Concert Review: Depeche Mode, Denver, August 25th, 2017: Mind Blown!

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*photo taken by your intrepid blogger with his crappy phone, while standing behind the tallest man whose ever attended a concert, who was naturally sitting right in front of me

One of the first books I read, that wasn’t assigned to me by a high school or college teacher was Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. I don’t know if it was reading that book that led me to an absolute love of driving long distances or that it came to me naturally. I’m lucky in my marriage to the Rock Chick in many ways, but one of the things I love the most is that she too loves the open road. I was also very lucky that when she entered my life, she turned me on to many great bands that were outside my typical blues-rock-guitar construct. Depeche Mode is a great example of one those wonderful bands that the Rock Chick turned me on to. Depeche isn’t just a great band, the more I listen to them, the more I realize they’re also an important band…

When I read that they were touring, which they only seem to do every four years or so, in support of their fabulous new album ‘Spirit’ (reviewed previously, LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic ), I felt it was a big enough deal that I was ready to travel to see them if they skipped Kansas City. As it turned out, I was lucky enough they were hitting Denver, Colorado which is easily within driving range. When I approached the Rock Chick about the idea of driving out to see them, she embraced the idea whole-heartedly. So much so, that I didn’t even get to do any of the driving. I sat in the passenger seat and DJ’d. Well, on the way out there I DJ’d… on the way home Monday I was sleeping off what the medical profession calls a “hangover.”

As I mentioned earlier, since 1993’s ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion,’ Depeche have been on basically the same repeatable cycle. They record/release an album, tour and then take a year or two off for solo projects. They’re like the US election cycle in that each successive album comes out every four years. With gaps like that between albums, when they do tour, it’s kind of a big deal. I am so delighted I got a chance to see lead singer Dave Gahan, guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Martin Gore and keyboardist Andy Fletcher perform live. (Depeche also have a couple of additional musicians who tour with them, I don’t know if you’d call them “sidemen” as they also play in the studio with them… Christian Eigner plays drums and Peter Gordeno plays additional keyboards and bass guitar…) I actually can’t believe it’s taken me this long in my rock and roll career to see these guys. Of course they were always classified as “synth rock” or “alternative” and it took me a while to discover their deep catalog.

This was a great concert. Any more, when I see a more mature act, who’ve been around for twenty or thirty years, I sometimes just see a greatest hits show. There’s nothing wrong with that but when a band of the stature of Depeche has put out a masterful album like ‘Spirit’ I go into the show hoping to hear quite a bit of the new album – you know, like it was in the old days when bands wanted you to hear the new stuff…. I’m starting to sound like my dad here…. I’m afraid I’m going to start yelling at kids to get off my lawn, but I digress. I needn’t worry about Depeche Mode. To my delight, they played almost half the songs from ‘Spirit.’

When the lights went down, and the enormous video screen behind the band lit up, a wild, colorful display, the band took the stage to a recording of The Beatles’ “Revolution.” When the recording stopped the band launched into one of the great new tracks from ‘Spirit,’ “Going Backwards” which was just a great opening. The band started the song and suddenly I saw a lone silhouette behind the band, in front of the video screen on a hidden walkway… Dave Gahan was in the room, people! What a great entrance! “Going Backwards” was followed by another new ‘Spirit’ song, “So Much Love.” I was so happy that they led off with two new songs. I realized any worry that they’d gloss over the new stuff quickly dissipated.

After that opening duo of songs, they played a great version of “Barrel of a Gun” and then went right into “A Pain That I’m Used To.” ‘Spirit’ can certainly be read as a commentary on the current political conditions in the world. And while Depeche has never been explicitly political, like say, Roger Waters, one could interpret the song selection, like “Corrupt,” or “Everything Counts” as an inspired selection that by itself comments on the current zeitgeist in the world, and especially America. There were so many great moments. “Where’s the Revolution,” the first single from ‘Spirit’ was especially rousing. “Never Let Me Down Again” and “Wrong” were both inspired performances.

