Concert Review: Starcrawler, 10/14/2019, At Kansas City’s Riot Room – Punk Rock Rag Doll Delivers

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*Photo of Arrow de Wilde taken by your intrepid blogger shortly after she spit water on me

Well there’s not much that gets me out on a school night any more… especially on a Monday. Rock and roll is about the only thing that will cause me to muster out of the house when I know I’ve got a busy day the next day. It wasn’t always like that… just last night I was musing over a beer about how cool it was when I was younger, in high school, to go out on a week night. I can remember looking out of the sun roof in a friend’s car staring at the moon and stars and thinking I was really fucking alive.

And speaking of being fucking alive, the Rock Chick, our friend RJ and I went out last night to Kansas City’s Riot Room in Westport to see some live punk rock courtesy of Starcrawler. I loved their first album (New Band Alert: Starcrawler – Edgy Punk Rock From Los Angeles) and had eagerly bought their new one, just out last Friday, Devour You. We drove down to Westport around 7 last night and ducked into a restaurant for a couple of vodkas and some food. I saw this couple walk by the window. The guy had green hair and make up. The gal had white grease paint on her face and jet black lipstick like a goth Harley Quinn… I thought, oh yes, this will be a great crowd.

We slipped over to the Riot Room right before show time just as the opening act was leaving the stage. I had no idea what to expect from the crowd. I hadn’t been in the Riot Room since it was the Hurricane, back in the day, as the kids say. There were about 50 people milling about in the bar. It was a diverse crowd in terms of age and appearance. The aforementioned goth couple were in there. There were some older guys in concert t-shirts and one guy who looked like my dad… the authorities might want to check up on that guy.

Right at 8pm the lights went down and drummer Austin Smith came on stage, quickly followed by bassist Tim Franco. From the other side of the stage, out of the darkness came guitarist Henri Cash. I was watching him put on his guitar when, literally out of nowhere lead singer Arrow de Wilde materialized on stage. If David Bowie and Patti Smith had a child, it would be Arrow de Wilde. She’s as thin as a quietly muttered whisper. Wearing what looks like an old ballet uniform, stained in fake blood… I liked the fact that in front the blood was painted to look almost exactly like a knife wound… and white boots, she prowls the stage like an escaped animal, and I mean that as a compliment. Her facial expressions could easily lead one to assume she’s utterly insane… forget Joaquin Phoenix in The Joker, this chick is the real deal. RJ asked me after the concert, and I think she was serious, “who hurt her?”

The show was part rock show, with Henri Cash’s guitar loud and ferocious – believe me, my ears are still ringing today – and part performance art. I haven’t had that much fun on a Monday in a long, long time. The rhythm section was tight and strong. I’m not sure how to describe Arrow’s on-stage presence. As I said, its part performance art – she tied the microphone cord around her neck at one point and into her mouth like a gag at another point – and part full on rock and roll. She jerks with the music as if she had hinges instead of joints. She spits, she blows her nose on the crowd, she spit water on me, she mauls the front row of the crowd. She picked her nose and yet I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She’s a seriously riveting performer.

They played for an hour. My only complaint is they needed to turn up the vocals. Arrow’s voice got lost under the guitar and bass during a few of the verses. She’d banshee wail the choruses so you could hear her then but if they’d just turned her vocals up a notch or two, it would have been perfect sound. Cash’s guitar pedals malfunctioned at one point and that took a while to fix… as they get bigger they’ll have guitar techs to handle that stuff. In between songs, Arrow tended to just flop down on the stage and drink water. She’s like a punk rock rag doll.

They played tunes from both albums and went back to their first single, “Ants.” There were so many highlights – “I Love L.A.” and my favorite from them, “No More Pennies” were stand out tunes. “Bet My Brains” was particularly unhinged. “Pussy Tower,” “Hollywood Ending,” “Pet Semetary,” and “You Dig Yours” were all great. It was played loud and fast and I loved every minute of it. The Rock Chick and RJ stood toward the back of the crowd, but I was right up in front of the stage, one person back, in front of the microphone stand punching the air. There’s just something about being that close to the band that hits me in the lower brain stem.

