Neil Young & Crazy Horse Return With New Song, “Song Of The Seasons,” From the Upcoming ‘Barn’ LP

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*Image taken from the internet and likely copyrighted…

I can’t really say that I benefited from the whole “lockdown” thing. I thought perhaps it would be a chance for me to get into some kind of physical shape. I could take the time off the road, a small break in my itinerant professional life and I don’t know, start jogging. Maybe I’d lift weights for that super toned and “cut” body. There were plenty of projects I could have taken on. Perhaps I could have gone all arts and crafts-y with a nice scrap-booking project. I could have, for once and for all, conquered my insomnia. I might have taken up juggling, archery or fencing. Maybe I could have finally put in that sewing room for the Rock Chick… although she doesn’t sew and has no interest in the textile arts. Sadly, none of that really happened for me. I ended up just sitting around the house drinking whiskey and listening to rock n roll. I’ll certainly never describe that time the way Mellencamp (with Springsteen) sang recently as “Wasted Days.” There’s nothing wrong with listening to rock n roll.

One guy who seems to have put his lockdown time to good use is Neil Young. Man, that guy has been busy. I recommend everybody check out his Archive site, https://neilyoungarchives.com/, the guy is putting out all kinds of music over there. It’s a wonderfully curated look at Neil’s entire career. He’s put out a number of great live albums recently both solo acoustic and with his once and future backing band, Crazy Horse. He was finally able to sit down and concentrate on finishing the epic, 10-disc Archives Vol. 2. I was delighted to finally get my hands on that. Truly a highlight of the year. While it took him eleven years between Archives Vol 1 and Archives Vol 2 he’s saying on his website that he was able to focus during the lockdown and will actually be releasing Archives Vol 3 in 2022. Neil has promised releases in the past, so we’ll all have to wait and see…

More exciting perhaps (for me) is that Neil announced a while back that he was releasing an LP of new material this year. Due in December this year, the new album Barn once again sees Neil teaming with Crazy Horse. As I’ve mentioned in these pages before, like Eric Clapton (Yardbirds, Bluesbreakers, Cream, Derek & the Dominos), Young has played in a lot of different bands. I had forgotten that one of his earliest bands was the Mynah Birds with Rick James on lead vocals. They played Motown style stuff. I had known about that but had forgotten it completely until I saw the recent Rick James documentary. Strange bedfellows indeed… Neil of course went on to play with Stephen Stills in both the Buffalo Springfield and CSN (Y). He then began his solo career with a number of different backing bands: Crazy Horse, The Stray Gators, and the Bluenotes to name but a few.

Crazy Horse has always been my favorite of Neil Young’s bands. As Neil himself has said, “I just play better guitar with Crazy Horse.” Crazy Horse actually began as a band named The Rockets until Young stole most of the band away and dubbed them with the new Crazy Horse moniker. They were: Ralph Molina on drums, Billy Talbot on bass and Danny Whitten on guitar. Sadly Whitten passed away from mixing valium and booze… Whitten was eventually replaced by Frank “Poncho” Sampedro on guitar. Jack Nitzsche played piano with them for a while and guitar virtuoso Nils Lofgren has been in and out of Crazy Horse over the years. I’m not sure Young has ever had a guitar foil quite like Sampedro. Poncho would lock down the rhythm and Neil would play some of the most soaring solos. Sadly, a few years back Sampedro announced his retirement.

Over the last 8 or 9 years Neil had released a number of middling albums. I just couldn’t connect with them. Really, Psychedelic Pill with Crazy Horse in 2012 was the last LP that actually caught my attention. As has been pointed out by a few of my readers, that album could have probably benefited from some editing by Neil’s late producer David Briggs… Although I dug the 27 minute opening track… In 2019 Young surprised me by pulling Crazy Horse back together to record Colorado. In even better news, Nils Lofgren who had been playing with the E Street Band for many years was going to join Crazy Horse again to replace the retired Sampedro. I thought that was going to be even more of a guitar freak out… but it turns out Nils actually provided more musical structure than guitar foil. Colorado, to me, seemed to be a great little meditation on the environment. It wasn’t a great Crazy Horse album like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere but it was certainly a really good one.

