Concert Review: Depeche Mode, Tulsa, OK May 29th, 2018. Even Better the 2nd Time!

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*Picture of Dave Gahan’s silhouette taken by your intrepid blogger

What a difference good seats make at a concert. Nine months ago the Rock Chick and I jumped in the car and drove to see the amazing Depeche Mode, live in concert (Concert Review: Depeche Mode, Denver, August 25th, 2017: Mind Blown!). Unfortunately for us, we stood behind two men whose nicknames should be The Redwood Forest People. Those bastards were tall. The Rock Chick is only 5’5″ and even though I too am tall, these monsters made it difficult for even me to see the show. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that concert, but sitting on the floor can be dicey. Last night’s Depeche show in Tulsa, where our seats were lower level (first row, no one in front us!) stage left, where the walkway out into the crowd was, was such a better experience. Lesson learned… I’m past the need to be on the floor.

I saw that Depeche Mode was coming back for a second U.S. leg of their acclaimed tour in support of their latest album, Spirit (LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic) and I sprung into action. We had a choice to make. We could fly up to Chicago for this upcoming Friday’s show or… less traditionally, drive to Tulsa for last night’s show. Going into Oklahoma to see Depeche felt like I was parachuting behind enemy lines to go to a rave at a gay club. Even the speed limit signs glare at you with their clear message: “No Tolerance.” My entire drive was spotted with churches on one side of the road and casinos on the other… one foot on the gas, one foot on the brake, Oklahoma! I’d never actually been to Tulsa, and navigating it’s downtown 1-way streets almost drove me to a nervous breakdown. I will say, the BOK Center, where the concert was is an amazing facility.

Seeing these guys a second time on this tour, from the aforementioned better vantage point, allowed me to step back a bit and take in some of the finer details of the show. I was literally so blown away by the aural and visual spectacle in Denver, and yes the fan boy thrill of seeing these guys for the first time, I’m not sure I was emotionally prepared to absorb it all. Last night confirmed to me how great this band is. The opening sequence, pictured above, where Gahan enters the stage above the rest of the band (Martin Gore on guitars/keyboards, the unflappable Andrew Fletcher on keyboards with Christian Eigner on drums and Peter Gordino on keyboards and bass) backlit by a multicolored Pollack-esque painting was visually stunning. The opening track, like last time, was “Going Backwards” from Spirit. It’s a politically charged song, but the thing I didn’t notice in Denver, as the song goes on, the colors from behind Gahan slowly disappeared until the screen was black with 1 white dot in the center… It was a strong visual accompaniment to the song.

By the time Gahan reached the front of the stage he was in full force. Part preying mantis, part Karate kid, part whirling Dervish, part cheerleader (the man shot off a t-shirt cannon at one point), part ass-shaker, he is the consummate front man. And what a voice. He and Martin Gore harmonize so well together. And speaking of Martin Gore, the man takes a minimalist (for the most part) approach to the guitar but coaxes exotic notes out of that thing. Fletcher is all over his multi-keyboard set up. And while we’re at it, Christian Eigner is a great drummer. That guy worked his ass off. And Peter Gordino, on the few songs he came out from behind the keyboards to play bass, treated that instrument like a lead instrument. The band was, as you would expect, 9 months and several legs into a tour, so much tighter this time around. They’re really hitting their stride. And the chemistry on that stage was fabulous –  it’s so nice to see a band who actually, and this may be cheesy, like each other. They’d smile at one another in passing, Gahan stuck his tongue out at Fletcher who laughed and returned the gesture. Almost a year in and these guys are having a blast. Gahan would always come out and ask the crowd to show their appreciation after Gore had taken his turn on lead vocals. Truly a gracious band.

But smiles and fun were not the only part of what was happening. Depeche Mode played a fierce 2 hour selection of songs, and while they don’t seem political in nature, ended up sounding like a decree. “Barrel of A Gun” near the beginning of the show was strong and strident. They followed that with “A Pain That I’m Used To” and the tone was set. I was thrilled that one of my absolute favorites, “Precious” from Playing The Angel made the set list, a definite personal highlight. That was followed by a great reading of “World In My Eyes.” It was during the Spirit cut, “Cover Me” that the Rock Chick turned to me and said out loud what I was already thinking, “This crowd seems a little dead.”

And while the two men beside me were having the time of their lives – those cats made the show for me – they danced to every song, sweating like they were on a summer jog, they knew every word and sang loudly – that energy seemed sadly confined to my row. The soccer moms behind me sat the whole time. Despite a somewhat less than involved crowd, or perhaps because of it, it felt like Depeche Mode took it up a notch. I think the true pros are like that… if an audience doesn’t respond, they work harder to make them do so. Gahan in particular seemed possessed. Denver was a sell-out and a very appreciative audience. It seems like last night Depeche played a little harder. I’m probably reading into it, it’s more likely that since they’ve been out playing for so many months, they’re rocking it up more.