The stage, other than the giant video screen behind the band, was fairly spartan. There were two synthesizer stands where Andy Fletcher and Peter Gordeno both stood (Fletcher to the right, Gordeno to the left as you face the stage). There was a third synth stand that they’d pull out when Martin Gore switched from guitar to keyboards. It looked like what I would imagine Kraftwerk’s stage would have looked like in the 70s. Gordeno would occasionally come down and play bass guitar for a song or two, the guy is like a great utility infielder. In the middle of the stage was Christian Eigner’s drum kit… Eigner may be the unsung hero of the show – his drumming was loud and powerful. It really was a great engine that drove the songs into harder, more rocking arrangements. He’s a strong drummer, something every band should have.

Martin Gore was to the left side of the stage and as I mentioned, he alternated between guitar and keyboards. I had a fucking behemoth standing in front of me, so it was hard for me to see how Gore was playing guitar. The guy makes playing look so effortless, yet puts out so much great guitar sound, a bit like the Edge. I don’t think he uses a pic, and I couldn’t see if he was using a bunch of effects pedals. It looks like he’s plucking the strings with just his thumb and forefinger but that can’t be right, can it? He plays a beautiful selection of guitars, including a gorgeous Gretsch White Falcon. I still don’t know how he gets that sound. He took lead vocals on several songs. “Question of Lust” was actually just him singing to the piano accompaniment of Gordeno. It was a lovely song and Gore seemed almost fragile in his delivery. I was worried it would be like when Keith Richards sings with the Stones and everyone would head to the bathroom. Not so when Gore sings, the fan base, and the Pepsi Center was full, was totally embracing of Gore. Everyone loved his lead vocal. From “Question of Lust” they brought the band back and Gore sang “Home” which may be my favorite track with his lead vocals. He’s a talented man.

There are not many people who I would personally describe as a Rock Star. Dave Gahan is on that short list. I’ve always loved his voice, and believe me, his voice was great and strong during the show. Seeing him live, with his charisma on full display was something else. The guy was all over the stage, waving his arms, getting the crowd to clap their hands. He was reaching into the crowd and shaking hands, pointing to people in the stands. He revved the crowd up like few front men know how to do any more. He could belt out the rockier stuff and still capture the nuance of some of the mellower tunes. There was a ramp out into the crowd, to the right side of the stage, where my seat was, and he kept walking down there and the crowd would go nuts. He made the giant arena feel like an intimate club. And talk about “moves like Jagger…” The guy danced, clapped and shook his ass jokingly at the crowd. The Rock Chick looked at me at one point and said, “The Brits really know how to do the front man thing better, in ways American bands just don’t get…” True that, honey. My only complaint is that other than the occasional “thank you” Gahan really didn’t say anything to the crowd. Neither did Gore for that matter… not that musicians have to speak during a show, but I’d have liked a “good evening Denver…” but that’s probably just me.

The crowd was at a fevered pitch as the band left the stage after the main set. Depeche’s music is often described as “dark,” and I’d agree with that (as would likely some of the tattoo’d, goth, provocatively dressed ladies in attendance at the show) but they delivered the music with such a strong sense of joy, it’s hard not to hear the hope and the defiance in this music too. For the encore, Gore came out and did another voice with piano only version of “Somebody” and despite it being a mellow tune the crowd went nuts. Gahan returned and sang “Walking In My Shoes” which was one of my favorite performances. The next song was the only cover of the night. The band did Bowie’s “Heroes” which was the song Dave Gahan sang at an open mic night that landed him in Depeche Mode in the first place. I just love that story. You can draw a pretty straight line from Bowie and his influence to Depeche Mode, just like you can draw a line from Depeche to say, Arcade Fire. It was such a nice tribute, I hope some version of that song gets released.

They finished with an almost industrial, hard rock version of “I Feel You” that was so strong it almost sounded like they were channeling Nine Inch Nails. They wrapped the evening with “Personal Jesus,” which was perfect. And with that, a wonderful two hour and fifteen minute show had come to a close. I’d been on my feet dancing behind a giant for over two hours but I felt great.

The principal members of Depeche have been through so much in their history: Martin had issues with alcoholism and seizures; Fletcher had to drop out of a tour for a depression he described as “mental instability”; Gahan of course, overcame heroin addiction so bad he actually died for a few minutes like Nikki Sixx… To see them now delivering such a forceful, joyful evening of rock and roll is a real treasure. If you’re lucky enough to be in a city that they’re playing, buy the ticket. I must admit I’m still baffled they chose to play Salt Lake City, not that there’s anything wrong with SLC, and not play Kansas City, but hey, I love the road too…

Cheers!

