Concert Review: Guns n Roses, Kansas City, 29Jun16: The Power & The Glory

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*Picture from last night’s show courtesy of The Rock Chick

In the late 80s and early 90s Guns n Roses ruled the hard rock world, and Axl Rose was their king. On a tour they’ve named “Not In This Lifetime” (after what one of them said when asked about a reunion), Guns n Roses rolled into Kansas City like a rock and roll blitzkrieg and sonically pummeled an ecstatic crowd. This was rock and roll spectacle that I haven’t seen since… well, the late 80s. These guys played for 2 and half hours… It was a concert of Springsteen-esque length with more power than I’ve seen in years.

I still remember the first time I heard “Welcome To the Jungle.” I actually saw the video, back when MTV played videos, before I heard the song on the radio. These days I’m more likely to see a music video on the Weather Channel than on MTV but I digress. At first I thought they were just another hair band but after hearing the tune a few times, the sheer menace in their music turned my head. This was dark juju. By the time “Paradise City” came out, with another iconic concert video, Axl in white leather, I was on the bandwagon and their masterpiece first LP “Appetite For Destruction” went into high rotation on my turntable and stayed in high rotation to this day.

But then Axl got the worst case of LSD (Lead Singer Disease) in the history of rock and everybody else in the band left. Axl shouldered on and spent a decade making the deeply flawed, disappointing “Chinese Democracy.” Slash went on to various solo projects and even joined Duff McKagan in the short-lived supergroup Velvet Revolver with the late Scott Weiland on lead vocals. Izzy Stradlin became the Howard Hughes of rock and roll and disappeared. I certainly never thought any of these guys would play together again. Slash and Axl’s feud seemed so deeply rooted that they would never speak to each other again let alone make music together. I was utterly skeptical when I heard rumors that Slash, Duff and Axl were (literally) getting the band back together. I figured it wouldn’t live up to the hype even if they did get back together. I was wrong. The chemistry these guys have is fierce.

I will start off with the meme inspired subject – Axl’s appearance. Yes, he looks awful. He’s overweight but not grossly so. He was energetically all over the stage last night. He had his serpentine dance move on full display. I will admit, he kept ducking into a tent on the side of the stage whenever there was a musical interlude… I have no idea what was going on in there but I assume he was sucking on an oxygen tank. Appearance aside, his vocals were fantastic. His vocal range has not diminished whatsoever. He remains one of the most charismatic performers I’ve ever seen. He even looked, dare I say, happy. He changed t-shirts almost every song and I have to admit, when he came out with a shirt that simply said, “The Bitch Is Back” on it, I had to smile and nod in agreement…

Slash is the most melodic lead guitar player on the planet right now. His muscular, beautiful solos dominated the evening. He holds the guitar almost vertically and tortures the  strings. I’ve always loved Slash but to see him live is to really understand how talented he is. I might wear a top hat all day in his honor.

The unheralded guy in the equation is Duff McKagan… We should all look as good as Duff McKagan at his age. My God man, the guy is a Greek God… His bass playing is stellar. I had forgotten how many of their tunes start with his rolling bass fills. Flea is the best bass player I’ve ever heard but Duff McKagan has got to be on the short list of greatest bass players ever.

The show started with two great “Appetite” tracks, “It’s So Easy” and the heroin song, “Mr. Brownstone,” a personal favorite (the song, not the heroin). I was surprised when the old line-up then launched into the title track of “Chinese Democracy.” It was clear GnR was hellbent on doing a song from each of their LPs… Duff even sang “Raw Power” off of “The Spaghetti Incident?” “Chinese Democracy” despite some great riff-age from Slash was the low point in the evening’s performance. Luckily they followed it up with a maniacal performance of “Welcome To the Jungle.” That’s the point in the show where the afterburners kicked in. GnR were in high gear after that. They played all of their biggest songs but what impressed me most was how great the deep cuts were. Whether it was the hard rock blast of “Double Talkin’ Jive” or the epic grandeur of “Estranged” these guys just nailed it.

Slash had a couple of guitar solo moments – one was the theme from the Godfather movie and the other with the rhythm guitarist when they did “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd that left my jaw on the floor. A piano came up from under the stage and after jamming on the outro of “Layla” which was pretty amazing, Axl and the band launched into “November Rain.” Slash’s soloing on that one made my night. Slash’s soloing on “This I Love” transformed that song from a forgotten “Chinese Democracy” track to a highlight. The only song I would have cut from the set list was “Coma.” It was overly long and drug on a bit. On the other hand, the “Chinese Democracy” cut “Better” was simply awesome.

