Review: A Surprise Return To Concerts, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts With Cheap Trick! August 29, 2021, Starlight Theater

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*Photo above of (L to R) Rick Nielsen, Daxx Nielsen and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick taken by your intrepid blogger at an actual live concert

I don’t care what your political persuasion is – I’m a lover not a fighter – but I think no matter what you believe we can all agree that one of the greatest losses during the depths of the pandemic and lockdown was the darkening of concert stages. Live music as an entertainment ceased to exist. It wasn’t safe to pack into a dark, sweaty room with other people and listen to rock n roll played live right in front of you…the way God intended it. I realize the actual loss of human lives was a toll incalculable but this is a rock n roll blog and I feel its necessary to at least acknowledge the cancellation of concerts as a thing. Believe me, I’m not of like mind with moron Eric Clapton… It does stun me, a huge music fan, to think that I hadn’t seen a live concert since Starcrawler on October 14th in 2019. That seems like it was lifetime ago… and it feels like we’ve lived a lifetime in those almost two years.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m fully vaccinated. I’ve actually started to travel for work again. My corporate masters want me out there on the road and frankly I had missed it. I’d be lying though if I didn’t admit to feeling quite a bit of anxiety that first time I masked up and walked into Kansas City’s somewhat crowded airport. I’d been hiding in my attic ala Boo Radley for two years. Suddenly I’m amongst a crowd of people. It wasn’t agoraphobia but more of a fear of large crowds, whatever that’s called. As they said in the movie Barfly, “People, I just sorta feel better when they’re not around.” I couldn’t imagine going to a concert and most the bands I know had been cancelling everything until 2022. I hadn’t been out to the Ticketmaster website in, well, two years. I did stick my toe into the live music water, so to speak, a few weekends ago when I drove to the Harley Davidson dealership up by the airport to see some friends of mine the Sunset Sinners do a gig. But it was an outside thing in the parking lot with plenty of space.

The Rock Chick celebrated her birthday recently. In truth we celebrated that for about a week which is our wont around here. There’s no such thing as a birth “day.” I like to refer to the week around my birthday as the Festival of Me. The Rock Chick informed me a couple of weeks ago she had something planned for Sunday night, the 29th. She was, as usual, her mysterious self. The only hint I got was that I should take Monday off. At first I thought perhaps we were going to a movie, another thing we haven’t done in two years. But she mentioned to me yesterday while we were at the Nelson Atkins Museum that it was likely we would be standing all night. Cryptic, indeed. That ruled out a movie.

Finally around six last night, we jumped in the car and headed east. It was pretty soon I realized we were headed to the venerable Starlight Theater in Swope Park. She had surprised me on my birthday one year with Jim Gaffigan tickets (a brilliant comic). It was her birthday but I thought maybe she was going to surprise me with another comedy show. It was then she revealed that we were seeing a fabulous rock n roll double-bill, Cheap Trick and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts! I almost screamed! Starlight is such a great old theater and a wonderful place to see a concert. They used to only have musical theater stuff out there, but when I was in high school they opened it up to rock n roll concerts. My first show out there was to see Elton John with my family. I’ve seen some really great shows out there: David Bowie, Rush, Greta Van Fleet and Soundgarden to merely name a few. I knew we were in for a great evening. I will admit I felt that same anxiety that I’d felt at the airport when I found myself crowded into the throng of the crowd but that soon passed. Although admittedly no one was wearing masks in the men’s room which irked me. It’s public safety people.

Cheap Trick, to my surprise, opened the show. I thought for certain they’d be the headliners, but then I’m more into Cheap Trick and am still listening to their latest LP, In Another World. It was great to see these guys stroll out on the stage: Rick Nielson on guitar, his son Daxx on the drums, and Robin Zander in shiny black pants with blue stars on them on lead vocals/rhythm guitar. Cheap Trick are old school rock stars and Zander stands out amongst them. I knew immediately it wasn’t longtime member Tom Petersson on bass. Sadly, he had a recent heart procedure and had to sit this one out. Zander’s son Robin Taylor Zander pinch hit on bass and backing vocals. Robin Taylor also took lead vocalist duties on, I believe, “Downed.” The kid sounds just like his father. Daxx doesn’t play the drums with the aggression of Bun E. Carlos but he gets the job done. As Keith Richards would ask, “He rocks but does he roll?” Not like Bun E, sadly.

Cheap Trick rocked with an attitude. Nielsen was giving people shit in the audience. They opened with the track that opens At Budokan, “Hello There.” They then proceeded to do 19 rocking tracks over the course of an hour and half. They hit all the highlights – “Surrender,” “Ain’t That A Shame,” and “I Want You To Want Me.” Nielsen is a beast on lead guitar. I will admit some of his gimmicky guitars get a little old. He had trouble holding the 5-neck custom guitar on the encore… but hey he shredded on lead guitar. Robin Zander’s voice is as strong as it ever was. He sounded fantastic. His voice was strong, loud and on key. His son Robin Taylor was there on backing vocals to help with the high notes – although Zander didn’t need much help. I loved, especially, the raucous versions of “California Man” and my all time favorite Cheap Trick tune, “She’s Tight.” I was screaming on the chorus, “So I got off the phone” like I was in high school. The only ballad was “The Flame” toward the end of the main set. My only complaint – and it’s a nit – is I’d have liked more from the new LP. They only did two new tracks, the great “Summer Looks Good On You,” and “Another World (Reprise).” I’d have loved to have heard “Light Up the Fire,” an incendiary new track. These guys are consistently excellent. They played with the gusto they did when I saw them when I was in college. I’ll always come out for Cheap Trick.