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Gregg Allman: “My Only True Friend,” The First Song From The Upcoming ‘Southern Blood’

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“I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul, when I’m gone…” — Gregg Allman, “The Road Is My Only True Friend”

Goose bumps, my friends… goose bumps rose on my arms the first time I heard this hauntingly beautiful first track from Gregg’s upcoming album ‘Southern Blood.’ Entitled, “The Road Is My Only Friend,” it’s classic Allman. If Gregg’s goal with this song was to “haunt” us with the “music of (his) soul when (he’s) gone,” he certainly succeeded. I’ve conspicuously avoided posting anything about this new track as Gregg’s loss, on the heels of the devastating loss of Chris Cornell, left me a little shaken. So, I’m a little overdue on this post… This is a song to sip whiskey to in the wee small hours.

According to Allman’s guitarist and co-writer on the track, Scott Sharrad, he started writing the song from Gregg’s brother Duane’s point of view. He didn’t tell Gregg that’s what he was doing, but Gregg responded with a verse. Sharrad told Rolling Stone magazine it was eerie how the lyrics evolved like a conversation between the two brothers.

Gregg Allman didn’t only play the blues during his long and storied career, he lived the blues. He lost his father at an early age. His brother, the guitar wizard Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident just as they were breaking big. A year later, almost to the day, the Allman Brother’s bassist Barry Oakley died the same way. There were women, wives, divorces and drugs. Worst of all, there was Cher… er, maybe I’ll just skip past that period. You hear all of that in this song.

Lyrically, the track is like sitting down in a bar, next to a friend you haven’t seen in a while and having the friend tell you his story. The idea that Sharrad shared, that this was written as a conversation comes across in the lyrics. One might easily believe this would be another ode to the gypsy life Allman lived and lauded in songs like “Melissa,” or “Midnight Rider,” or even the great solo track, “Just Another Rider” from Allman’s last LP, ‘Low Country Blues.’ But this song plays more like you would expect it to, like a man who can see the end of the long, hard road he’s ridden. In the end, the narrator is left with his only true friend, the road… “Another night alone, but I see you in my dreams sometimes…” Jesus, I think we’ve all been there.

Allman’s bluesy voice is front and center and despite his health problems, his vocals are strong. The track starts on a floating guitar solo  by Mr. Sharrad, with lush keyboard under-pinings. It sounds, well, very Allman Brother-ish. Then comes the voice… that weathered, lived in voice. I can’t say enough about Gregg’s singing on this tune. It’s clear he poured his soul into these final recordings. During the verses they surround Allman’s voice with acoustic guitar and keyboards. When the verses hit, the bluesy lead guitar comes back in. Towards the end of the song, a lone, sad sounding trumpet (I think it’s a trumpet, I’m not a horn expert) plays as the guitars jam. It’s like watching a car disappear over a hill in the distance set to bluesy guitars. Simply, haunting.

When I look out at the track list on ‘Southern Blood,’ I see a lot of cover tunes. According to Sharrad, the plan was to record an album of new material, but Allman’s health became an issue so they went with another album of mostly covers, ala ‘Low Country Blues.’ Looking at the song selection, I must say, it’s inspired. He covers Dylan’s “Going, Going, Gone” and Jackson Browne’s “Song For Adam,” whose “These Days” Allman covered on his classic album, ‘Laid Back.’

It’s not often an artist gets to write his own epitaph, but in this case, Gregg managed to write an awfully beautiful one. Check out this track immediately. Goosebumps… I guarantee it…

 

 

Robert Plant: “The May Queen,” The New Song From The Upcoming ‘Carry Fire’

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“It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen…” – “Stairway To Heaven,” Led Zeppelin

I am consistently amazed and impressed that artists can still surprise me. My corporate overlords had me traveling this week, as usual, and while suffering through the interminable wait for my flight home, I started checking out what the kids call, “the social media.” There were several indications that Robert Plant was up to something. His website had gone dark. It was literally just a black page. If you remained on the website long enough, letters started to rise to the surface, like a body floating to the top of a lake. Eventually the letters spelled out the phrase, “A Way With Words.” This was merely 48 hours ago…

