The Black Keys Return With New LP – ‘Dropout Boogie’ – Consistently Kick Ass

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The Black Keys – singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney – have come roaring back (literally) with a new LP, Dropout Boogie, their third album in four years. Now, admittedly I’ve felt since 2019’s Let’s Rock album the Keys have started exuding this wonderful 70s vibe, but putting out 3 albums in 36 months is truly a 70s style pace… it was a time when artists put out an album almost every year. I think it’s time for me to admit something to all of you, including the Black Keys. Over the course of the last several albums they’ve rocked their way into being one of my all time favorite bands. I am really digging Dropout Boogie. In the past few weeks I’ve gone from the Black Crowes (1972) to the Black Keys… I can only assume a Black Sabbath binge is up next… if you’re into that whole alphabetic thing.

As I’ve said before, I got on this bandwagon when they put out Rubber Factory. Actually, more importantly, that’s when the Rock Chick jumped on their bandwagon. I liked the album but had sort of filed it away. She was the one who put it in high rotation. She went out and immediately bought their debut, The Big Come Up, an album I really dig. I loved that they covered the Beatles’ “She Said, She Said” on that album. Even though I was amongst the converted back then I was under the mistaken impression that the Black Keys were one of those bands where I’d jump back in every other album. I dug the debut, Thickfreakness not so much. Rubber Factory Hell yes, Magic Potion…meh. I don’t know why I was so slow to surrender to the punky, blues rock these guys were laying down.

All that changed when they put out Attack And Release in 2008. The Rock Chick snagged that album the day it came out. “Psychotic Girl” is a personal favorite from that LP. Since then we’ve picked up every album they’ve put out save for Turn Blue. That album seemed like a bummer to me but then my relationship with the Black Keys’ music back then was weird. Maybe I need to go back and listen again. I thought El Camino from 2011 was a masterpiece of a record. As mentioned we loved Let’s Rock here at B&V but were then surprised and delighted when after less than 2 years later they put out a wonderful album of Mississippi Hill Country blues covers, Delta Kream. That album celebrated the music of blues giants like Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. Of course, most of the classic rock n roll we like around here is based firmly on a foundation of blues. Now, less than year later the Black Keys have returned with another – and pardon the expression – kick ass record.

At this point, I have to pause to wonder why the Keys aren’t bigger and more popular than they are. Both Brothers and El Camino went double platinum. Despite all this great music their last LP to go gold was Turn Blue. If you were a fan and got away from these guys you need to check out these last three albums. I think of what Tom Petty said about why he and the Heartbreakers were “bigger” (although I would contend they were big). He said they were just so “consistently good” that people could forget about them. Like the Stones or say AC/DC the Keys found a sound and have mostly stuck to it. Although I realize that statement belies how much they’ve developed and how much more sophisticated and intricate their music has become since they first started. Auerbach and Carney have become extremely talented producers over the course of their careers. So my explanation for the Keys slight dip in terms of commerce, they’re simply so consistently kick ass they’ve been taken for granted.

Dropout Boogie is another self produced album. As I said, this is a great rock n roll album. This is the kind of album that should be blaring out of car windows and T-tops as teenagers cruise up and down Metcalf or whatever your main drag is. Alas, times have changed. This may be my go to summer LP this year. The album starts off with the lead single “Wild Child.” We really dig that track here at B&V but I’ve already posted about that. The second track is also the second single, “It Ain’t Over.” The passion Auerbach brings to the vocals is a whole thing in and of itself. Over handclaps and shakers he begs his baby not go go. I know I’ve been there. The guitar solo on this track is monstrous albeit economical.

“For The Love of Money” is a crunchy bluesy thing that would have been at home on Delta Kream. Auerbach employs a falsetto for parts of the song. It’s just the typical crunchy rocker these guys put out, and I mean that as a compliment. “Your Team Is Looking Good” is good fun arena rock. I could imagine this song being played at Chiefs’ games. Although these guys are from Arkon… I hope they’re not Bengals fans. Akron is too close to Cleveland for that but I’m getting off topic. I love the taunting nature of this track. The biggest surprise for me was “Good Love.” Even before I saw the “featuring Billy Gibbons” I thought this track sounded like ZZ Top. I was hearing an echo of “TV Dinners” or maybe “I Need You Tonight.” It’s got that Billy Gibbons’ bluesy guitar march as the underpinning of the song. Gibbons’ guitar just snarls at you. Then he flashes on the solo. It may be my favorite track on the album. With Gibbons and Auerbach in the studio, that’s a lot of guitar firepower in the studio.

“How Long” is a 70s-vibe ballad. This song makes me think of sitting in the back seat of my dad’s Ford with the windows down because my father didn’t want to turn on the air conditioner. Which is actually weird because if we were in the car with my father Sports Talk radio would have been on. “How Long” is just a 70s longing vibe to me. It’s the prettiest track on the album. “Burn The Damn Thing Down” is barn burner (I couldn’t resist) with raw guitar and a “Travelin’ Band” theme. The Black Keys are coming and they’re gonna burn it all down, baby. The track rocks. Again, this has that blues braggadocio thing that I dig. “Happiness” is a bluesy thing with an elastic, riffy guitar. It’s probably the track that hearkens back to their earlier records the most to my ear. “Baby I’m Coming Home” is a song I will heretofore blast every time I’m getting on an airplane to fly home after a business trip. Oh, yes, baby I’m comin’. It has my favorite guitar solo on the album. If you’re here for the guitar “Baby I’m Coming Home” will get you where you wanna go. The album ends with “Didn’t I Love You” another track that would have been at home on Delta Kream. I love that the blues cover LP they did has informed some of the vibe on this album, but then I love rockers who play the blues.

There isn’t a bad song on Dropout Boogie. These guys are making rock n roll that you just don’t hear that much any more – big guitar riffs and solid, heavy drums. This is an album everyone should hear and play very, very loud… perhaps with a tumbler full of something brown and murky… maybe a little taste of Four Roses…

Enjoy this one at maximum volume. Cheers!

Black Crowes’ New EP Of 6 Covers (From The Year) ‘1972’ – Glorious, Good Rockin’ Fun

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I was fortunate enough to be able to take a couple of days off last week and go to points out West to visit my beloved daughter. I’m lucky that I have vacation days when I realize a lot of folks don’t have time off. But after an action-packed weekend that included my getting to see one of my favorite bands The Cult in concert, I was dragging come Monday morning. But then who isn’t dragging on Monday mornings? I knew other than overdosing on coffee or being hit in the chest with a defibrillator I was going to need some help to get through the early part of the week. For me that help came in the form of rock n roll. Music really can always heal what ails me, even fatigue.

I had it in the back of my mind last weekend the Black Crowes had finally released their EP of cover songs that Friday. I was only half right about that. I looked in all the regular places I buy and listen to music – and it astounds me how many options I have now – and I couldn’t find the new Crowes’ EP, entitled 1972. Apparently you can only buy the LP or the CD through Amazon. I’m not a big streaming guy (admittedly my playlists are out on alas, Spotify) but the only place I could hear this was streaming through Amazon Prime. I want to buy the vinyl but I want to do that in a local record store from a pierced and tattoo’d hippy while breathing in lovely, musty old used records and incense. A man has to have some standards in this life and ordering vinyl from the dark empire of Amazon just seems wrong. I get my vitamins there, I’m not getting my vinyl there. I have a code I live by, folks. Having a code to live by, like those little paper cocktail napkins, is what separates us from the savages.

The new Crowes’ EP, 1972 is titled thus because it contains six tracks all originally released in 1972. As long time readers know, we here at B&V celebrated 1972 as well on a playlist dedicated to albums released during that awesome year in rock n roll. Well, this is the Crowes version of that celebration, or so it seems. I can’t tell you how much joy listening to the Black Crowes’ lusty renditions of 1972-era tracks has given me this week. Of course I’m on record as loving cover songs – a song originally recorded by someone else that a band re -records. I even dig when an artist has done an entire LP of covers (and have posted about “Cover Albums”), like Bowie’s Pin-Ups or Bob Seger’s Smokin’ O.P.s.

