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

0

*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: Fleetwood Mac ‘Live (Deluxe Edition)’ – Revisiting The Expanded Double-Live 1980 LP

unnamed

*Photo of Fleetwood Mac’s original, vinyl 1980 LP ‘Live’ taken by your intrepid blogger

There was a time, believe it or not, before the internet. In those dark ages, the only places to buy a ticket to a concert was the box office of the theater/stadium or to go to an “authorized” ticket selling outlet. Usually the places that sold concert tickets were record stores which was convenient since even I knew where they were and I was pretty geographically challenged in those days. I knew where places were located, but I didn’t know street numbers. I had to give directions based on landmarks. “Drive straight on the street by the school until you see the big gnarly tree then turn right…” and so on. I was in high school, what did I know? While I had become a huge music fan in the late 70s, it wasn’t until June of 1980 that I was able to attend my first concert. Def Leppard opened (their first tour), the Scorpions were next (“The Zoo” was the only track I knew) and finally Ted Nugent in a loin cloth was the headliner. Needless to say, I was hooked on live music from that moment on, despite the hearing loss caused by Mr. Nugent… For that show, I bought the ticket from my friend Matthew who had a conflict of some sort and couldn’t attend.

Generally, that’s how I got tickets early on. I bought them from friends. It wasn’t until 1981 that I got the experience that every concert goer went through at least once back in the 70s/80s, I camped out overnight for tickets. Concert tickets generally went on sale at 8am the morning of whatever pre-chosen date they announced on the radio, usually months before the show. People would start to form a line for tickets the night before they went on sale. They’d have sleeping bags, food, lawn chairs… likely some beer and there was always weed. Once again, it was my friend Matthew and I who somehow convinced our parents that late summer of ’81 to sleep out for Van Halen tickets. We hadn’t seen them yet and when Fair Warning dropped, we knew we had to see this band. We were camped out in front of Tiger’s Records in the suburbs of KC with a nefarious looking, “unwashed and slightly dazed” crowd waiting for the record store to open so we could get our “choice” Van Halen tickets (and boy, we did). There was this old hippy in line behind us… I say old, but I was a teenager, the guy could have been 25 for all I know. He certainly looked old to my teen eyes. We started chatting over a couple of beers and I asked the codger, “What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen? What band is best live?” His answer evoked quite a bit of surprise in me, when he responded without hesitation “Fleetwood Mac.” And this guy had supposedly “seen everybody.” I didn’t think to ask which tour he saw them on… The Mac may seem mellow to some ears, but my college roommate had all heavy metal albums with a couple of Fleetwood Mac LPs so they couldn’t have been that mellow.

Fleetwood Mac’s story is the thing of legend now. The Mac was formed by former members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers: guitar legend Peter Green with a rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass). Green was the star – he was the singer/guitarist – but he named the band after the rhythm section… prescient as they are the only members who stayed for the entire Mac career. Green, who sadly passed away last year, eventually left and that led to a revolving door of singers and guitarists. Eventually Christine Perfect joined on keyboards and vocals… and then married John McVie. After their then current guitarist Bob Welch split to go solo, the McVies and Mick Fleetwood were left to look for yet another replacement. They discovered a little band creatively named Buckingham-Nicks with guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks. Their debut album didn’t sell many copies (although I do have one on vinyl) but attracted the remaining members of Fleetwood Mac because of the album’s producer, Keith Olsen. They were not only shopping for a guitarist, they were shopping for a producer. He gave them the Buckingham-Nicks LP as a “resume” of sorts. They hired him and offered Buckingham the job of singer/guitarist… he refused to accept unless they included Nicks in the band…

That lineup: Buckingham/Nicks/Fleetwood/J. McVie/C. McVie, known as their “classic lineup” now I suppose, was an almost instant hit. The first LP, which McVie refers to as “the white Fleetwood Mac album” yielded the hits “Rhiannon,” “Over My Head,” and “Landslide” amongst others. They say when a band does a self-titled LP in the middle of their career it’s usually symbolic of a “rebirth” for the band… I’d say that was definitely the case here. They were bigger than they’d ever been. The success wasn’t without cost however. During the recording of the follow-up, one of the best selling LPs of all time, Rumours, Buckingham and Nicks who were a couple broke up. The McVies’ marriage also ended. All of those crazy passions and breakup recriminations found their way onto the album in songs like “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way” and perhaps more positively on “Don’t Stop.” It was beyond a smash hit. I actually traded my brother Supertramp’s Breakfast In America for his copy of Rumours. I think we both won on that trade.