The music press immediately began to buzz about a possible new album from Plant. I’ve been expecting a lot of new music over the coming few months – Beck, Van Morrison, maybe the Stones, Neil Young, Queens of the Stone Age – all have albums coming. I had no idea Plant was even in the studio, he wasn’t on my radar, and my radar is usually pretty good. We haven’t heard from Robert since 2014’s excellent, but alas, largely overlooked ‘lullaby… and the Ceaseless Roar.’ I couldn’t sleep last night, insomnia is my cross to bear, and so I got up and logged on. I was bouncing around the internet and realized, yes, Robert Plant is going to release a new album in October, entitled ‘Carry Fire.’

Best of all, a new single, “The May Queen” has been released as the first track. I downloaded it immediately. His backing band, like on his last album, are the superb Sensational Shape Shifters – Liam “Skin” Tyson, Justin Adams on guitar, Juldeh Camara on “West African” instrumentation, Dave Smith on drums, Billy Fuller on bass, and John Baggot on keyboards. These guys blend folk, rock and “world” music seamlessly. I bought a live record these guys did in Buenos Aires from 2012 and I just love it. Plant has been intent in the latter stages of his career in blending all sorts of different roots music – Celtic, Americana, African and even Welsh. It would appear he thinks all of this music springs from the same source, so why not mix it all together and see where it takes him. He’s quoted as saying he wants to blend his old music with something new. He’s certainly done that here. I love his sense of exploration. A lot of folks may be pissed that he’s not getting back together with Zeppelin (give it up folks, no means no), but I love what he’s doing at this stage in his career.

The new track, “The May Queen,” is a great start. I can’t find any writing credits on the web, although I searched extensively. With a name like “The May Queen” I thought it might be a traditional folk tune or a cover, but I believe Plant wrote this. The lyrics certainly seem Plant-ish and of course, The May Queen shows up in “Stairway To Heaven” so we have to assume this is Plant’s writing. The song is driven by a repeating acoustic guitar riff. There is some great African or “world” percussive elements. As has been case with most of his latter music, the vocals are front and center. Plant’s voice ages like fine wine, only getting better as time passes. There is a nice violin that accents the song as well. It feels folky and world beat all at the same time. The first line “Lay down in sweet surrender, your love’s so warm and tender,” embraces you like an affectionate hug from an old friend… I just love where his voice is right now.

This is a superb opening track, reminiscent of the first track from ‘lullaby,’ “Rainbow,” which was a track that is still in high rotation here at the house 3 years after it’s release. I highly recommend you check out this new Plant track. All these years later, he’s still exploring, digging through the past to find something new. It’s been a lot of fun to listen to. And, best of all, he’s released it just in time for his birthday, this Sunday August 20th. I look forward to spinning the new record when it arrives in October…

Happy Birthday Robert! Cheers!

LP Review: Randy Newman’s ‘Dark Matter’

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We here at BourbonAndVinyl tend to lean mostly toward harder, classic rock, but as many of you have seen, our musical spelunking can lead us in many different directions. I know full well that I may lose some folks on this post… I don’t know if there’s a more divisive artist than Randy Newman. My college roomie, Drew, is the only person other than me who I know owns any of Newman’s albums.

An old friend of mine from high school and I reconnected recently. We were trading emails when he asked the eternal rock n roll question… “what is rock, and how do you define it?” Many rock bands jump genres or do ballads. Are those still rock? It’s a thorny question, that I believe was first debated by Socrates and Plato… I don’t have any real answer, but to me, it’s about the integrity with which the artist approaches his music. In my view, Randy Newman is just as much rock as say, the Eagles or Neil Young.