After that, I was pretty blissed out and yet we still had Joan Jett & the Blackhearts to go! I’ve searched and scoured the internet to find out the names of the guys that were on stage with her last night. She did intro’s but I missed it. They looked younger than the Blackhearts on Wikipedia… The lead guitar player really rocked. He was on fire. I thought she called him Johnny. I’m embarrassed I can’t find his name. My inability to get their names doesn’t take away from the great job the drummer and the lead guitarist did. They had a hard edged, punk rock vibe that I really liked. It was like they turned Starlight into CBGB’s… Joan opened the set with “Victim of Circumstance” and then went into the great Runaways track (one of several), “Cherry Bomb.” That was a real highlight for me, as I’ve always dug the Runaways. “Bad Reputation” was absolutely priceless. The Springsteen penned “Light of Day” was another rocking highlight. They played a song I had never heard, but immediately purchased when I got home last night, “Soulmates to Strangers” that was an absolutely gorgeous track. Everyone should check that out because, well, we’ve all been there. There are subtle vocal things that Jett does on her records and she replicated all of them last night. Whether its an “oo” or an “ah” or a moan Jett made sure it was part of the performance. The last three songs of the main set were all killers: “I Love Rock N Roll,” “Crimson And Clover” and one both the Rock Chick and I’d forgotten, “I Hate Myself For Loving You.” The encore wrapped up with “Everyday People,” another highlight. It was 21 songs of a hard edged rock over the course of almost an hour and forty minutes. Joan Jett really impressed me. I find myself listening to her quite a bit this morning. She’s a rock n roll survivor and icon.

I’m sitting here on a Monday both exhausted and happy. I’m usually exhausted on Mondays, but never happy. My ears have a slight ring and I feel a little ragged. It’s so wonderful to have seen a rocking concert again. To spend an evening grooving on Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Cheap Trick was such a great way to end the birthday Festival of the Rock Chick. If these guys come near you, if you need some rock n roll, try and see them!

Cheers!

Review: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss Return With New Song “Can’t Let Go” From Upcoming LP ‘Raise The Roof’

Robert Plant has had a storied career. He began – or became famous anyway – as the lead singer of the legendary, hard-rock band Led Zeppelin. There were two bands that were worshiped like deities in the 70s when I was in junior high school: Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Of course I may think that because most my friends were stoners and stoners tend to gravitate to those bands. Maybe it was all that velvet, black-light art work… We weren’t listening to punk in the Midwest, we were listening to classic rock. After the tragic, preventable death of Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham, Zeppelin decided to disband. Bonham would have been hard to replace. And in all honesty I think Zeppelin had watched the Who try to replace Keith Moon with former Faces’ drummer Kenny Jones and realized it might be a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I still dug the Who and Face Dances is one of those LPs only I love… but the Who were fundamentally different without Moon on the kit.

Almost from the moment Zeppelin broke up – on December 4th 1980 – people have been clamoring for a Zeppelin reunion. Early on there were rumors that Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page were going to dump bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones and form a “super group” with the former rhythm section of Yes, Chris Squire (bass) and Alan White (drums). I’m still not sure where those rumors came from. I think the four had jammed one afternoon. I think the rumor took root because the proposed name of the new band was catchy. They were going to be called XYZ… for Ex-Yes and Zeppelin. Which I have to admit is a pretty cool name. But, confounding the adoring, broken-hearted fans Plant put out his first solo record a year and half later, in June of 1982, entitled Pictures At Eleven. I absolutely loved that album despite Phil Collins playing drums… well, he’s actually a great drummer, but I digress. “Burning Down One Side” is one of my all time favorite songs.

From there Plant’s solo career has really been a journey. He’s explored the vast regions of roots-centric rock ever since. Every few LPs he’d change his band or change his sound. He experimented with what was new and current but always kept a foot in the bluesy, folky stuff that he sang in his early days. I’m not suggesting much of what he’s done solo is “Zeppelin-esque” but it does have some of the same qualities. As he’s gotten older Plant went from the banshee wail of those early Zep albums to becoming a fuller singer with a richer voice. I have absolutely loved the sound of his voice on his last few solo records like his last LP, Carry Fire. His late period solo career from Dreamland onward has been the stuff that B&V was founded on. I have seen Plant solo (and with Jimmy Page in Plant-Page) several times and the last concert of his I attended might have been the best yet.

Despite all the success and wonderful music Plant has put out over the years there are still those who would love to see a Led Zeppelin reunion. I think the show they did in London at the O2 Arena (memorialized on the live LP and Blu-Ray, Celebration Day) will be the last we see of Zeppelin. I think Plant likes to be relaxed. He doesn’t like the pressure that a reunion LP and tour would put on him… the pressure to match the heights that Zeppelin soared to in the 70s would indeed be daunting. I saw Plant at the venerable Uptown Theater with the Rock Chick years ago and after the main set, when Plant came out for the encore, he strolled out on stage with a cold Red Stripe beer in his hand. He looked as chill as they come. I certainly envied him the cold Jamaican beer. I think that’s the vibe Plant wants in his life. Who needs the hassles of expectations?