What to do next? That kind of success usually breeds a lot of pressure to repeat it and I think Buckingham decided to take a creative left turn to avoid the pressure of that success. He was also highly influenced by punk rock and that also fueled his decision to make some changes to Fleetwood Mac’s sound. The resulting LP Tusk was a surprise to a lot of people expecting Rumours 2.0. Tusk was (in my opinion) a sprawling masterpiece of a double-LP. While Nicks and Christine McVie continued to write and perform songs in the vein of the previous two albums, Buckingham went for a more experimental sound. Nowhere is that more evident than on the title track. The album didn’t reach the successful sales numbers of Rumours, how could it have, and the other members of Fleetwood Mac were pretty upset with Buckingham who had helmed the project and even recorded some songs at home in his bathroom. The LP still sold 4 million copies – one to my brother who was always way ahead of everybody when it came to music – which sounds like a success to me.

The Fleetwood Mac tour for Tusk rolled through Kansas City a mere two months after my first concert (Nugent/Scorpions/Def Leppard) at the exact same place, Kemper Arena in the West Bottoms. Sadly, I did not see them on that tour. I still don’t know if the hippy outside of Tiger’s was talking about that particular show as his greatest concert. The review in the paper said they looked tired and only Buckingham and Fleetwood, who they said played off each other, were able to generate any excitement. They said it looked like Christine McVie was about to fall asleep at the piano. Cruel indeed, but let’s remember you can’t always trust the newspaper. I have to admit, I’ve never seen Fleetwood Mac in concert and that pains me. The closest I ever got was seeing Stevie Nicks solo on her Wild Heart tour with no less than Joe Walsh opening. She sang “Rhiannon” as an encore and it was sensational.

But lucky for me, Fleetwood Mac like many bands who have spent a lot of time and money in the studio recording an album, decided to follow Tusk with a double live LP, creatively titled, Live. I’m on record here at B&V for loving live albums. Many people have a differing view of live LPs… I had a college friend who complained to me once, in response to hearing Springsteen’s Live 1975-85, that the live songs didn’t sound enough like the studio versions. I said, “Uh, Stew, you should be looking for a greatest hits LP, not a live LP.” Even Tom Petty said a live LP was just “your greatest hits sped up.” But for me, the 70s and even the early 80s was the golden era of the double-live LP. Not every live LP broke a band wide open like Kiss’ Alive or Frampton Comes Alive. Not every live LP made the list of “greatest live albums ever.” But there were so many great double live albums where the band could stretch out a little and it gave you the experience of seeing them live. Everybody did double live LPs in those days from Skynyrd to Neil Young. LPs like Aerosmith’s Live Bootleg or Fleetwood Mac’s Live were solid, if not occasionally spectacular live documents of a point in time in the life of a band. I never bought into the critics who dismissed live albums as merely “tour souvenirs. 

When I first bought Live in 1980, on vinyl, I was thrilled that they had some new songs on the album. “Fireflies” written by Stevie Nicks is one of their best tunes. She wrote it about the struggles and battles the five members had in creating Tusk. The band didn’t breakup because of splits in the romantic entanglements but it almost did over the writing and recording of Tusk. Buckingham resurrected a Buckingham-Nicks chestnut, the rocking, “Don’t Let Me Down Again” which sent me on a journey to find their debut LP. Christine McVie contributed the (somewhat typical for her) ballad “One More Night” which sounded like it was done in a studio. Likewise their Beach Boys’ cover “Farmer’s Daughter” also sounded like a studio outtake (turns out it was)… But I was so into Fleetwood Mac I was just happy to have those new tracks. 