I have loved the Crowes since the first time I heard the opening riff on “Jealous Again” while tooling down the highway during my unemployed gypsy year in 1990. Their first two albums are amongst the greatest rock albums ever in my opinion. They recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of Shake Your Money Maker and it was a great box set. It included a full concert from ’90 and a slew of unreleased bonus tracks including the Humble Pie cover “30 Days In The Hole,” and a lost original that I loved, “Charming Mess.” I read somewhere that Chris and Rich Robinson reached out to get Rod Stewart’s blessing on the release of “Charming Mess” because it sounded so much like the Faces. I do hear echos of “Stay With Me” but hey everybody has influences. Even since those early days the Black Crowes were doing interesting things with cover songs. Shake Your Money Maker had their great Otis Redding cover “Hard To Handle.” And also apparently the aforementioned unreleased Humble Pie cover “30 Days In The Hole.” Their second LP, the masterpiece, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion also had a cover – this time Bob Marley’s “Time Will Tell.” From Otis and Humble Pie to Bob Marley show the Crowes have a great eclectic range.

The Crowes, after that early huge success, continued to put out great albums. Three Snakes And A Charm and By Your Side are two of my favorite of their LPs. But alas, the relationship between the brothers Robinson was a rocky one. The band has broken up a few times. When they would get back together they would release additional great music, like the album Warpaint. It’s the best Black Crowes’ album you’ve probably  never heard. They’ve got a host of great live stuff out there as well. Eventually the relationship between Chris Robinson (vocals) and Rich Robinson (guitar) was so bad the band broke up and they even stopped speaking. I feel bad for their mother. They went years without talking. It’s often difficult when siblings form bands… Eventually the brothers reconciled. I read an article about them, right before Covid struck, and I was genuinely pleased for them as people, as brothers, as much as I was that they were trying to get the band back together. They decided to reform without any of the other original members who they believed were contributors to the toxicity of their relationship. I assume they’re speaking of longtime drummer Steve Gorman who wrote a “tell-all” that wasn’t exactly a flattering portrayal.

Like the Stones who they were so often compared to in their early days, the Crowes were taking slow steps to repair the fractured relationships between the principal members and songwriters, the Robinsons. Their plan, pre-Covid, was to tour first and see how they got on. The new band was Chris (vocals), Rich (guitar) with Isiah Mitchell (guitar), Joel Robinow (keyboards) and eventually former member Sven Pippen (bass) and journeyman drummer Brian Griffin. It’s just fun to say the name Sven Pippen. If I was in high school and I needed a fake name to give cops when they were confiscating my underage beer, I’d give the name Sven Pippen but I digress. They played a few shows but then Covid ruined everything. I see this EP of covers songs as a way for them to all see how they’re gelling as a band. To see if the repaired relationships can stand. It’s just another step in the Crowes journey to re-establish that all important chemistry. They probably wanted to see if they could go into the studio and get along… why put songwriting pressure on yourselves? They’ve supposedly written around 20 songs but they want to tour first before actually committing those to tape. I totally get that. Consider 1972 another step in that creative journey.

Well let me tell you, if 1972 is the yardstick we’re using for the Black Crowes, I think the chemistry is back! They play these six songs with such joy. You can literally tell how much fun they’re having. The EP kicks off with a Stones cover, “Rip This Joint.” The thing I love about covers is they’re like “two-fers.” You get the vibe of the original artist and the new artist at the same time, in one song. I feel like the Crowes were made to cover the Stones. What a great choice from Exile On Main Street. It gets the rock and roll cookin’. They also cover one of my all time favorite Rod Stewart solo tracks, “You Wear It Well.” That is coincidentally a track I chose for my aforementioned 1972 playlist. The Crowes doing the Stones and Rod (whose Faces were clearly an influence) just makes sense. The Rock Chick heard me jamming on the Black Crowes once and said, “I know why you like them, they sound like the Faces.” True, indeed. Both these songs put a smile on my face.

They also do two tracks associated with Glam Rock. They do T. Rex’s track “The Slider.” “The Slider” was Marc Bolan’s ode to cocaine. The Crowes really do the track justice. They’re version is faithful but heavier. They wring everything they can out of the riff. Chris in particular sounds like he’s really enjoying this track. The other Glam Rock track they do is Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” I’ve gotta say it takes balls to do a Bowie cover, especially from Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. Like the T. Rex track the Black Crowes are faithful to “Moonage Daydream” but they do it slightly heavier. They actually stretch out and jam the guitar parts toward the end to really make it sound Black Crowes-y. What can I say, I was bowled over by this track.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the Crowes doing cover songs if they didn’t throw us a couple of curve balls. I was so thrilled to see that they did a version of Little Feat’s “Easy To Slip.” I recently told a friend, if I hear a band doing a Little Feat cover, I’m instantly more interested in the album.” Rich takes the lead vocal – taking his Keith Richards’ like turn at the mic – and he nails it. It’s a mostly acoustic take with great organ and I dug it. Chris provides a joyous harmony vocal. Little Feat were a West Coast band but they always had a southern vibe to me… The biggest curve ball for most folks is going to be the final track, the Temptations’ great song, “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.” The Crowes have covered everything from country-rock (“Hot Burrito #1”) to soul (“Hard To Handle”) so it shouldn’t be surprised that they decided to do a funky Motown track. Oh my Gawd, I love this track! It may be my favorite on the EP. Of course its a track that I chose for my 1972 playlist so maybe I’m probably biased. When the drums hit with the fabulous organ and wah-wah guitar riff I defy you to sit down. There is also some great harmonica on this track. It’s a great version of the song.

1972 is the sound of a band having a really good time. It’s joyous music made joyously. I love that they did this in a thematic way, centered around so many of their influences from the 70s. I think this bodes well for the Black Crowes and whatever original music they end up making. The band sounds tight and together. If they head out on the road I am definitely going to try and see them again. Until then, sit back, turn this EP up and enjoy!!

Cheers!

Review: The Cult Live In Denver 5/06/22 – The Mission Ballroom – Ian Astbury Shines During Sluggish Show

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*Photo taken by the Rock Chick

I spent today, Sunday, driving across the plains of Kansas on my way back from seeing my daughter in Denver… Well, seeing my daughter and the Cult in Denver. I can tell the pandemic is starting to thaw out a bit as my dance card in Denver was completely full. The last few times I’ve been in Denver we really didn’t go out and do much. It was quality family time. Not so this trip. I was doing something almost constantly. And there was the Cult concert slipped into the middle of the schedule Friday night at the Mission Ballroom for just the Rock Chick and me. I didn’t know much about the Mission Ballroom but it’s a fantastic venue. I’d go back to that place in a heartbeat. Plenty of bars, plenty of bathrooms and not a bad seat in the house. This is one of the few times I’ve seen the Cult and actually had a seat. I didn’t go for my usual General Admission floor tickets this time as typically some hulking mountain of a guy ends up standing in front of the Rock Chick who is considerably less… vertical than I am. There aren’t many people who can block my view. We were excited to be on guitarist Billy Duffy’s side of the stage.

Driving across the fruited plains all day – where there is literally nothing to see – gave me a chance to ponder the show I’d seen Friday while I killed the road time listening to the new Chili Peppers album, Rush’s 40th celebration of Moving Pictures and a few episodes of an old crime podcast… we do love our Murder & Mayhem stories here at B&V. The opening act for the Cult was a band I was unfamiliar with, King Woman (editor’s note: the opener was misidentified in an earlier version as Des Rocs). I’ve seen an interesting array of bands opening for the Cult as I’ve been to over half a dozen Cult shows since 2001. The most entertaining opener was probably Monster Magnet at that first Cult show I saw on the Beyond Good And Evil tour. I seem to recall leather clad dancers on stage. I can’t say King Woman was entertaining at all. I got there mid-set and they were performing without a spotlight on the singer. It was all backlit in red. I couldn’t see the face of the band members but especially the lead singer, a lady to seems pretty angry and she was rolling around on stage in the dark. They ended with a cover of the Stone Roses’ “I Want To Be Adored” that was frankly, unrecognizable.