I think the pressure of high expectations is also what has kept Plant from doing a second duets LP with Alison Krauss. I can’t believe it’s been fourteen years since the wonderful Raising Sand. That album was a runaway success. I can remember hearing about it coming out and going to the CD store to pick it up… I brought it home and rushed it down to my “man-cave,” the rock and roll basement. The Rock Chick and I sat smiling and marveling at the wonderful harmonizing Krauss and Plant were doing. It was a laid back, rootsy affair. The Rock Chick looked at me and said, “This is going to be huge.” And indeed it was. We saw them in concert on the ensuing tour and it was wonderful. They brought that harmonizing alive that night. There were rumors that they were going to record a follow up with producer T Bone Burnett back at the helm but it never came. The rumors seemed to indicate they were going to actually write new, original songs for the follow-up. But the bigger Raising Sand became the bigger those pesky expectations became. And I think Plant felt that pressure and decided to grab a Red Stripe and head the other direction…

We finally have a reunion involving Plant – perhaps not the reunion all the Zeppelin fans have clamored for – but a reunion I’m excited about. Plant and Krauss finally got together, with producer T Bone Burnett (also on guitar) for a new LP, Raise The Roof. I don’t know what is up with the use of the word “Raise” in both titles but hey, it worked last time. From what I’ve seen there are no original songs on this LP. It appears they’re sticking to the formula that worked so well with Raising Sand and the new LP will be another album of all cover songs. They’ve released the first single, a cover of Lucinda Williams’ great tune “Can’t Let Go.” Its a song from her masterpiece, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. I can’t think of a better song selection for their roots-driven vibe than this Lucinda Williams tune.

Once again we have those two fabulous voices, weaving together like a finely knitted sweater. They sing over what has to be T Bone Burnett’s spidery guitar and (I’m assuming) the subtle drumming of Jay Bellerose. Plant’s voice is a little more dominant but Krauss is right there with him. They compliment each other in much the same way the Everly Brothers used to. They really kill it on this track. The Rock Chick exclaimed, when I played the track for her, “They’re just so damn good together!” They capture the spirit of Lucinda’s original but make it their own. This is a great kick off to what promises to be a fantastic LP… Here’s the link to the song:

While it’s been a tough week here at B&V with the loss of Charlie Watts, this great little roots rocker is helping pull me through. It’s strong enough it got me to stop obsessively listening to the Stones…(“the drummer thinks that he is dynamite”). I hope it gets you down the road to where you’re going… maybe grab a Red Stripe while you listen to this one and kick back. Its what Robert Plant would do.

Cheers!

 

Devastating News, RIP Charlie Watts, One of The Greatest Drummers Of All Time

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“I’m yellin’ at the kids in the back seat, ‘Cause they’re bangin’ like Charlie Watts” – John Hiatt, “Slow Turning”

I just got the sad, devastating news that Charlie Watts, the legendary drummer of the Rolling Stones passed away at 80 years old, surrounded by family in London.

I was worried something was seriously wrong. For the first time in Stones’ history, it was announced that Watts was going to miss the upcoming North American tour, coming in the fall. He’d had to have surgery on “something they found” in a pre-tour physical. I had hoped he’d bounce back. The band and Charlie’s family have been very tight lipped on what his condition was, so it was easy to be optimistic that it was something minor… But it kept nagging at me… he was 80. I was hoping for the best but worrying about the worst case scenario, just like Grandma taught me.

In a band known for it’s excesses back in the 70s and 80s, Watts was the epitome of class and restraint. Even his drumming could be described as controlled. He was heavily influenced by jazz and indeed I think it was his first love. Besides the Stones he’d occasionally tour as the Charlie Watts Quintet playing the jazz msuic he loved.

As I’ve often said, the Stones were the first band I ever loved. They are my absolute favorite. And Charlie Watts’ amazing drumming is a big part of that. He was never flashy like Neil Peart. His drumming was never overbearing and dominant like Keith Moon or John Bonham. He played his drums in whatever way that best suited the song. Keith used to refer to Charlie as the “engine” of the Stones. I am just gutted by this news.

My favorite Charlie Watts’ story dates from the 80s. The Stones were somewhere in the Caribbean recording an album. Mick Jagger had been out drinking and decided he wanted to do some recording. He was drunkenly stumbling around the lobby of the hotel they were staying in, shouting “I need my drummer. Somebody get my drummer down here.” Eventually he got on the house phone and called Charlie’s room and said the same thing, “I need my drummer, I want to record something, get down here.” Charlie, ever the classy dude, rose from bed and put on his suit, enraged to have been awakened in the middle of the night. He put on his suit and shirt. He went to the elevator and calmly rode down to the lobby. I always imagine it like that scene in The Blues Brothers…chaos in the lobby, calm in the elevator car, maybe some Muzak playing. He sprang out of the elevator grabbed Mick by the collar and punched him with a round-house right. “I’m not your drummer, you’re my fucking singer.” He then returned to his room, leaving Jagger laid out on the floor. Only Charlie could get away with something like that. I’m guessing nobody woke Charlie up at 3 am again.

I took my daughter to see the Stones on the ‘Zipcode’ tour a few years back. It was really important to me that she see the Stones. She texted me this afternoon and said, “Did you see the news about Charlie Watts? So sad.” Indeed it is… I’m so glad we bought those tickets. The fact that my daughter knew who Charlie Watts was and got to see him is proof that no matter what… I’m a great parent.