After “November Rain” they played two more songs, a great “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” followed by another personal favorite, “Nighttrain.” I certainly felt like I was on a “Nighttrain” by that point in the evening. The encore was three songs. They sub’d in “Don’t Cry” for “Patience” which they’ve been performing prior to this show and it was a welcome substitution. The cover of the Who’s “The Seeker” was great, despite the Rock Chick leaning over and whispering, “I love this song, uh, when the Who do it…” Finally, the last tune was the epic, “Paradise City.” That was the song that first got me really into this band and it seemed fitting that it would be the song they ended on. The stage lit up in different colors, the fire works went off and my friends, wife and I disappeared into the night. We ended up sitting on my roof, drinking beers and asking ourselves, “did that just happen?”

I have no idea where this reunion will go. I’m hopeful it leads to these guys collaborating on new music. I hope that Izzy comes out of hiding and plays with these guys, it looks like he’s missing out on some real fun. It’s more likely that won’t happen… “Not In This Lifetime.” But you never know…

As a side note, Alice In Chains opened up with a 45 minute rocking set. Jerry Cantrell is a magician on guitar and he and the new front man, whose name escapes me, harmonize just as Jerry and Layne Stayley in the old days…. ah, what might have been. I especially liked the portrait of the naked woman on one of Cantrell’s guitars but that’s another story…

If you get a chance and these guys are in a stadium near you, do yourself a favor and catch an epic, history-making performance. GnR proved to me last night that they still have that magic.

Cheers!

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Conspiracy Theory: Who Is Holding Bob Seger’s Early LPs Hostage?

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 I grew up in the Midwest, the breadbasket of the US. In those days, one name was synonymous with rock and roll and that was Bob Seger. He was bigger than US Steel in the Midwest. I think they coined the term “heartland rocker” for Bob Seger. He was to the Midwest what Springsteen was to the East coast back then. Of course Springsteen went on to be bigger than anybody. I love what I heard Dylan say about the two of them one day on Theme Time Radio Hour: “They say Seger is a poor man’s Springsteen but I think Springsteen is a rich man’s Bob Seger.” My friend Jeff, Nancy’s brother, who I like to call Dr Rock, always likes to remind me that he thinks Springsteen ruined Seger with a lot of bad advice, which I think is spurious. As usual, I think I’ve digressed here… Suffice it to say, Seger’s music was ubiquitous when I was young. Listening to Seger was like saying the Pledge of Allegiance, it was something you did every day before school.

Most people, when they think of Seger, think of his albums released between his two great, great live albums “Live Bullet” and “Nine Tonight.” What they don’t realize is that the albums, “Night Moves,” “Stranger In Town” and “Against The Wind” are really actually late period Seger. Well, I guess now they’re mid-period Seger, but I don’t want to get lost in the details. Seger really hit it big when “Live Bullet” came along. I don’t think anybody did the math and realized that those songs on “Live Bullet” had to come from somewhere. Most people were unaware that Seger had eight albums out before he got big. I don’t know if the guy just had bad luck, shitty support from his record label or bad producers but he never got a break. His first studio album to really have an impact was “Night Moves.” Prior to that he wasn’t very well known outside of his native Michigan, which is a shame.

We live in an era now where most artists’ back catalogs are curated with more care than the art held at the Louvre. There are giant, deluxe box sets of unreleased material. There are constant re-releases of remixed versions of our favorite albums. The Stones remaster their records almost every year in what I believe is a marketing ploy. Zeppelin just issued yet another series of remasters with unreleased material on each studio album they released in their heyday. Many artists are doing this with an eye toward their place in history. Some artists, including the aforementioned Springsteen, have done box sets consisting of remasters of their original albums only, no bonus material, just the old records in a new package. “Oh well, I guess I’ll be buying “The White Album” again…” At the very least you see the old albums “remastered for iTunes.”

The one notable exception – and this is where the conspiracy theory comes in – is Bob Seger. Not only can you not find his first eight albums, you can’t even buy his biggest albums on iTunes. He’s released his two must-have live albums on iTunes and a couple of greatest hits packages but not his actual albums. He did release the curious “Early Seger Vol. 1” which was great but it sort of leaves you wanting “Vol 2” which is nowhere in sight. You can still buy his late period records on CD but not on iTunes? You can’t find his early records on CD either? WTF is going on here? Who’s responsible? I suspect some sort of arch villain has the master tapes locked in a vault, guarded by a giant octopus. As usual, I suspect the corporate thugs at Capitol Records, his record label for all these years, are behind this somehow. There must be something I’m missing here. There is some rumor that Seger just doesn’t care about his back catalog or he thinks those records are substandard, probably because the listening public was too daft not to buy them by the millions. Some of the production was substandard but there are records missing that are screaming for release.