By the end of the main set, Depeche was killing it. “Where’s the Revolution,” which not surprisingly didn’t get the response that I’d thought it would, despite Gahan’s crouching down with his fist in the air… I guess no revolution is forthcoming in Oklahoma. That great song was followed by the one pop moment of “Everything Counts,” which did ignite the crowd. Then they hit the crowd with an almost metal sounding rendition of “Stripped.” The band put their all into that one. “Enjoy the Silence” and “Never Let Me Down Again” were both fantastic jams, with Gahan racing down the catwalk in front of me, exhorting the crowd to get up and clap those hands.

As like last time, the encore started with a beautiful Gore ballad, this time “I Want You Now.” At this point, Gahan returned to the stage and they launched into “Walking In My Shoes.” I hate to say this, but I think they lost the Tulsa crowd at this point. Many of the songs had visual accompaniment behind the band… in some cases, videos of the band played. On the video screen for “Walking In My Shoes,” we followed a young boy with long hair, who gets out of bed as he gets ready for his day. It becomes clear that this is not a boy but a transgender woman. She puts on make up and high heels. It was a poignant video accompaniment to the song. I couldn’t help but sneak a glance at the shocked faces in BOK Arena. Maybe it opened some minds… hard to tell. After that the band rocked “A Question of Time” and ended with a flourishing jam of “Personal Jesus.” The last portion of the show saw some of the most aggressive guitar playing I’ve seen Gore do… he was rocking out.

I staggered from the arena even more impressed than the first time I’d seen them in Denver. The Rock Chick leaned over to the gentlemen beside us and said, “First time seeing Depeche?” The guy said, “I can’t believe I’m 40 and am just now seeing them…” Indeed, my friend, indeed. Everybody should see this band. They’re doing some of their absolute best, most important work.

Back at the hotel, the bar was schizophrenic. There was one corner where a dark cloud seems to have floated in… I heard angry remarks and arguing. One guy at the bar was bitching about U2’s recent show there… and their politics. There were a few folks with shaved heads, leather and black concert t’s on and they were clearly elated. I wanted to tell some of the people in that bar they needed to lighten up. Rock and Roll is a big tent, baby, and everybody is welcome.

 

 

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Memorial Day Kicks Off Summer: Go-To Summer LPs (Beach Boys Need Not Apply)

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*Image taken from the internet and is likely copyrighted

As the Cars once famously sang, “Summer, summer, summer, it turns me upside down…” I think we all love summer. Although sadly the days of three months off for summer break are long gone. Even so, summer still evokes in me those lazy, school-less days, lounging by the city pool, watching the beautiful blonde lifeguard slowly get skin cancer… I wonder whatever happened to her… sigh. I must admit this year seemed to go straight from winter to summer without that beautiful pause we used to call “spring.” And now, almost suddenly it seems, Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer is upon us. Pools all over the city are opening. Women are trying on bathing suits and tentatively asking husbands and boyfriends “does this look ok?” The answer is yes, ladies, always yes. My wife continues to attempt to get me to wear sandals… not happening… a man’s feet should never be seen in public.

Summer seems to find me outside a lot more than any other time of year. Lounging on the patio with a cool, refreshing cocktail, perhaps a citron vodka with lemonade and a nice book relaxing in the shade is where you can usually find me. The only thing missing from that lovely picture is of course, rock and roll. I must have a little music on whilst roasting in the sun. As long time readers of B&V know, I compiled a Summer/Sun playlist that I love listening to at the pool (BourbonAndVinyl Eclectic Summer/Sun/Beach Playlist). That playlist is typically the soundtrack of my summer.

However, I have noticed a bit of a trend lately… There are certain albums, that I seem to continuously return to during the warm moths. There is something about these albums that evokes the season for me. None of these albums are summer themed really, but there’s something in the music that draws me to it in the hotter months. I’m not, and I know this is blasphemy, a Jimmy Buffet fan. I’ve never been a parrot-head. Dig as deep as you want into my music collection but you won’t find any of that music here. I simply fucking despise the Beach Boys. I’m stunned those talentless hacks get mentioned in the same breath as the Beatles. The Monkees were more talented than the fucking Beach Boys… Sorry, I didn’t mean to get off on a negative rant…

Anyway, when in need of summer music and my playlist is feeling tired, these are the albums I consider my go-to for summer sunning. Enjoy!