Of course, a sense of humor is never something that’s valued by rock fans. We all loved David Lee Roth’s humor but it was always leveled out by Eddie Van Halen’s glowering seriousness. Once Roth split from Van Halen the class clown act lost it’s charm pretty quickly. It turns out people were more into the “Mean Streets” side of the equation vs “Big Bad Bill Is Sweet William Now.” Frank Zappa and Warren Zevon often inserted a dark sense of humor into their songs but neither had the commercial reach of artists similar but less talented. Randy Newman has always had the darkest, most biting sense of humor of anybody in music. I would almost venture to say he’s the greatest American satirist since Mark Twain. His biggest song, “Short People,” was one of the funniest songs and most misinterpreted songs of all time. It was supposed to be an anti-bigotry song but the joke was lost on a lot of the under six-foot tall crowd. To judge Newman on that one song is like judging Zevon solely on “Werewolves Of London,” which is way too narrow a sample size. Personally, I always preferred Zevon’s “Carmelita,” but I’m getting off track here…

I always loved Newman’s classic 70’s albums. ’12 Songs,’ ‘Sail Away’ and ‘Rednecks’ are simply put, masterpieces. I love his Fats Domino-style piano and his slurred lyrical delivery. It’s obvious he spent a lot of his childhood in New Orleans and that comes out in his piano sound. My favorite of his early albums, or the pick of the litter for me, was always ‘Sail Away.’ Newman had a knack for biting social criticism but at the same time, he wrote gently moving, personal songs. Most of his records seem divided by the two sides, sarcasm and sentiment. It’s always the funny guys who have the biggest hearts, we’re all just hiding behind our wit.

I liked ’99’s ‘Bad Love,’ but I would probably describe it as a good Randy Newman album, not a great one. When he finally took a break from his day job scoring movies for Pixar and returned in 2008 with ‘Harps and Angels’ I was delighted. That album is a great Randy Newman album. The title track is hysterical. “A Few Words In Defense of Our Country” is the perfect epitaph for the W years. While, on the same album, “Losing You” is just a beautiful Randy Newman ballad.

Now, Newman has returned nine years later with ‘Dark Matter.’ At this rate, the next Randy Newman album will be out in 2026. I hope he’s doing push-ups and taking his vitamins. Since he only puts out albums once a decade, I felt like it was important to shine a light on this release. I fully realize that any listener’s interest in Newman, much like the recent work by Roger Waters, will largely depend on your world view. Newman is an admitted atheist, and that has always informed his work including ‘Dark Matter.’

The first third of this record are grand, epic, political songs. They’re almost like musical theater. You can tell Randy scores movies as each of these songs are heavily orchestrated. The opening track, “The Great Debate” is basically the Scopes Trial set to music. Randy plays the narrator on what sounds like a game show, where a group of scientists have gathered to debate a group of religious enthusiasts. Whenever the scientists give an answer, the music turns sour and the answers come across as right but uninspiring. When, as the narrator, Randy turns to the religious group, they merely sing, in ecstatic voices, “I’ll take Jesus, I’ll take Jesus, I’ll take Jesus every time.” Based on music alone, the religious side wins, going away. While science is portrayed as empirically correct, it’s passionless and while religion is, sometimes, shall we say, misguided, at least they’ve got the passion. No wonder these two sides can’t get along.

“Brothers,” the second song on the album is Randy imaging JFK and RFK standing in the Oval Office, discussing of all things, the Redskins… The brothers conversation turns to the Bay of Pigs invasion. At first resistant to the idea of invading Cuba, JFK realizes he wants to back the plan because he’s in love with a lounge singer in Havana… It ends with JFK and RFK singing a Latin-flavored ode to the aforementioned lounge singer. Odd premise, but frankly, not all that unbelievable. The triptych that begins the album ends with a funny rave up of a song for the leader of Russia, “Putin.” It came out a few months ago as a single and it’s trademark Randy Newman smart ass.

On the sentimental side, there are several songs sprinkled on this album that I really like. “She Chose Me” is a song that I wish I’d written for my wife, “the most beautiful girl in the world, and she chose me…” And yes, “every night I thank the lucky stars above me that someone as beautiful as she could love me…” I want that song played at my fucking funeral. “Lost Without You” is another heart rending song, told from the perspective of a man whose wife is dying. He gathers their children, “just the blood this time.” It’s apparent the children aren’t crazy about dad. The dying mother enjoins the children to take care of their father after she’s gone. Set to mournful piano and strings, it’s a moving piece of music. “Wandering Boy” is another song about a son estranged from a father. I begin to wonder how things are at home for Randy…

There’s some other fun stuff along the way here too. He sings about one of the blues’ biggest mysteries for me in the great song, “Sonny Boy.” There was an original Sonny Boy Williamson who sang “Good Morning Little School Girl.” I’ve always been confused because I’ve seen songs listed as being by Sonny Boy Williamson 2. I always thought it was a junior. Apparently there was another harmonica playing blues singer named Rice Miller who just decided to start telling people he was Sonny Boy. To make it worse, the real Sonny Boy was accidentally shot and killed at a young age, outside the scene of a robbery while on his way home from a gig. Randy’s song is basically Sonny Boy looking down from Heaven wondering how the hell this other guy got to be called Sonny Boy Williamson.