To end the concert, Arrow came crashing off the stage, after biting a fake blood capsule and rubbing the blood all over her face. She crashed into me and the creepy old guy, and then staggered to the back of the crowd where she fell to the ground. She then jumped up and hopped up on the bar in front of the Rock Chick and RJ…she jumped off and disappeared into the basement. The crowd was elated and ready for more, but they were clearly done… I’d have liked to stuck around to see if the band came out and signed autographs, but we ducked into a restaurant next door, the Westport Cafe, for a night cap. What a great Monday. Keep your eye on this band… like Greta Van Fleet, it’s great to see these younger kids playing straight up, fuck you, rock and roll.

Cheers!

 

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The Beatles: ‘Abbey Road – 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition’ – Is It Worth It?

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“Last chance to be loud…” – John Lennon, studio chatter, Abbey Road -50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

My younger brother was the first one to be bitten by the addictive attraction of rock and roll. He had a stereo and actual albums long before I did. I’d walk up the stairs in my parent’s home and have to pass by his door before turning left into my room. We shared an adjoining wall and I heard an almost constant stream of music coming through. Back in the really early days, it was mostly the Beatles that he was playing. Later I’d hear some solo George Harrison, but it seems his first love was the Fab Four. Although he also went through a Doors phase… but I’m getting off point.

When I started getting into music, I was a Stones guy. Back then most people were either Stones fans or Beatles fans… it was like the rival gangs from West Side Story (indeed, “what are we going to do about a problem called Maria?”). But despite my loyalty to the Stones, I famously went into my brother’s room with a single cassette because I was going to make a tape of all the Beatles’ “good songs.” Like those would fit on one ninety-minute cassette… the ignorance of youth. I sat in front of my brother’s stereo – it was one of those “all-in-one” units with a tape deck/turntable/radio built into one unit – trying to figure out when to hit pause on the tape deck to skip a song I didn’t like. I pretty quickly realized that uh, all their songs are great. Well, except “Revolution 9.” I remember thinking, this is going to take a few more cassettes…

Even so, it wasn’t until I was in college, heading down to Aggieville to the lone record store in Manhattan, Kansas to buy music that I started buying Beatles LPs. I bought almost every album they had out. Sadly those were mostly the U.S. versions which I feel pale in comparison to the UK versions. When I heard they were releasing an Abbey Road – 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition I went to my vinyl to look at my Beatles collection. As I suspected, I had never purchased Abbey Road. I have it on CD from a Beatles’ box set I own, but I never purchased it on vinyl. It came down to one thing for me – the side two medley. It seems that like John Lennon, I was not fond of the side two mess, er medley. Ten songs, mashed into one. Well, and if I’m being totally honest, I never liked “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and I thought “Octupus’s Garden” was a novelty song for children.

I do remember listening to the record in my brother’s room. I’d stare at the iconic album cover photo of the four Beatles in the crosswalk outside the Abbey Road studios. My brother explained how the album cover featured in the “Paul is dead” rumors. Around the time of Sgt Pepper, some strange cult of people started interpreting things in their songs and album covers that were a secret code indicating that Paul had died and had been replaced by a look-alike. There must have been a lot of bad acid going around in those days. The Abbey Road cover played into those rumors: John, dressed in white, was Jesus; Ringo, dressed in a long black coat was the undertaker (or maybe a Reverend of some kind); Paul was the deceased because he has no shoes on; George, dressed in all denim was the grave digger. That’s a pretty long way to stretch for a theory.

I put Abbey Road on and listened with my headphones recently. I must admit, it holds up better than I remembered. The two George Harrison tracks are flawless. He really came into his own on this album. “Here Comes the Sun” and the exceptional “Something” are his best songs, even though Sinatra, who covered “Something” said it was the most beautiful song ever written by Lennon/McCartney. Poor Frank. I love Lennon’s “Come Together,” which has also been beautifully covered by Aerosmith for a bad movie soundtrack. McCartney’s “Oh, Darling” is a really great track as well. I recently read that Lennon thought he should have sung that song and damn, I think he’s right. It would have fit John better. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” at leasts builds up some heat. I can even accept “Octupus’s Garden” because, well, it’s Ringo. Everybody loves Ringo (“Peace and Love,” baby). I’ll even admit the medley does sound cool with headphones on. George Martin’s production really shines on this album. I think actually playing the songs live, as a group in the studio and then overdubbing helped the process. They’d been recording one instrument at time on multi track prior to that.

