn't this time either.

These days they do this funny thing where they start the show by doing one song from each album in chronological order.  I guess it's a good way to make sure they hit every record. They have no bad ones: my favorites are their first two or three and then their latest, but I like them all. Anyway, the Rev is such a killer guitar player, Jimbo is an amazing slap bass player. at one point, they switched instruments for "Johnny B. Goode," and it turns out that the Rev can play bass and Jimbo can wail on guitar.

The band are tight as hell, they're fun, they're funny, but they're not a joke.  I will go and see them each and every time I have the opportunity to do so.  It's interesting that the same night that they played, Dinosaur Jr. played at a different club in town, in a show that got a lot more hype.  I know that a lot of people respect that band, but I could never get into them.  The Reverend Horton Heat is just a lot more fun. And I think the Rev is a better guitar player than J. Mascis.  At the least, he's less self-indulgent.

I've wanted to see X in concert forever, and finally got my chance over the summer, when I saw them at Jay-Z's "Made In America" festival of all places. They pulled a small crowd, but it was a loyal crowd.  Everyone in front of that stage knew what was up: X is the real deal. After all these years, they're still the real deal. Not everyone will get it, and that's just the way it is.  They had the true punk rock ethic: they played to us as if their lives depended on it.

The show at Irving was a different vibe: it was mostly their crowd. They played like their lives depended on it even more than they had at Made In America. "Your Phone's Off The Hook, But You're Not," "Sex And Dying In High Society," "In This House That I Call Home," "We're Desperate," "Adult Books," "Los Angeles" "Nausea," "Johnny Hit And Run Paulene," and their cover of The Doors' "Soul Kitchen" sound as urgent as ever.  I would imagine that when these songs were new, they made 75% of commercially successful rock music sound silly.  Today, its a reminder of how important music should be.  Today, they're a reminder of how great music is supposed to be, how much it should mean.

Actually I was thinking that thought throughout the show, before Exene told us (as if we didn't know) "These aren't just songs, we're not 'entertainers!' Do you ever actually listen to the words? Pull out your cable, throw out your television, don't be 'sheep-le!'"

Another thought I had:  if this was the last rock concert I'd ever see, it would be a good one.  Most people don't know who X is. Most of the hipsters in town were at a show across town (Dinosaur Jr. was playing that night also). But sometimes "the unheard music" is also the best music.

(all photos by Maria Ives)







Monday, December 10, 2012

RNDM AT THE MUSIC HALL OF WILLIAMSBURG

RNDM's show was interesting on many levels. For one, I hadn’t really heard much of the band’s music. Generally I will listen to a group a lot the week I’m getting ready to see them perform. But the week of the show was the week after Sandy, and I had no power in my house, and hadn’t had the chance to upload their music to my iPod.

Actually, I think I only had one single; the album came out that week, but I was preoccupied and was living by flashlight;  going to iTunes wasn’t really on my mind. So it was the rare experience of going to see an artist whose music I was almost completely unfamiliar with.  Of course that happens at festivals or with opening acts, but I can't think of many times where I went to a show to see a band and really didn't know much of their music.

I should mention that I did buy their album at the show – I’ve listened to it often and I like it a lot. I thought RNDM was really great. They often wear masks in their press shots; I almost wish they kept them on, because people should hear them on their own terms. For better or worse, something that Jeff Ament is involved in will always be filed under “Pearl Jam side project.” There are benefits to that, to be sure, but I think this band can find its own audience, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a subset of the Ten Club (I think Brad has found a following like that as well).

 Anyway, the truth is, a band’s audience is often focused on the lead singer. And RNDM singer/guitarist Joseph Arthur has his own audience already. I’m familiar with his song “In The Sun,” and I am a big fan of his other band, Fistful Of Mercy. He’s a great singer and songwriter, I think he’s one or two hits away from playing places like Radio City Music Hall. I can’t say enough about drummer Richard Stuverud. He’s a wild man, and his joy at playing is infectious. He and Jeff have a tight bond: they’ve played together in Three Fish and Tres Mtns (who I hope we haven’t seen the last of) before RNDM. He’s a powerful drummer, the show kicks ass because of him. And Jeff? Well, it’s his band, but he seems to enjoy keeping it democratic. Everyone knows what’s on the back of his baseball card.  

Still, when you see RNDM on stage, in their photos and in their videos, you can see that he enjoys having a visual element that simply wouldn’t be welcome in his other band. He gets his Primus and Beastie Boys on, giving the band a strong visual identity; they even all have the same haircut (watch them sit under the scissors in the video for "Modern Times"). So, anyway, without knowing really much of the music at all (although they did one song that mashed up The Clash’s “The Magnificent Seven” with something else), I though it was great. I know that Pearl Jam are taking about a year off so Matt Cameron can return to Soundgarden (who I also will be writing about soon), I wonder if we’ll see any more RNDM in 2013. Not that Jeff asked what *I* would like to see him do. But I’d love to see a “magnificent four” tour – with Jeff, Richard, Joseph and Dug Pinnick, where they played RNDM and Tres Mtns songs. Hell, bring Joseph’s other bandmates – Ben Harper and Dhani Harrison of Fistful, along with their violinist Jessy Greene – and just call it “Magnificent Seven.” And this time, play the whole song!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I'M BACK!