  1. The Dirty Heads, Cabin By The Sea – This is an album the Rock Chick turned me on to. The title track is a perennial favorite here at the B&V labs… Of course I realize this is real stoner music too. I’m more of a gin and tonic man myself…
  2. Bob Marley, Legend – Perhaps the best “greatest hits” package ever released? This was a favorite of mine even before I discovered it soothed the savage beast that was my stepdaughter in the early days… (Humor: Bob Marley’s “Legend” and the Confessions of the Evil Stepdad). I think Bob Marley and reggae are appropriate at all times, but especially any season where rum is a mainstay.
  3. 311, Uplifter – “Daisy Cutter,” “Never Ending Summer,” and “Golden Sunlight” all set the stage for a perfect summer record. “India Ink” is also a big favorite.
  4. Robert Plant, Fate of Nations – I know this is a stylistic left turn but hear me out… There is something about this album that evokes the desert in my mind. Plant’s vocals evoke a restlessness that comes over me every summer. Call it a desire for adventure. This is that siren song for adventure that calls to me every summer. “Calling to You” and “Down to The Sea” set the summer stage for me…
  5. Van Halen, Diver Down – Is there a more “summer” band than Van Halen. David Lee Roth out front with the band doing covers of “Dancing In The Streets,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” and of course “Pretty Woman.” Eddie’s timeless guitar soloing on “Secrets” or “Intruder.” This is a pool party that I wish would keep going.
  6. Allah-Las, Allah-Las – It was on Cinco De Mayo which happened to coincide with Kentucky Derby Day this year when the Rock Chick and I, sitting at a patio table outside of a Mexican restaurant, discovered this gem of an album. You’ve probably never heard of these guys, but this is the best album you’ve never heard. “Catamaran” just starts the party. This album could appropriate be described as groovy… and I mean that in the best of ways. Check this one out!
  7. Boston, Don’t Look Back – Again, you’re probably thinking, summer? Boston? I spent one summer in Boston and this album takes me back there. Besides, “Party” and the title track (which is great advice by the way, don’t look back, people) are great summer pool party anthems.

As usual, I’ve probably missed a favorite or two. If you have any favorite summer albums, let me know in the comments section. Have a great summer everybody and please remember, always use sunscreen. Let’s not end up like that poor blonde lifeguard from my childhood…

Cheers!

LP Review: Pete Townshend’s ‘Who Came First (Deluxe Edition)

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“They call me the seeker, I’ve been searchin’ low and high, I won’t get to get what I’m after, til the day I die…” – “The Seeker” by the Who, written by Pete Townshend

A momentous event happened in the United Kingdom last Saturday, May 19th. The event wasn’t really contained to the UK, it was something the entire world celebrated. Lead guitarist, 2nd vocalist, and main composer of the Who, Pete Townshend had his 73rd birthday this last Saturday. Oh, yeah, and some other young “Royal” couple got married over in the UK too… I forget their names. I thought I would celebrate by focusing a little attention on his first solo album, Who Came First which was recently released in a “Deluxe Edition,” with some additional music. It seems Pete’s first solo album is a lot like the Who’s album Odds and Sods, which seems to get longer and longer with each release. When I first bought Odds and Sods it was because I loved the songs “Long Live Rock” and “Naked Eye,” (and I bought it on vinyl), and it was only 11 songs long. I recently repurchased it in a digital format and it has 23 songs now.

When a member of an established act, especially an act the magnitude of the Who, releases a solo album it can be fraught with all sorts of expectations and drama. It really shouldn’t be surrounded with all that bullshit, typically an artist just wants to change it up a bit. Working with the same musicians can probably get boring. The usual fear when someone releases a solo album is, will the group he’s in break up? Often it can definitely be a sign a band is breaking up. When Sting released his first solo album it spelled the end for all of us hoping the Police would get back together. Typically you don’t even see a solo album from somebody until well after their main group has broken up. The Beatles all found different sorts of drama facing each of their early solo releases. They all reacted in different ways – Paul went literally solo and recorded a quiet little record at home all by himself while George Harrison put out an epic three album long mini-box set. Even more evidence those guys were all headed in different directions.

Somehow, it seems, in 1972 Pete Townshend didn’t face any of that drama. The Who were coming off their greatest commercial success, 1971’s Who’s Next, and nobody seems to have freaked out about Pete doing a solo album. In fact, if I’d been asked as late as college, what Pete Townshend’s first solo album was, I’d have answered with the complete conviction of a religious convert that it was 1980’s superb Empty Glass. I bought that album on cassette so I could listen to it in my car. It remains to this day one of my favorite albums. “Rough Boys,” “Let My Love Open The Door,” (which was a song about God), and “Gonna Get Ya” were all given heavy rotation on local radio. Each of those songs are amongst Townshend’s best. It wasn’t until college that I discovered, probably at the used record store, that there’d been this earlier record.