At a bare minimum Seger, or somebody, needs to see to the remastering and release of these following records… If you can find these on vinyl in a used record store, do yourself a favor and buy them. They may be scratched or have more pops and hisses than the bacon grille down at the local Waffle House, but they are not only worth it, they are all we have until someone, for the love of God, releases these albums properly:

  1. “Ramblin Gamblin Man” 1968 – this was Seger’s first release. It’s under the name “The Bob Seger System.” The title track was the only really big hit. It’s a part of his live set to this day… The world needs the Bob Seger System, people.
  2. “Mongrel” 1970 – I have a copy of this, and it’s in pretty bad shape, but it rocks in a “rawks” kinda way. Seger howls the vocals. He even does a cover of “Mountain High, River Deep.” This is just a super, overlooked album.
  3. “Smokin O.P.’s” 1972 – I’m not usually a fan of covers albums (the title supposedly means smoking other people’s songs) but this is a great set of tunes. I really like his versions of “Bo Diddley” and “Love The One Your With.” His version of “Let It Rock” the ol’ Chuck Berry chestnut was his encore, show ender for years.
  4. “Back In ’72” 1973 – There’s a moment on “Live Bullet” before (I think) “Turn the Page” where Seger says to the crowd, “this is from back in ’72.” I always thought he was merely referring to the year the song was released. I had no idea this album even existed. It’s the pick of the litter here. There is not a bad moment on this album. He even covers “Love the One Your With,” a ballsy move in those days. How this album didn’t make it big is a mystery to me. Seger has to put this album back out.
  5. “Seven” 1974 – Seger’s creatively named seventh album… This album doesn’t have any hits but it’s also one of my personal favorites. The original version of “Get Out of Denver” which is so wonderfully performed on “Live Bullet” is on this record. It’s simply the best Chuck Berry song not by Chuck Berry out there… with all due respect to the Stones, who have been doing Chuck for years.
  6. “Beautiful Loser” 1975 – This album is the one right before “Live Bullet” and had the biggest impact on that live record. This is another sensational album that I defy you to find a copy of.

The only early Seger album I’d warn you away from is “Noah.” Seger didn’t even do much singing on that record. There were rumors of depression and of course the famous false rumor of him having throat cancer. The guy just dropped out of the band for a while folks. Anyway, I beseech the powers that be, whoever is holding up the release of these albums and his more popular records on at least iTunes, please put this music out. I’m not usually a “second shooter on the grassy knoll” type of guy but this ranks up there with Amelia Earhart’s disappearance in terms of world mysteries for me…

Look for these records in your local used vinyl store and rock out people.

Cheers!

LP Review: Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “The Getaway”: Disappointed

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The Red Hot Chili Peppers, to me, have always been like guys I went to high school with. They might have been a few classes ahead of me and part of that cool crowd I could only aspire to hang out with but they seemed like friends. I look forward to their LP releases like I do an email from an old roommate. My anticipation for “The Getaway” was extra heightened as it’d be their second with “new” guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. After spending the last two days listening, I have to say, I’m disappointed. I can’t even print the Rock Chick’s reaction…suffice it to say her beautiful nose was crinkled up…

I’m like most people. I got on the Chili Peppers’ bandwagon after “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” their masterpiece. I bought it in the used record store after I heard “Under the Bridge.” Nothing had me prepared for the punk rock/funk that exploded out of the speakers. I sort of filed that record away and only went back to it sparingly. I was too focused on Pearl Jam and Soundgarden at the time… Then, years later came “One Hot Minute” with Dave Navarro manning the guitar. When I heard the song “Warped” something clicked in my brain (“my tendencies for dependencies are upending me…” God, I love that line). I loved that song and I even liked that mostly uneven album. I read recently that Flea describes it as a “bastard” album. I think “orphaned” album would be the more proper term, at least a bastard has parents. It was deeply flawed but I loved what they were doing. I quickly pulled out “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” and realized I’d over looked a really special album. I immediately decamped to the record store and bought “Mother’s Milk.” I was hooked, I was in. I even own their first album despite the fact that I despise “rap-rock” for the most part. “Police Helicopter” and “Get Up And Jump” are great tunes…but I digress.