I’ve been really M.I.A. from personal blogging.  As I’ve mentioned before, that’s partially because I now write about music every day at my job at CBS Local.  A lot of the shows that I go to, I review for CBS. Sometimes it’s a local site like CBS New York or CBS Philly. Other times, it goes to a number of radio station websites, including WCBS-FM in New York, WXRT in Chicago, WNCX in Cleveland and WZLX in Boston. My work has even appeared on hip-hop sites like Atlanta's V103, country sites like US99 in Chicago and top 40 sites like 923Now in New York.   

If you follow me on Twitter (and why don’t you?), I generally post links to my stories, which also include some of the interviews that I’ve done, news stories, and (occasionally) lists. 

I’m going to start posting links to them here more often, with my own personal take.  Kind of like the director’s take on a BluRay disc of a film.

I’m hoping to get back to doing more record reviews here, as that is something that I don’t do for CBS. Of course, I have to start thinking about my favorite albums of 2013!

And I’ll also do some concert reviews especially for here.  My interests will always extend way past what is appropriate for the wide world of CBS.

Sorry I’ve been gone for so long, but I’m back. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

GUEST POST: PASTOR CHRISTOPHER B. WOLF REVIEWS BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND

Christopher is a family friend and a fellow New Jersey resident. So when he told me that he was going to Bruce's show at MetLife Stadium, and it was going to be his first Bruce show, I asked him to write a review for No Expiration and he graciously agreed to do it. Also, he's a published author! And a Pastor.  So when he says "Bruce is a preacher and a very effective one," he knows what he's talking about.  Anyway, thanks for sharing this Chris.  By the way, how have you lived in NJ for so long and never saw Springsteen before last week?

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Worth the wait.

 I finally saw my first live Bruce Springsteen concert last week - and it was the first one at MetLife Stadium for Bruce and the E Street Band. I've always heard about the energy, the duration, catalog breadth, and the atmosphere of a Bruce concert. It was all there Wednesday night.

 As a concert, it truly is an amazing event. Nearly four hours of almost continuous music. Even the encore breaks don't last for more than three minutes. The music itself is something to behold. The arrangements, the brass section, the back-up singers (who frequently sounded like a church choir), Bruce's singing and his interaction with the crowd. Bruce's early guitar solo was impressive as well as later in the concert when Bruce and "The Professor" Roy Bittan on the piano collaborated on an extended guitar and piano duet - just a beautiful serenade.

 In particular, crowd singing and participation seemed to peak with “Waitin' on a Sunny Day,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Born to Run” and “Rosalita.” The audience responded affectionately nearly every time the Big Man's nephew Jake Clemons had a solo; as well as during the tribute to the Big Man himself during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out."

Thematically, Bruce spoke often about ghosts throughout the concert. Prior to “Spirit in the Night,” and other songs; as if to honor Clemons but also to acknowledge that the ones we love are always near. Continuing with the spiritual, Bruce spoke of the E Street Band "consecrating" the proceedings, as well as prior to “Spirit,” leading a near musical revival along with his back-up singers.

 In particular, spiritual or not, Bruce's music continues to move the faithful. I couldn't help but weep when he sang "The Rising" knowing that within view of the stadium outside the new One World Trade Center rises and sparkles in the night. To live in North Jersey, one can't help but think of September 11th when we hear the lyrics, "Sky of love, sky of tears...Sky of glory and sadness...Sky of mercy, sky of fear."

Whether he would admit it or not, Bruce is a preacher; and a very effective one. You see, too often today, it's very easy to preach all good news. But real, true preaching includes, as Bruce said Wednesday night, "The good news and the bad news and all the rest of it." Because, in Gospel terms, it's bad news before it's good news...we're lost before we're found, we're hurting before we're healed. And this is perhaps the essential quality of Bruce's work and catalog, it's not trivial pop music, it's angrier and louder than folk, and it's deeper than rock; yet it somehow mixes elements of all these. Because for nearly 40 years Bruce has been articulating and speaking for you and me. The pain, the struggle, the loss, the lament - the truth about life in America; “Death of My Hometown,” “My City Of Ruins” and more. This is why stadium-sized audiences keep coming out to hear him.

 But fortunately and appropriately, he doesn't leave it there in lament and tears. The last 40 minutes of the show were just pure party and celebration. Perhaps that it is no coincidence that the last four songs could rightly be considered New Jersey anthems – “Thunder Road,” “Born to Run,” “Dancing in the Dark” and “Rosalita.” And for me, who admittedly favors earlier titles, the highpoint, what made it worth the wait of thirty some years to hear Bruce live - was to sing “Born to Run” with Bruce and 50 thousand of my fellow "tramps." Bruce and E Street Band have been all over the world. But being at a stadium in the Meadowlands, listening to a Jersey guy so poignantly sing about us and for us on many levels makes it not just a rock concert, but part community, part sacred.

Christopher B. Wolf is a pastor and author living Saddle Brook, NJ.

ROBERT PLANT AND THE SENSATIONAL SHAPE SHIFTERS

In the past couple of years, Robert Plant has left a few great bands in his wake, one of whom was Led Zeppelin.

After the incredibly successful one-off Led Zeppelin reunion concert from 2007, he left huge, multi-millon dollar deals for a larger scale reunion on the table to go off and tour with Alison Krauss.