While Live wasn’t a live album that was going to change your life like say, the Allman Brothers Live At the Fillmore East, it was a really good live document of one of the world’s greatest bands at or near the peak of their popularity. Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar skills on this album are insane! On songs like “I’m So Afraid” the solo’ing is mad good. He stretches out a Tusk track, “Not That Funny” to 9 minutes. I also have to say Mick Fleetwood’s drumming is amazing as well. He’s really under appreciated. I don’t know if that KC Star newspaper review helped make those two performers jump out at me, but they leave an impression. I love that they do “Oh, Well” a track recorded before Lindsey and Stevie joined the band. There’s a great selection from the three previous LPs this line up had put out from “Dreams,” and “Over My Head,” to “Over and Over” and “Sara.” This lineup of the band always sounded so good and this LP is no exception. And as a bonus for me, “Over My Head” was recorded at Kemper Arena in KC… I probably know people that were in the audience. Hell my friends Bob G and Brewster were probably there and didn’t tell me. 

Today the Mac released a Deluxe Edition of Live and you know how we love our “deluxe editions” here at B&V. I’ve spent the last 8 hours doing nothing but listening to this version of the album and I really like it. For all the tracks on the original album – and the selection was great – there were so many more you could have wished for and they’re now all on this expanded version. There’s another 15 songs and there’s no overlap (save one song), these are all different songs than the original. It elevates Live from a mere double-live album to something more akin to the aforementioned Springsteen Live 1975-85 or Petty’s Live Anthology. It should be noted that there not only tracks from the 1980 tour, but a smattering of songs from as early as 1975 and as late as 1982 found here. 

The deluxe stuff starts with maniacal version of “Second Hand News” with Lindsey and Stevie doing harmonies. “The Chain” is epic here… I always wondered why it wasn’t on the original. They even go back to the early Fleetwood Mac stuff with “The Green Manalishi With The Three Pronged Crown,” a track later covered by Judas Priest. What a great nod to Peter Green. Another Tusk track that I always liked, “What Makes You Think You’re the One” sounds great live. “Gold Dust Woman,” “Angel” and “Sisters Of the Moon” rank amongst my favorite tracks from Stevie Nicks and they’re all on this expanded edition. Finally Stevie gets her “live” due. “Tusk” was always a hard track to pull off live, without a marching band, but I dig the version here even though it’s accordion driven. Maybe all those old guys at the family reunions playing polkas paid off… 

Christine McVie plays a very affecting version of “Brown Eyes.” Her 1982 performance of “Hold Me” from Mirage may seem out of place here but man, I like it. Her track, “Songbird” is as beautiful live as it was in the studio. Call me a softy but I love that song. As an added bonus there are two more tracks recorded in Kansas City… I know, I can be a geek sometimes about stuff like that… The only song that seems superfluous is an extended version of Stevie’s “Fireflies” that I’m not sure was necessary. 

If you’re a fan of live music and miss concerts or just a fan of Fleetwood Mac, you must check out this expanded edition. There’s a chance many of you haven’t heard the original so I believe this will be a treat for you. In this age of streaming, everyone should be going back and revisiting those classic, fabulous double-live LPs and this is no exception. Pour a glass of something you enjoy, turn this one up loud, close your eyes and maybe, just maybe you’ll feel like you’re at the show…and if you really feel it, hold that lighter up over your head and sing along. 

Cheers! 

 

I Attended: Roger Waters & Special Guests, ‘The Wall’ at the Berlin Wall, July 21, 1990

unnamed

Since none of us will be seeing any concerts soon, I thought I’d reflect on the biggest show I ever attended…

After college, as I’ve often complained about in these pages, I took a job for a mammoth corporation who sent me, yes, to Arkansas. I’ll be the first to admit that Kansas City isn’t Paris, but Arkansas felt like exile, especially in the beginning when I was placed in a small town named Ft. Smith, Arkansas. More like Ft. Hell, Arkansas. Back then no one under forty should have been stationed in Ft. Hell. It felt like the most remote corner of the universe, although admittedly it was only 5 hours from everywhere (Dallas, KC, Shreveport, Memphis). There was a guy in the office who loved Ft. Smith. He had been born there, married there, raised kids there and for all I know he died there. I get it, he was a native son and he loved it. He also used to pull his suit pants up to his nipples…no accounting for taste as the saying goes. He used to stand at my desk and espouse the virtues of his hometown… I always just kinda mumbled, quoting Muddy Waters, “Yeah man, but, uh, “I Can’t Get No Grindin’.”” I guess I was too much of a “yankee.”