By 9:40 the Cult came onto the stage. The current line up is Ian Astbury (vocals), Billy Duffy (guitar), John Tempesta (drums), Grant Fitzpatrick (bass) [editor’s note: on bass it may have been Charlie Jones] and inexplicably Damon Fox (keyboards/backing vocals). The Cult definitely don’t need a keyboard player. They used to tour with an extra guitar player which made a lot more sense to me. There are very few things I can count on in life – but the Cult live are one of them. They are always MONEY on stage. The fact these guys always bring it live is one of the reasons I fell in love with the band. I had taken the liberty of glancing at the set list prior to the show and while I didn’t have it memorized – I couldn’t remember what they opened with – I was excited about it. It was front loaded with a bunch of songs from Sonic Temple, probably their most famous, commercially successful album. As I’ve said, I’m so into the Cult I like whatever they play but I missed the tour pre-Covid where they played Sonic Temple in it’s entirety. I was sidelined by a foot injury. I’d previously seen the “complete album shows” for Love and Electric so that was pretty disappointing. While I’d have been quite content if they’d come out and opened with 8 tracks from Hidden City I was glad I was making up for missing that last tour.

Thank god I couldn’t remember what the opener was because I was delighted and surprised when I heard the opening notes of “Sun King.” It’s one of my favorites. After two years of virtually no concerts save for a surprise trip to Starlight Theater to see Joan Jett/Cheap Trick I couldn’t help but think, “Finally!” Immediately the Rock Chick noticed that they sounded off. It took me a few riffs in to realize they sounded a little sluggish. Maybe they need to burn off some of that Covid rust? The Rock Chick also noticed that Ian Astbury’s vocals were a little off as well – he changed out his microphone midway through the main set so I’ll give her credit there. The list was heavily weighted to Sonic Temple. The entire show, save for “Rise” from Beyond Good And Evil was from Love, Electric or Sonic Temple or as some might say “their prime.” Maybe the fact that they aren’t touring behind a new album brought less enthusiasm from the group. Maybe it’s the new bass player and keyboard player. Chemistry in a band is important.

The main issue, upon reflection as I drove through golden fields of wheat spotted with green fields of beans and milo and the requisite rural frightful political signs, might have been as simple as one guy: Billy Duffy. I think Billy is one of those great, underrated guitar Gods out there. Although I have to say, he seemed bored. He wasn’t terribly engaged. Or maybe he’s just always sounded better with a second guitarist on stage with him. I was on his side of the stage and he almost seemed distracted. He kept looking up toward the balcony seats, just to our lright. We were on his side, only 2 sections out from the stage. The Rock Chick says I’m crazy but at first I thought he was looking up at the giant stack of speakers floating above his head like he was afraid they were going to fall. His guitar was loud and he plays powerfully but he was just playing slower than usual. Tom Petty always called live albums “playing your greatest hits really fast.” This was the opposite of that.

As I said, they opened with a bunch of Sonic Temple tracks. The only track that the keyboard player really had an impact on – to my ears anyway – was “Sweet Soul Sister.” It was nice to have the organ. They had a little mellow breakdown in the middle where Ian addressed the crowd. He was referencing psychedelics, perhaps inspired by Colorado’s pot laws. He told a guy in the front row “Hey man, you can’t text from the front row… you’re in the front row that comes with certain responsibilities,” which I thought was funny. At one time he exhorted the crowd to “Smoke em if you got em.” He also said something about the people filming the show on their phones, calling them out as “Kurosawa, Speilberg and Coppola.” Hey man, if you’re not used to being filmed at this point, I’ve got bad news for you. I mean, I get it. I shake my head at people at a concert who experience it through their phones. I took maybe 3 pictures and put my phone on mute and into my pocket.

Despite that seemingly slightly hostile banter, I have to say Astbury was on fire that night. It’s like he sensed the rest of the band was sluggish and he was determined to put them on his shoulders and carry them through the night. He is one of the best front men and singers in the business. What a voice! He moved around the stage like a man half his age. He’s always active but I hadn’t seen him move that much on stage since the first few Cult shows I saw over 20 years ago. He looked lean and very into it. He gave out his sole tambourine to a kid near the stage who he called “Youngblood” because the kid had a Pink Floyd The Wall t-shirt on. “We’ve gotta teach these youngbloods right!”

As the band slogged through the Sonic Temple material and Astbury tried to pump them up, they hit a high point on “Edie (Ciao Baby).” That ballad soared. I will admit that when they shifted to some of the songs on Electric the band got better – in my opinion, this is disputed by the Rock Chick. “Li’l Devil” was a track where I felt everything clicked for the band. It was a real highlight. They followed that up with two more great tracks from Electric, “Peace Dog” and “Wildflower” which were also highlights. The Love material at the end of the set was also great and included a rocking version “Rain” and “Revolution,” a track Astbury described as “more relevant now than ever.” I love “She Sells Sanctuary” but it did miss that second guitarist.

The main set ended with “Love Removal Machine” another knock out moment of the night. The Electric stuff just sounded better but then as my friend Stormin’ said to me once, “I’m an Electric guy.” I was thrilled that “Rise,” one of their most underrated songs from the late career resurgence, made it into the encore. As I said, it’s the only non Love-Electric-Sonic Temple track they played. In retrospect I’d have liked to hear “Dirty Little Rock Star” or “For The Animals” just to break it up a bit. Maybe they could have thrown in Hidden City’s Hinterland.” But I’m probably splitting hairs. The faithful, myself included, still went nuts for the final track, a rousing “Fire Woman.” It was so good to be in a crowd, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, sharing that communal, ecstatic moment during a concert.

And with that the night was over. While it was a bit of a disappointing show, I’d still go see the Cult again. I’d like to see them on this tour again actually. I just think I caught Billy Duffy on a bad night. But it was still made special by Ian Astbury absolutely bringing his A game. As I am fond of saying, Life is short, buy the ticket, see the show.

Cheers!

Archival Release: Neil Young, 1989’s ‘El Dorado – EP’ Originally Only Released In Japan & Australia

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I just saw that Neil Young has recently released a curious artifact from his vaunted Archives. It looks like he finally released the Eldorado EP. I guess I should say “re-released” the EP. It was originally released in April of 1989 but only in a limited release and only in Japan and Australia. One has to wonder if Young was touring that part of the world at the time and needed to get something out for the fans to buy. I don’t know why he would have held the EP back from general release, but hey, it’s Neil Young. I don’t know if the recent decision to release Eldorado was tied to Record Store Day but I suspect it was. For years I’ve been hearing about El Dorado in hushed and reverent tones. People talk about it on music forums like it’s a well known part of the canon. While I’d heard of it, I’d never actually heard it – which I’m sure it was heavily bootlegged – or even knew what tracks were on it. I just knew that there was some overlap between the EP Eldorado released in April of 1989 and Neil’s great comeback LP Freedom which was released in October of 1989.

Thinking back on 1989 I realize for those of us who came of rock n roll age in the late 70s, the 80s were a tough time to become a Neil Young fan. I won’t say it was easy to become a Neil Young fan in the 70s but it was certainly easier. If you were 10 or 15 years older than I was, it would have been a natural thing to get on Neil’s bandwagon. He had the rock pedigree – he’d been a founding member of the Buffalo Springfield, launched a solo career, teamed up with his on-again/off-again backing band Crazy Horse and then joined Crosby Stills & Nash to become CSNY. In the early 70s he released some of his most popular, accessible work like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After The Gold Rush and Harvest. While the Ditch Trilogy (Time Fades Away, On The Beach and Tonight’s The Night) may not have been as commercially successful as his earlier solo stuff those albums are still counted amongst his greatest works. If you were a fan you likely dug those albums.

If you started listening to rock n roll in the late 70s or early 80s, you started listening to what was then current. It was harder to get on Neil’s bandwagon at that point. Comes A Time was a great album but you didn’t hear a lot of mellow Neil on the radio in my hometown. You were probably under the impression that “Lotta Love” was a Nicolette Larson song. You might occasionally hear “Like A Hurricane” or “Cortez The Killer” on the radio but Neil never caught my attention. I heard the common complaints, “his music is a bummer,” or “he can’t sing” (much like I used to hear about Dylan). Sadly, I probably fell into that trap. I’ll admit, Young’s album most influenced by punk, Rust Never Sleeps did catch my ear. I really dug “Powderfinger” and “Pocahontas” even if I couldn’t always follow the lyrics. “Hey Hey, My My” was a guitar freakout that I liked. I remember Billy Joel on 20/20 at the time complaining that his songwriting was too complex and he played “Hey Hey, My My” on the piano as an example of something simple yet catchy. I don’t know if he was making fun of Neil but knowing Billy, probably. While at that point, still in high school, I began to think more highly of Neil, I still wasn’t on the bandwagon. It was hard in the late 70s or early 80s to jump on that bandwagon despite Rust Never Sleeps and the accompanying concert movie that always seemed to be at the midnight movies with Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same playing in the next theater.