Of course, that ended up working out for him: the Raising Sand album won six Grammys, sold a ton, and redefined him as a more mature (but not "adult contemporary") artist. Of course, there had to be a lot of pressure for them to follow up that classic album, but Robert bailed on that one too, to form the Band Of Joy with Buddy Miller from the Raising Sand touring band, and Patty Griffin, whom Buddy was producing at the time.

That was a really cool album, but again, Robert has moved on to form a new band, The Sensational Shape Shifters.  I don't know when the new album is coming out, but Plant made a very interesting move: on July 12, he and his band did a gig in London, and released it as a downloadable live album the next day.

This sounds like his most wild band yet.  I loved the band will Alison Krauss, but it was pretty musically conservative, as many T-Bone Burnett productions are (and I love Burnett's productions). I loved Band Of Joy as well, but it was like a harder edged version of the Krauss band. But bringing back guitarist Justin Adams, who worked with him on the Mighty Rearranger album, brings back the non-anglo/world music vibe that he hasn't had for a while. There are some really great versions of Zeppelin songs on this live album.   I'm definitely looking forward to the new studio album, which will be made up of mostly originals.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

STEVE EARLE AT TARRYTOWN (SLIGHT RETURN)

About a year after I'd last seen Steve Earle & The Dukes and Duchesses at the Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown, New York, we returned to see them again.  I wrote a review of the show for CBS New York, but I felt I had to write a more personal take on the show.

The more I listen to Steve, the more I really think he's in a league with Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, he's really one of the best American songwriters from the post-Dylan era. So, on one hand, it's thrilling to see him in such a small theater, and on the other, it's a bit outrageous... why isn't he more popular?  Couldn't country radio have given him some room between Clint and Garth? Couldn't classic rock have played him instead of Foreigner or REO Speedwagon?

But context aside, it was a great show. Steve always brings it, and his band the Dukes & Duchesses are great.  The only problem was, singer/multi-instrumentalist Allison Moorer wasn't there.  As Steve explained, their son John Henry took his first steps on a tour bus, and they realized that they didn't want him growing up on the road. She's an important part of the band, which felt a bit thinner without her. Steve seems to have more fun when she's there.

As I mention in my CBS NY review, the venue is perfect for Steve, and his songs -- "Hardcore Troubadour," "Someday," "Copperhead Road," "The Revolution Starts Now," "Little Emperor" and "Waiting For The Sky" -- hold up to the songs that he covers: Dylan's "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry," Springsteen's "State Trooper" and Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land." As with Springsteen and Petty, I'll go to see him every time he comes to town.  Luckily for me, the next show will be next month: he's about to wrap up this tour and then hit the road on a solo acoustic tour. Hopefully they get a babysitter when he plays Bergen PAC though, so Allison can come out! But even if she doesn't, it'll be a great show.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

JANE'S ADDICTION: NOT AS SHOCKING, STILL AS GREAT

photo credit: Maria Ives
A week ago, I went to see Jane's Addiction play at the State Theater in New Brunswick, New Jersey. My head is still vibrating from the experience.  They were amazing.

I did a review of the concert for CBS New York as a preview of their concert last Friday night in Brooklyn.  But I had to be professional when writing for CBS.

It's hard to explain how radical they were back then. The combination of sexuality and intelligence, power and sweetness, loud and quiet, classic rock and punk rock and heavy metal, it was just different, scary and thrilling.  Plus you knew that all of the guys in the band were probably living dangerous lifestyles, it really added to the danger.

These days, the guys probably live a bit more sensibly.  Perry was drawing from a flask and from a wine bottle throughout the night, but you never felt the show would go off the rails: Jane's meant business.  They seemed determined to bring the same power and vibes that they did back in they day.  They were, in fact, really powerful.  Perry Farrell hasn't lost any of his shaman-like frontman super-powers. Dave Navarro's guitar playing still rips your face off.  I know people criticize him for his celebrity status outside of music... but really, when he hits the stage, it's all about his playing.  He is still amazing. Stephen Perkins brings a weird tribal thing to heavy rock drums, it's perfect for this band. Chris Chaney has a difficult job filling in for Eric Avery, but he holds it down, without standing out too much. I saw them with Avery in the band a few years ago, and that was unbelievable.  But this show held up to the original lineup.  That's saying a lot.

photo credit: Maria Ives 
At first, I wasn't too sure about their recent album, last year's The Great Escape Artist.  It may not be as classic as Jane's Addiction, Nothing's Shocking or Ritual de lo Habitual, but some of the songs really held up live:  "Underground" and "Splash A Little Water On It." A song from their last album Strays (which also featured Chaney), "Just Because" was one of the highlights of the show.

No, they aren't as dangerous as they were then. But other than The Stooges, who is?  Perry is a dad and a businessman, and Dave has responsibilities.  And anyway, they don't need to be as dangerous as they used to be, they just need to be as great.  At the State Theater, they were. I can't wait to see the next tour.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

DR. JOHN - "LOCKED DOWN"

I was really curious to hear the new Dr. John album, Locked Down. Produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, I knew it would get more attention than his usual albums.

Sometimes having the young gun produce a legend just doesn't work:  for instance, Ryan Adams produced Willie Nelson's 2006 Songbird.  It's OK, it's not great. You don't get the impression that there was a lot of chemistry.