By 1989 they’d moved me to Fayetteville, Arkansas, a move I believe that was made out of pity rather than cold profit and loss. That place was infinitely better. There was a college and a groovy little entertainment area on Dixon Street. My friend Ross and I used to pub crawl that street but those memories are more than a little blurry. The only good thing about Arkansas was befriending Ross, who remains a dear friend to this day.  I remember sitting on the used hide-a-bed couch in my apartment (with its lovely cigarette burn) watching the Berlin Wall come down that November. That was a cool part of history to watch happen. However, from Arkansas I thought I was watching it all unfold from another planet. Despite Fayetteville being a better place for a young man, I knew I had to get out of there. History was taking place and I was missing it.

I decided that November, watching the Wall fall that I was done with Arkansas and the mammoth corporation. No more working for the man! I would finish the year, cash any check they gave me and hightail it out of there. In February of 1990 I came careening into my parent’s driveway in my U-Haul with my meager possessions and moved back in with them. They were thrilled. My father didn’t talk to me for six months. It was a pretty hostile atmosphere so I didn’t really hang around at my folks’ house much. Instead I hit the road. I drove to see friends I hadn’t seen in a few years. I was “On the Road.” I went from Kansas City to Dallas to Louisville where I attended the Kentucky Derby, something every bourbon lover should do. Mint Juleps for everyone. All that Jack Kerouac’ing around was fun, but in my heart of hearts, I wanted to go to Europe. Many of my friends had gone, either with siblings or alone and I wanted to tour the continent as well.

A guy I knew, with the unfortunate nickname Flytrap, loaned me his giant backpack which was really nice. When I went over to pick it up, he said, “You know Roger Waters is going to perform The Wall at the Berlin Wall… surely you’re gonna go?” Actually I’d heard but no, I wasn’t planning on it. “You’ve got to!!” exclaimed Flytrap. Apparently I wasn’t the only one watching the Berlin Wall come tumbling down. Roger Waters in an interview had said flippantly to a reporter, “I’ll perform The Wall when the Berlin Wall comes down.” Originally, Pink Floyd had only performed The Wall in the States at 10-gig stints in New York and another in Los Angeles. In the lawsuit against his former mates in Pink Floyd, Waters had won the rights to The Wall and the band got to carry on… The Wall was expensive to stage and not practical in an arena. He was doing it to raise money for the Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief, so it was for a good cause.

The Wall is one of those seminal albums for me. It was the first Floyd album to come out after I’d turned on to rock and roll. I can remember riding in my buddy Brewster’s Mazda, he had a great stereo, and cranking “Another Brick in the Wall (Pt. 1)/The Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick In the Wall (Pt. 2).” After hearing “Comfortably Numb” in that same car, I went out and plunked down the then hefty investment of $16 to buy the double-album. Sonically I had heard nothing like it. I had Dark Side of the Moon, but this rock opera/concept album blew my mind… But actually attending the performance with 350,000 strangers…in Berlin? I was too small minded to think it was even possible. But somehow, I had to make it happen. There was no internet back in those caveman days so I would have to figure out how to get tickets once I got over to Europe. At least now I had a mission.

I left the United States on July 3rd and arrived in Rome, Italy on July 4th. I guess I’m not a Yankee Doodle Dandy, leaving my country on its birthday. When I arrived in Rome they were experiencing a 100 year heat wave. I didn’t sleep on the plane and after securing my hotel room I got lost looking for it… the street signs were up on the buildings in that ancient city, not on the stop lights and I couldn’t navigate. I was, to say the least, addled. I was accosted by a group of gypsies, but before anything weird could go down, in frustration I let out a giant Ginsberg-ian “Howl.” That scared them and calmed me down… I found the street signs and breezed to my hotel. It was a wobbly start.