As evidenced by one of the Who’s earliest songs, quoted above, “The Seeker,” Pete Townshend was a spiritual searcher of sorts. He eventually discovered Meher Baba, a guru from India. The 60s were an interesting time. Everybody was looking for a spiritual leader. LSD and other hallucinative drugs were opening everybody’s mind. Even the Beatles famously traveled to India to spend time with the Maharishi… although it seems that stuff only stuck with George. Meher Baba, ironically was the first spiritual teacher in the 60s who thought psychedelic drugs were bad. Townshend was a big convert… You might recognize Baba’s last name as it’s part of the title of one of the Who’s biggest songs, “Baba O’Riley” named for Meher and Tim Riley, a minimalist conductor Townshend admired… and to think for years we all thought that song was named “Teenage Wasteland.” Another early convert was Ronnie Lane, bass player for my beloved Faces and he and Townshend became very good friends.

In honor of Meher, Townshend had recorded a few small, barely released albums as gifts to Baba. Neither was circulated widely, but they were being bootlegged. The record company finally came to Townshend and asked if he would put them together for official release. These recordings, which were never meant to be for widespread consumption are homespun affairs. They’re mostly acoustic, although most are fully realized songs, these aren’t demos. Years later, Townshend acolyte Eddie Vedder would site Who Came First as his template for his first solo album, the soundtrack for Into the Wild. I had never really heard much of this album except songs that were later released on greatest hits packages. One of my favorites was “Sheraton Gibson” a song about being a musician on the road… in Cleveland no less. I’d also heard Townshend’s early version of “Lets See Action,” but I do like the Who’s fully realized version more. I’d also heard the superb “Parvardigar” which was just a beautiful song.

When I saw that there was this new deluxe version of Who Came First I finally, belatedly, sat down with this record. As I said, it’s a quiet little acoustic album, but what I really liked is that it’s a spiritual statement. Well, it’s certainly Pete’s spiritual statement. If we’re going to celebrate Dylan’s “Christian Period” (Review: Bob Dylan’s ‘Trouble No More: Bootleg Series Vol 13, (Deluxe Edition)) why not celebrate Townshend’s Baba period. The original album is full of songs about contentment (which is a lovely statement of purpose here), “Content” and spiritual joy, “Parvardigar.” “Time Is Passing” is probably my favorite song here. It’s a brilliant track. “Pure And Easy” which the Who finally got around to doing, is here in an early form, but the Who tracks aren’t the best ones. The only weird tune is a country cover, “There’s a Heartache Following Me” recorded because it was a favorite of Baba’s. Ronnie Lane even shows up and redoes “Stone” from the Faces’ first album as “Evolution.”

The deluxe edition brings some early and alternative versions of songs from the original, but it also has other, what I would deem critical tracks. “His Hands” and “Meher In Italy” are both beautiful acoustic instrumentals. There’s an acoustic version of the Who’s “The Seeker” that rivals the original. “Day of Silence” is driven by a cool harmonica. “I Always Say” is a nice bluesy change of pace. “Begin the Beguine” has a loungey vibe.  I really liked “The Love Man” and “There’s a Fortune In Those Hills.” There’s an early version of “Baba O’Riley” as an instrumental that clocks in at almost 10 minutes. I think it’s getting the most attention, but it’s a nice to have song, if you’re a completist, but it’s certainly not essential. Townshend even does his old friend Lane a solid and adds a live version of him doing Lane’s “Evolution” at a tribute show for Ronnie Lane.

While this album is probably only for completist and Who or Pete Townshend nuts like me, I was really taken with this album. The deluxe material is definitely worth investigating even if you’re one of the few who have the original. I just wish Townshend felt this moved today and put out something new.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Lenny Kravitz: New Single, “It’s Enough,” His Inner City Blues Are A Smooth Groove

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*Image above taken from the internet and is likely copyrighted

When it comes to Lenny Kravitz, I think I’m like most males, I was introduced to his music in the early 90s by a girlfriend. In the early days of his career I think he was the polar opposite of Aerosmith who once said the only “chicks” at their shows were the ones they brought with them – I feel like Lenny’s early fans were mostly female. I remember a woman I was dating putting on his great debut album, Let Love Rule. I really dug his hippy vibe and laid back grooves and who doesn’t love dreadlocks? The big hit from that album was the anthem, “Let Love Rule” and it was an instant classic. His music wasn’t all about love and peace, he could get topical and political in songs like “Mr. Cab Driver,” which was actually my favorite track on the album.