I was delighted to see that Neil’s upcoming record Barn turned out to be another Crazy Horse LP. Neil is such a musical nomad he rarely uses the same band twice. Once again he’s backed by his old pals Molina, Talbot and Lofgren. The new song is called “Song of the Seasons.” Much like on Colorado, Nils isn’t playing guitar on this track, he’s playing… of all things… an accordion. I told the Rock Chick – who it must be noted is neither a Neil Young, Nils Lofgren, Springsteen or accordion fan – that Nils was playing accordion and not guitar and she said, “Nobody uses Nils the correct way Nils should be used,” nodding her head. I can’t lie, the accordion actually makes the track.

The track starts with some of Neil’s iconic harmonica work… it almost reminds me of the Young classic “Old Man.” Then the acoustic guitars start strumming and Nils’ accordion comes in. Neil’s voice sounds a little fragile. Like much of what Neil focuses on these days in terms of subject matter on “Song of the Seasons” his concern is the environment and Mother Nature. I dig the sentiment of the opening stanza, “Looking through a wavy glass window, In this old place by the lake, And the colors of the falling leaves I see nature makes no mistake.” It feels like autumn in this song, I almost feel I need a sweater. And yet, as with most things Neil it’s more complicated than all that. There’s a love story woven through the song… “Song of the seasons coming through me now, like the wind in your hair, we’re so together in the way that we feel we could end up anywhere.” I feel that way about the Rock Chick… He even has a nice word for the Queen and her late husband. It’s just this beautiful acoustic, down home mediation where Neil can see the whole world from his rustic front porch. The track lasts over six minutes but the melody is so addictive that you’ll think it was too short. I hear this and feel like there’s a fire in the fireplace and sawdust on the floor… maybe a few cold beers open on the table…

I really dig this tune, it pulled me out of my Beatles’ Let It Be Super Deluxe trance I’ve been in and I knew I needed to share. I’d love to hear one of those good ol’ guitar blasting epic tracks that Neil was known for with Crazy Horse. God knows, Nils is a great guitarist for him to play against. But I also love acoustic Neil. My favorite song from Colorado was the opening track, the acoustic strummer “Think of Me.” This track reminds me a little of that but that folksy accordion, with the acoustic guitar and harmonica just move this little lilting track along. It’s a great song and fills me with a lot of excitement for the upcoming Barn. It’s Neil Young. It’s Crazy Horse… with Nils. What could go wrong?

Cheers!

Review: John Mellencamp, “Wasted Days” Featuring Bruce Springsteen – How Am I Not Hearing More About This Great New Song?

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How is this song not blasting out of every radio, everywhere? Mellencamp? Springsteen? Together? Singing on the same song?! This is like the Clash of the Titans. Well… maybe not a Clash… maybe it’s more like the Harmonizing Of The Titans.

There was a time, sadly long passed, when I think this song would be getting a Hell of a lot more attention. If it were say, 1986, this track would be the Number 1 song in the universe. While both these artists have had long and remarkable careers, even I will admit in the 80s they were part of the dominant rock scene that just doesn’t exist anymore. Springsteen was in that whole Born In The U.S.A. hoopla that bled into Live 1975 to 1985. Mellencamp went on a incredible run of LPs starting with Uh-Huh (at least for me) to Scarecrow to The Lonesome Jubilee. It’s a bit of odd pairing… I always thought of Springsteen as a more natural fit for a duet with Bob Seger… those guys were pals back then. Mellencamp was all Farm Aid and Springsteen was out with Amnesty International… But listening to these cagey old veterans, they’re a great fit. To quote one of my favorite comedies, “Cats living with dogs, MASS HYSTERIA!”