Rome was a hot, hazy blur but by the time I moved on to Florence, I’d gotten my travel legs. Eventually I went on to Venice and then to Munich. I remember pulling into the train station in Munich and someone was blaring AC/DC. I love Germany. I found a phone number to buy tickets to the impending Waters concert (billed as Roger Waters and Special Guests) on a poster and called and bought a ticket. They said it would be at “will-call,” which I never found. Luckily the concert wasn’t sold out and I was able to buy another ticket, pictured above, the day of the show. By the time the concert rolled around I was an old-pro, hardened veteran at the whole traveling by train thing.

I was hanging in Amsterdam prior the concert. There were no hotel rooms in Berlin. I’d actually been in Berlin prior to that and had gotten the lay of the land before coming to Amsterdam. My plan was to take an overnight train into Berlin, find a locker for my backpack and go to the show. There was no train out of Berlin until the next morning and I figured I’d do what I’d seen so many travelers do, sleep at the train station on a bench. When I got to Berlin on the 21st, all the lockers were taken in the train station. I didn’t want to lug the enormous backpack to the concert… I was starting to panic when at the last second I spotted an open locker. Another American was standing there and when I exultantly threw my backpack into the locker he looked at me and said, “Do you realize how lucky you are to have gotten that locker? It’s probably the last one in Berlin.” Indeed I am my friend, indeed I am.

The stage was set up on a patch of ground between Potsdamer Platz and the famous Brandenburg Gate. The area was known as “No Man’s Land” as it was a patch between East and West, between Communism and Democracy. Many people had been shot trying to escape tyranny on that very spot… This was hallowed ground indeed. The gates opened at 2pm in the afternoon and after rebuying another ticket, I was in line when they opened. I had never been that early for a show… or that sober. I didn’t even sniff a beer before the show. I had never seen a crowd this big in my life. I was able to get relatively close to the stage, but it was far enough that I thank God they had video screens.

I bought a bottle of water in a crush of people at the concession stand and took up my spot in the middle a fair ways back but still able to see everybody on stage… they weren’t so tiny I couldn’t make out who was who. I remember an Irish band playing, it might have been the Chieftans. Then the Hooters came on… I was not impressed with the Hooters. But then, the Band came out and did a set. Obviously Robbie Robertson wasn’t there (and Richard Manuel was sadly already gone) but Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm were all there. They even drug Ronnie Hawkins out to recreate his “Who Do You Love” from The Last Waltz. That was truly great. I’d have rather seen Dylan pop out than Ronnie Hawkins but dirty travelers can’t be choosers.

I don’t know why but there was a moment that has always stuck with me from that dusty afternoon surrounded by people. In between acts, they were playing music over the PA system. They put on Prince’s “Sign ‘O’ the Times” and the crowd went nuts. It was the first time I’d ever heard the song… I’d kind of lost track of Prince after Around The World In A Day. Maybe it was the huge cheer of the crowd, or the great sound system, but I’ve loved that song ever since…

Finally, the main event began. I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of the “Special Guests” and I was wondering who might show up. When the show started and Waters’ back up band, the Bleeding Heart Band launched into the opening track, “In the Flesh,” I realized that Germany’s own, the Scorpions were on stage. I love Klaus Meine and he was really into it. This was going to be something very different. I will say all the guest stars Waters brought on stage made this feel like the Who’s Tommy movie. I enjoyed the spectacle but it made me wish Gilmour, Wright and Mason were there instead… It was like a photo copy of the Mona Lisa. It was still a great, great show… but I’m a purist.

As the performers sang, the crew slowly built the wall around them. There’s the sound of a helicopter early on the album and for this performance Waters flew over in a real helicopter… knowing the history of that patch of land it sort of gave me goosebumps. My memory of specific guest stars is spotty… I remember Cyndi Lauper coming out for “Another Brick In the Wall (Pt 2)” and she was awful. Apparently Joni Mitchell was there and I have no recollection of that. Sinead O’Connor was great during “Mother.” They brought Bryan Adams out for the rocking “Young Lust” and I guess that was an appropriate choice at the time. I read later that Rod Stewart was the original choice so I look back at that performance as a bit of a missed opportunity. Jerry Hall did the “Are all these your guitars?” monologue and it was the low moment in the performance… her reading was as flat as a pancake, truly cringe-worthy.