But after that, like the girlfriend who turned me onto his music, I lost track of Lenny for a few years. I vaguely remember hearing “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over” in the background, but his second album didn’t really pull me in. By then he was married to Lisa Bonet, which I truly envied, (she was my movie star crush) and he’d become somewhat of a tabloid star. I don’t know if I was put off by that, or I just wasn’t paying attention. Likely it was the latter. But then in 1993 (could it really have been that long ago?) the monster album Are You Gonna Go My Way came out. We were all on the bandwagon at that point. The title track is a ferocious rock song. I remained a big Kravitz fan through Circus, a dark little album which the critics hated and I absolutely loved, and his creatively titled fifth album. But once again, I started to lose track of Lenny. It may have been because was a bit uneven or maybe it was alternative rock radio beating “Again” the track from his Greatest Hits album to death. As break-up prone as I was, I couldn’t get away from that song…”will I ever see you again?” Let me answer that for you folks, for the most part, no, you won’t.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that, yes, once again a woman, the Rock Chick came home and said, you’ve gotta hear this album. It was Lenny’s 2014 LP, Strut. I loved that album, reviewed on B&V, LP Review: Lenny Kravitz, “Strut” – How’d I Miss This Sexy Album?. I’m still not sure how that album had come out and slipped through the cracks for me… I blame radio. That record sent me scurrying back to the record store to pick up a couple more of his albums I’d missed… It’s Time For A Love Revolution and Black And White America both of which are great records everybody should check out. After hearing those three albums, I was back in a serious Lenny Kravitz infatuation. It’s with high anticipation here at B&V that we look forward to his upcoming follow-up record to Strut, coming in September, named Raise Vibration. 

The first single from that album was released recently, “It’s Enough.” Now, I’ll be one of the first to admit that Lenny Kravitz wears his influences on his sleeve, as the saying goes. He’s often accused of being derivative, that’s the most common trope I hear from the critics. My thoughts on the matter tend to align with what Picasso said, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” I’m not suggesting Lenny is ripping anybody off, but this new song strongly reminds me of the late, great Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Want To Holler).” I’ve been going back and forth between both songs for the last couple of days and there are similarities.

All that said, I love this song. “It’s Enough” clocks in at almost eight minutes long and yet when it ends, I feel like I want it to keep going. Like the song it was influenced by, Kravitz’s lyrics address (literally) a world of problems we face today: gun violence, the middle east, greed, and the environment just to name a few. I think it’s pretty gutsy to put the following line in your chorus, almost ensuring this won’t be played on the radio, “it’s enough, it’s enough, and we are all just getting fucked.” Kravitz has done something unimaginable, he’s made a groove-laden protest record.

Musically, this is a nice slow groove. It starts with some nice percussive elements. Like “Inner City Blues” Lenny employs a lot of non lyrical singing that acts like percussion. The percussion and a subtle piano drive the song forward. The bass line is simply monstrous. There’s a spoken word piece in the middle. This song is so Motown there’s even a trumpet solo toward the end. If we harken back to the 60s, people tend to forget that’s when all the best protest music was recorded and that’s what this song evokes for me. Like “Mr. Cab Driver” before it, Lenny has his fingers on the pulse of how a lot of people feel today… sad that we’ve come this far and not gotten anywhere. The music and the lyrics of this song are so spot on. The Rock Chick likes her Lenny a little more hard edged and rockier, but I dig the slow groove of this song. Everyone should check this one out.

Cheers!

The Longshot Return (Already?) With A Single and 3 EP’s – Billie Joe Armstrong Can’t Stop!

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I was sitting in one of my favorite watering-holes recently, enjoying a mint julep with a friend. This is the kind of bar that has bottles from floor to ceiling. They even have an old-school ladder, like libraries of old, on which the bartenders scamper up and down and roll it left and right to grab those bottles on the higher shelves. It’s fun to watch but it all looked like a lot of work. My friend and I were discussing and of course lauding our wives for their love of activity. In my case I must confess, The Rock Chick is always busy doing something. I like to say that, like commercials for the Army when I was a kid, she gets more done before 6 am than I get done all day. I never understood why that was a selling point for the Army, by the way. My friend and I are both individuals who prefer a more leisurely approach to life… a nice cocktail, some music on the turntable and a calm moment to contemplate the joys of existence. My approach is more like Prince’s song, “I was busy doing something next to nothing but different than the day before.” There’s a scene in Ghostbusters where Bill Murray’s character, Peter Venkman says something like, “I want you to think, that Peter Venkman, he’s the kind of guy who gets things done.” That’s my wife. I don’t share that zeal.

However, it appears that Green Day front man and leader of the new band The Longshot Billie Joe Armstrong shares that love of activity. I know he has an addictive personality and I don’t know if that plays into this but you have to wonder. Merely a week after releasing the great, punky new album, Love Is For Losers, (LP Review: ‘Love Is For Losers’ From The Longshot, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong’s New Side ProjectArmstrong and crew are back with another single and three EPs. That Billie Joe Armstrong, he’s the type of guy who gets things done. I am having flashbacks to that whole Uno!Dos!, and Tre! episode with Green Day. It’s not unprecedented to release everything you’ve recorded, it’s just usually staggered over a longer period of time. The Red Hot Chili Peppers started releasing the b-sides they recorded during the I’m Beside You sessions, but it took a while.  It was with great surprise that I saw on social media the Longshot announce this flurry of releases.