This devastating news leaves only Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as the original members in the band. Of course Bill Wyman is still out there in retirement. Mick Taylor is still around and appeared at some of their 50th anniversary shows. They recruited Steve Jordan who has worked with Keith in the Xpensive Winos to play on this tour. Ronnie Wood has reported he just recovered from cancer which scares me.  What this means for the future of the Stones is hard to know. As long as Keith and Mick are around they’ll probably be another tour on the calendar. But in my mind they’ve really lost something with Charlie’s passing. He was the foundation. I’m concerned about what this means for the oft delayed new studio stuff they were working on.

Most of all I’m just bummed out that a legend on drums has left us. The world is a less rhythmic place today. I know I’ll be listening to a whole lot of Stones tonight.

Cheers. It’s a long dark ride. Take care of yourselves out there. Live every day like it’s your last.

Lookback: Metallica’s ‘The Black Album’ Turns 30 This Month – My Conflicted Thoughts

There have been a number of significant anniversaries this year. Well, rock and roll anniversaries anyway. Most of the milestones have been around albums that were released in that seminal year of 1971. I’ve been kind of wrapped up in all of that having posted a playlist for 1971, blissing out on CSNY’s Deja Vu and currently listening to George Harrison’s masterwork All Things Must Pass – 50th Anniversary. It’s hard not to get caught up in the whole “50th anniversary thing,” that’s a big number. While I’ve been focused on all of that, I didn’t realize that another album had reached a significant milestone as well. Metallica’s self-titled 1991 LP, aka The Black Album, turned thirty years old this August. In many circles it’s considered a stone cold classic. I have to admit, I dig this album, but I have a bit of a complicated relationship with both it and Metallica in general. To be more accurate I used to have a conflicted feeling about Metallica. I love them now. But I still have a conflicted relationship with the album Metallica.

Metallica’s first album the classic Kill ‘Em All came out in 1983. I had to rub my eyes and look at that again. In 1983 I was just barely in college, struggling to make the adjustment to living away from home and trying to become an adult. Needless to say, I was distracted and completely unaware that Kill Em All even existed at the time. In my defense, most heavy metal bands in those days dressed like chicks in spandex and bandanas with giant blow-dried hair. Every band looked the same and their videos looked identical. Well, the bands we thought of as heavy metal back then anyway. And while some of those bands rocked hard – Motley Crue springs to mind – a lot of them didn’t – Bon Jovi springs to mind. Metallica was authentic, balls to the wall heavy metal. Their influences were all those great British 70s heavy metal bands that arrived in Black Sabbath’s wake. Their sound was significantly heavier and more menacing than anything around. There was a touch of punk in the thrash metal they played and more than a touch of prog rock in the way they played on their early LPs. No wonder we never heard them on the radio.

Metallica took a quantum leap forward on their second album, Ride The Lightning. The first album was already a classic but no one expected the long, complicated tracks with multiple time changes and even heavier lyrics. Most bands sang about partying and chicks while Metallica sang about dying in the electric chair. There was an intelligence and power in what they were doing and yet… I still had no idea who they were. It wasn’t until March, 27th 1986 when some buddies of mine and I drove all the way down to Wichita, Kansas to see Ozzy Osbourne that I became aware that Metallica even existed. We were Ozzy fans. We dug Van Halen and AC/DC. The opening act comes out onto a foggy stage covered in big white crosses. There was a collective, “who the fuck are these guys?” Metallica were opening up for Ozzy and touring behind their third LP (who knew?) Master of Puppets and the stage evoked the album cover. When I tell Metallica fans that I saw them on this tour they tend to freak out. This was original bassist Cliff Burton’s final tour. He was killed in a bus crash on the European leg later that year. I didn’t even know which one he was on stage… That night at Ozzy, I’m embarrassed to admit – they didn’t make an impression on any of us. They opened with “Battery” and went right into “Master Of Puppets.” They played faster than anything we’d ever seen before. We kept yelling, “Louder, faster!” They had their heads bowed down and all we could see was bobbing heads with shaking hair. I wouldn’t have been able to recognize any of them in a line up… I don’t think I saw a face. We were all loaded on beer and No-Doz and couldn’t be bothered with this gloomy opening act. We walked in Ozzy fans, we left as Ozzy fans. I did pick up some Metaphysical Wisdom that night…

It was 10 years later when I crossed paths with Metallica again. By then I at least knew who they were. On a drunken night in Westport years earlier we’d run into an old college buddy who I’ll call Al (name changed to protect the guilty) and he kept singing at the top of his lungs “Aaaaand nothing else matters!!” Do you want another drink Al? “Yes… AND NOTHING ELSE MATTERS…” So by June 27, 1996 when Lollapalooza came to Kansas City (specifically, Longview Lake), I was familiar with the 1991 LP, Metallica. By then they had a new LP out, Load. It was a bit controversial that Metallica was headlining Lollapalooza. They were metal, Lolla was an alternative rock thing. The tribal lines were drawn more firmly back then. I remember going over to my friend’s little brother’s place to “pre-game” and have a few beers. His roommate, who was in med school, had “Metallica” tattoo’d on his bicep. I can just imagine some poor old lady in surgery, coming out of the anesthesia induced fog and seeing that tattoo and dropping into a coma. I had been talked into going all the way out to Longview Lake to see this show because Soundgarden was playing right before Metallica.