All that aside, the medley still bothers me. McCartney has continued to do some version of this medley, thematic tunes stitched together, ever since… from Red Rose Speedway to Egypt Station. And then there’s the boat anchor on this album for me, namely, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” The other members in the band described it as “granny music.” Tension was running high in the band and had been since the recording of The Beatles album. Lennon, who wins the “pussy-whipped” hall of fame MVP, was constantly bringing Yoko into the studio, which was like a clubhouse prior to that (“No Girls Allowed”). It threw the chemistry off. Lennon was using heroin and his moods were, to be generous, mercurial. Harrison felt stifled and under-appreciated. I think everyone but McCartney had quit the band at one time. Lennon was in a car wreck and when he got back the first track McCartney asked him to play on was “Maxwell.” Lennon turned around and went home for two weeks. He was quoted as saying that McCartney ground Harrison and Ringo down recording that song, insisting on take after take after take. There had been some modicum of a return to camaraderie during the recording of the single, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” and McCartney blew it away to record an old-timey song about a serial killer. Bad acid indeed.

Now, in keeping with 50th anniversary editions of Sgt. Pepper and The Beatles we have an expanded Super Deluxe version of Abbey Road with two discs of outtakes and additional material. I had largely ignored the Sgt. Pepper 50th until I went to a Classic Album Sundays session and heard the new stereo mix by Giles Martin, George’s son, and fell in love with it. Prior to that the mono version was the definitive. I bought that on vinyl. I bought the 50th edition of The Beatles for much the same reason – a definitive stereo version. However, The Beatles also had a treasure trove of additional material including the mostly acoustic, famous Esher demos (‘The Beatles (The White Album) – Super Deluxe’ – “So I Guess I’ll Have to Buy ‘The White Album’ Again”).

I have to admit, I don’t hear a lot in Giles’ stereo mix that outdoes his father’s original stereo mix of the album. Some of Ringo’s drums sound better but that’s about the only thing I can distinguish. If you’re into Abbey Road there are some choice tracks in the bonus material. McCartney’s demos for songs he gave away, “Goodbye” and “Come And Get It” are nice finds (although “Come And Get It” was on the Anthology albums). I love Billy Preston’s monster organ playing on the “I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – Trident Recording Session” version. Early takes on “Old Brown Shoe” and “The Ballad of John and Yoko” are interesting for completists. “Here Come the Sun (Take 9)” makes Ringo really shine. I think the gold for most collectors is the original running order of the medley, here known as “The Long One” where they reinsert “Her Majesty” back in between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam.” I don’t know why they cut it out and left it as a coda. It makes more sense in the middle. Purest are really geeking out about this version.

Other than that, early versions of the tracks that ended up in the medley do very little for me. Ditto for “Octupus’s Garden (Take 9).” They include two orchestral backing tracks to showcase George Martin’s brilliant composing abilities. And I get it, I love George Martin as a producer, but two tracks? Seemed like overkill.

This album has largely been seen as a “farewell” from the Beatles. Everyone seemed to think they knew this was the end. However, there is a recording of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison in the studio, sitting around shooting the shit. Lennon suggests they do another album with the songwriting equally divided, four tracks each by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. They’d let Ringo have 2 tracks too. Very egalitarian…Lennon had really come around on Harrison’s songwriting and thought “Something” was the best song on Abbey Road. McCartney seems offended that Harrison would get an equal number of songs and implies he didn’t think any of Harrison’s previous songs were any good… big balls indeed. Lennon goes on and suggests that maybe McCartney should start farming out his old-time sounding tunes like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” to other acts and should focus on rock and roll. McCartney replies with, “I recorded it because I liked it.” Sounds like it was over before it started…

I’ll be honest, I really think this edition of Abbey Road is strictly for Beatles nuts and completists only. I think, in terms of purchase, I’m going to sit this one out. It’s a lot to lay out for what you get. For me it boils down to not loving Abbey Road in the first place. It was the Beatles biggest selling album, so I’m probably in the minority. It’s certainly an interesting listen. If you’re not in love with Abbey Road, you’re probably not reading this anyway, and should probably steer clear of the new package.