The first single, which I found out actually came out almost simultaneously with Love Is For Losers is entitled “Devil’s Kind.” It’s another punky rocking song. I really like this track and frankly it wouldn’t have been out of place on Love Is For Losers. It’s a little harder edged, perhaps, but a great tune. I can’t find confirmation on line, but I believe this track is penned by Armstrong.

The first EP is entitled Bullets and has a mere two tracks. Both of the tracks on this EP, “Give It All To You” and “Keep Me Satisfied” have a strong, early-Beatles vibe. When I listened to Love Is For Losers for the first time, I mentioned that I got this vintage music vibe as well as a punk vibe. It was part punk, part 60s garage band. Although I admit the garage band vibe was more of an accent. The two songs on Bullets are all retro, Beatlesque tracks. Both songs clock in at under 2 minutes. They’re both good songs but literally sound like outtakes from Meet The Beatles. Both of these tracks, I believe are originals. While both tracks are interesting, I don’t think either is essential. They’re very different than the sound of Love Is For Losers. 

The second EP, entitled Razor Baby contains 4 tracks. My favorite of the four is probably “Fever Blister” another slab of slamming punk rock. They play this track fast and hard. I love a chorus that starts “I look so repulsive….” Like “Devil’s Kind” this track wouldn’t have been out of place on Love Is For Losers. The next track, another original, is entitled “Razor Baby.” It’s a more trance like track. The playing is slowed down and Armstrong’s vocal is slightly distorted. I wouldn’t call it a ballad, just mid-tempo. It’s got a very garage rock feel to it, just a lower energy vibe. Again, it’s another track I like. The third track, “I’ve Got Problems,” bursts out of the speakers like early Green Day. It rocks fast and hard. The riff slips and slides around. I’m not sure why this one missed the cut for the album. The final track, and perhaps the most surprising on this EP is the final track, a cover of Cheap Trick’s “Southern Girls” from their album In Color. They slow it down quite a bit and there’s even more distortion on Armstrong’s vocals. This version is far cry from the arena-rock style of the original, although it does slowly build. I like cover songs, it’s like a 2 for 1 special, and I did enjoy this track. Full disclosure, I do love Cheap Trick.

It appears the last track on Razor Baby, the Cheap Trick cover, was merely a harbinger of what was to come on the final, 5-track EP, Return To Sender. It’s a fascinating grab-bag of covers. This EP just sounds like a band having a good time.  They cover one of my all time favorite early Who songs, “So Sad About Us” in what is a very faithful rendition of the original. Of course Armstrong has covered the Who before with Green Day on a note-for-note version of “A Quick One While He’s Away.” From the Who, the Longshot heads to the Ramones and a tuneful “Can’t Make It On Time,” with a brief, tasty guitar solo, followed by a spot-on melancholy version of the Rolling Stones’ “As Tears Go By,” originally written for Marianne Faithful. As a Stones fanatic, I was really thrilled to hear that last one but in all honesty, I like all of these tracks. It’s like listening to a great bar band. The final covers on Return To Sender are perhaps the oddest selections – “I Am A Rock,” the Simon And Garfunkel ballad and the Plimsoul’s “Million Miles Away.” Like I said, Armstrong is clearly having a great time with all of this.

If you count “Devil’s Kind” and all the tracks on the three EPs, Armstrong and the Longshot have literally released the same number of songs that appeared on the debut record, Love Is For Losers. For all I know, this Friday we’ll be treated to another dozen tracks… that Billie Joe Armstrong probably gets more done before 6 am than I get done all day… Check these tracks out, I think you’ll find some things you’ll like. Covers songs aren’t for everyone, but there’s a wide variety to choose from. Meanwhile, I’ll be “busy doing something next to nothing….”

Cheers!

 

Concert Review: Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul, Kansas City, 5/12/18

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*Blurry photo taken by your intrepid blogger on an admittedly inferior phone

Well, Kansas City, you missed an amazing concert last night…

I had the rare pleasure of seeing a couple of old friends last night. The first, was my old college roommate, Drew who came up to Kansas City from Wichita to see Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. I’ve been a fan of Little Steven since my early days of listening to Bruce Springsteen, so it felt like I was seeing another old friend by seeing him. This was, amazingly, my first time seeing Little Steven as a solo artist. Unfortunately for the rest of my home town, only about three or four hundred other folks were in the 1700 seat theater. It’s a shame, because last night’s show as a full-on rock and roll, soul revue.

Little Steven is out on the road supporting his last album, Soulfire (LP Review: Little Steven’s ‘Soulfire’ A Triumphant Return To His Solo Career). While many people either know Little Steven from his gig as Bruce Springsteen’s longtime friend/sidekick and 2nd guitarist, or from his acting stint on shows like “The Sopranos” or “Lilyhammer,” Little Steven has a much richer history. He wrote songs, played guitar and produced the early Southside Johnny And the Asbury Jukes albums. He wrote and produced music for Gary U.S. Bonds back in the late 70’s, early 80s which was nothing short of a resurrection for Bonds. Soulfire was a great album where Little Steven went back and revisited some of that material he’d written for other people but never recorded himself. In the early 80s Little Steven also launched a solo career of his own, while Springsteen put together Nebraska. I consider his first two albums to be essential listening, Men Without Women and Voice of America. 