I got into Springsteen when The River came out. My entry point to any artist back then was what was playing on the radio after I’d become rock n roll conscious and for Springsteen that was The River. I’d heard some of the tracks from Darkness On The Edge Of Town on the radio, but I was still too newly converted to the church rock n roll and I’m not sure I realized all of the Darkness songs were Springsteen. The River ended up being my first Springsteen LP purchase. And believe me, when you’re in high school on an allowance a double-album was a big investment. I still have a great fondness for that album even though my friend Brewster didn’t take me with him to the concert in KC on that tour… bygones. That album led me to a lifetime of listening to Springsteen with and without the E Street Band. I’m embarrassed to admit, the first time I heard Born To Run in it’s entirety was at a Senior Skip Day party when I was a mere junior in high school… but that was all the way in 1981. I was sitting in this guy’s backyard, not far from the kegs talking to these two girls who while only one year older were still just out of reach. I left that party with nothing more than a nice beer buzz and the determination to purchase Born To Run immediately… once the beer wore off, which I did.

My journey to Mellencamp was a tad more circuitous. Right after we’d got to high school my buddy Brewster – of the infamous River tour snub – went to see John Cougar (as Mellencamp was known back then) with a guy I’ll call Carter (name changed to protect the very, very guilty). Once again, I was not invited… I’m beginning to see a trend. Brewster and Carter were at this Cougar (Mellencamp) show,  which was in support of his second major label LP Nothing Matters And What If It Did – and somehow Carter and Brewster ended up partying with Cougar’s manager. I don’t know if its the same guy who renamed him “Cougar” after his automobile or not. They’re drinking with this guy at his hotel and Carter talks the manager into giving him Britt Ekland’s phone number in L.A. Apparently the manager guy had formerly had Rod Stewart as a client and had his ex girlfriend’s number. Carter called her but he only talked to her maid who answered the phone. Carter was an outlaw… but I digress. While they’re drinking with this manager, Cougar walks into the room. He actually autographed a copy of Nothing Matters… and signs it with the tag line, “Don’t Forget Me.” Sadly, I was with Brewster when he trashed the album and its autographed cover a few days later. He didn’t like the music. The ignorance of youth.

A few years later – and it seemed like light years – I would rediscover Cougar when I heard American Fool. A girl I had started dating, who I guess you’d call my “first girlfriend” had that album. Her parents both worked which was rare in the ‘burbs where I lived. Her parents didn’t get home until 5 pm every day… we all got out of school at 3… you do the math. This gal and her friends and I would go over and hangout at the house during the late afternoon. That’s where I heard American Fool. While I still despise “Jack And Diane” I really liked a lot of that album and thought it was a huge leap forward from Nothing Matters. I really liked the deep track “Thundering Hearts.” Sadly though, I didn’t truly get on the Mellencamp (no longer Cougar) bandwagon until Uh-Huh when I was in college. Maybe it was the name change? That album rocked. “Crumbin’ Down” and “Play Guitar” remain favorites to this day. I really have followed Mellencamp ever since. Although I will admit in the 2000s my Mellencamp album purchases have been sporadic. I was all in on Freedom’s Road, a late career gem. And I dug the raw and rootsy No Better Than This although its more of a late night LP, not a party record. But I’ll admit, I sort of lost touch with Mellencamp. His voice, ravaged by cigarette smoke was slightly off-putting. But then, in 2017 I heard Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, which I loved, despite the title. While Mellencamp’s voice was at its most gravelly – one might compare it to a gravel truck that’s thrown a rod – he offset it with female harmony vocalists and it just worked. I was reminded once again that super strong songwriting and an emotional vocal delivery will produce something special every time. And Mellencamp delivered!

I’d been immersed in early 80s Bob Dylan for the last few weeks as I absorbed his new entry in the Bootleg Series, Springtime In New York. I only stopped listening to that box set long enough to take in Chrissie Hynde’s super new solo LP, which happens to be a set of Dylan covers. I finally emerged from this Dylan fugue state to discover this new track by Mellencamp that featured Springsteen. I’d heard some press buzz about it a few months ago. It was slated to be on an upcoming Mellencamp LP, which I now hear is going to be released in 2022 instead of this year. Frankly it was one of those post-lockdown LPs I was really looking forward to for this year but hey, now I’ll just look forward to it next year. When I found out this song was out – and I was surprised – I was further shocked that it wasn’t generating more buzz. I liked it immediately upon hearing. It’s been in high rotation here in the B&V labs this week. I love the pairing of these two earnest rock stars.