To have been along for the ride when Frusciante came back was thrilling. “Californication,” “By the Way,” and especially “Stadium Arcadium” are landmark albums in this band’s career. One might consider it their “golden” period. I even bought the oft overlooked live album, “Live In Hyde Park” which will be on my list of Essential Live Albums, if I ever get around to writing it. I was saddened when I heard Frusciante was once again leaving the band after the “Stadium Arcadium” tour but by then I’d realized that the Peppers had survived so many changes at guitarist that I was un-phased. It was a shame but I looked forward to what came next. I mean, I dug “One Hot Minute,” it was likely I was going to like what came next.

What came next, of course, was “I’m With You” with then new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. I think Chad Smith’s quote about the state of the band at the time sums it up, “This is a new band. Same name, but it’s a different band.” Anthony Kiedis even said, “This is a beginning.” With Frusciante and even with Navarro the Chili Peppers had a very strong guitarist and they sort of let the guitar take the lead (maybe especially with Navarro, they really accommodated him). Granted, Flea is the greatest bass player of his generation and plays with an aggressive abandon that I just love, but the band tended to cater to the guitarist de jour. That changed with Klinghoffer. He’s a capable, melodic guitarist, but virtuoso would not be on his resume. Between “Stadium Arcadium” and “I’m With You” Flea had famously gone to USC to study “music theory” and it showed on “I’m With You.” It was clear the focus on song structure was more acute on that album. I liked “I’m With You,” I even bought all the B-sides (“I’m Beside You”). Even so, I could tell “I’m With You” was a transitional album. The music was basically the same thing they’d done with Frusciante, only with Klinghoffer, a less skilled guitarist, filling in that role. I knew something would change on the next outing…

Enter, “The Getaway.” First and foremost, it would appear that Klinghoffer has now been fully integrated into the band. He’s no longer trying to fill Frusciante’s shoes, he’s clearly changed the way they approach songwriting and how they perform. The band seems like a more cohesive unit vs a group playing around a virtuoso guitarist ala Frusciante. The next big change was with producer: Rick Rubin was out after six albums together and Brain Burton (aka Danger Mouse) was in. I wasn’t too worried about the change at producer, especially because on U2’s last outing, “Songs of Innocence,” the best tunes were the ones Burton produced. However, Burton’s production brings a more “pop” sensibility where as Rubin brought a rock sensibility. This album is very slickly produced… I have remarked it’s so polished I can see my reflection.

After repeated listens, I must sadly admit, I’m disappointed. I read on-line that Kiedis recently went through a painful break-up and who knows what’s true, but this feels like a break-up album. An undercurrent of remorse and regret run through the whole thing. The rockers don’t quite rock with the raw, dangerous feel that the Chili’s usually bring. Even on the upbeat song, “Detroit” when Anthony sings, “Detroit, I’m crazy,” it doesn’t sound like a good kind of crazy or joyful at all. The ballads don’t seem to have the emotional intimacy the Peppers can usually create. Most of the songs fall into a mid-tempo, gauzy groove. Burton’s production makes this sound like a 70s pop album… and appropriately enough the King of 70s Pop, Elton John shows up on the collaboration “Sick Love” which is one of the better tunes here.

“The Longest Wave” is a beautiful ballad but it’s followed up with the slow “Goodbye Angels” which is better, but still midtempo at best. “The Hunter” is just depressing. I’ve heard some comparisons to the Beatles psychedelic period but I only hear that on “Feasting On the Flowers” and “Dreams of a Samurai” and it comes across more as an additional, accent color on their musical palette than a real musical direction. “Encore” is another meandering mid tempo song. It’s just too easy to lose interest amidst all this downer mellowness.

“Go Robot” is a funky, upbeat tune that is one of the better things here. “Ticonderoga” misses the mark slightly but at least it rocks. “Detroit” musters a little menace, I mean if you’re going to name-check Iggy’s home town you better bring a little “Search and Destory” swagger… But, alas, again the rockers just don’t bring the danger.

The best songs here are the first three that were available when you preordered the LP. “Dark Necessities” is one of their all time best tunes, proving even on bad albums, great bands will come up with at least one classic. “We Turn Red” is the best funky rocker on the album. Even the disco pretensions of the title tune, “The Getaway,” work. That song grows on you with each additional listen.