On the other hand there's (and I hate to make this comparison) Jack White producing Loretta Lynn's 2004 Van Lear Rose. Auerbach came closer to the latter.  Locked Down is a really great Dr. John album.

Just by looking at the cover, you can see where Auerbach was going:  it's Dr. John, the same "Night Tripper" as we saw on his 1968 debut, Gris-Gris, 40+ years on.  That could be dangerous; who really wants to "go back" and emulate their younger self like that?

But it works.  Dr. John only plays electric keyboards (no piano), Auerbach leads a really tight garage-rock-y sounding band, and it sounds like there's no air conditioning in the room and the windows are starting to fog up.  The album is funky, it's dirty, it's creepy, it's fun and it swings.  This is one of my favorites of the year so far, and I totally recommend it (if you like Dr. John or even if you just like the Black Keys).

MEMBERSHIP HAS ITS PRIVILEGES: U2'S "U22"

I'm not just a fan of U2, I'm a member of the fan club. I was a member back in the day when the fan club was called "Propaganda." My membership has occasionally lapsed over the years, but I always re-sign up when they have something cool, like this: U22. It's a 22 track live collection, taken from U2's 360 tour (which blew my mind).

The tour focused on their latest album, No Line On The Horizon, but by the end it was really leaning on Achtung Baby. I could never understand why they didn't put out a live album after Achtung Baby, it was such a great studio album that really translated live.

So I was glad that this collection has some of the best songs from that album: "Even Better Than The Real Thing" (excellent live), "The Fly" (one of my favorites, it's amazing live) and "Ultra Violet (Light My Way)," which was a highlight of the concert.

On the other hand, Bono mangled one of my favorite songs, "Until The End Of The World," by vamping on Frank Sinatra in the middle of the song, and singing a bit of it like Sinatra. Personally, I don't care about Sinatra (I know, sacrilege, sorry, but I don't).  It just took a really intense song (and one that hasn't had a great live version on CD)  and made it sound corny.

But on the other hand, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (which has had a few different live versions) got yet another new one: South African trumpet legend Hugh Madekela (a solo artist in his own right, he also played on The Byrds' "So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star?") joined them on the song, adding a completely different dimension to it.

What are some other highlights? "Magnificent" (similar to the version they did on The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert), "Stay (Faraway, So Close)," "One Tree Hill," "Beautiful Day," "All I Want Is You," "The Unforgettable Fire," "Zooropa," "Walk On," and their latest classic song "Moment Of Surrender." "Out Of Control" was a great touch also.

Is it worth the $50 annual subscription price?  Well, I'm not going to try to sell you on it, but I'll just say that the live collection is awesome.  If you're enough of a U2 fan to want to spend the cash, go here to join the fan club.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

IN PRAISE OF THE B-52's

Last night I should have been at Bergen PAC in Englewood, New Jersey at the B-52's concert. They're a great band who I've never seen before. Maybe next time.

So, instead of writing a review of the show, I'm going to write about their 1979 self-titled debut album, which is a classic.

To me, this album is about determination.  It doesn't sound like they put a lot of money into it, or that they had a lot of money to put into it. You don't get the impression that Ricky Wilson was playing Fender guitars and Marshall amps.  Many of the instruments sound like toys (oftentimes, they are) and the rest of the time, they're using instruments that sound kind of cheap. But that didn't matter: guitarist Ricky Wilson, drummer Keith Strickland and the rest of the band wrote great songs.  And really, they wouldn't have sounded right on huge, badass guitars.  For all it's limitations, I don't think there would be anything you could do to improve this album.  You wouldn't say it's "punk rock," exactly, but it is punk rock in it's determination to be different and have an identity that clearly didn't fit in with the mainstream.  There's a version of the Foo Fighters playing "Planet Claire" live with Fred Schneider on vocals, you really hear the punk rock in that version!

Of course, the key was the vocals of Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. They were fun and kitschy, but at least on this album, I felt like there was kind of a sense of danger (which I never heard in B-52's songs after this album). The music was '50s or '60s-ish with a big surf music thing going on. Everyone knows "Rock Lobster." I never get tired of it.  But there are so many other great songs: "Planet Claire," "52 Girls," "Dance This Mess Around." Even their cover of Petula Clark's "Downtown" was cool. You could have techno DJs or a contemporary pop group or a garage rock band cover this entire album, and it would translate to any of those mediums.  How many albums can you say that about?

I don't have many other B-52's albums.  Years after this one, Ricky Wilson died from AIDS related illnesses.  Miraculously, Keith Strickland got out from behind the drums, became the guitarist and started writing music.  Of course that led to their most successful album, 1989's Cosmic Thing, which is a classic. It's their second best album for sure.  But for me, nothing touches the first one.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

WE WALK THE LINE: JOHNNY CASH TRIBUTE

This week, Sony Legacy released We Walk The Line: A Celebration Of The Music Of Johnny Cash. It's a live album of a concert recorded earlier this year in Austin, Texas.  An impressive group of singers joined an amazing house band to pay tribute to the songs that Johnny sang.  He didn't always write the songs he sang, but when the man took a tune on, it belonged to him.