I mentioned earlier that if this had been released in 1986 it’d be a monster hit. Well, in 1986 when these two guys were still “the young lions” they couldn’t have sung this song. This is a song written by a more seasoned artist, facing down the end. The first line lets you know what “Wasted Days” we’re talking about here – “How many summers still remain?” Oddly a guy said to me recently, “I’ve only got like 20 summers left, I’m going to enjoy them all…” There’s nothing like getting to the end and thinking, man how much time did I waste and how much do I have left? When you reach a certain age, you can’t avoid those questions and this song hits it straight on with a sense of resolve tinged with regret. While it’s a heavy topic, the tune isn’t a downer. It’s a mid-tempo thing that drilled into my brain through my ear. It’s definitely more of the Mellencamp universe/soundscape with Springsteen as the guest. I did chuckle when I saw the cover art for the single. It looks like these two elder statesmen of rock n roll just tied up their horses outside at the hitch of this farmhouse and came in to sit down to play some acoustic guitar. I feel like there might be a pie cooling on the window sill.

The track starts with the strumming of acoustic guitars with a spidery electric dancing in and out. Mellencamp must have been hitting the hot tea with honey because his voice sounds significantly less gravelly than on Sad Clowns and Hillbillies (which was sadly the last time I’d heard him). Don’t get me wrong, there’s still some gravel in Mellencamp’s voice… Mellencamp takes that first verse and when they hit the chorus you hear Springsteen come in. I love that harmonizing on the chorus. “We watch our lives just fade away to more wasted days…” Springsteen sings the second verse. He’s impassioned and a great counterpoint to Mellencamp. The track has that signature Mellencamp, rootsy accordion to carry it along. I don’t know if that’s Springsteen on the guitar solo but it sure sounds like him… I did search to find out who plays lead on this but couldn’t find the details, I’ll have to wait until the LP comes out. To hear these guys, at this stage of their career, nay their lives, come together and knock it out of the park like this is just a joy to behold. They didn’t waste a day or a minute or a second recording this track.

Here it is:

If you’re like me and you’ve been in a Dylan haze – and who possibly has really? – or if you’re not like me (and you’re normal) and your local radio has let you down and isn’t playing this song. I urge you to put this into high rotation. It’s got me pumped for what might be a great John Mellencamp LP in 2022, something I wasn’t sure I’d ever say again. Put this one on late at night with a little more volume than usual and perhaps a little more whiskey than usual… Life is a precious commodity… don’t waste it.

Cheers!

Review: Bob Dylan, ‘Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series, Vol 16/1980 – 1985 (Deluxe Edition)’

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“What’s a sweetheart like you doin’ in a dump like this…” – Bob Dylan, “Sweetheart Like You”

I’ve long been a Bob Dylan fan. To me he’s one of the greatest artists and poets of the last 100 years. While I don’t own all of his albums, I do own most of them. I remember Courtney Love describing Hole as being “a catalog artist like Bob Dylan.” Besides being a sign that she was likely on drugs, I would agree that Bob Dylan is a guy who’s catalog is one that you can become extremely immersed in. I’m so deep a fan that I’m not only into the main LP releases I’m also a huge fan of his “official” Bootleg Series. I will admit, like his main album releases, I don’t own all of the Bootleg Series, but I own most of them. I do so love my box sets…as evidenced by my recent love for George Harrison’s new All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary box.