“On The Beach” tells the story of a guy who dropped out of high school and became a beach bum. Well, not a bum, but it “twas in reach.” It’s got a great rollicking piano. Not enough can be said for the great piano work through out this album. Finally, the only song that didn’t feel like it fit on this album was “It’s a Jungle Out There.” I think it was something Randy did for a TV show or a movie. It feels a bit grafted on here, but it’s not a bad tune.

I really like this album, and I would recommend it to anybody who likes Randy Newman. If I was to compare it to his recent works, it’s probably closer to ‘Bad Love,’ which is a good Randy Newman album, but not a classic like ‘Harps And Angels.’ As always with Randy, you’ll want to bring a sense of humor with you. At the very least I’d highly recommend checking out “She Chose Me.” I slipped that one on for the wife, and let’s just say, I avoided having to sweep out the garage this weekend…

 

 

 

Neil Young’s “Hitchhiker,” The Title Track From A Lost Album From His Archive

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“When I was a hitchhiker on the road, I had to count on you…” – Neil Young, “Hitchiker”

No one loves releases from an artist’s archives more than we here at BourbonAndVinyl. There are certain artists that have a treasure trove of unreleased material, recorded over the course of their career. Dylan, Springsteen and Neil Young are probably the foremost artists that spring to mind in this category. It almost sounds like the Rock N’ Roll Archive Law Firm of Dylan, Young and Springsteen… Dylan started the whole archive craze with his Bootleg Series. Actually to be completely correct, he probably started it all prior to that with his brilliant box set, ‘Biograph,’ which combined hits, album cuts, live cuts and unreleased material to tell the story of his career. ‘Biograph’ seemingly launched the box set business and showed record companies there is a strong market for these “vault” releases. I published a guide to Dylan’s Bootleg Series previously, ( Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide ).

Springsteen has released the box set, ‘Tracks,’ to clear out a small fraction of his unreleased studio stuff. Bruce also continues to release quality-sound live concert recordings ranging from ’74 to ’16 and just released the first ever soundboard from his 1977 tour… Don’t tell my wife, but that review will be coming soon. You could go bankrupt buying those old Springsteen concerts and she doesn’t need to know how much I’m spending… Speaking of concert recordings, The Grateful Dead, who have a long, storied bootleg history, have been releasing live concerts “from the vaults” even longer than Springsteen has, and deserve at least a mention here. However, I just can’t get into the Dead… that endless noodling drives me nuts, but if you’re into them, we don’t judge here at B&V. In my opinion, if you want jam band stuff, try Gov’t Mule or The Allman Brothers.

Neil Young got into the “vault” releases in a big, big way with his box set, ‘Archives Vol. 1,(1963-1972)’ released in 2009 which grew out of what was to be ‘Decade 2’ the follow up to the spectacular 1977 greatest hits package ‘Decade.’ As with anything Neil Young, he went way overboard and ‘Archives 1’ ended up being eight discs long, with interactive Blu-Ray versions and fabulous sound quality. No wonder it took almost 30 years to complete. While there were unreleased versions of songs, ‘Archives 1’ relied heavily on previously released material from his albums of the period. I didn’t purchase it, because I already had most of those albums excerpted from that time period. There were a number of live, concert albums contained in the box, that were released separately as stand-alone LPs. I bought ‘Live At The Fillmore East’ which was with the original Crazy Horse (Danny Whitten!), although it was only the electric half of that concert. I also purchased, from ‘Archives Vol 1,’ the ‘Massey Hall’ show and ‘Sugar Mountain: Live At The Canterbury House 1968,’ which were all acoustic performances. Neil is that rare artist that has two sides – roaring, rocking, electric distortion (usually with Crazy Horse) and quiet, sometimes spacey, acoustic songs. Often he performs both at shows, in different sets.