My favorite performance on the album is Lucinda Williams doing Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails classic "Hurt," which Johnny covered on American IV: The Man Comes Around. But there are a lot of great performances here.  Jamey Johnson is kind of the perfect guy to sing Johnny songs: he does "Sunday Morning Coming Down" with Kris Kristofferson, which is great.   Buddy Miller's "Hey Porter" is great, as is the Carolina Chocolate Drops' "Jackson," Shooter Jennings' "Cocaine Blues" and Willie Nelson's "I Still Miss Someone."

The most moving part of the night might have been the cover of The Highwaymen's "Highwayman."  The Highwaymen were, of course, Cash, Willie, Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings.  So, this version featured Willie and Kristofferson, along with Jamey Johnson singing Johnny's part, and Shooter singing his dad's part.  I got chills listening.  Also, the arrangement is way cooler than the original from the album.

I have to give it up to the house band: Buddy Miller on guitar, Blue Note Records president Don Was on bass, Greg Leisz on slide guitar, Kenny Aronoff on drums and Ian McLagan on keyboards.  Mr. McLagan actually told me all about the show in a recent interview. He told me there'd probably be some kind of tour supporting it, with the house band and different singers in each city.  I hope that that's still on.  Hell, I don't care if they get any famous singers: just put Buddy Miller on the mic, that's good enough for me!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES AT WEBSTER HALL 8/7/12

photo by Maria Ives 
I can't believe it's been four years since I last saw the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.  That's way too long.  On a good night, they are one of the best live bands in the world, and last night was a very good night.

I wasn't really sure how packed Webster Hall would be: it wasn't that crowded last week for Helmet, and they're a New York band. But when we got to the venue, it was packed.  We missed the first band, but the second band, The Have Nots, were great.  I downloaded their song "The Years," and I'm probably going to check out some more of their music.

photo by Maria Ives 
But everyone was there to see the Bosstones, and the Bosstones didn't disappoint. Dickey Barrett, while not a "singer" as such, is a stone-cold entertainer, and a great frontman.  He doesn't just perform, he looks out for the crowd in a way that probably isn't too removed from the ethics of the hardcore punk rock scene that he came from.

Ben Carr - the "Bosstone" - he dances on stage and occasionally sings backing vocals - also keeps an eye out for the audience.  This is only worth mentioning because being at a Bosstones show is a frantic experience. There's a lot of energy in the room, with lots of slamdancing and (especially) crowd surfing. I have to give it up to the bouncers there, as well as the Bosstones' road manager, who showed a lot of patience with some overzealous and over-entitled crowd surfers.

photo by Maria Ives
But back to the music. The entire band is tight as hell, but I have to mention the horn section who are amazing.  Sax player Johnny Vegas has been with the band since the beginning, and sax player Kevin Lenear was with the band early on, quit in the 2000's, and rejoined a few years ago. One of their newer members is trombone player/singer Chris Rhodes (formerly of The Toasters), who is an amazing addition. These guys are, as Dickey says, "the best horn section in the world."

I kind of expected the band to stick to their 1989-2000 era, but, in fact, they played a lot of more recent material.  On paper, I would have thought it would have been a bad idea to do that. But the recent songs - "The Daylights" and "The Magic Of Youth" from last year's The Magic Of Youth, "Graffiti Worth Reading," "Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah" and "A Pretty Sad Excuse" from 2009's Pin Points And Gin Joints and two of my favorites, "Don't Worry Desmond Dekker" from 2007's Medium Rare and "Everybody's Better" from 2002's A Jackknife To A Swan.

Of course, the old songs made the crowd go ballistic: "Someday I Suppose," "Rascal King," "1-2-8," "Dr. D," "Devil's Night Out," "Hope I Never Lose My Wallet" were all incredible and the entire audience, men, women, white folks, black folks, knew every word. But the biggest moment of the show was when former guitarist Nate Albert (now a VP at Universal Music, I've heard) joined them for "Kinder Words."

Other than one near scuffle that I saw -- and one nasty head injury suffered by a guy crowd surfing (he turned out to be a Marine) -- no one seemed to get hurt and everyone had a blast.  I know that the Bosstones aren't a full time thing anymore, but it's just as well.  It gives a sense of occasion to every time they play.  I just hope it's an occasion I won't have to wait four more years for.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

SLAYER, MOTORHEAD, ANTHRAX ROCK MAYHEM

Yesterday, I went to Rockstar Energy Drink's Mayhem Festival at the Toyota Pavilion in Scranton (!), PA. It was my first time going to see this particular tour. Mayhem has been going on for five years and I've never really felt the need to check it out, but this year's lineup was too good to pass up: Slayer, Motorhead and Anthrax. It was headlined by Slipknot.

Slayer played right before Slipknot, and it reminded me a little of the first time I saw Slayer, especially since they have not changed much at all in the decades between then and now. The first time I saw them was in 1987 at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey.  They were on a multi-band bill headlined by W.A.S.P.  Now, W.A.S.P. was cool and had all this theatrical stuff going on, but they couldn't compete with Slayer's intensity. In fact, a lot of people left before W.A.S.P., and many more who stayed just threw stuff at the band.

It's not an exact metaphor: Slipknot was the clear headliner last night, respected and loved by pretty much the entire crowd. But, like W.A.S.P., they had a lot of visual stuff going on, other than the obvious (their costumes and masks). Clown's percussion riser was going up and down, other members were jumping on it, there was lots of pyro, it was a real spectacle.  They look awesome and sound great.  But in my mind, it's really tough to follow up Slayer.  Last time I saw Slayer was with Metallica at the "Summer Sanitarium" tour -- Metallica are good enough to pull it off. I also saw them on the Ozzfest. The Deftones went on after them, and with all due respect, I felt they were out of their league.