The highlight for me was naturally “Comfortably Numb.” The Bleeding Heart Band did a great job with the material and by the time they were playing from behind the actual wall, I was only slightly still missing Gilmour. When they played “Comfortably Numb” taking the Gilmour vocal was none other than Van Morrison. I love Van the man. That was truly a great moment to witness. “The Trial” was over the top… The ultimate moment for me came at the end of “The Trial,” when the crowd was chanting (along with the band), “tear down the wall, tear down the wall.” The crowd of lusty Germans were screaming so loud you could feel it in your chest. Right before the wall fell, they projected an image of the actual Berlin Wall’s graffiti onto the giant white space that was “The Wall.” A crowd that was loud before got even louder, their ecstatic cries practically lifting me off my feet. I felt like I was floating, it was an ecstatic moment…and then the wall fell and it was fucking pandemonium. People were suddenly hugging me. I had tears in my eyes.

Waters and the entire company came out and did his solo track, “The Tide Is Turning” from Radio K.A.O.S., and it was the perfect choice. For the first time since sitting on the couch watching the Berlin Wall fall while exiled in Arkansas, I felt like I was alive again. I was back in the middle of something great.

Was it the greatest concert ever? I can’t say it was, but it was a very special show at a very special location at a very special point in time and history. I’m glad I got that gentle nudge from Flytrap that helped spur me to go. By the end of the show, I’d floated backwards and when it was over I fled to the train station where I discovered they’d scheduled a midnight train to Amsterdam to get rid of some of the concert goers. I jumped on that packed train and by the next day was sitting in a bar named the Bull Dog where I debated the Waters vs Pink Floyd issue with some guy from Cleveland.

Needless to say, it was quite a trip. As I like to say, buy the ticket, see the show. Always!

Cheers!

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

unnamed

*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!

 

Concert Review: Greta Van Fleet, Kansas City’s Starlight Theater, Sept 21, 2019

unnamed.jpg

*Photo taken by the intrepid wife of your intrepid B&V blogger

September in Kansas City is my favorite time of year. Typically the mercury in the thermometer drops down into the 70s for highs and the sun takes on a golden glow. Many of my favorite things happen in the fall — the local Plaza Art Fair, Kansas City Chiefs’ football, and often the stray outdoor concert. I never quite expected all three of those events to occur over the course of one weekend, but whose complaining? I may need to exchange my blood with a group of Swiss school children to recover, but other than that ‘m not too worse for wear.

After a day spent hanging out at the Plaza Art Fair, the Rock Chick and I loaded up in the car, picked up some friends of ours, and headed out to the beautiful Starlight Theater. I love shows out there and have since I saw Elton John there in the 80s (Elton’s Retirement From Touring Takes Me Back to His KC Starlight Theater Show July 6, 1982). There was a serious threat of rain on Saturday so the schedule was moved up for everything. Sadly, I missed the opening act and had just got to my seats when Greta Van Fleet, pictured above, came on stage. I applaud their efforts to get the show in despite a threat of storms and luckily they were able to do a full show without a drop of rain falling.

Before I knew what was happening, the lights went down and under the cover of a heavy fog machine, four men who probably aren’t even 25 stepped out on stage and transported me back to 1975 – to an era when rock and roll still ruled the world. I loved everything about this show. These guys even dress like rock stars – lead singer Josh Kiszka was wearing a jump suit that Freddie Mercury would have envied. I’m as hetero as anybody you’re gonna find but that Sam Kiszka on bass guitar is just one beautiful human being… he reminded me of the hottest girl in my high school.

I had peaked at the setlist and originally was disappointed to see they only play about a dozen tracks. I thought, well this will be a pretty brief show. I was, as usual, wrong. These guys jam out quite a bit and there were choice keyboard, guitar and drum solos. The show lasted over an hour and 45 minutes…They opened up strong with “The Cold Wind” which led to a quick version of the old classic, “Kansas City.” Sure, many have done that, but I still appreciate the gesture.

After that, GVF was off and running with guns, er I mean guitars blazing. Jake Kiszka’s guitar was front and center all night long. I can’t say enough about Danny Wagner’s drumming as well. Although I must say, the unheralded star might be Sam Kiszka whose bass and keyboard playing was outstanding. Every time he hit a bass string, my cloths shook, so heavy and loud were these guys. Josh’s vocals were as soaring and amazing as they are on record. That was my question on these guys… can they cut through the hype and deliver on stage? The answer is a resounding YES!