I’m standing in the beer line on a ridge overlooking Longview Lake (naturally) and I hear the Doors’ song, “Waiting For the Sun.” But it’s not Jim Morrison, its Chris Cornell. I turned and ran back to the area where the stage was set up as fast as I could. What a show! As he was leaving, addressing the Lolla controversy of Metallica headlining Cornell said, “I bet you’re all glad now Metallica is still coming up next.” I have to admit, I really didn’t care. But then Metallica came out and they rocked. My friend’s little brother, who I’ll call Young Goodman Brown says that during “Ain’t My Bitch” I nudged him with my elbow and said, “These guys are kind of good. I like this tune.” What drew me in at first was Kirk Hammett’s fluid, soaring solo’s on guitar. That guy is amazing. But as I listened I started to realize what a great drummer Lars Ulrich is. Maybe there was more to this band than I’d realized. Sometimes you just have to see a band live. I do remember Lars made a mistake on one song and James Hetfield (lead singer/guitar) gave him a ration of shit, live in front of the crowd.

I went out the next day and bought Metallica and the then-current Load. Mind you, I had no knowledge of their first iconic four LPs. They rank up there with Sabbath’s first five or six LPs. Classic heavy metal and I hadn’t heard a note of any of it. Well, except the two live shows I’d seen. They’d even played “Whiplash” at Lolla, not that I could have identified it. While I really loved “Until It Sleeps” off of Load, I spent most my time after that listening to Metallica. There’s a theory in rock n roll that says when a band, later in their career, releases a self-titled album (ie, it’s not their debut) it signals a rebirth or a new direction for the band. Unbeknownst to me, that was utterly true for Metallica. They had taken the epic length song, thrash-metal style of Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and …And Justice For All as far as they could. They pared the songs down in terms of length and made them more concise and even heavier, if that’s possible. They were still rocking with the same intensity but that change in style also made them… oh no!… more popular. The hard core following they had up to that time felt betrayed. There were accusations of “selling out.” Of course that LP sold in the millions.

I struggled a bit with The Black Album. The Spinal Tap art work didn’t help. “How much blacker can we get it?” There were five big “hits” that I really liked. “Enter Sandman” (great f’ing song and video), “Nothing Else Matters” (cheers Al), “Unforgiven” (their first ballad), “Sad But True” and “Wherever I May Roam” were instant classics. The rest, however, felt like filler. I remember taping the album for use in my car – yes, this was pre-iPods – and I only taped those five songs. I then did a bit of a pick and choose on Load as well. I could go so far as to say I liked Metallica, but I didn’t love them. I struggled to understand what the rabid fans saw in these guys. And, I’ll admit, I thought Hetfield was kind of an asshole. Of course back then those guys drank more than my friends and I did which didn’t really help. In my mind I’d kind of relegated them to a big band I could only connect with on a few tracks. I decided I just didn’t “get” Metallica. For me, I thought the issue was settled.

Then a strange thing happened. Another 12 years passed. It was 2008 and I was now a married guy, living in the suburbs. Metallica released a new album Death Magnetic which was seen as both a comeback and a return to the style of their earlier LPs. I kept hearing “The Day That Never Comes” on satellite radio…and to my surprise, I loved it. I heard “Cyanide” next. After hearing “All Nightmare Long” I’d heard enough… I bought the album and something just clicked for me with Metallica. I know that’s a weird on-ramp to this band but it’s how it happened. I quickly snatched up their first four albums and I was suddenly amongst the converted. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t own that miserable Re-Load album… gads that was a wrong turn. But I now consider Metallica to be amongst the most important heavy metal bands ever.

Hearing the first four LPs helped me put The Black Album in clearer context. I could see how the people who’d followed them up to that point were disappointed. That said, I thought it was a nice change of direction. Even the songs beyond “the big five” tracks that everyone knows started to grow on me. “Holier Than Thou” and “Don’t Tread On Me” started to find their way onto my heavier playlists. I’ve gone from thinking it was a weak album with a handful of great tracks to understanding that it is a very good Metallica album. Although, hearing their early stuff, I have to say, it’s not a great Metallica album. Beloved by millions of new fans at the time, it’s really not the essence of who they are…at least not to me. Their last LP, Hardwired…To Self Destruct was another triumph in the same vein as that early stuff. I now look forward to new Metallica with the same excited anticipation as I do anybody else in the B&V canon. Having listened to The Black Album repeatedly over the last few weeks it’s an album we should be celebrating on it’s 30th anniversary in a big way. Although I have to admit I’m a little stunned it’s been 30 years… as Dylan said, “time is a jet plane, moving way too fast.”

Cheers!

Review: New Song From Billy Idol, “Bitter Taste” From the Upcoming EP ‘The Roadside’

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I’m not a big social media guy. I got on Instagram so I could follow the Stones. Now I follow a number of bands. I got on Twitter for much the same reason. Bands seem to announce new music, new albums or a new tour on social media. I didn’t want to move from vinyl to CDs in the 90s but record companies forced my hand. I didn’t want to get on social media, but again, rock n roll forced my hand. I am not on Facebook and I will remain that way forever. My friend drummer Blake tells me it would help my readership if I did get on Facebook but I’m simply not interested.