His next few albums, Hawks And Doves and Re*ac*tor both slipped by without me noticing. The years when I was graduating high school and going off to college – years of great musical expansion in terms of my collection and awareness – the bottom dropped out for Neil. Trans was (and remains for me) unlistenable, Everybody’s Rockin’ was a rockabilly album and Old Ways was gasp, country. Not a good time to jump on anybody’s bandwagon. Although I remember an ex roommate dropping by a party I was having at my parents house after he’d been to see Neil on the Everybody’s Rockin’ tour and he raved. Still I was unmoved.

Then a very fortunate thing happened for me. I met a guy named Drew who turned me onto a bunch of great music that included Neil Young. Before I knew it I owned Decade a three LP greatest hit retrospective that I believe set the stage for the box set cottage industry. In college I became very backwards focused. Rather than just listening to what was current, I began to dig deeper into the back catalogs of bands I liked. It was the 80s but I was focused on bands from the 60s and the 70s. I knew more about the Faces and Led Zeppelin than I did about Motley Crue or Def Leppard. They were fine bands who ironically I discovered 10 or 15 years after their heyday. Since college, I’m always busy looking in the rearview mirror instead of at what is current. I’ll probably be bragging about listening to Cage The Elephant in like a decade. I went from lukewarm on Neil to very into him. I devoured his back catalog but wanted something more, something current. Around this time he released Landing On Water. I bought it used and quickly sold it back to them. I began to consign Neil to the annals of history in terms of being a viable act.

But as Neil often does, there began to be signs of life. I’m one of the few people who really dug his reunion LP with Crazy Horse in 1987 Life. Yes, I’m that guy at the all night party back then urging someone to put on “Inca Queen.” It was after that album he left Geffen Records who had sued him for “purposely making un-commercial music,” and re joined Reprise (a label founded by Sinatra by the way). His first LP for Reprise was a blues genre exercise, complete with a horn section, This Notes For You. I loved that record and I know I’m the only one who did. That album came out in 1988 and it seems Neil was finally done with genre exercises and pissing off his record company. He was ready to record a real album. A real Neil Young album.

It’s hard to overstate what a great comeback 1989’s Freedom was for Neil Young. It was certainly the best album he’d done since Rust Never Sleeps. The album was book ended with an acoustic and electric version of a song (just like Rust) “Rockin’ In The Free World.” The electric version is one of his greatest songs. It was eclectic but this time in a good way. “Crime In The City” and “Someday” – both great songs – were left overs from This Notes For You complete with horns. “Crime In The City” is a great, gritty epic track. “Someday” is an oddly worded hopeful track. “Too Far Gone” was a beautiful ballad that dated back to his aborted LP Chrome Dreams in the 70s. The album is a combination of rockers and quieter acoustic numbers. Linda Ronstadt shows up to sing harmony on “Hangin’ On A Limb” a track about a seemingly doomed love affair and “The Ways of Love” another beautiful acoustic track. This is not only one of Neil’s best albums, it’s one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded.

Which all leads me to this previously limited release EP, Eldorado. It came out six months prior and was perhaps meant to be a teaser for the upcoming Freedom. It’s credited to Neil & “the Restless,” Chad Cromwell on drums and Rick “The Bass Player” Rosas. I’m delighted to see it finally released, but then I’m a completest. Two of the five songs, “On Broadway” a cover song and the title track of the EP, “Eldorado” were both put on Freedom exactly as they are here. There is a third track, “Don’t Cry” that ended up on Freedom as well, albeit edited. “Don’t Cry” was always a creepy, harrowing breakup song to me. It’s about a guy who helps his girlfriend pack her stuff and take it to the car. “Don’t cry my sweet girl, nothing I say is written in stone.” The narrator is hedging his bets. The thing that made this song feel somewhat menacing was Neil’s freak out guitar work. He’s singing in a reassuring manner but pounding out notes on the guitar. It’s all very dissonant. It’s a great song but man what he does to his guitar strings should be illegal. Apparently at the insistence of Niko Bolas who produced Freedom and Frank Sampedro, Neil’s erstwhile guitarist in Crazy Horse, Neil agreed to edit out about 45 seconds of his guitar fury on the song. So the version on Freedom is slightly different than what you find on Eldorado.

Why the interest in Eldorado if three of it’s five songs are repeated (basically) the same on Freedom? There are two tracks that didn’t make Freedom and have never been released before. Again, I’m a completest but I really like these two unearthed tracks. The first track on the EP is the unreleased “Cocaine Eyes” and it’s just a great, lost Neil Young rock song. It’s an anti drug song but unlike “The Needle And The Damage Done” this song rawks. “Ain’t a day goes by, I don’t burn a little bit of my soul.” I think its about overcoming an addiction to coke, but then it’s vague enough to make you wonder if the guy actually got past cocaine. “You lost the race once again, my old friend.” Maybe he’s talking to Crosby? The guitar solo at the end is a slashing, classic Young solo. The other previously unreleased track is “Heavy Love.” It’s another great galloping rocker of a song. “Inside your head I’m singing, inside your heart I dig for more.” The song ends with a loud crash of drums or what may be Neil pounding on the strings. It just sounds like something is exploding…  If I’d have heard either of these songs – prior to hearing and loving Freedom – I’d have probably been ready to proclaim that Neil was back!

I will warn you before you run out and buy this EP, it will probably be included in Neil’s supposedly upcoming Archives III. Before Archvies I came out I bought several of Neil’s live LPs that ended up in the box set. I was pissed about that. I figured why get the box, I own half of it already? While I did purchase a few of the discs that were included in Archives II, at least this time I went in with my eyes open. I would definitely recommend everyone check out the two newly released tracks and if you haven’t done so, for the love of all that is holy, please pick up Freedom at your earliest opportunity. Trust me.

Cheers!

Edgar Winter (And Many Special Guitar Guests), ‘Brother Johnny’ – A Fitting Tribute To His Brother Johnny Winter, Blues/Blues Rock Legend

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It’s no secret that we’re big blues fans here at B&V. We’ve even published a playlist of our favorite blues songs done by rock artists, a playlist still in high rotation here in the B&V labs. All of the great rock n roll I love is really built on a foundation of the blues: The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Cream to name but a few. The blues always has a great beat, impassioned vocals and a great guitar solo. All of that translated very well to the rock idiom. “The blues had a baby and they called it rock n roll.” One of the great blues guitarists out there who I’ve always dug but oddly never owned a ton of his stuff was Johnny Winter who passed away in 2014 at the age of 70 years old. While I never owned a ton of Johnny’s stuff, I have been listen to and a fan of his for a long time. With his skinny frame, white-blonde hair and albino skin he was, in my mind, an iconic guitarist. While he may be predominantly known for the blues I’ve always thought of him as more blues/blues rock.

I feel like Johnny Winter should be better known. He hailed from Texas. By the time he was 10 he was playing guitar in bands with his younger brother Edgar (more on him later). He really hit the national scene in 1969 and was hailed as the “next Hendrix.” The hype was pretty big. While he never really lived up to that he fashioned a great blues/blues rock career. He had some great albums: his 1969 eponymous debut, Second Winter, Johnny Winter And, and with his multi instrumentalist brother Edgar Together – Live. His cover of Dylan’s “Highway 61” is almost as iconic as the original. I have always loved his Stones’ covers “Stray Cat Blues” and “Silver Train” to name only two. Johnny played at Woodstock, for god’s sake, why isn’t he a household name? Some of my favorite work by Johnny was when he resurrected Muddy Waters’ late career by producing and playing on a trio of great LPs.

Johnny’s younger brother Edgar followed a similar career path. He played keyboards, saxophone and I understand it, pretty much anything he picked up. After playing with Johnny early on he struck out on his own. He had a couple of really big hits in the 70s, “Free Ride” and the instrumental “Frankenstein” (what a riff). He joined brother Johnny on a live LP but afterwards really became more known as a session musician. I was surprised and thrilled to see that eight years after his death Edgar has put together a guitar extravaganza tribute LP to his late brother. Who better to memorialize the great Johnny Winter but Edgar? Between listening to the new Chili Peppers and cranking up Rush’s Moving Pictures 40th Anniversary Edition, I’ve been jamming on this album almost constantly.