Almost from the start Dylan was a heavily bootlegged artist. He decided to beat the bootleggers at their own game and started releasing all of these treasures from the vault. Admittedly I haven’t posted anything on the Bootleg Series since I wrote about the set that chronicled his Christian period. My first Dylan album – because it was popular at the time I started listening to music and you tend to buy what you’re hearing on the radio – was Slow Train Coming. Stupidly I didn’t realize it was a Christian album until I got it home. I was horrified that I’d look uncool so I gave the album to my brother. But I really dug Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13. It was mostly live stuff covering Dylan’s aforementioned  Christian period from Slow Train Coming to Saved to Shot of Love. I didn’t post on Vol 14 which chronicled Dylan’s masterpiece Blood On The Tracks because I got it for Christmas and packed it when I moved to this rental property, which is akin to a van down by the river. I thought we’d be here six months. That was three years ago. I can’t find Volume 14, it’s still in a box somewhere, I’ve never had the chance to hear it. I didn’t publish on Travelin’ Through: Volume 15 as it was only the second time in the Bootleg Series that I wasn’t interested and didn’t buy that one.

Bob recently released Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series, Volume 16 covering the early 80s, specifically 1980 to 1985. Ah, the early 80s. So much happened to me in those years. I started and finished high school. I fell in love for the first time and coincidentally had my heart broken for the first time… “Oh, to be young and feel love’s keen sting…” I started college in those years. I made the friends I would hold onto for a lifetime. It was a personally tumultuous time period for me as everyone’s young adult life is. Things were pretty tumultuous for Dylan by 1980 as well which may be why I’ve really gotten into Springtime In New York…It’s all I’ve been listening to for two weeks except for Chrissie Hynde’s new LP which is coincidentally all Dylan covers… and Bowie’s recently unearthed “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven.” By 1980, people were starting to question Dylan’s relevance probably because nobody was into his Christian  music.

I’ve known people who were Born Again, like Dylan in the late 70s. Typically they hit some form of rock bottom with substance abuse or depression. It’s like a pendulum, they swing hard into their faith. They go through the “convert everybody everywhere” phase. Pretty soon the pendulum falls back to the center. Some come out of it and revert back to their non believer status, some hold onto their faith but realize that not all of the secular world is “evil.” You just have to ride out that whole intense, newly converted phase. It’s like Sting sang, “Men go crazy in congregations, they only get better one by one.” Dylan followed that pattern. He was extremely preachy by the time Saved came out. I can’t even listen to that record although “In The Garden” is one of my favorite songs and I’m pretty much a Druid.

By Shot Of Love, which I think is unfairly labeled the third album of the Christian trilogy, Dylan was showing signs of coming out of his preachy phase. There were more secular themed songs like “Lenny Bruce” or “In The Summertime.” While Volume 13 extended through Shot of Love, which is where this set starts, Vol 13 focused more on live stuff from that era and this is studio stuff. The heart and soul of this box set is the late period gem Infidels from 1983. Dylan could have done whole box on that LP alone. I remember my friend Drew brought that album home and I thought, “Uh-oh, I wonder if he knows Dylan is making Christian music now…” Fortunately for Drew, by ’83 Dylan was back to making fantastic secular music. I remember taping Infidels on cassette and wearing that thing out. Produced by Mark Knopfler it’s a great Dylan LP… but it’s more famous for the songs that Dylan left off than what’s on the record like “Blind Willie McTell.” The final record in this set is 1985’s fantastic Empire Burlesque. I’ll be the first to admit Empire Burlesque has a very 80s production style and sound but I love it. I bought that record the day it came out. I loved “Tight Connection To My Heart.” Springsteen, when inducting Dylan to the Rock Hall, said “If a new singer/songwriter came out with an LP like Empire Burlesque today, they’d be hailing him as the new Bob Dylan.” And Springsteen knows something about that “new Dylan” tag.

Dylan was clearly searching after coming out of his Born Again phase. The dawn of the 80s finds an artist grasping for relevance, for his direction and for inspiration. It’s fascinating stuff. Everybody loves a good comeback! Springtime In New York has a plethora of studio outtakes and different versions of previously released songs from that era. Some of these songs have different versions released on Bootleg Vol 1 to 3. If I have any complaints about this set each disc is relatively short. If you’re going to stretch this out to 5 discs, fill up each disc. And as I’ve been reading on line lately, there were a lot of songs omitted from this set from that period. Certainly “Caribbean Wind” should be here somewhere? People who buy these Bootleg box sets are generally, to put it politely, completeists. We want all the stuff so we can line it up and listen to it and debate which versions are the best. Yes, I realize I may be admitting in that last sentence that I have a problem… but it’s a great, melodic problem to have.