After ‘Archives Vol 1’ came out, we vault enthusiasts had to keep waiting as ‘Vol 2’ kept getting delayed. Now I’m hearing Neil is going to stream all of his material online… We’ll have to wait and see. While I’ve been waiting for ‘Vol 2’ to come out, I was happy to see a few years ago, Neil release ‘Live At the Bluenote Cafe’ from his ‘This Notes For You’ tour. That live album was reviewed on B&V and I still love listening to it, but I love the blues. ( Review: Neil Young, “Bluenote Cafe” (Live) ). One of the things that had me most looking forward to ‘Vol 2’ was the rumor that it would include a number of Neil’s “lost” albums. Neil is one of those rare artists who would go into the studio, cut a whole album worth of material and then pull it back and put it on the shelf. Prince was notorious for this as well.

There are several of these “lost” albums that I’ve heard of, and probably lots more in existence. ‘Chrome Dreams’ is one of the few studio bootlegs I have of Neil. There is purportedly an album from the late 90s/early 00s that Neil cut with Crazy Horse in San Francisco, in a studio famously used by John Coltrane, named ‘Toast.’ Another one I’ve heard of, but not a whole lot, was the all acoustic LP Neil shelved in 1976, ‘Hitchhiker.’ I was shocked the other day, when I saw it pop up on iTunes. Rather than wait until September 8th, the release date, I immediately ordered the single song available, the title track.

The ‘Hitchhiker’ LP was recorded in one long night, August 11, 1976, with just Neil Young on acoustic guitar and David Briggs, his friend/producer in a Malibu studio. Neil only took breaks as he labored all night for “beer, weed or cocaine.” Sounds like hazardous working conditions. Many of the songs on the track list are songs that have popped up on other albums (‘Rust Never Sleeps,’ ‘Comes A Time’) over the years. Some of these tunes were even on ‘Chrome Dreams’ which makes me wonder if that was merely a compilation of earlier tracks like say, ‘Freedom’ vs a newly cut album that didn’t get released.

I’ve listened to the title track “Hitchhiker” from this album almost non stop since yesterday. When I heard this was just Neil playing acoustic guitar, I thought the song would come off sounding like a demo. I was wrong, this is a fully realized song. It would be at home on side one of ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ or either side of ‘Comes A Time.’ It’s a hypnotic, tone poem of a song. There are so many levels to the autobiographical lyrics. On the surface it’s the story of Neil hitchhiking from Toronto to Los Angeles. However, I think it could be also read as his journey from obscurity to superstardom. He also, very honestly, chronicles his journey from hash to amphetamines to weed. He even gets valium, but he “still couldn’t close my eyes.” Sound-wise this song reminds me of “The Needle And the Damage Done.” I know he later released this song on the Daniel Lanois produced ‘Le Noise’ but this is the definitive version of this song.

If you’re a fan of Neil’s acoustic side, this is a must have. I can only hope this will bring more vault releases of Neil’s “lost studio albums” in the future. I’ll definitely have more about this when the album comes out, but for now, turn this on and ride the highway with Neil…

Cheers!

Concert Review: Lucinda Williams, Kansas City, August, 2, 2017

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*Photo taken at Knucklehead’s Saloon By Your Intrepid Blogger

I had a buddy who was texting me from Denver last night. He was at Mile High Stadium, home of the dreaded Denver Broncos, watching the power and the majesty that is Guns N Roses. I saw that show about a year ago and man did I love it (Concert Review: Guns n Roses, Kansas City, 29Jun16: The Power & The Glory). Of course we all love GnR here at B&V. It was great to finally get to see them live for the first time last year, although I must admit I’d have liked to see Izzy Stradlin with the band. Izzy never gets the credit he deserves. His rhythm guitar playing is some of the best. I saw Izzy playing in a bar once with my friend Stormin’ and he was amazing. Judging from the setlist, my Denver pal saw one hell of a show last night. Although I think he was bummed they played “Live And Let Die” instead of the obscure “Ain’t It Fun.” Yeah, I don’t understand why he’d want to hear a Dead Boys’ cover vs the McCartney tune either… But, to each, their own.