Further on the upside, I’ve never heard Kiedis sing better. Each album his vocal abilities improve. He sings beautifully and clearly from the heart. Flea’s bass is a gem. I think I finally understand Flea and Anthony’s relationship. It’s basic yen/yang. Flea is the light, Anthony brings the darkness. Klinghoffer isn’t going to win any “Guitarist of the Year” awards, but he brings some interesting guitar melodies. Chad Smith is the one who has to be most upset here… what they did to his drum sound is quite possibly illegal in southern states. He misses Rubin the most out of anybody here. And, I have to admit, there is more experimentation with different sounds on this record than I’ve heard from these guys and I will always respect an artist who stretches what they do. I would chalk this up as a “Noble Failure.”

While I can’t recommend this album, I’d say there are still a few tracks like “Dark Necessities” that are worth checking out. If this album tanks you have to wonder if Flea and Anthony will continue with Klinghoffer at guitar. It doesn’t look like Frusciante will be coming back as he continues to release unlistenable solo albums. Will they stay the course? I’m hopeful they do change producers. The Danger Mouse thing didn’t work for me… I don’t think I’m getting off the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bandwagon… but this record makes it a challenge to hang on… I guess I’ll just have to look forward to the next one…

Cheers!

Analysis: Clapton’s Late Career – Is He Making Amends?

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I’ve almost always liked Eric Clapton. And, like his recently titled album suggests, “I still do.” However, I won’t be reviewing his new album for BourbonAndVinyl. For me, “I Still Do” is just another mellow strummer along the lines of “Back Home,” “Old Sock,” or “Clapton.” Sure, “I Still Do” has better production than most of his LPs, but I still have no interest. I have to admit to a bit of frustration with Eric Clapton. Here’s a guy who made his reputation on fiery guitar solo’s in the 60s with such history-making acts as John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Cream. His playing earned him the graffiti tag: “Clapton Is God.” Now it appears he’s turned his back on that sort of guitar virtuosity in favor of a very mellow and often over-slick, produced sound. It’s just not interesting to me at all. At this point I’d even settle for a little of the blues fire he showed on “Slowhand,” my first Clapton album purchased with my own money. I also purchased “Just One Night” his live album from that era and I think it’s the best live album he’s ever done. Do yourself a favor and check that one out.

I heard Keith Richards say of Clapton in an interview years ago, “Eric is ok, but he’s just so afraid.” I chocked it up to Keith being stoned and rambling, but I’m beginning to think he may be right. Clapton seems downright afraid of letting loose with his guitar. Similar to Robert Plant, it seems Clapton wants no part in living up to his past. I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but I’d like to think he wouldn’t so actively flee from it. I saw Clapton in Dallas about 10 years ago or so, and he ended the rather weak show with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I’m still pissed. I mean, really? He’s always had an affinity for the “Great American Songbook,” but come on, man.

I was thinking about Clapton’s work in this millennium the other day, really everything since “From the Cradle,” trying to make sense of it. It suddenly occurred to me, Clapton is also rather famous for being a recovered addict. He managed to somehow kick heroin in the 70’s. I’m not sure when he finally won the battle against alcohol but he’s been sober quite a while now. I typically don’t trust someone who doesn’t drink, but I always respect the recovered alcoholic, so good for Eric. We all make that choice every day. Clapton famously founded the Crossroads Rehab center and does (I believe) an annual concert in Chicago with all the guitar firepower in the world performing. I’d actually like to attend that festival but the Rock Chick doesn’t share my affinity for 70’s guitar-blues-rock (maybe she’d go for the shopping?). When thinking about Clapton’s late career it suddenly occurred to me, maybe he’s making amends. Perhaps he associates the blistering guitar solos of his youth with his drug and liquor addictions hence he’s turned his back on that part of his skill set.

According to what I’ve read, “Making Amends” is defined by the 12-Step Program as the attempt to “make direct amends to such people (I’m assuming that you’ve harmed), wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” I believe this is Step 9 and it led me to this theory of Clapton’s late career. To understand my theory you really have to look at his collaborations. Clapton’s late career is chock full of collaborations. Could it be that he’s making amends with these people? I read his autobiography a few years ago and I have to admit, I’ve never read someone’s autobiography and come out liking the person less afterward. It seems he was a colossal asshole when he was on the sauce.