Disc 1 of this set contains recorded rehearsals for the 1980 fall tour in support of Shot of Love. What struck me listening to these rehearsal tracks was how much fun it sounded like Dylan was having. No one really associates “joy” with his Christian period, he seemed angry. But disc one chronicles Dylan with his band doing some of his older stuff and some wacky covers. The first two cuts here “Senor, (Tales of Yankee Power)” and “To Ramona” are just great. I’d have loved to have seen the tour just for those songs, if he even played them live. I love the bluesy romp of “Mystery Train,” a track associated with Elvis. He does another Elvis adjacent tune in “Fever.” There’s some great stuff on disc 1, although even I’ll admit I will never listen to Dylan singing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” ever again.

Disc 2 is centered on outtakes and alternate versions of tracks from the Shot of Love sessions. Again, the first track on the disc grabbed me. “Angelina” is a great Bob Dylan song. The passion of his vocal performance here is breathtaking. “Price of Love” is a funky rocker. Dylan’s take on the Temptation’s “I Wish It Would Rain” is a nice surprise… although the Faces will always own that song… to me anyway. “Is It Worth It?” is a track I really think should have made the final cut for Shot of Love. If Bob were to ask me that question about Springtime In New York, “is it worth it?” I could only reply, yes!

Disc 3 and 4 are all centered on Infidels. As I said before, this whole box probably could have been centered on that album. What a band Dylan assembled for this album! Mark Knopfler who produced the album is on guitar. Mick Taylor erstwhile Rolling Stones’ lead guitarist is in the band and brings a bluesy fiery lead guitar with him. Sly and Robbie – reggae legends – are the rhythm section. And Knopfler brought Alan Clark with him from Dire Straits to play keyboards. Of course if you look hard enough you’ll find Ronnie Wood, Ringo, various members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers playing on certain tracks but I digress. Knopfler had to split for a European tour before they mixed the record and there have been debates ever since about what his original mix would have sounded like. They could have probably released a box with his mix, the original mix etc but I’ll take what we have here. If Infidels suffers from anything its Dylan’s choices on what to include and what to exclude that’s in question here. The material itself is superb but Dylan’s “curation” of the project is what may have hampered it’s success. Dylan’s confidence was a little shaky.

One of the highlights from disc 3 & 4 is the full band version of “Blind Willie McTell.” I’ll take any version I can get of that song. It’s one of Dylan’s greatest songs. There’s a great version of “Someone’s Got A Hold of My Heart,” an early version of “Tight Connection To My Heart” here. I know both of those songs have versions released on Bootleg Series Volume 1 to 3, but it’s interesting to hear these different takes.  There are two versions of a song called “Too Late” which later morphed into “Foot of Pride” which is also here… “Too Late” is performed both in an acoustic version and a full band version and it may be my favorite song in the whole box. If forced to choose I’d pick the band version. It’s a stunner. “Baby What You Want Me To Do” is a bluesy romp. “Julius And Ethel” about the Rosenbergs is a Chuck Berry style rocker. All of this is great stuff.