The man must be doing this tour for the love of music. It certainly came across that way. He had, including himself on guitar, 15 people on stage. There 5 horn players and three back up singers. Marc Ribler was on guitar, Jack Daley on bass, Rich Mercurio on drums, Anthony Altamonte on percussion. He had not one, but two keyboard players, Andy Burton on the Hammond B-3 and Lowell “Banana” Levinger on synths/piano and mandolin. Everybody played their asses off. Each of the horn players came to the front of the stage at one point to play a solo. The sound was perfect.

Little Steven started off with the Arthur Conley cover, “Sweet Soul Music” and it was the perfect song to set the tone. Last night was all about soul. Little Steven who talked often about teachers and our need to support them (his big philanthropy is TeachRock which provides teachers with resources to teach music), said at one point, “tonight’s show is about the history of rock and roll…which just happens to be my life story.” I like to think I know a lot about music… not like Little Steven.

After “Sweet Soul Music” the band broke into “Soulfire” the title track from Little Steven’s latest. I had forgotten what a great lead guitarist Little Steven was. Often he and Marc Ribler would meet center stage for a guitar dual. And I don’t recall a show where I saw that many beautiful, vintage guitars. After “Soulfire” they hit us with the great Southside Johnny song (written by Little Steven and on Soulfire) “I’m Coming Back.” It was rock and roll Nirvana. “The Blues Was My Business (And Business Is Good)” was epic. I think everybody solo’d during that one. I was worried, since the crowd was so sparse that he’d cut the set list down, but he played almost the whole set he’s been playing elsewhere… he omitted an Electric Flag cover they’ve been doing, “Groovin’ Is Easy” but played a full 2+ hours. Little Steven veered away from his more political music and stuck pretty closely to the music from Soulfire and his first record, Men Without Women than say, “Voice of America.” It fit his message of coming together in the sanctification of rock and roll, soul.

It wasn’t all horns and soul. A track I wasn’t familiar with, “Salvation” rocked hard, all fuzzy guitars. It was like watching a local garage band made good. “Down And Out In New York City” was funky goodness. “Princess of Little Italy” was one of the rare quieter moments with Little Steven flanked by Burton on accordion, and Ribler on guitar. It was a beautiful reading of that song from his debut solo album. Little Steven even took the opportunity to thank Southside Johnny for keeping his music alive at one point, before the great “Some Things Just Don’t Change.” He did a beautiful doo-wop track, “The City Weeps Tonight” that blew me away.

Little Steven was charismatic on stage. At times funny, at times heartfelt especially during speeches about how we needed to leave all the craziness outside (the theater) and come together in celebration of music. Music is the only religion I understand.

Afterwards, Drew and I ended up in a little bar named Julep that has more whiskey than I can count. We toasted Little Steven, drank a few tumblers of dark, murky fluids and told stories of the old days. It was just a perfect evening. If you’re out there and you get a chance to see the Disciples of Soul… do yourself a favor, buy the ticket.

Thank you Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul for a wonderful rock and roll, soul education last night!

Guns N’ Roses: New Song (To Me, At Least) From The Vaults – “Shadow Of Your Love”

Appetite For Destruction (Super Deluxe)

The messages started popping up on GNR related social media a week or so ago….”Destruction Is Coming.” I was assuming they were going to announce a plan to play Appetite For Destruction in it’s entirety on the seemingly endless (partial) reunion tour, reviewed previously on B&V (Concert Review: Guns n Roses, Kansas City, 29Jun16: The Power & The Glory). Secretly I was hoping it was an announcement that the original lineup of the band, who recorded Appetite, was reuniting – they were bringing back Izzy Stradlin on rhythm guitar and Steven Adler on drums. It turns out neither of my guesses was right. Instead, GNR are releasing a “Super Deluxe” edition of the album (as well as a skinny-ed down “Deluxe” version). So much for my prognostication skills.

It’s easy to forget, with the dissolution of the original band, the long lapses between albums, and the whole Chinese Democracy thing, that GNR were one of the greatest, most powerful bands of all time. When we speak of Appetite For Destruction we’re talking about the “Crown Jewels” of rock and roll. It’s the best selling debut album of any band, ever. It’s one of the greatest albums ever recorded in the medium of rock and roll, hard rock, or heavy metal. In plain words, it’s a fucking tour de force masterpiece. The chemistry of that original line up was lightning in a bottle. Steven Adler’s drumming had so much swing and elasticity it gave the music a dirty groove. Slash and Izzy Stradlin on lead and rhythm guitar rivals that of the Mick Taylor/Keith Richards era of the Stones. Duff McKagan brought the punk attitude and bottom end with his bass playing. And then there’s Axl Rose… how does one describe the power of those amazing vocals. Axl’s unique vocal style brought an unhinged vibe to this music that made it nothing short of breath taking.