  1. George Harrison – as early as 1992 Clapton went on tour in Japan with Harrison. He attended/helped organize the Harrison Tribute concert. Let’s face it, he stole George’s wife… so there was a lot to be sorry for there.
  2. B.B. King – “Riding With the King,” his collaboration with B.B. is one of the better collaborations he’s done. Not sure why he’d need to make amends with B.B. Everybody loved and respected B.B. King. Maybe he felt bad about exploiting and/or stealing from the old blues masters. You’re really looking for something to feel bad about if that’s your motivation.
  3. Cream – the 2005 Reunion Concerts/Live LP – Clapton’s stormy relationship with Jack Bruce (bass), and Ginger Baker (drums) are the thing of legend. In the end they’d just go on stage and jam while ignoring each other. From the smiling faces and mellow performances one could suggest Clapton succeeded in “getting the healing done.”
  4. Steve Winwood – 2009 Madison Square Garden Concerts/LP – From everything I read, Winwood was hoping for a lot more collaboration and leadership from Clapton when they were in Blind Faith. Unfortunately Clapton quietly faded into the woodwork. Maybe this joint concert was an attempt to show us what might have been. I love this live album. Winwood appears to be one of the few people who can coax a little fire out of Clapton’s guitar. Clapton provides a solo on Winwood’s fabulous tune “Dirty City” that makes you think, “where the fuck has this sound been?” “Dirty City” is a must-buy.
  5. Glyn Johns – “I Still Do” – Clapton read Johns’ autobiography and in it Glyn describes his initial collaborations with Clapton which were not positive. Johns was brought in to work on “The Rainbow Concerts” album and Clapton wouldn’t show up for “touch-up” recording sessions for that live album. Johns went on to work with Clapton later and it went a lot better, maybe Eric was sober finally, and he wondered in his book if they were still friends. Suddenly, Clapton is bringing Glyn to produce “I Still Do.” That smacks of “amends” in my book.
  6. J.J. Cale – “The Road to Escondido” – Clapton has recorded more J.J. Cale songs than just about anybody. He recorded this collaborative album in 2006 and did a tribute album when Cale sadly passed in 2014. Heaven knows what Clapton has to make up for here.
  7. Wynton Marsalis – “Live From Jazz at Lincoln Center” – again, no idea what amends would be made here but this is a critically acclaimed live album.

It may be a stretch to say that Clapton has mellowed out and stop playing fierce guitar as a reaction to his sobriety. However, if you look at his collaborations, you could make the case that he’s out there making amends. It’s produced better music than his solo albums, so I’m not complaining here. He did cover Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine” a tune which has an air of remorse and confession about it. Of course the Wynton Marsalis, J.J. Cale, and B.B. King collaborations seem to be more of a joyful thing, so I could be wrong. I often am. But I felt this was good food for thought.

I would still advise checking out some of these collaborations. I believe you’ll find them more satisfying than “I Still Do.” And yes, I still do like Eric Clapton, blazing solo’s or not.

Cheers!

#OrlandoUnited

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I started this blog to highlight the wonderful joys of sitting in a room or even better a bar, and enjoying your favorite libation while listening to loud music. My favorite libation happens to be fine Bourbon, but to each their own. There is little outside my family that I hold sacred. I’m not a religious man nor am I a political person. Outside family, one of the few things I do hold sacred is sitting in a bar or cafe with friends, sharing a drink and a laugh and if I’m lucky, some good music. Now it seems, from the cafes of Paris to bars in Orlando, drinking in a club with friends has become a dangerous act.

I had a great-uncle who was Gay. As Rod Stewart once sang, “Georgie was gay I guess, nothing more or nothing less.” It was never that big of a deal in my family. My great-uncle’s father was an alcoholic and a mean guy who abandoned my great-uncle’s mom, my great-uncle and his two siblings. His childhood sounds like it was pretty awful. Right after high school my great-uncle got a job and started supporting his family. College, or any other dreams the guy must have had were put on hold. He did what he had to do to feed his mother and the two kids she was raising. The man has always been a Hero in my mind. He worked hard his whole life. It never mattered to me who he lived with, who he loved or anything about what he did. To each, their own.

The thought that some mentally unstable, terrorist groupie could possibly hate anybody based on who they love or who they kiss is inconceivable to me. To turn what should have been a glorious Saturday night out drinking and dancing with friends for those patrons of Pulse into the horrific carnage we witnessed this weekend makes me livid. Anybody capable of mass murder doesn’t get to claim he did it for God. Religion doesn’t bother me but increasingly the religious do. Freud would have had a field day with this shooter. The fact that this guy could get access to legally purchased guns is the most disturbing part of this whole thing for me. Again, I’m not political but someone on an FBI watch list and who was clearly troubled shouldn’t have access to anything more dangerous than a butter knife. Spare me the thoughts and prayers… we need action.