Cheers!

Green Day: New Single, “Father of All…” – Trying Something New?

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I’ve always considered myself to be a “catalog fan” of most the bands/artists I like. By that, I mean when I find an album by a group I like I tend to go backwards from that point in time and buy all of their albums, i.e. the entire catalog. As an aside, I heard Courtney Love of Hole once describe her band as a “catalog type of band, like Bob Dylan.” Uh, not quite babe. Don’t get me wrong, I like Hole. With most bands, after I’ve secured the back catalog I tend to buy each new album from that point onward. I tend to look forward to these new albums, like emails from old friends.

Green Day falls into that “catalog” type of band Ms. Love was speaking of. I bought Dookie, like we all did. I did not replace it when it was removed from my apartment by a young lady I was dating. You couldn’t escape that record and I’d grown tired of it…I figured let her have the album as I hadn’t provided much else to her. When I met the Rock Chick, one of our first dates was to a record store and she picked up Insomniac and Nimrod. She already had Dookie and the underrated gem, Warning. Suddenly, I was back into Green Day.

I was surprised to learn that after the recording of Warning and the subsequent tour, the band almost broke up. Billie Joe Armstrong, lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter had hit a writer’s block. There was so much pressure on him to repeat the success of Dookie he had become afraid to even present ideas to the band, Mike Dirnt (bassist) and Tre Cool (drummer). They had to go into couples er, band therapy to work it out. Billie Joe finally admitted he wanted to write something like “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He wanted to move the band in another direction but was afraid to mention it to his bandmates. They emerged with a stronger bond and the hit album American Idiot. 

Now, I also subscribe to the great man theory of rock and roll, something I stole from a history class. It posits that there are certain important people, these “great men (or women),” who can have a major effect on rock and roll in their time.  I think about Billie Joe Armstrong this way, the same way I think about Jack White or Beck. I’ve been impressed with Armstrong’s constant search to expand or change Green Day’s sound and approach. He’s always striving for something new. It’s not like he’s releasing a string of albums of oldies (ahem, Rod), he’s pushing the band in different, brave new directions.

They went from the new punks on the block to writing Rock Operas, ala the Who. After a couple of those albums (American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown) they veered back into non connected, “collection of songs” type records. For reasons unclear, he decided that Green Day should record and release three albums at once, Uno!Dos!, and finally Tre! (a play on the drummer’s name). Billie famously had a breakdown during the tour for the triptych of albums. He’d bitten off more than he could chew.

Clean and sober, Billie Joe and Green Day returned in 2016 with Revolution Radio, which ironically the Rock Chick didn’t like but I loved, LP Review: Green Day “Revolution Radio,” They retrench and relaunch. Well, I loved that trio of records prior to that, but I think I’m alone in that, but I thought Revolution Radio was a punchy return to form. The Rock Chick feels that they’ve become too polished and are more “arena rock” now. She longs for a track as nasty as “Geek Stink Breath.” She’s not wrong. All rock and roll could do with a little less polish.

Ever the workaholic, while Green Day took some time off, Billie Joe kept working. Like his 2013 duets album with Norah Jones, Foreverly, Armstrong decided to work with a side project. By the way, everyone should check out Foreverly, choosing Norah Jones to sing with him was an inspired choice. I hope they work together again. Anyway, last year Billie put out a side project with a new band, The Longshot, that was more in keeping with his day job in Green Day or his first side project, The Foxboro Hot Tubs. I loved the album and all the EPs they subsequently put out, LP Review: ‘Love Is For Losers’ From The Longshot, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong’s New Side Project, and The Longshot Return (Already?) With A Single and 3 EP’s – Billie Joe Armstrong Can’t Stop!. The Longshot was a rocking good time… certainly it seems that Armstrong was having a lot more fun than he had in a while. I mean, they covered Ozzy’s “Goodbye To Romance” for fucks sake!