Tribute LPs can be a tricky endeavor. They can be really scattershot depending who is involved. Different artists and their styles can pull in wildly varied directions and fray the cohesiveness of the album. Brother Johnny avoids that trap for a couple of reasons. The level of talent Edgar managed to recruit to this thing. From Joe Bonamassa to Billy Gibbons to Warren Haynes, Edgar recruited topnotch guitar players who obviously respect and perhaps revere Johnny’s music/playing. The tunes are in good hands here. The second reason this thing holds together so well is the nature of the songs – it’s the blues. Whether it’s a full band rave up or an acoustic, front porch strummer these tracks all have that blues cohesion. The whole album holds together extremely well. The album literally makes me feel like I’ve driven down the highway to some hidden roadhouse for a blues jam where girls in cut off jeans and cowboy boots shuffle around the floor. Edgar does a lot of the singing and I thought perhaps he’d do all of it but that’s not the case. Many of these tracks are duets.

The aforementioned Joe Bonamassa shows up on the opening track and he gets things off to a roaring start on “Mean Town Blues.” When I heard the way he was torturing that guitar my head snapped up and I stared, open mouthed at the speaker. He shows up for a second track later on the LP, “Self Destructive Blues” and it’s another barn burner. Joe sings lead on that one. I heard Joe play live and he did a track each from Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck and he killed it. He made each track his own and yet paid homage to those great former Yardbirds. That was truly ballsy.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd shows up on a catchy as hell rockin’ blues “Alive And Well.” Edgar sings and snarls his ass off on that one. Shepherd shows up later for a rollicking “Highway 61” later on the LP as well. Keb Mo’ does a great acoustic blues track “Lone Star Blues.” Keb’s vocal is as tasty as Texas brisket. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, another Texas great guitar player shows up with former Allman Brother Derek Trucks on the down and dirty “I’m Yours And I’m Hers.” Only in the 60s/70s are you gonna find a song like that one. “You know I’m yours and hers, somebody else’s too…” I don’t think the Rock Chick would allow that sorta thing. Billy sings but the track is guitar heaven with Derek playing too. There’s more guitar fire power on this song than anybody than, well, the Allman Brothers.

“Johnny B. Goode” is a treat with Edgar and none other than Eagle Joe Walsh trading lead vocals. Joe’s guitar playing is as exceptional as ever. The most shocking track on the album, at least to me, is when Micheal McDonald, yes the ex Doobie Brother, takes lead vocal on “Stranger.” Walsh is still on board to play lead and Ringo Starr is on drums. It’s less bluesy and doesn’t fit completely with the rest of the album stylistically but damn if it isn’t a great, great song. Joe’s guitar solo is mind blowing. Steve Luthaker plays on “Rock N Roll Hoochie Koo” a track Johnny did prior to it being a hit for it’s writer Rick Derringer. Doyle Bramhall II does the slow burn, acoustic “When You’ve Got a Good Friend.” I’ve been a fan of Doyle’s since the Arc Angels. Another Allman Brothers’ alum, Warren Haynes shows up for the crunchy blues track “Memory Pain.”

There is so much to like on this record. I didn’t hear a single dud on this album. It’s a great tribute to Johnny Winter and a testament to the power of his music and the blues in general. If you like the blues or hell, if you just like great guitar, turn this one up… maybe get a pint of Southern Comfort and dance around… close your eyes and imagine you’re in a great, little roadhouse blues bar. It’s what Johnny would have wanted.

Cheers!

Rush, ‘Moving Pictures (40th Anniversary Super Deluxe) – Celebrating Their Masterpiece

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Oh man, now we’re getting to the really, really good stuff. You can’t be a rock n roll fan and not love Rush’s 1981 LP Moving Pictures. I can’t believe it’s been 40 years – actually 41, I think this was delayed by Covid – since this landmark LP came out. To this day I can’t hear the iconic drumming that starts “Tom Sawyer” and not reach to turn up the volume. Rush is celebrating their masterpiece with the release of Moving Pictures: 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe that includes the original album and a full concert from the 1981 tour.

It’s hard to overstate how big Rush were in the late 70s. For those of us of a certain generation they were kind of like our Zeppelin. Three virtuoso musicians – Geddy Lee (bass, vocals), Alex Lifeson (guitar) and the late Neil Peart (drums extraordinaire) – blended perfectly. While their self-titled debut album (released before Peart joined the band) didn’t sell well it caught the attention of Jimmy Page who became an early fan. It wasn’t until their 4th album (missing out on “my third LP is the charm” theory), the Prog-rock 1976 epic 2112 that Rush captured middle America where I live. It wasn’t until years later when I was in late junior high or early high school that I heard the whole first side of 2112 at a party that this guy Billy Edwards had. His father was an alcoholic and had vodka bottles stashed all over the house and Billy would steal them and his dad couldn’t really say anything about it. Anyway, drunk on screwdrivers we all jumped around playing air guitar to “Overture/Temples of Syrinx.” I was playing my “air guitar” so furiously I vaguely recall tearing off my thumbnail. Rock n’ roll, baby! I went out and bought the LP the next day.

Usually in those days if I bought an LP by a band and dug it, I’d plunge through the whole catalog. For some reason I didn’t do that with Rush (until much later). They were putting out an LP every year and it was really hard to keep up especially on my paltry allowance. They were one hard working band. And they were very prog rock in those early days and I think that scared me a bit. I bought a now obscure greatest hits LP, single vinyl named Rush Through Time but I was disappointed it didn’t have “Working Man” on it and so sold it. Argh. There was so much music coming out that I liked in those days I just never seemed to focus on Rush. They were always there, in the background, on the radio. I’d hear the epic “Xanadu” or “Closer To The Heart” from A Farewell to Kings or “The Trees” from Hemisphere on KY102 our local rock station. They loved Rush. My mother didn’t… she thought Rush stood for “Ruled Under Satan’s Hand” but then she probably would have been on the PRMC if she’d been married to a Senator.

Permanent Waves came out in 1980 and you couldn’t escape the songs “Freewill” or “Spirit Of The Radio.” The band was crafting shorter songs, well, relative to some of their older output in an attempt to be more radio friendly. Although saying that it sounds like they were consciously trying to be more “popular” and I don’t think that was the case. I mean, side two had “Natural Science” with their famous “I., II., III.,” prog rock subtitles. I think their writing style was changing. They thought, as did their record company, that Permanent Waves was going to be their huge break out record that would take them from semi-cult status (and lets be honest it was a pretty big cult) to mega stars in the same way that Born In The U.S.A. would break Springsteen a few years later. While the album was a success it didn’t have the effect they thought it would. It was their biggest album up to that point. After the tour for that album they did what they always did – took a short break and headed right back into the studio. I guess the fact that these guys weren’t hard partying rock stars but toiling musicians helped them avoid burn out. They decided, screw mega success, we’re going to take a detour and do our own thing…

Moving Pictures, their supposed “detour,” was actually the album that made Rush a household name. It was clearly influenced by what was happening in New Wave at the time.  Side one is about as perfect a side of music as you’re going to find in rock n roll. I knew this guy I used to  hang out with a bit. I wouldn’t say he was a friend, but an acquaintance. His name was Mickey Congress (name obviously changed to protect the guilty). He had this sweet Mustang with a powerful car stereo. He had two speakers mounted on the A-frame of the roof of the car, the pieces that hold up the roof of the car. We went out partying one night and he had Moving Pictures on tape. I had only heard “Tom Sawyer” at that point. I remember thinking, “Cool song, at least Peart has moved on from that idiot Ayn Rand and is now inspired by Mark Twain.” I was so critical in those days, “rock snob extraordinaire.” Anyway, Mickey had the entire LP on this cassette. The only problem is the guy was addicted to treble. He had the high end so turned up when he cranked the album, and he just kept playing it over and over again that night, it was so piercing it would melt your fillings. It sort of ruined the album for me at the time. It wasn’t until later, after I saw them in concert, that I bought the album and heard it without the high treble that I realized how great an LP it truly was/is.