Disc 5 starts off with a couple of live tracks, “Enough Is Enough” which I don’t think ever got recorded in a studio. It’s a rocker like “Highway 61.” How did that not make it onto a record? There’s also a live version of “License To Kill” from his legendary performance on David Letterman backed by punk rockers The Plugz. I do wish they’d included the recording of “Neighborhood Bully” from that show – it’s legendary but alas it’s not here, check it out on YouTube. From there we get a host of Empire Burlesque outtakes. That album has such an 80s glossy sheen to it and they clearly attempted to strip that away here. The songs, absent that 80s sound come across as more direct and powerful to my ears. “Straight A’s In Love” (not to be confused with the Johnny Cash track of the same name) sounds like Dylan doing an Elvis Costello track. There are two versions of the great song “When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky” recorded with Little Steven Van Zandt and Roy Bittan from the E Street Band. There’s a slow version and a fast version… I still think the version on Bootleg Series Vol 1 to 3 is definitive but both these versions are still highlights from this set. Bittan’s piano on the fast version steals the show. The epic “New Danville Girl,” which is the original version of “Brownsville Girl,” is even better than I thought it’d be. The set ends with the acoustic “Dark Eyes,” a track that always haunts me, in all its versions…

All in all I was thrilled with Springtime In New York. This is one of my favorite of the Bootleg Series. Most people probably don’t own the three albums this box covers and I think that would actually add to your enjoyment as you discover this lost chapter of Dylan’s story. This is the sound of an artist trying to regain his footing and find his place in the secular world again. There is fascinating, beautiful music here. I love when Dylan looks back on an overlooked part of his career and reveals that there was so much more going on… much like Neil Young does in his Archives series. If you’re a Dylan fan and especially a fan of his Bootleg Series this is essential listening.

Cheers!

Review: 311 Live at Red Rocks 10/2/2021 – A Great Stoney Evening Amongst the Rocks

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*Photo of 311 on stage at Red Rocks taken by the Rock Chick

While I like to think I’m an expert about certain parts of the rock n roll universe I’ll be the first to admit, I’m no expert on rock-reggae-rap band 311. Frankly, I always thought of them as simply “stoner” rock but I think that oversimplifies this immensely talented band. I was delighted to have the opportunity to see them Saturday night at Red Rocks with opener Iya Terra and special guest Iration.

It hits me every now and then that Life is such a great trip. It really is a journey, or if you will, an evolution. I’ve been a “flat-lander” living in the Midwest most of my life. As luck would have it in the old days I had a number of friends that ended up in Denver, “the Mile High City.” As a young man I’d go out to the mountains and we’d party like escaped criminals. The only reason I’d go out there would be to see friends and do some serious mind erasure. But then I met the Rock Chick. Our daughter ended up in Denver and now when I travel out there its all about family. Those trips out there could not be more radically different. I will admit, occasionally I step off the plane in that high altitude and my body has an instinctual desire to run to a cab, start drinking whiskey direct from the bottle and head to LoDo to find the first open bar stool. But that feeling quickly passes… well, it passes eventually. I’m not saying I don’t sometimes see friends, but for me it’s all about hanging with family. I have evolved and my trips out West have similarly evolved. Different times, different kind of trip.

It’s sort of the same story about 311 for me. One of the great things about being married to the Rock Chick is that she has turned me onto a world of great music. When I was in high school and college I had my gang of miscreants that I hung out with who would turn me onto music. You tend to listen to what your gang is listening to… After college, when “wedding bells broke up that ol’ gang of mine,” I found myself pretty much on my own to discover new music. I was lucky enough to meet a woman who I refer to in these pages as the Rock Chick who came home one day and cranked up an album called From Chaos. It was a wild goulash of different sounds – rock n’ roll bordering on metal with big guitar, a reggae undercurrent and some elements of rap. “Who, pray tell, is this?” I hadn’t heard anything like what was coming from the speakers. It was 311: Nick Hexum, lead vocals/guitar; SA Martinez, vocals/turntables; P Nut (aka Aaron Willis), bass; Chad Sexton, drums; and finally, Tim Mahoney lead/rhythm guitar. She had borrowed their CD from a friend at work, Emma (name changed to protect the innocent). I liked it but figured it was some one-off thing for the Rock Chick and didn’t focus too intensely. I tended to get stuck in my lane in those early days. Before I knew it, we’d seen them at the River Market here in KC on the “Summer Unity Tour” with Ziggy Marley! We saw them again a few years ago, in 2017, at a place in the Crossroads, Grinders. Both were phenomenal nights of music.