Green Day recently released a new single, the title track from an album that won’t come out until February, Father of All… The first time I played the song for the Rock Chick, she stood up and walked out of the room. I have to admit it was quite a surprise. Upon further listens, it does sound like Green Day but that first listen was a stunner. Let me say, first and foremost, Tre Cool’s propulsive drumming is the best thing in this song. I realize Billie Joe wants to drive Green Day in different directions, but he’s deploying a falsetto that sounds utterly foreign to me. I will say the track, after that initial surprise, has grown on me. It’s punchy and has a great punk-like energy. I like Billie Joe’s guitar work on the track. Mike Dirnt lays down an aggressive bass line. It’s certainly not arena rock.

It took me quite a few listens but I finally got to a point where I can say, I don’t hate it. I can’t say I love it, I can’t say it gets me excited for what’s next on this new album like most first singles do. I typically only review stuff I like on B&V, to get the word out there. This post is truly the exception, I’m more baffled than anything. I’ve liked almost everything Green Day has done, so I’m hopeful the album surprises me, whatever direction Armstrong and the lads decide to go in. I’d still recommend checking this song out, but approach with caution, it doesn’t sound like Green Day… which was probably the point in the first place.

 

 

 

LP Review: Liam Gallagher’s ‘Why Me? Why Not.’

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As I have often shared here on B&V, I got married later than most of my friends…after a life of misadventure. I got married in my late 30s and by then I’d pretty much settled on the group of people I considered “friends.” My attitude was simple… I had enough friends, I didn’t need any more. I admit, it was a short sighted attitude to take at the time. Most my friends are parents now and have disappeared into what I call the “parent tunnel.” Thank God my friend Doug is still around for the stray beer every now and again (and yes, we’re overdue for one of those).

I met my wife during this period of thinking I had enough friends. And, like me, she brought her own group of friends with her into the relationship. I’m sure it’s the same for people who get married in their 20s or in their 60s for that matter. Your partner always brings their own set of friends with them. I wasn’t really emotionally prepared for that. I was a bit of a loner. I went from hanging out with people who were as comfortable to me as an old Stones’ concert T-shirt to meeting all of these new people. Don’t get me wrong, I liked a lot of those people… the late, great Nancy springs to mind (The Rock and Roll Drinking Songs iPod Playlist (for Nancy, my friend)), as does the dynamic duo of J&P. I generally think of most of my wife’s friends as my own friends now… although in truth they only put up with me because of her.

The hardest part of getting to know my wife’s friends was the “hanging out as couples” thing. Suddenly I was expected to join her and her gal pal and the gal pal’s husband for dinners where I was expected to show up sober and converse like an adult. I was given strict instructions to talk about things other than rock and roll… grrr. I never realized how hard it was to find another couple that you both enjoy hanging out with. One of the early exceptions to this rule was this wonderful couple my wife had known for years, who I’ll call Tracy and Rich, because well, those are their names. When we moved into our house together, the Rock Chick and I started throwing parties. I would labor for hours to put together a playlist for these parties. Stuff that was rocking but not any melt-your-face metal… nothing too obscure, no B-sides, no Allman Brothers’ “Mountain Jam” (which goes on for thirty minutes). It was hard work, but I felt good about it. Invariably, we’d be at the party, me glorying in the majesty of my playlist when Rich, from the aforementioned couple, would approach me and say, “Hey man, can you put on that new Oasis album?” The next thing I’d know, my playlist was on the scrapheap of history and we were jamming on Don’t Believe The Truth. Sigh.