“Tom Sawyer” is the opening track and what a classic. It has caused many a man to play “air drums.” It’s simply put a rock standard. “Red Barchetta” about a sci-fi, fantasy car is one of their most beloved songs in their catalog. As a youngster I wanted a Red Barchetta, only to find out there was no such car. “YYZ” which everyone thought was a secret code – it’s not, it’s the airline code for the Toronto airport – is one of my favorite of Rush’s many instrumentals. “Limelight” is a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of fame and a great rock song. I think they’ve played all four of the songs on side one at every show they’ve done since then. Side 2 is no slouch either. It starts with their last 10-minute plus epic, “Camera Eye” which is just a killer prog rock track. Other than “Xanadu” its one of my favorite long Rush tracks. The final track, “Vital Signs” even touches slightly on reggae. There’s nothing Rush can’t do.

I was lucky enough to see Rush at Kemper Arena on April 24th 1981 on the Moving Pictures tour. Only the biggest bands – Bob Seger, Journey, Styx (yeah, I know, Styx?) and Rush could come in and play two back to back sold out concerts at Kemper. They probably played to over 25,000 people in 2 days. Alas, my seats were in the nose bleeds, behind the band. I could see the techies working behind the scenes but couldn’t really see Geddy. I remember being disappointed after the show but that was because of my vantage point, and the sound was bad behind the band. Another disappointing first experience. I saw them again only a year later on the Signals tour and I was in front of the band that time… much better sound and experience.

The bonus on this 40th Anniversary package is a full concert from that tour. They released a live LP after, Exit Stage Left, but I always felt it didn’t do that tour justice. Now we have a whole show in it’s full glory. This is the exact same setlist that they played at Kemper the night I saw them – or saw their backs – in 1981. If you don’t have Moving Pictures yet the concert makes this a must have. It is the sound of one of the greatest rock bands ever at the height of their power. They open with the iconic “Overture/Temples of Syrinx” from 2112. They play tracks from every album in the catalog. And they play with a mighty force. The new stuff from Moving Pictures sounds fresh and fantastic. They play all the tracks that were in heavy radio rotation – “Xanadu,” “Spirit of the Radio,” “The Trees,” just to mention a few – but they don’t shy away from some of the great prog rock in the catalog with a healthy dose of Hemisphere’s “Cygnus” song cycle. While I had a shitty seat at the show, I can say the band was on fire that night. I would kill for a do over. This live concert in the 40th Anniversary box would stand up amongst any of their great live albums.

Rush, as usual, really comes through on this 40th Anniversary set. Unearthing this fabulous concert is a great gift to the fans, and there are many of us. I bought the album after seeing them in concert that April night in 1981 and I really had bad seats. I’m glad I did. This concert feels like unearthing a hidden artifact from my childhood, a rock n roll Rosetta Stone, if you will. If you dig rock n roll and Rush this is must have for all of you. I feel like holding a lighter over my head in one hand, and flashing the devil horns of rock n roll in the other…

“Cast in this unlikely role, ill-equipped to act with insufficient tact, One must put up barriers to keep oneself intact.”

Cheers!

 

 

 

Led Zeppelin & The Kansas City Myth Of Their Being Booed Off Stage Early In Their Career

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*Photo taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

It’s hard to explain to young people, like say my daughter, what life was like before the internet. Nowadays you’re merely a few keystrokes away from the answer to any question you have. What time is it in Oslo? Easy, just ask the internet. Any mystery or quandary you have can be resolved in seconds. When I was a kid – and when I type that I realize I sound like the meme “old man yells at cloud” – and I was reading, if I came upon a word I didn’t know or a reference I didn’t understand I had to set the book down and pick up the dictionary or worse go into the den to the encyclopedias aligned from A to Z on the bookshelves. It’s how I learned a lot of things and yet it was a source of great amusement to my daughter when she found out I did that. She also made fun of the fact that I was a league bowler back in those days. It’s hard to make that sound cool.

In the absence of Google, a lot of what we knew was sort of a collective “conscious” if you will. Right out of college I read the long, epic poem/story The Iliad. It’s writing was attributed to the ancient Greek writer Homer. It was written down sometime around 800 B.C. or 600 B.C. I could probably look it up on the internet but it’s not that important. Anyway, I say written down because over the year it’s been acknowledged that those early stories attributed to Homer – The Iliad and also The Odyssey – were actually part of an “oral tradition.” Before you think I’m talking dirty, I merely mean that the stories, told in the form of a poem, were passed from generation to generation not by being written on stone tablets or papyrus, but by being spoken aloud. While I went to high school say, 3000 years later, I’ve come to realize we hadn’t really evolved much. There were certain stories and myths that got passed around from generation to generation.

One of those stories involve another epic artistic venture, Led Zeppelin. When I started listening to rock n roll in the late 70s, Zeppelin was, unbeknownst to us, nearing the tragic end. The first LP that they put out after I had become a rock music fan was In Through The Out Door, an album that I sometimes feel that I alone love. I remember they announced their U.S. tour in support of that album and the closest they were coming to Kansas City was Chicago. Some of the seniors in my high school were trying to organize a trip to go up there. They were going to rent a bus, everyone would chip in. It was very communal, Woodstocky if you ask me. I’m not sure how they intended to get tickets to the show. Sadly while they were rehearsing for the tour at Jimmy Page’s house John Bonham drank enough vodka to kill a small bear and choked on his own vomit – which is how true rock stars went out back then. I never knew if the senior gang got their deposit money back on the bus?

Before all that tragic shit went down, I remember asking a few people why Led Zeppelin wasn’t coming to Kansas City. I guess I wasn’t worldly enough to realize that KC was just a small tour stopover for most bands. I thought we were a big deal not just a cowtown. It was then that I began to hear what I call the “Kansas City Myth of Zeppelin.” People would speak in whispered, reverent tones about why Zeppelin didn’t play KC. I remember sleeping out for Van Halen tickets and this old hippy behind me in line, who may have been the first person to tell me the story, said to me with a wistful look in his eyes, “Oh Zeppelin will never come back to Kansas City… they’ve only played here once and they were booed off the stage.” This was stunning news to me. First, that the mighty Zeppelin would be booed off the stage and second that Kansas City would have been that rude to anybody. We’re friendly here, like Canadians. The story went that Zeppelin was an opening act for some other band and the fans were drunk and impatient for the headliner and so they booed so loud and obnoxiously Zeppelin left the stage and refused to ever play here again. I was incredulous but after asking around about it, it seemed that everybody told the same story. It had become gospel, part of our accepted, Kansas City collective wisdom.

That may sound crazy to everyone. It was made more believable because there was a similar story – that might have been equally untrue – about Bad Company being booed off the stage as headliners. They had Ted Nugent open for them and I guess Ted came out with his usual crazy blow the roof off the joint stuff. Bad Company rock but they’re a little more laid back and riffy than Nugent. The myth was that Ted had got the crowd so riled up that when Bad Co came out and opened with the mellow song “Bad Company” the crazed crowd was having none of it. I find it hard to believe anybody who shelled out money to see Bad Co would boo them off the stage because of… Ted Nugent? C’mon, it’s preposterous? But with that story out there it kind of made the Zeppelin myth seem somewhat truer. Maybe KC audiences were just crazed assholes?

As incredible as the Zeppelin story was, I saw Robert Plant the first time he played Kansas City on the Fate Of Nations tour. He had been scheduled to play KC on the Now & Zen tour but his guitarist or his bassist had slipped and fell of the stage in (I believe) Tulsa a few days earlier and he’d cancelled. So this deep into his solo career it was the first time he’d played KC which only had played into the “booed off the stage” myth. Anyway, on this night at Memorial Hall with Plant on stage – he played “Ramble On” early in the set and I heard my friend’s girlfriend (now wife) ask, “Why is this guy singing Zeppelin?” (Sigh) – he referenced the “Kansas City Myth of Zeppelin.” He said he had heard a story about why he hadn’t played here in a long time, if ever. I mean, that’s quite a powerful myth if you’ve got Robert Plant himself referencing it. I remember my ears pricked up immediately. He said something about making up for lost time and launched into “Calling To You” or some great Plant rock song.