The most heartening part of this story, which was highlighted on “Last Week, Tonight” hosted by John Oliver, was how the people of Orlando lined up around the block waiting to give blood to help the injured survivors of the brutal attack. I had actually seen that on the news earlier in the day yesterday and felt that swelling pride that I feel at these times of calamity. To watch the people of Orlando come together the way they did was both moving and inspiring. I salute you all. While my heart remains heavy today, seeing that line at the blood bank helped lift me up a bit. We’re not going to let the bastards drag us down.

I stand with Orlando. I stand with all those poor, sad families who were effected by this  horrible tragedy. I stand with all my LGBT brothers and sisters. My thoughts are with all of them. I don’t pray, but I believe a quiet toast and a moment of silence is in order. But most of all, I’m not letting anybody scare me away from having a drink with friends. Hang in there people, it’s a dark ride… take care of each other the best you can.

Cheers!

 

 

Red Hot Chili Peppers: “We Turn Red” – Song 3 From “The Getaway”

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It’s been a big weekend here at the house… On the good side of the ledger the Red Hot Chili Peppers have released the third song from their upcoming LP, “The Getaway.” The new song, “We Turn Red” is, I assume, the last single to be released before next Friday when the LP “drops” as the kids say. On the bad side of the ledger a) I had a bat get in my house, so I spent all night Friday under the bed and b) the wife let me know she is onto how much music I’ve been buying lately. I’ve had to start moving around the house to hidden alcoves in order to post my musical missives. Marriage is a compromise. On to the new music….although I did catch and release the bat… another story for another post…

The first thing that jumped out at me on this new single, “We Turn Red, ” is the return of Chad Smith’s drum sound. Finally he’s out of the doghouse. His drums are the bedrock of this tune. This is the full, strong drum sound I’m used to on a Chili Pepper’s album. I have to admit to you, after the initial blast of drums and guitar, the tempo shifts to a funky, wah-wah riff and for just a second, only briefly, I had a “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” flashback. I’m not suggesting Klinghoffer has suddenly found his inner Frusciante, but that funky riff took me back.

After three very different songs from “The Getaway” I have no idea where this album is going to go. I always assumed the last record, “I’m With You” was going to be a transition to something post-Frusciante, but I haven’t been sure where they were going to go next. Again, I’m three songs in and I’m not sure I have a clearer picture. I will say this, two of these songs are very funky. The Chili’s have always been a funk band but after “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” funk was more of a garnish or a side dish of what they did. Every record got progressively more rock and less funk which is understandable with the guitarist they had. It seems to move forward the Chili Peppers may be moving backward to a more funk-based sound. I’m ok with that in this case because funk is grounded on a great bass line and strong drums… things the Chili Peppers happen to have. It’s going to be hard for them to rock like they did in the Frusciante-era because Klinghoffer just can’t play like that. He’s a nice, melodic, capable player but John Frusciante was like the second coming of Hendrix. It’s like trying to replace Mickey Mantle…

As I said, the song blasts out of the gate with some strong drums and the most aggressive guitar I’ve heard so far on this record. The song has at least three time-signature changes that I counted. They start off rocking, shift to that “Blood, Sugar…” funky riff and then on the choruses there’s an ethereal, acoustic/vocals break that is amazing. As I stressed to my daughter’s friend yesterday afternoon when I was forcing my daughter’s gang to listen to the new Chili Peppers with me at the pool, (someone has to teach the children about rock and roll and it might as well be me…) when you think about how far Anthony Kiedis has come as a vocalist it’s quite amazing. He started as a rapper. The time-changes in this song come fast and often and it’s pretty impressive to hear. Only a band as tight and as talented as the Chili Peppers can pull that kind of thing off. Rush could probably do this, I mean, those guys can do anything, but not many bands can do that in the confines of one song.

“Dark Necessities” remains my favorite of the new songs. The title track, “The Getaway” has really grown on me and I like “We Turn Red.” I look forward to hearing this whole album because it could really go in any direction at this point. This is a great band at a real inflection point. “I’m With You” was more about the indestructibility and resilience of the Flea, Chad and Anthony. They’ve changed guitar players more than anybody outside of Pearl Jam’s drummer situation that I know of. With “I’m With You” proving there was going to be life after Frusciante, “The Getaway,” the second with Klinghoffer on guitar is the statement record. What is the new identity of the Chili Peppers? I guess we’ll find out on Friday….I for one, can’t wait to find out!

Cheers!!