Meanwhile, one very long state away, I was sitting in the bleachers at a dive bar in Kansas City’s East Bottoms neighborhood. Nestled under an underpass and right next to active train tracks (I’m not kidding, I think I counted 4 trains go by during the show) Knucklehead’s Saloon has become KC’s premier spot for live music. In the old days, The Grand Emporium was the spot to hear live blues. They also had a great reggae night, every Wednesday (I think). I saw a band called the Bone Daddy’s there, it was great reggae… the ladies went nuts when they played, but I digress. Greats like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Koko Taylor all played the Grand Emporium (I missed the former, saw the latter). Alas, it’s now in the mist of memory but thankfully Knucklehead’s opened up and has taken the Grand Em’s place as the seat of blues music in town.

Last night I convened with several hundred other people to hear some live music the way God intended it, outside under the stars. And while it was not the enormous spectacle of GnR, Lucinda Williams was powerful and majestic in her own right. Most of the time, the best shows are in small bars and halls instead of stadiums. She was backed by a simple three piece band consisting of a great lead guitarist, a bass player and a drummer. Lucinda herself played acoustic guitar for most the night and some rhythm electric. I was surprised she didn’t have a keyboard player but her band really brought the sound, they didn’t need one. The guitarist was particularly muscular in his playing. I loved the red Gretsch he played on a number of tunes.

I guess Lucinda’s music could best be described as “roots” music. It’s bluesy, with a dash of country mixed in. At the heart of her music is that fabulous voice. She barely opens her mouth when she sings. She makes it look effortless and yet she belts these tunes out and I’m sure the conductors on the trains could hear her. To describe her singing as powerful is an understatement. And yet, she never misses the nuance in her songs. She could go from a bluesy rocker to a ballad and it all sounded great.

By the fourth song, “Drunken Angel,” one of my all time favorites, Lucinda had the enthusiastic crowd in the palm of her hand. It was a great version of a great song. She announced the song, “Burning Bridges,” from her LP ‘Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone’ as being about a guitar player who had left her band in a bad way. I don’t think she said his name, but it was clear from the lyrics she was not pleased by his leaving. To underscore her point, her current guitar player, melted the faces off those of us in the crowd with some of the best solo’ing of the night. Don’t cross Lucinda, folks.

One of the most poignant songs of the night was “Memphis Pearl,” from ‘Sweet Old World.’ Lucinda intro’d the song with a story about seeing a homeless woman when she first moved to LA, going through trash bins looking for food. She said she tried to imagine that woman’s story and that’s where the song came from. Very moving stuff. She featured several songs from ‘Sweet Old World’ which she has apparently just recut in the studio for September release. “Six Blocks Away” from that album was another highlight.

I have to admit, broad smiles crossed the faces of both the Rock Chick and I, when mid-set Lucinda broke into “Lake Charles.” I’ve always loved that one. When I woke up this morning, that was the song running through my head. I even belted out the chorus, and with my sleep-ragged voice, I felt I nailed it but the Rock Chick merely laughed at me. She also played a great tune I thought was a Tom Petty song, “Changed the Locks,” but apparently it’s a Lucinda song. Petty only covered it.

Toward’s the end of the main set she turned it up with a raucous version of “Righteously,” followed by the rocker “Honey Bee,” one of her dirtiest of songs… She smiled at one point in the show and said, “This is just who I am folks, this is what I do. This is how I am when I’m comfortable and y’all are making me real comfortable.” She also went on to say it was the artist’s duty to comment on social unrest as she noted that there were people in the streets, protestors, and scenes she hadn’t seen since Vietnam. It didn’t come off as preachy, it was just down home wisdom.

She started off her encore with ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and that was a real unexpected treat. She also covered the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and her and her band nailed it. It was quite a bit different than the Stones’ version, but hey, I dug her interpretation. She also played my friend Jeanne’s favorite tune, “Joy,” during the encore and it brought the house down.

Live music is so essential to life. Especially when practiced by a true master like Lucinda Williams. Do yourself a favor and try and get out and see her. As the Rock Chick said to me, when the band left the stage and the house lights came up, “That was a great concert.” Lucinda may be getting older, but like the fine wine she was drinking on stage, she’s just getting better.