I finally decided to scour the internet and find out if any of this was true. It turns out Zeppelin had played KC only twice but that was more than the “only played here once” myth. They played KC for the first time November 5th 1969. It must have been after the first LP, as the set is all culled from those songs. Apparently they’d played Ontario, Canada the night before and were playing San Francisco the night after. They’d shipped their equipment on to SF and had to borrow equipment from a local band. They were not openers, they were the headliners. Reviews were positive with a few minor complaints about the borrowed PA system. They apparently played two shows that night, 7pm and 930pm. Rumor has it Bonham got a little blasted on Scotch in between shows and almost missed the second gig. No booing.

They came back almost a year later on August 19, 1970. The set list I found online has them opening with the “Immigrant Song” but the rest of the tracks were from Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II. Again, reviews were very positive and even went so far as saying this was a much better performance than their debut shows a year earlier. At least they had their own equipment this time. Apparently several of the band members had grown beards (most notably Page, but also Plant and JPJ) and the reviewer couldn’t resist commenting on the “abundance of hair.” The reviewer sounds like my grandmother who abhorred facial hair. Anyway, he goes on to complement their more nuanced playing and how they’d developed some mellower stuff to go with the hard rocking stuff. Again, no mention of booing is made here.

Why didn’t Zeppelin ever come back to Kansas City? I think at this point we have to agree that it had nothing to do with KC crowds booing them. It was probably scheduling or money or maybe issues with local promoters. Kemper Arena – where most big shows took place in the 70s and 80s – didn’t open until 1974 and Zeppelin were too big to play Memorial Hall or Municipal Auditorium, they’d outgrown our ability to host them. And yet, it was taken as gospel they were booed off the stage and never returned. Even Plant might have bought into that story at his solo show. We all thought that story was true. Thankfully… no it was not. Although as I type this, I know there is a really old hippy out there somewhere still telling that story like a stoned Oracle of Delphi to young rock fans foolish enough to listen.

What have we learned people? First, KC audiences aren’t assholes. Secondly, Zeppelin did play here a couple of times and god bless you if you were old enough and lucky enough to see them. I was not. I was, as Tom Petty sings, “a boy in short pants” during that time period. What we’ve also learned – question everything, especially authority… even if that authority is a hippy in the Van Halen ticket line…

Cheers!

Black Keys Release Rocking, Sleazy New Single “Wild Child” & It’s Put a Twisted Smile On My Face

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“I’m just a stranger with a twisted smile…”

When I was in college, which believe it or not were the “heavy drinking” years, my friends and I used to all say when we weren’t studying or in school that we were social workers out doing “social” work trying to improve things for people. Which basically meant we were out doing crazy shit to help entertain other people whose lives might not be as interesting as they could or should be. Such is the hubris of youth… or of drunken youth. “We are the youth gone wild…” as the song goes. Or at least we were the youth gone wild. Anyway, as part of that whole boozy buffoonery, I remember saying to friends, “When I’m old I just want these memories to be a twisted smile on my face that no one understands but me… and perhaps people will wonder where it came from?” I guess I was powerfully channeling my inner David Lee Roth all the time. Remember how cool he was back in the 80s?

I took a friend to the doctor today. And while I was sitting in the waiting room – where I waited almost as long as I did at the DMV a few weeks ago, someone owes me a beer – I saw that the Black Keys had dropped a new single “Wild Child.” I may be a little late on this one as apparently it’s number 1 on some music chart… I don’t really pay attention to the “charts,” as I’ve mentioned before (12 Favorite Old School, Vinyl, Single- Album Greatest Hits LPs; The Struggle Was Real). I was just thrilled the Keys had a new song out. I had heard they had a new album coming out but didn’t have any other details… I do now, the album is called Dropout Boogie and it’ll be out May 13th. I can’t believe they’ve already got a new album coming out? It was just last year they put out the great blues cover LP Delta Kream. And only two years prior they’d released the fabulous Let’s Rock. To turn around and drop a new album already is 1970s level rock n roll output. Usually they take a break for guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach’s latest solo album… or he produces someone else’s music. To be fair, Pat Carney (drums) also does some outside producing as well. Good for them. Always nice to work with other people, get the juices flowing for the next band project.

I was delighted when I heard that first single and the opening lyric, “I’m just a stranger with a twisted smile…” It certainly took me back to sunny spring days a life time ago… Perhaps there’ll be a twisted smile on my headstone. “Wild Child” is another in a long line of great Black Keys songs. These guys are some of the most consistently wonderful rockers out there. The entire song is a “come on.” Boy meets girl and proceeds to attempt to woo said girl. The first 7 seconds are a funky, almost disco, little riff that wouldn’t be out of place in and old school porn movie… not that I know anything about that sort of thing. Then the song kicks in with one of those monster Auerbach riffs. “Your heart is in danger…” Oh, indeed it is. The guitars are fuzzy and sleazy which perfectly fits the track. Carney’s drums throb like a heartbeat. Between riffs you can hear Auerbach doing a wah-wah thing that gives this such a funky, fun underpinning. As usual there’s a great guitar solo – we’d expect nothing less from these guys. “Baby won’t you show me your wild child ways.” Yes, please. You can feel the lust and need dripping off this song… It’s the perfect Spring song – even if you live in Kansas City where Spring has basically been Winter 2.0.

Here is the link:

These guys have come such a long way since their early bluesy, punky rock n roll. I would really like to see these guys live. I actually saw them do 1 song with the Stones at their 50th Anniversary show in Newark… They certainly acquitted themselves well. This album is an automatic buy for me. It’s not that kind of Jack White, genius gone weird level stuff that I have to hear first (and hear a few times) before I’ll buy. There’s nothing wrong with being consistently kick ass. Tom Petty was consistently kick ass so that’s pretty fine company the Black Keys find themselves in. Petty was an American Treasure after all.

Cheers! And always…during these dark times, keep smiling even if it’s a little bit of a twisted smile!

Pink Floyd: First New Single Since 2014 – “Hey, Hey, Rise Up (Featuring Andriy Khylvnyuk)” For Ukrainian Humanitarian Relief

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I had to rub my eyes when I started seeing the stuff on line… A new song by legendary band Pink Floyd? That can’t be right. Perhaps it could be early on-set dementia catching up with me? Pink Floyd hasn’t done anything since 2014’s The Endless River, a mostly instrumental tribute to their then-recently passed keyboard player Rick Wright. And the songs on that album were crafted from jams they did when recording The Division Bell back in 1994. They just went in and did some creative editing and a little bit of addition to come up with the album. I dug The Endless River as it harkens back to that Floyd period after founding guitarist/vocalist Syd Barrett departed and before the massive fame that came with Dark Side Of The Moon. And let’s face it, Pink Floyd was always at their best when lamenting a departed band member be it Syd Barrett, Roger Waters or Rick Wright. But after The Endless River, David Gilmour announced, that’s it, Pink Floyd are done.

Hence my shock when I saw that there was a new Floyd song on the way. It turns out Gilmour has gotten Pink Floyd back together for the most noble of reasons. The song is for charity, namely Ukrainian Humanitarian Relief. All proceeds go to that. Gilmour could have released this as a solo track, but obviously he realizes that the creative/commercial reach of using the Pink Floyd name is far wider than just his solo stuff. Pink Floyd has always stood on the side of Peace and this is a perfect use of their clout. Joining Gilmour (guitar) is Nick Mason on drums – and if Gilmour and Mason are involved it’s Pink Floyd to me – with Guy Pratt whose played bass for Pink Floyd for a long time and Nitin Sawhney on keyboards. Gilmour’s daughter-in-law is Ukrainian so he obviously has a personal stake in all of this.

On vocals it’s Andriy Khlyvnyuk from the Ukrainian band Boombox. Gilmour sat in with Boombox a few years ago, although Andriy was absent that night, visa issues. More recently Boombox was touring, I believe in America, when the Russians launched their unprovoked invasion. He flew back to Kyiv to help defend his country. After being there a few days he posted a video on social media singing a Ukrainian song “The Red Viburnum In The Meadow.” It’s a “we will rise” kind of song. Very stirring. It was then that Gilmour got the idea of pulling Pink Floyd back together. Mason was immediately keen on the idea. Gilmour was quoted as saying, in a self-deprecating manner, “All I had to do was go in and play the “guitar god” part.” And he certainly does. There is also a very affecting video on YouTube, seen here:

I thought, “Charity single ok, I’m in,” but I didn’t expect to like this song as much as I do. Andriy’s vocal is as impassioned as you’d think it would be. I loved when U2 did that side project as The Passengers and did that song with Luciano Pavarotti, “Miss Sarajevo” so I found hearing someone sing in Ukrainian quite moving. And Gilmour’s guitar is, well quite inspired. He’s one of those guitar players who when I hear him, I know it’s him. His style of playing is so distinctive. He does not sing at all on the song, it’s all Andriy on vocals.