Review (Full LP): Paul Simon’s “Stranger To Stranger”

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As previously mentioned on BourbonAndVinyl, I was never a huge Simon and Garfunkel fan. I mean, my parents owned their “Greatest Hits” album, how rock and roll could that be? However, I always liked Paul Simon’s solo stuff. While he was “folky” he wasn’t really a folk musician. He always had a great sense of humor that say, Pete Seeger, would never understand. There has always been an element of “world music” in his stuff, even back to his early solo days. Of course all that peaked when he went all-in with his masterpiece “Graceland.”

After “Graceland” Simon was really hit and miss. The critics loved “Rhythm of the Saints” but to me it sounded like something bad happened down at the ol’ International Music Food Court, like somebody dropped a tray or something. “The Capeman” thing is better left unmentioned. “You’re the One” was a great and highly underrated album. He even collaborated with Brian Eno on 2006’s “Surprise.” Like one of Eno’s other collaborators, David Bowie, I would defy you to find an artist in his later years so willing to experiment as Paul Simon. I’m not comparing Bowie and Simon’s music, they come from way different places, but that spirit of, “yeah, what the hell, let’s add some drum loops and a tuba,” that “try anything that helps the song” spirit pervades both their work.

Nowhere was that more evident to me than on Simon’s 2011 album “So Beautiful Or So What.” That album was the type of a late period gem from an older artist that inspired this very blog. It had more acoustic guitar driven songs vs Simon’s post-“Graceland” drums/percussion driven songs but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a strong, almost jazz-like experimentation to that album. I loved “Getting Ready For Christmas Day,” with it’s drum loop and samples of an old time preacher. None of that sounded forced from a guy who was almost 70 at the time.

All this leads me to Simon’s new album, “Stranger To Stranger.” He brought in some guy named Clap!Clap!, an Italian/electronic/dance artist – what that means, I’m still scratching my head over. I just see that as the equivalent of bringing Eno in on “Surprise,” the guy must have added some of the percussive elements. I was nervous about the involvement of someone named Clap!Clap! but Simon’s music is so diverse I don’t think anybody can come in and screw it up. I also know his old producer from his Simon and Garfunkel days, Roy Halee was involved on “Stranger To Stranger.” It appears Simon is looking forward and backwards at the same time.

The album opens with three very percussive/drum driven songs. “The Werewolf” has Simon’s signature sense of humor, “he had a fairly decent life and a fairly decent wife, she stabbed him with a sushi knife…” It appears the monster isn’t a full-moon altered lupine but the human nature inside us all. “Wristband” starts off as funny song about a rock star who gets locked out of his own show, but as you listen you realize it’s a song about the struggle of the haves vs the have nots. “Street Angel” is almost a gospel song, and certain phrases in the song turn up later in the album, “I write my verse for the universe” being one…

After that opening percussion heavy trio of songs the album progresses to the beautiful middle section, which for me is the heart of this record. “Stranger To Stranger,” the title track, is a beautiful ballad. There’s a sax solo in the middle and the jazzy feel takes me back to the song “Still Crazy After All These Years.” Maybe it’s the chorus of, “I’m just jittery, I’m just jittery, it’s just the way I’m dealing with my joy.” This song blows me away. “Stranger to stranger, if we met for the first time… can you imagine falling in love again…” Heavy stuff. “I’m In a Parade” leaves no doubt where the parade is, it’s all New Orleans Mardis Gras. “Proof of Love” is another beautiful ballad.

“The Riverbank” marks the final part of the album and a shift from a focus on love to a focus on mortality. It’s not dark or morbid like say, Dylan’s “Time Out of Mind.” When Simon sings, “it’ll be a long walk home, from the riverbank” the wisdom feels timeless. “Cool Papa Bell” takes us back down to New Orleans. I think I hear a tuba. God knows what instruments were used on this record. “Cool Papa Bell” certainly lifts the mood back up with lyrics like, “every day I’m here I’m grateful that’s the gist of it… but check out my new tattoo.” That song remains my favorite on an album of strong tunes. “Insomniac’s Lullaby” wraps up the album. “Oh Lord don’t keep me be up all night with questions I can’t understand…” is something I think every night as I lay awake hoping for slumber. It’s the perfect ending for this album. A gorgeous lullaby for those of us who may never sleep well.

This is a complicated record from a complicated artist. This is music in it’s own category, or more succinctly, music that is impossible to categorize. It’s beautiful, it’s diverse, it’s funny, and every listen brings me something new. It’s like a surprise, long email from an old friend you haven’t heard from in a while. Simon unburdens his  mind on this record and we’re all the better for it.  I highly recommend this record. It’s definitely a “dark of the night,” full bourbon glass type of album… As always, pour something strong and enjoy!

Cheers!