Neither of those shows prepared me for 311 at Red Rocks. I feel like this band was made for that amphitheater. I think Red Rocks seats like 10,000 people and it was full… so it was a much bigger crowd than I thought it’d be. Apparently this was the 15th time 311 had played the venerable theater. Red Rocks is a special place for a lot of people and I’m no exception. My first show there was Pearl Jam on their Vitalogy tour, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I also have a vague memory of seeing ZZ Top there at some point. And, of course, the Rock Chick and I went out there to see Oasis (with Jet opening) when lead singer Liam Gallagher famously mocked my air guitar playing… I have, with considerable difficulty, stopped doing that… especially when I’m in the front row where the band can see me. Saturday night was a beautiful night in the Denver and the Rock Chick, my daughter and her main squeeze and I loaded up and headed into the foothills. What a great fan base 311 has. The line to the merch table was longer than it was to get in there. I saw so many professional sports jerseys – NFL, NHL, Major League Baseball – that people had on with the number “311.” Each jersey had a different name, typically the title of a song. The guy to my left had on a Vikings’ jersey, number 311 and the name “Come Original,” one of their great, early tracks. Now that’s some real fandom. The crowd was one big, groovy, laid back party. I had the feeling I was the only person not high out there…

The evening started with Iya Terra who played reggae with some heavy metal-ish guitar solos. They were good but they were white guys from California who were pretending to be Rastas from Jamaica which made me kinda chuckle. Still, I really enjoyed their music. The second band was similar in style… reggae with some great guitar solo’ing, almost a reggae hard rock blend, Iration. I was impressed with those guys. They all looked like guys you’d find at your local brew pub drinking craft beers. I have to admit, I could see Iration making it big. Maybe they already are… I’m not sure.

311 burst onto the stage and I mean burst – this is an energetic band. Nick Hexum was dressed in light blue pants and a white jacket… he looked like he was coming off the back nine after shooting several under par. I have to admit, the guy is so fit and good looking I began to wonder if that was why the Rock Chick became a fan. The light show was out of this world. They opened with two rockers, “Transistor” and the aforementioned “Come Original,” a personal favorite. A song I wasn’t familiar with, “My Stoney Baby” was a nice laid back reggae thing early in the set. I really liked that song. SA was all over the stage… the man is constantly moving and dancing and rapping. There were so many great tunes – “All Mixed Up,” “Creatures (For A While)” and my favorite of their mellower tunes, “Amber” – that all got great readings. “Amber” really is “the color of your energy.” The lead guitarist, Tim Mahoney was conjuring bizarre, beautiful notes from his guitar all night but I really dug his work on “What The?!” Midway through the first set P Nut played an epic bass solo. That’s typically when I’m headed to the beer line but the guy kept me captivated… well, that and the great light show.

When these guys rock, they rock hard. It’s loud, in your face, Red Hot Chili Peppers kinda funky hard rock. I’m probably showing my age but I dig it when they get a little mellower. The beginning of “Get Down” was a great ballad-y thing but then it kicked in and rocked…great tune. I love the guitar on “Beautiful Disaster,” yet another highlight. They rocked out on a few more tunes, maniacally racing around the stage until they finally played a more laid back, reggae thing, “Beyond the Gray Sky” that was my absolute favorite track of the night. “Creatures (For A While)” and “Livin’ And Rockin'” jammed out to end the main set. The encore was a short and sweet, just two tracks, “There’s Always an Excuse” another pretty midtempo thing that built into a soaring guitar solo. “Down” was the perfect hard rock way to end the night…SA was still bouncing all around the stage.

The lights came on and I couldn’t help but think… man that was an amazing night of music courtesy of 311. If you get a chance to catch these guys on this tour, I highly recommend it. I’m not a deep 311 expert but I knew enough of the music they played to elevate the experience. Most people have probably heard more of them than I have and I loved it! Any time you have an opportunity to listen to live music – and keep yourself safe doing it – I always suggest buying the ticket. There’s nothing more uplifting and communal to the verge of spiritual than sharing an evening of music with friends and especially family.

Cheers!