There are some who may argue whether this is “really” Pink Floyd. But it was the line up of Gilmour and Mason who were credited as Pink Floyd on A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Rick Wright played on the album but wasn’t an “official” band member so he could avoid the hassles brought on by Roger Waters lawsuit against the band… which he eventually lost. So if you want to get caught up in the debate of whether this is Pink Floyd or not, go right ahead. But here at B&V this is Pink Floyd.

This is a great song put together for an even greater reason, Ukrainian Humanitarian Relief. Anything that can help is positive. I love that Gilmour cranked up Pink Floyd in the cause of humanitarian relief. The Russians atrocities get worse every day. I can’t believe we’re seeing a war in Europe in 2022. If this great song can shine more light on it, I’m in. Come for the noble cause, stay for the impassioned vocal and searing guitar solos. And as we used to say in high school, “It’s Pink Floyd, man.”

“All we are saying is give Peace a chance” – John Lennon!

Cheers!

Review: Red Hot Chili Pepper’s ‘Unlimited Love’ – Frusciante Returns For A Midtempo, Groove-fest

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If you’re like me, you spent the weekend holed up in a room with big speakers listening to the highly anticipated new LP from the Red Hot Chili Peppers (complete with John Frusciante back on guitar) Unlimited Love.

A few weeks ago my daughter was in town and we went over to see my parents. My father, a half a glass of wine in, decided to drop some family trivia. Each member of our nuclear family was born in a different state. While true, it’s not something I think about a lot. My father was actually born in Los Angeles. His parents, my grandparents, migrated from Kansas to California during the Great Depression like so many people did. It wasn’t quite as Grapes Of Wrath as it sounds. My grandfather had a job in a factory waiting for him. My grandparents were comfortable enough they not only had my dad but my uncle both in L.A. Eventually they returned to the Midwest but I always wonder what would have happened if they’d stayed out West. Who knows, I might have gone to high school with Anthony Kiedis, Flea and Hillel Slovak. I’m about the same age as those cats. Maybe, despite no evidence of musical ability, I’d be in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Although my low pain threshold has kept me away from tattoos… and I’m not brave enough to appear on stage in only one sock. Dare to dream.

New music from the Chili Peppers is always a treat. Maybe it’s because (as mentioned) I’m roughly the same age, it always feels like getting an email from an old friend when they drop new music. Admittedly I was late getting on their bandwagon. I am probably the only Chili Peppers fan who discovered the band through the one album they did with Dave Navarro, One Hot Minute. Critics felt the songs on that album were under developed but I love that record. “Warped” is just an amazing song. “My tendency for dependency is up ending me…” From there I went back to their seminal line-up and most famous LPs featuring John Frusciante – Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Mother’s Milk. Those albums were a tour de force of guitar funk. Flea is the greatest bassist of his generation. It was fun following Kiedis’ development as a vocalist. He started as a rapper now he’s a fabulous vocalist. I was hesitant to buy Californication when it came out. I remember listening to samples of it at the Barnes & Noble on the Plaza. I walked out of there with that album and it solidified my place on their bandwagon.

I was terribly bummed after Frusciante left a second time after Stadium Arcadium. I’d seen them on that tour and he played with an almost religious ecstasy on his face. Everyone except my parents loved Stadium Arcadium. I had people significantly older than me at work tell me they were listening to that album. You could argue they were the biggest band on the planet at that point. A friend of mine at the time said to me, “I can’t believe I’m more into the Chili Peppers LP than the new Pearl Jam. If you’d told me 10 years ago that would happen I’d have told you you were crazy.” While I was bummed they’d lost Frusciante after that album and tour I stayed on the bandwagon. I thought Josh Klinghoffer who replaced Frusciante was a significantly less talented lead guitarist but I was in no way anti Josh. I loved I’m Beside You. However, I was really unimpressed with The Getaway, despite the sensational first single, “Dark Necessities.” The wheels came off on the second half of that album… Having listened to it for the first time in a long while this weekend, I stand by my opinion.

As I said, with Frusciante returning to the fold after an amicable split with Klinghoffer (Chad Smith played with Josh on Eddie Vedder’s new LP and tour) anticipation has been running high for this album. Anticipation is a tricky thing. If it gets to excessive it can interfere with how you perceive an album. I expected the same kind of guitar masterwork we got on Stadium Arcadium. There are moments of Frusciante’s transcendent guitar work but I would describe this album as more “Flea forward” than their last LP together. This album has a lot of funky bass and that is not a bad thing. These guys remind me of my old college roommates. There were five us in a tiny apartment. Rent was like $60 a month. We were wild men in those old days. When we get together for reunions these days they’re always fun but nothing as crazy as the college years. Maybe that’s what happened on this record. Old pals got together not to recapture old glories but reaffirm their bond and vibe. This album is a very midtempo affair. That doesn’t necessarily bother me, but the Rock Chick was not pleased.

The album starts with the first single, the somber “Black Summer.” It may not be as glorious as “Dark Necessities” but it’s a great track. It’s very “Slow Cheetah.” The first third of this record is just sensational. It’s as varied and melodious as anything they’ve ever done. “Here Ever After” is an upbeat, funky ear worm of a song. It gets in your head and it stays there. “Aquatic Mouth Dance” has some great horns that distinguish it. I do love Flea on trumpet. It’s another funky rocker. “Not The One” is just a gorgeous ballad. I love the line “I don’t look like myself in photographs.” Beautiful song, beautifully sung. “Poster Child” is a funky “We Didn’t Start The Fire” trippy trip through history. The chorus is another “stick in your brain” kind of moment. “I will be your poster child…”

“The Great Apes” is really the first track that Frusciante’s guitar dominates. The sounds he gets out of a guitar are so distinct. There are certain guitarists who I hear and just know who it is. It’s as unique as a vocal. David Gilmour and even Clapton are like that for me. I’m realizing Frusciante is as distinct as those guys. “It’s Only Natural” continues the hot streak. While it’s mellower it’s got some cool guitar sound effects. “She’s A Lover” is another bass heavy, funky up beat track. It’s another song I like a whole lot. “These Are the Ways” is probably the biggest rock song on the album. Frusciante lets loose with some heavy riffs on that track.

It’s after that, starting with “Whatchu Thinkin'” and “Bastards of Light” that the album falls into that midtempo vibe and they never really get out of it. I like Rick Rubin and I think he’s the perfect producer for these guys but he lets them get a little monochromatic at times, like Picasso in his “Blue Period.” The Chili Peppers’ creative process is jam based – most of their songs come out of sessions where they get together and jam. That jam based process doesn’t really lend itself to editing. They probably could have cut a few songs and it would have helped the album. It’s an hour and thirteen minutes long. “Bastards of Light” is the only track I didn’t connect with, it turns into Kiedis singing through a megaphone. “White Braids & Pillow Chair” is a pretty ballad but it meanders as did my mind at that point in the album. Taken by themselves each of these songs are great but as a whole the album does seem very midtempo. There’s nothing wrong with mellow it’s just not what I’d expected.

Things get back on track toward the end of the album with the upbeat “One Way Traffic.” “Will you be my traffic jam?” It’s got a great sing along chorus. That’ll be a big one live. I really love the song “Let ‘Em Cry.” It may be my favorite on the album. “Veronica” has great lyrics. “The Heavy Wing” is probably, yes, the heaviest track on the album. Frusciante takes over the vocals on the back end of that song which is an unfortunate choice. “Tangelo” wraps things up much like “Roadtrippin'” did Californication, with a beautiful acoustic guitar driven track.

This is certainly one of the biggest albums of the year and I urge everybody to check it out. I can’t wait to see these guys live again. I want the Rock Chick to behold the majesty of John Frusciante live. They purportedly put together 50 songs when recording this album and there are rumors they might release a follow up in short order. I’m for all the Chili Peppers with Frusciante I can get!

Enjoy this laid back groove of an album. I know it made my weekend! Cheers!