Oasis was a band that I had largely ignored during their heyday. They were in that post-Nirvana wave of rock bands that didn’t catch my attention the way Pearl Jam, Soundgarden or Alice In Chains did. I vaguely remember hearing them described as Brit-pop but that might be wrong. I do remember seeing them on MTV and despite speaking English, the channel had to use subtitles. I remember the lead singer Liam Gallagher, when he’d heard some criticism leveled at Oasis by George Harrison, saying that Harrison was “a nipple.” Dude, its George fucking Harrison? What is a nipple? I mean, I know what a nipple is, but why would you call someone that?

But, as I was to learn quickly, like the group of friends that your significant other brings into a relationship, there’s a host of music coming with them too. And, at my age, I’d already pretty much determined which bands I was going to listen to. For the most part my wife and my musical taste are that perfect Venn Diagram, with a tremendous overlap in the middle. She’s turned me onto some great bands over the years. Green Day was one she brought me back to. And, like Rich, she loved Oasis. I will admit, their last few albums were fantastic – Don’t Believe the Truth and Dig Out Your Soul are the type of albums this blog was founded to talk about. We actually saw Oasis at Red Rocks in Denver on the tour for Don’t Believe the Truth and somehow we scored first row tickets. I made the mistake of playing air-guitar and Liam not only saw me, the nipple mocked me. They certainly make it hard to slip onto the bandwagon.

I followed, or actually the Rock Chick followed Liam into Beady Eye after Oasis broke up. After their first album, I lost interest. Then Liam went solo and in 2017 released As You Were and I’ll admit to being extremely, pleasantly surprised (LP Review: Liam Gallagher, ‘As You Were’ A Pleasant Surprise From an Unpleasant Man). That was truly a great album. The song “Chinatown” is still in high rotation around here. I was doing some musical spelunking a few Friday’s ago and discovered Liam was back with a new album, Why Me? Why Not. 

I’ll start off by saying, I really like this new album. He brought back the same producers from As You Were, Greg Kurstin and Andrew Wyatt and they have again crafted a great Oasis-like album. Liam may miss his brother Noel’s songwriting a bit but he’s found some perfect collaborators and he’s making some of the best music of his career. I will say, overall, this album is not as fabulous as his first record, but it’s a very strong sophomore effort. Maybe my expectations were just higher after that first record? As the Rock Chick said, while generally being positive about the record, “There’s just no “Chinatown” here, babe.” Harsh? Liam, along with his producers have found a way to make music that sounds fresh/new at the same time as sounding “retro.”

The album kicks off with the first single, a rocking tune, “Shockwave” that starts with guitar riffs and harmonica, hell yes! It fades into my favorite track here, the shimmery, acoustic “One of Us” where Liam’s voice just soars. The first true ballad on the album is up next with the beautiful “Once.” I’m very impressed with the wealth of emotions Liam expresses in this group of songs. He’s upbeat (almost too much so) on tracks like “Now That I’ve Found You” and darker on “The River” and even sad on “Meadow.” His voice is the key to tying all of this together.

I will say, there are a couple of moments where he veers too far into “pop” territory. The aforementioned “Now That I Found You” which the Rock Chick didn’t like but I did is an example. I feel there’s a little vulnerability underneath the happy bluster of that track and it pulled me in but it is very pop. The only track I didn’t like was “Halo” as its almost, dare I say, “jaunty.” I don’t do jaunty. It has someone hammering on the piano like it’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and not in a good way. The final track “Glimmer” is another poppy track that sort of lost me…

That said, there are a lot of songs I like here… “Gone” almost sounds like it’s from the soundtrack of a “spaghetti western” and I mean that as a compliment. “Alright Now” is a beautiful, wistful track. “Be Still” has a great riff which almost reminds me of “Downbound Train” (only at the very beginning, and the Rock Chick says I’m nuts). Even on first listen each song seemed to open up and reveal something special to me. I credit Kurstin and Wyatt for that effect…

I highly recommend this record and I’ll say it now, you can expect this record to be on my “best of” albums of the year. I highly recommend checking out Why Me? Why Not. even if Liam can be a bit of a nipple now and then…and yes, I still play air guitar Liam… deal with it.

Cheers and Happy Autumn, folks!