I got on one of the social media sites this week and was scrolling through in my usual absent minded way. I follow Billy Idol and saw he’d posted what looked like a video of him driving. I had the thing muted as I was listening to David Crosby’s new LP, For Free…rather obsessively I might add. I’ve been all over the place musically of late going from Jackson Browne to Metallica to Guns N’ Roses then to David Crosby. One foot on the gas, one foot on the brake as I’ve always been fond of saying. Anyway, I scrolled right past the Billy Idol post. Don’t get me wrong, I love Billy Idol. The Rock Chick and I saw him at the Uptown Theater a few years ago and he and his guitarist Steve Stevens, who I’m also a huge fan of, were on fire that night! But for some reason – despite getting on social media to be alerted to new music – I wasn’t paying attention and completely missed Billy’s new tune.

The Rock Chick came up to my home office, which is a cubby hole in the attic, and said “Have you heard this new awesome Billy Idol song?” Because I’m brain dead, I had to say no. There’s a Bad Company song entitled “She Brings Me Love,” but in my case with the Rock Chick, she brings me music. She immediately pulled Idol’s new song up on YouTube – I’ve shared the accompanying video below – and I was blown away. The new track is called “Bitter Taste.” Oh, my god, this is the best thing Billy Idol has done since Charmed Life. Apparently Idol is releasing a four song EP, The Roadside and “Bitter Taste” is the first single. This is not only a great song, it’s one of Idol’s best tracks ever. I was completely entranced by this track.

I’ll admit in the 80s I was a slow adopter on Idol. The haircut, the videos, the snarl, and the whole punk rock thing put me off. I was busy in the 80s listening to music from the 60s and 70s. But once I started listening to the songs on Rebel Yell I started to get interested. Videos didn’t help everybody back in the day. I still had to hear the music on a stereo to get into something. I dug the song “Rebel Yell” but it was “Eyes Without A Face” that made me an Idol fan. I taped my roommates’ copy of the Rebel Yell album and to this day I don’t know why “Blue Highway” wasn’t a bigger song. The first LP of his I bought was Whiplash Smile which was an uneven record but “Forgot To Be A Lover” remains a personal favorite. I actually re-bought that album on vinyl right before the pandemic. Although, even I’ll admit I didn’t connect with his last couple of records. That cold streak ends with “Bitter Taste.” The Rock Chick played the song several times last night while DJ’ing a rock mix while we, er, she prepped dinner… she’s a talented person. It’s definitely in high rotation here at the house.

“Bitter Taste” starts off with the strumming of an acoustic guitar. It takes me back to Idol’s song “Prodigal Blues.” The lyrics portray a man who has lived hard and is unapologetic about doing so. “You should have left me way back, by the roadside.” I think those of us who have lived life on the harder edge can relate. I’ve made a lot of wrong decisions in my life but at least they were my decisions. “Hello, goodbye, I was staring in the Devil’s Eye.” I’m not a huge video guy, but here’s the link. I’ll even admit I think it’s pretty cool too.

I love Steve Stevens’ spectral electric guitar that is ever present but never overwhelms the track. It floats in the background until the very end then bursts forward like tears held back too long. When Stevens intertwines the acoustic guitar with the electric, it’s money. Shading the light with the dark, it’s the perfect balance. I feel like Stevens is one of those guitar greats who never gets the credit he deserves. He and Idol are a fabulous combination.

I believe Idol is going out on tour… I’m vaccinated and I hope he comes somewhere near here. Hearing “Bitter Taste” will be worth the price of admission. As I read today on the dreaded social media, “Vaccines are the gateway drug to concerts.” Stay tuned for more on the upcoming EP The Roadside. We’ll definitely be keeping an ear out for that one.

Cheers!

Review: David Crosby, ‘For Free,’ The Sublime New Album – One Of His Best Solo LPs

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“I don’t know if I’m dying or about to be born” – David Crosby, “I Won’t Stay For Long”

I started this year deeply immersed in Neil Young’s Archives, Volume II covering his career from 1972 to 1976. Then I found myself wildly obsessed with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Deja Vu: 50th Anniversary. The outtakes and stuff that didn’t make the album sowed the seeds to the beginning of all of their solo careers. Well, at least for David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills. I think it’s true Neil always guarded his best stuff for his solo albums but I’m getting off topic. Right now I’m similarly enraptured with David Crosby’s new LP, For Free. I guess for me 2021 is just a CSNY, Laurel Canyon, California, folk-rock haze. I guess I should have gone all in on the purchase of the buckskin fringe jacket, tie-dye t-shirt and bell bottom jeans my wife forbade me to wear. The album cover for For Free was painted by none other than Joan Baez which only accentuates my whole vibe these days…when I’m not complaining about the awful new Gun N’ Roses song

David Crosby is in the midst of what can only be described as a career renaissance or a creative peak that has lasted several years and counting. He’s released five albums in the last seven years, a Van Morrison-ish pace. If you’d told me that this far down the line it’d be Crosby’s records I’d be excitedly awaiting and not Neil Young’s, I’d have scoffed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always dug David Crosby but from 1971 to 2013 he only released 3 solo albums. Over those 42 years that’s average of an album every fourteen years (for all you math-challenged folks out there). And admittedly during those years there were some legal issues fueled by drug use… drugs start out as fun, turn into fun with trouble and end with just trouble… Of course during those years he also released a number of duo albums with his erstwhile friend Graham Nash and a few with CSN and occasionally Y. There are some who say Crosby is better in a band setting. He was a founding member of the Byrds although he was eventually contentiously fired. He did seem to thrive in the configurations of Crosby, Stills, Nash and/or Young and certainly flourished in his recordings with Graham Nash. I even dug his CPR stuff with Jeff Pevar and James Raymond, his son who he gave up for adoption but reunited with later in life. But in truth, I actually dig Crosby solo, front and center if you will. Check out “Drive My Car”…a truly great tune.