I only stayed for the first few songs of Slipknot - Scranton is far away, and due to traffic it took us more than four hours to get there. But from what I saw, they were tight.  There aren't that many songs that stand out to me, but I was impressed.

Slayer knock me out every time.  Their intensity and focus is just amazing. Even with a fill-in guitarist -- Gary Holt from Exodus subbing for Jeff Hanneman while he recovers from a spider bite that almost killed him -- they are just unreal.  Holt and Kerry King are a tight guitar team, Dave Lombardo sets the gold standard for metal drummers and Tom Araya still bellows with the same fury he did two decades ago.  Before Slayer took the stage, an AC/DC mix played over the P.A. which I thought was fitting.  They sound nothing alike, but like AC/DC, Slayer ignore and outlast all trends, never compromise, and never let their fans down.  If I had one request for Slayer, it would be to do their cover of Black Sabbath's "Hand Of Doom." Other than that, there's no way to improve on what they do. And anyway, how can I complain when they did “Disciple,” “War Ensemble,” “Mandatory Suicide,” “Seasons In The Abyss,” “Dead Skin Mask,” “Angel Of Death” and for their encore, “South Of Heaven” and “Raining Blood.”

In my mind, Motorhead were the headliners.  Of course, when they tour on their own, they don't play venues nearly as big as the Toyota Pavilion, but that's a shame. Like the aforementioned almighty AC/DC, they are oblivious to the trends that they will outlive, and they have a formula that works for them. Like The Velvet Underground, they've influenced so many bands, a very disproportionate amount compared to their record sales.  But Lemmy accepts it.  He's like a metal Willie Nelson, always on the road. Sometimes playing big places, sometimes small holes in the wall, if people are going to pay to show up, he'll blow their minds.  I thought their set was a bit too short, I still heard a lot of classics including "Bomber," "Damage Case," "The Chase Is Better Than The Catch," "The One To Sing The Blues," "Killed By Death" and "Ace Of Spades."I would have dug "Orgasmatron," but as Lemmy himself noted, they had no say in their set time. Honestly, I was just glad to see them playing for such a huge crowd.  They could probably have filled the joint with metal and punk bands who wouldn't exist without them.

Anthrax is probably the band on the bill who I have spent the most time listening to. In high school, they were one of my metal favorites, and I listened to them more than Slayer or Motorhead. I haven't seen them in years: since they reunited with former singer Joey Belladonna.  I was skeptical about them allowing Joey back in the band, but as I wrote last year, their reunion album Worship Music is really good, and Joey sounds great, and also contemporary.  He still is an excellent singer, but isn't sounding like he wishes he was in Journey or Kansas. I used to feel like he didn't fit in, I don't feel that way anymore. Whatever crap has gone down between the members, I think they're over it.  I think they appreciate that they get to play metal year after year all over the world, even if it isn't quite on Slayer's level.  Instead of playing on the main stage, Anthrax headlined the second stage, which was a smart choice.  They might have played to some empty seats on the main stage, but on the second stage, mosh pits erupted everywhere the minute they hit the stage to "Caught In A Mosh." It was a great set, but just too short.  They left out "Bring The Noise," which is one of my favorite things they've ever done, but it was probably smart: I don't know that that crowd would have been into hearing a hip-hop classic. I also would have loved to hear something from the John Bush era, like "Only" or "Room For One More," but they didn't have enough time.  I was glad to hear "Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't." That song always feels like Scott Ian's credo: I don't think he's a very technical guitarist, but he makes some of my favorite noises from a guitar. He's like a metal Johnny Ramone. I'm glad they're still fighting.  It was a bummer that his co-founder/co-leader/drummer Charlie Benante wasn't there: he's recovering from a minor hand injury, apparently.  Jason Bittner from Shadows Fall did a great job in his place.

I didn't see any other bands (I caught a bit of Asking Alexandria, which was OK), but I do have to mention one amazing aspect of the festival that doesn't get much press, which is a shame: their "Metal Of Honor" initiative to support our veterans. "Metal Of Honor" goes beyond lip service. (Note: I covered the event for CBS Philly, and the next paragraph is pretty much the same thing I wrote there. All the previous stuff here is a totally different take than what I wrote for CBS).  Besides encouraging fans to text $5 donations to support the troops, a "Metal Of Honor" tent featured a Chamber of Commerce "Hiring Our Heroes" representative to provide attending veterans with information on upcoming Veteran Employment Fairs in the area.  Additionally, all military personnel were allowed early entry to the shows, and they all received a "Metal Of Honor" wristband, along with information on the various charities supporting veteran causes. Concertgoers were encouraged to thank vets wearing the wristbands.  There was also a raffle.  The winner -- Sean May from Operation: Iraqi Freedom -- was honored on the main stage between the Motorhead and Slayer performances. The audience cheered for May as strongly as their did for their favorite bands. He deserved it, too.  My only criticism?  Promote the "Metal Of Honor" more. Not just honoring a guy, but helping our troops when they get home and involving citizens in that effort. Also, they should put the photos of each "Metal Of Honor" recipient on their website, with info about where he or she served, rank, etc.