The sound of GNR on that first album was dark, menacing and yes, dangerous. In the 80’s, there were a ton of hard rock/heavy metal hair bands who sang about chicks and partying and having a good time. While the themes of Guns N’ Roses’ music were similar, it never seemed like anybody was having that good of a time. It was the music of what happens when the party jumps the rails. It was harrowing shit, but yet enjoyable none the less. It was the most visceral music I’d heard up to that time. They combined the bombast of heavy metal, the attitude (and short song structure) of punk, the bloozey vibe of early Aerosmith and the swagger of a much more seasoned band. That’s a helluva lot to put into a debut album. The songs were about urban menace, “Welcome To the Jungle”; drinking or perhaps better said, alcoholism, “Nightrain”; and heroin, “Mr. Brownstone.” Holy shit was this stuff ground breaking in the late 80s. Tellingly, Guns N’ Roses were one of the few 80s hard rock bands to survive the Grunge takeover… They were just that great. Grunge couldn’t kill GNR, only Axl Rose could do that…

When Guns N’ Roses debut album came out in the summer of 1987, I was living in Boston working at the world famous Food Center Liquor Store. I didn’t hear a lot of music sitting in the back of the liquor store where my job was to refill the beer cooler and take the 5-cent per can deposit returns and sort them by brewer. Filthy work with dirty beer cans. After Boston, I went immediately into exile in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, the town that rock and roll forgot. In the Fall of 87 and the spring of 88, I was completely cut off from most new music. My only source of new music, other than reading Rolling Stone magazine, was MTV… who actually still played videos in those days. I don’t know if I miss sitting and vegging-out in front of hours of endless videos or I’m better off because that doesn’t happen any more… I’ll let history be the judge.

Getting my music knowledge from MTV was a bit of a curse. I literally saw the band before I heard the music. I watched the video of “Welcome to the Jungle” and Axl had his hair blown up in that 80s-rock star way and it made me think they were just another cut/paste 80s metal band. I didn’t pay any attention to that landmark tune, which tells you how much background noise was going on in my life. Then I saw the video for “Sweet Child of Mine” and thought, nice riff, it’s an ok ballad, cool guitar player in the top hat… Back then ballads rarely pierced my consciousness. Finally, laying on the couch one day, probably nursing a hangover, I had my arm across my eyes, and the video for “Paradise City” came on. Instead of looking, I just listened… and I liked what I heard. I peaked out from under my arm to see that it was GNR. Axl didn’t have his hair all teased up… and these guys rawked! It was in that moment, Guns N’ Roses finally clicked for me. I went out and bought Appetite on cassette… I was dating a virtuous woman in Shreveport and I needed something dangerous to listen to on the five hour drive. I can’t hear “Think About You” and not think of Shreveport… I’ve been a life-long Guns N’ Roses fan ever since.

Now, all these years later, GNR are revisiting Appetite For Destruction with these “Super Deluxe”/”Deluxe” versions. It looks like the “Super Deluxe” version breaks out like this: Disc 1, the original album, remastered; Disc 2 is described as “B-sides and EPs” but its basically the EP GNR Lies, which had a faux live side, (originally released as Live Like a Suicide) coupled with an acoustic side. Luckily they omit the offensive “One In A Million,” and hopefully that tune is confined to the history of bad decisions; Disc 3 looks like an early version of Appetite recorded in 86 at Sound City; and finally, Disc 4 looks like a grab bag of Demo’s and leftovers.

As part of all of this, GNR released a single, entitled “Shadow Of Your Love.” Apparently a few versions of this song have been released as B-sides. I had never heard it before and so immediately snatched it up. I’m not sure I’m down for the whole box set, but I love this track. It’s just so great to hear something from this era of the band, it hits you immediately. It’s a fast and hard tune. Axl sounds awesome. At different points he’s singing and others it feels like he’s screaming at you… ah, that good old school Axl.  The guitar work is fast and stellar. Slash’s soloing is as melodic as ever. You’re not going to find an unearthed “Paradise City” in a box set like this, nobody is going to leave a stone-cold-classic in the can for thirty years, but this is a great compliment to the Appetite LP. And let’s face it, it doesn’t look like any new music is going to come out of GNR. I heard rumors that Axl is working Angus Young on an AC/DC album, but that’s a different post.

I don’t know if there’ll be enough interesting music to get me to buy the entire box set, but this nice little blast from the past was enough to make me curious enough to at least check it out.

Rawk on!