This whole creative burst started with 2014’s Croz produced in part by his son James Raymond. That was a surprisingly solid record, his first solo disc in 21 years. He then teamed up with Micheal League from Snarky Puppy and vocalists Becca Stevens and Michelle Williams for the more raw and acoustic Lighthouse in 2016. Crosby who was used to laboring over a record for years was approached by League who asked if he wanted to try and do something more immediate like Crosby’s masterpiece If I Could Only Remember My Name. I think they recorded Lighthouse in like five days. That gave Crosby sort of a dual career path. He’d do an album with Raymond at the helm – a more polished, focused studio effort – and then he’d jump back into the League/Stevens/Williams camp that he calls “the Lighthouse Band” and do something more raw-boned. The Lighthouse Band really connects with Crosby’s folky roots to my ears. I really love the harmonizing the vocalists do. After the Lighthouse album, Crosby returned to the James Raymond-helmed band and in 2017 released Sky Trails an LP that just knocked me out. What a gorgeous album. That’s the one that got me onto the Crosby bandwagon. I didn’t write about his League produced/Lighthouse Band follow up, Hear If You Listen because for some reason I was led to believe it was merely a live album. It’s amazing. The version of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” on that LP rivals Joni’s original… and possibly CSNY’s version. Crosby produced Mitchell’s debut LP, and it seems he covers a track of hers on every LP he does now.

And so now, Crosby has returned to the James Raymond-produced Sky Trails side of his career and released For Free. His voice, while slightly weathered by time is still an incredible instrument. And Raymond’s production for this album is a perfect environment for Crosby to soar as a vocalist. James Raymond has a solo writing credit on three of the tracks and they’re all stand-outs. At this stage of his career Crosby sounds like a wise and wizened Buddha sitting on the side of a mountain, laying out melodic wisdom. On Here If You Listen he sang and ruminated on subjects from Zen to mortality. The lyrics verge on poetry. For Free, like Sky Trails before it, is a much more polished and (dare I say) pop-oriented record (at least to a degree). Crosby has always had a fascination with jazz and you hear that vibe sprinkled throughout the album. It’s not jazz but it’s jazzy. He certainly pulls that sound off better than Sting used to try and do. While I dig the Lighthouse band, I’m more into the Croz/SkyTrails side of the equation. While unlike previous records there’s nothing I’d call overtly political on this record – despite Crosby’s reputation as a political firebrand – the album does have a feeling of coming out of the darkness and heading toward the light. That’s a feeling we can all get into these days. The band on For Free includes, as usual, James Raymond on various instruments (what can’t he play?), sax player Steve Tavaglione, drummer Steve DiStanislao among others.

The opening track, which is also the first single, is “River Rise” a duet with Michael McDonald. Yes, I’ll admit this harkens back to the Doobie Brother’s “Yacht Rock” of the late 70s but it’s a great tune. It’s a catchy damn tune and amazingly buoyant. McDonald used to sing with Steely Dan and I think that’s really the vibe Crosby is going for. The first track on Sky Trails, “She’s Got To Be There” had a Steely Dan sound so that makes sense. “River Rise” quickly fades into the second track, which may be my favorite song, “I Think I.” I love the chorus, “I think I found my way…” If only I could too… Crosby’s vocal is impassioned. Speaking of a Steely Dan vibe, another stand out is “Rodriguez For A Night,” which is actually written by Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen. It’s the funniest track here, full of angels, drugstore cowboys and the titular outlaw. I think I speak for all of us when I say, “I’d sell my soul to be Rodriguez for a night.” That song sounds like an outtake from Katy Lied. It also recalls, for me, Crosby’s own “Cowboy Movie.”

Crosby, as he’s done on several albums in a row now, covers a Joni Mitchell song. It’s the title track, “For Free.” He’s accompanied beautifully by Sarah Jarosz. He’s done this track twice before – once with the Byrds and once on a live CSN album – so this makes his third try. I’m guessing he re-recorded the song because this is a great vehicle for Jarosz and he to sing together. It’s a great song about a street musician who plays basically, “for free.” He plays merely for the love of playing. “Secret Dancer” is a beautifully sung track about a robot who becomes sentient and then, horrified by human’s history of suffering, dances it away. Someone has been watching Ex Machina. “The Other Side of Midnight” is a beautiful James Raymond song that may be about dancing with Mother Nature late at night…

The last three tracks on the album make for quite a close. The intensity of the album really kicks up a notch. “Boxes” a meditation on time and it’s passing and it is simply wonderful. “There’s love in these boxes.” Following that is “Shot At Me” about a veteran returned from the war. Finally, the track that ends the album and might be the most emotionally effecting is “I Won’t Stay For Long.” It begins with Crosby’s voice, a piano and muted horn… which really sets the mood. This one is also written by James Raymond and it’s a stunner. It’s poetic, emotional and the perfect track to end on. “I’m facing a squall like of a thousand-year storm, I don’t know if I’m dying or about to be born, But I’d like to be with you today.” Heavy ruminations man.