IN PRAISE OF CARE BEARS ON FIRE

Tonight's episode of True Blood is titled "Everybody Wants To Rule The World." During the credits, we didn't hear the original Tears For Fears song: instead, it was the Care Bears On Fire cover from their Girls Like It Loud EP.

I don't know the status of the band, I do know that when they recorded the aforementioned EP and the LP Get Over It! they were freshmen in high school.  I think they're seniors now.  I don't know the status of the band at the moment. Of course, the members might just be thinking about school and not promo tours, photo shoots and all the other stuff that goes with being in a working band.

I hope they're still together though - and they're at least active enough to have tweeted about tonight's True Blood.

They're a great band, and one I wish more people knew about. They set a great example for high schoolers (not just girls) with their super catchy, great and funny songs like "Barbie Eat A Sandwich," "ATM" and especially "Everybody Else."

I'm hoping to have a quote from the women in the band for the True Blood story that I'm writing for CBS Local.  I'll tweet it out, so if you're interested and you don't follow me already, I'm @NoExpiration on Twitter.

Friday, August 3, 2012

BLACK SABBATH - THE "REUNION"

Black Sabbath has just hit the stage at Lollapalooza. As I wrote in a piece for my day job, the irony here is rich.  In the '90s, Sharon Osbourne pitched Ozzy Osbourne to Lollapalooza (when it was a summer tour), and as legend has it, they laughed at her. So she went and founded Ozzfest. The Lollapalooza tour soon died out, and Ozzfest thrived for years.  Classic Sharon Osbourne. She doesn't mess around.

In Ozzfest's first year as a national tour, Ozzy reunited with Black Sabbath, and played one set with them, and one with his solo group. Sabbath, however, only had 3 of their 4 members: it was Ozzy, guitarist/leader Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler, along with drummer Mike Bordin (of Faith No More, at the time he was Ozzy's drummer). Drummer Bill Ward wasn't invited.  I remember interviewing him that summer; he said he didn't know why he wasn't included. Two years later, the Sabs toured on Ozzfest again, and this time, Bill was there.

All these years later, Lollapalooza has reinvented itself as an annual weekend festival in Chicago, and this year, Sabbath headline along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack White and the Black Keys. And again,  sadly, Bill won't be there - this time Sabbath are using Ozzy's current drummer, Tommy Clufetos.  I saw Tommy in Ozzy's band about a year and a half ago and I noted that he was a monster on drums. He's perfect for the band, if Bill can't be there.

I've followed the band, and their drama, a lot over the past few years.  As I've mentioned in the past, I wrote the liner notes for The Black Box, the box set that collects all their albums from the Ozzy era.  And I was interviewed for the Sabbath doc that aired on the Biography Channel. I guess all I can say is that Ozzy, Tony and Geezer with Tommy can do a great Sabbath set, but it's just sad that they can't make it work out with Bill.

Of all bands, Black Sabbath should realize that life is finite.  Ronnie James Dio, the guy who originally replaced Ozzy (and with whom Tony and Geezer toured and recorded with as Heaven & Hell in recent years) recently succumbed to cancer. Tony himself recently finished chemo and radiation therapy, and happily, things went well.   But these guys know: they don't have decades ahead of them to work things out.  I interviewed Geezer after Sabbath left the stage the year of the first Ozzfest, and I asked him how the reunion happened:  he just said they were "too old" for squabbling.  

In my interview with Geezer for the box set, he told me that if the band never played another gig, he'd be ok with it. They had done a few reunion tours (with Bill), and they were all friends again. If that was "it," he'd be cool with that.  As a fan, I felt the same way. I thought it was cool that Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill showed up together for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even though they didn't perform (Metallica performed for them).  That would have been a perfect end to the story.  So, no matter how great they are tonight (they're currently trending on twitter, I'm guessing they're doing well), if this is it for them, their story ends on a sour note. So I hope that in 2013, they work this CRAP out with Bill and do a few last shows.

All of that said, none of this take away from their legacy: they are one of the best bands of all time, and one of the most influential.  I'm glad that at least the Lollapalooza people have finally caught up.

HELMET AT WEBSTER HALL

photo credit: Brian Ives (really!)
It's been years - well over a decade, actually - since I've gone to see Helmet in concert.  I haven't seen them since Page Hamilton reactivated the band in 2004, five years after he dissolved the band.  I was curious if they'd be as powerful today as they were back then.  And when I say "they," I mean Page and anyone who he hires.  Helmet is no more (or less) a band than Nine Inch Nails, which is an observation, not a criticism.

Like Trent Reznor, Page Hamilton hires really great musicians who play as if they are full members of the band, who played on the classic records.  And as a result, seeing Helmet is still really powerful, just like it was in the '90s.

I first experienced Helmet at the Roseland Ballroom in 1992, with the release of their classic Meantime. They opened for Faith No More (it was a mind-blowing show). They were this weird combination of Zeppelin-esque power with Fugazi-esque post-hardcore.  They sounded like a bullet: sleek, hard, fast, with no adornment. They didn't dress like rock stars: they didn't dress like anyone you'd notice.  "Grunge" bands from Seattle are often credited/blamed for moving away from looking like "rock stars," but generally speaking, you'd notice if a guy from Pearl Jam, Soundgarden or Nirvana walked by you in 1992. They didn't look like they were in Poison, but you knew they didn't work on Wall Street!  The guys from Helmet, on the other hand, looked like anyone you'd see at a bar, or at a baseball game.  If you walked by them, you might not even notice them, which I think was part of the idea:  the only time they wanted you to notice them was when they were on the stage. The thing is, their music was so brutal and hard, that even though they looked conservative, they were way less accessible musically than the alternative rock bands of the era.  They influenced a lot of the bands who I really like (including Rage Against The Machine, Pantera and Tool) and many that I don't (KoRn and all their brethren).  Their music really resonated with me: it was metal but without any of the unnecessary stuff (long hair, misogyny, drum solos). To me, they symbolized getting past all the b.s. in life. That's just my interpretation, but they really resonated with me, and of course I loved (and love) the music.

photo credit: Brian Ives 
So, how was tonight's show?   Like I said, powerful.  It wasn't a "greatest hits" show.  Page noted that Helmet did a 20th anniversary tour for Meantime already; he also joked that at his age - 52 - he has to choose between sex and taking a nap.  The message being that he isn't playing all of the Meantime songs, and that he wasn't going to play a marathon set (the show was a co-headlining concert with The Toadies, and Hamilton also noted that there was a strict curfew, because Webster Hall is actually a disco). I wasn't super familiar with all of the songs that they played, truth be told.  Meantime and the follow-up, 1994's betty are two of my favorite albums of the '90s but I've not spent as much time with the rest of their discography.  The thing is, Helmet songs have such a great groove, and so much force, that I can enjoy them without knowing them by heart.  That said, I was bummed that they didn't play "Biscuits For Smut" and "Unsung." But some of my other favorites were in the setlist, including "Exactly What You Wanted," "In The Meantime," "Milquetoast" and "Wilma's Rainbow" were all amazing. And just as awesome as I remembered them.  Of course, I've never stopped listening to the band's recordings, which are among the most brutal albums in my collection. In a good way.

I didn't stay for the Toadies - but at my age, I have to choose between rocking and going to bed on time (and plus, I wanted to catch the Olympics!).  No disrespect to the band, but after Helmet, I figured it'd just be anti-climatic to me.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

TRUE BLOOD SEASON 5: THE MUSIC

First off, I'm happy to announce "30 on 30," a challenge that some of my colleagues and I issued to ourselves: we're attempting a post a day to our blogs through the month of August.  I'm particularly "out of shape" (although I write a few posts at my day job every day, so it's not like I haven't been writing at all). I'm looking forward to it.

Last year, I posted about how much I enjoyed the music on True Blood, even as I thought season 4 was a total letdown. I even mentioned Music Supervisor Gary Callamar by name.  So, it's been one of the very fun parts of my new job that I've been writing a series of weekly posts on CBS Local websites that covers the music of True Blood. And I get to talk to Mr. Callamar himself!

This year has had some great music moments, both for the soundtrack and in the context of the show.  Here's a brief synopsis:

The season premiere, "Turn! Turn! Turn!" had some great moments, but none topped Jessica and Jason rocking out to The Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" on Guitar Hero.  The episode's title track was a new take on the song by My Morning Jacket, which worked quite well.

"Authority Always Wins" featured a very cool and very different cover of John Mellencamp's "The Authority Song" by a rockabilly artist who I never heard of, Bosco Delrey, who I'd never heard of.  Actually writing this reminded me that I have to check him out, so I just downloaded another one of his songs, "Wild One," on iTunes.

"We'll Meet Again" features the World War II hit as covered by the great Los Lobos, a great musical moment.  The funniest music moment, however, was Sookie lying on her couch, drunk, singing "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)."

"Let's Boot And Rally" features a brand new song written for the episode, penned by Mr. Calamar himself.  Nice work if you can get it!  Read the story about it here. It is a duet between Iggy Pop and Best Coast singer Bethany Costentino. An interesting combination: I personally would love to see someone pair Iggy up with Kills singer Allison Mosshart, who would have been amazing on this song. You can buy "Let's Boot And Rally" on iTunes now (but Mr. Calamar told me the next True Blood soundtrack wouldn't come out until season six).

The episode called "In The Beginning" featured a song by the same name by an artist named K'naan. But the best music moment featured a karaoke version of "You Light Up My Life" that has to be seen to be believed.

The latest episode, "Somebody That I Used To Know," had an interesting music twist.  The episode originally planned to use the very odd smash of the same name by Goyte.  But as the song got more popular - and has been used on American Idol, The Voice and Glee - it got a little too popular for True Blood. They ended up not using it, instead opting for a song with the same name by the late Elliott Smith.  I think they made the right choice.  As unusual as Goyte's song is, it would have been a bit too obvious for True Blood at this point (I actually thought there'd be a cover by an unlikely artist).  But the best song in the episode was Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightnin'" which was used during a particularly steamy scene.

I'm looking forward to the music from the rest of the season.  Also, I should mention that I ended my last True Blood post hoping that season five would make up for season four.  I'm glad to say that I think  it has, and then some: this season has been pretty great.  I really dig The Authority.

By the way, I'm not going to use my CBS stories as launching points for all of my posts this month.  Tomorrow I plan on writing a review of Helmet's show at Webster Hall. I haven't seen them in years, and I'm wondering if they'll be as great as I remember.