This may be my favorite of Crosby’s late career albums and I really loved Sky Trails so that’s saying something. These latter day David Crosby LPs are the kind of records that B&V was built to highlight. This certainly isn’t an album you’re going to play at your Labor Day BBQ party. However, it’s a perfect, late night, sitting out on the deck with a tumbler of something dark and murky when you just want to get lost in some high quality melodies and music. This is one of the best albums I’ve heard all year.

Cheers!

Review: Guns N Roses First New Song In 13 Years, The Aptly Titled “Absurd”

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Leave it to Guns N’ Roses to sneak up on me…

Last week was the first week in a long, long time that I’ve taken a “vacation” from music. Mind you – it wasn’t by choice. My corporate masters called me to New York for a series of meetings that chewed up most my week. Typically my job allows me to have some music on in the background when I’m toiling away on a spreadsheet or a written report. It comes as no surprise to B&V readers that I like to listen to music while I’m writing stuff. In between Webex meetings I’ve usually got tunes on. I don’t think I’m unique in that habit. But when I’m traveling to meetings like the New York session I’m typically sitting in conference rooms surrounded by people. At night I’m usually out at dinner with colleagues making small talk (“So what do you do Hank?”) and by the time I get back to the hotel, it’s lights out. I didn’t even get to listen to any tunes on the flights I was on getting to and from New York. Flight time is thinking time… which really means nap time.

When I got back home on Thursday night, the Rock Chick had her usual plethora of things we “need” to get done. I typically have music on at all times in my personal life, but the Rock Chick kept me busy… well, her and the Olympics kept me occupied. It was the first week in a long time I hadn’t posted anything on B&V. But having spent the week in the relative silence of a rock n roll void, I didn’t even think about posting. I did see however, that G’n’R had performed a “brand new song” called “Absurd” at Fenway Park in Boston. I lived in Boston for a summer and Fenway would be an awesome venue to see Guns N’ Roses. Eventually I pulled the track up and listened to the live performance. I thought perhaps they were messing with us and this was some kind of joke. To quote the Rock Chick who I played the song for, “That’s fucking terrible.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m on record as a huge Guns N’ Roses fan. I think had Axl been able to avoid his LSD (Lead Singer Disease) and the original line-up held together these guys would rank up there with the Stones or Zeppelin. I have to admit, after Axl took over the band and was the last original member standing, then took fifteen years to record an album, they lost me a bit. And, I will admit I found Chinese Democracy to be a huge disappointment. In retrospect, if you set aside all my enormous expectations, it wasn’t a horrible LP. It just wasn’t that great dirty blues metal that I’d come to love and cherish from GnR. Axl clearly has a Nine Inch Nails fetish. They veered into an almost Industrial Rock thing.

I was very encouraged and delighted when original lead guitarist Slash and original bassist Duff McKagan returned to the fold for the “Not In This Life Time Tour.” I saw their Kansas City show at Arrowhead Stadium in 2016. Other than last year’s pandemic shutdown, they’ve been touring almost constantly ever since. For those us hard core fans out here, that was great but I think I speak for the “GnR Universe” when I say we all wanted to hear new music from these guys. Although I have to admit, I was a little leery of their creative process without founding member, rhythm guitarist and foremost Axl songwriting partner Izzy Stradlin. It’s a shame that he’s not included in this reunion, but that’s another post.

I just realized on Monday that they’d released the studio version of “Absurd” on Friday… I’m usually on top of these new music releases but hey, I was still jet lagged. New York is my kinda town. I have to say, upon hearing the studio version of “Absurd” I was stunned… by how absurdly bad it is. I try to stay positive here on B&V but when something momentous like a new GnR single happens, I have to say something. Apparently they reworked an outtake from the Chinese Democracy sessions called “Silkworms” and now it’s called “Absurd.” It was written by longtime keyboardist Dizzy Reed and former keyboardist Chris Pitman. Soooo, its been 5 years since Slash and Duff came back and you just reworked a single written by the keyboard section that wasn’t good enough to make it onto Chinese Democracy? I guess I was right about the absence of Izzy Stradlin. These guys have put out one album in like 30 years and this is what they chose to lead with?

The track starts with the line, “Listen motherfuckers to a song that should be heard.” This is one motherfucker who would disagree on that whole “should be heard” premise. Axl’s vocals are sung like he’s mad at us. It sounds like he’s shouting through a megaphone. I mean, Zach De La Rocha has an impassioned delivery but at least the music – while still very powerful – has some nimble swing to it. I’ve never heard the oft bootlegged original version of this song, “Silkworms” but I understand it was more electronica than classic GnR rock. I will say that “Absurd” does have some great Slash guitar work. It’s the only thing that makes this track palatable. And Duff has a lovely little bass line on the song, the guy is a nimble player. Those guys certainly elevate the track but not enough to make it interesting. And the lyrics are some of the most misogynist I’ve heard in a while, even for GnR.

You would hope a band this important would want their first single in over a decade to be something epic, something that will burnish their legend and re engage fans. This is so far off the mark that it baffles me. I’ve been hoping for a new GnR album for 5 years… now, not so much. Let’s hope this turns out to be a minor stub of the toe and they’ve been actually working on new material – not just rewarmed Chinese Democracy rejects. They had a year off to write, didn’t they?

Sigh. Cheers!