After cranking it up for “Safari Song” and “Black Smoke Rising,” Sam handed off his bass and sat down at the keyboards. They got laid back and played “Flower Power,” “Age of Man” and “You’re the One” which saw Jake go from his lone electric guitar to an acoustic guitar. The sheer joy that guy plays with is awesome. He and Jake do the Plant/Page, Jagger/Richards, meet at the front of the stage and lean in toward the microphone to harmonize thing. The theater was packed and the response from the crowd was raucous.

They finally turned it back up towards the end of the main set, with a song called “Black Flag Exposition,” which featured the most epic guitar of the night. That led to the rocking “Watching Over” and the perfect set ender, “When the Curtain Falls.” The latter song was epic rock at its best. The encore continued the high energy guitar rock, with two of my all time favs by these guys “Lover, Leaver, (Taker, Believer)” and finally “Highway Tune.” Josh let the banshee wail out for those.

As I wandered out to my car I stopped into the men’s room. There was a guy in there with an L.A. Guns t-shirt… He saw my C.B.G.B t-shirt and said, “They’re bring it back, they’re bring back 80s metal, man.” Before I could respond, some other guy turned and said, “No way man, these guys are 70s rock, Zeppelin, Aerosmith, like that…” I just smiled and ducked out to the parking lot. It’s great to see that kind of rock and roll excitement, all courtesy of the amazing Greta Van Fleet. See these guys wherever and whenever you can.

I don’t know if these guys are the “saviors of rock and roll” but they are damn fun to see in concert. I was supposed to see them last summer but Danny Wagner hurt his wrist… I almost hesitated to go see these guys this time around but damn I’m glad I did!!

 

LP Review: Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Live At Woodstock’ – Released 50 Years Later

image

As time passes by here at the B&V labs, I begin to feel more and more like Jeff Bridges’ character in the movie The Big Lebowski, The Dude. Famously, the Dude’s car is stolen from the parking lot of his local bowling alley. He reports it stolen along with his briefcase that was in the car. When asked by the cops who show up at his house, if there was anything valuable in the car, the Dude replies, “Yeah, uh, a tape deck, some Creedence tapes and uh, my briefcase.” The cops, deeply amused, say they don’t hold much hope for finding the tape deck… or the Creedence tapes… and then burst into uproarious laughter. I feel like I’m the last person alive who is willing to admit I still dig Creedence, other than the Dude. Ironically I was a league bowler at one time… but that’s another story.

I guess it’s easy now, after all this time to dismiss CCR. John Fogerty (guitar/vocals/songwriter), his brother Tom Fogerty (guitar), Stu Cook (bass) and Doug Clifford (drums) had been playing together since 1959. It wasn’t until 1967 that they changed their name to Creedence Clearwater Revival. They’d broken up by 1972 after a brief five years and did so with an acrimony only rivaled by that of the Beatles. Tom Fogerty had actually quit the band a year prior to the break up. None of them were getting along. They sued their record label, they sued each other. John Fogerty is famously one of the most pissed off men in rock and roll, or he was. For years, as a solo artist, he refused to play Creedence songs on stage because he didn’t want his former record company to get any royalties. He was once sued by the label for plagiarizing himself. It wasn’t until Dylan told him he needed to start playing those CCR songs again, “unless you want people to think “Proud Mary” is a Tina Turner song,” that Fogerty relented and started doing the CCR songs again.

All of that bad energy has seemingly combined to erase the legacy of CCR. We tend to forget they were, for a brief time, the biggest band on the planet, except for the Beatles. It’s like Bruce Springsteen said when he inducted them into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, “they weren’t the coolest band around, but they were the best.” I think that comment may have been a reference to the band’s habit of dressing like lumberjacks and John Fogerty’s bowl cut hair. They were from San Francisco, but they sounded like they had come out of the swamps of Louisiana or Mississippi. There was so much hoodoo voodoo vibe in their music they sounded like a southern rock band. Their music was very “meat and potatoes,” straight up rock and roll, just two guitars, a bass and drums. A lot of “chooglin'” in that music…no psychedelic period for these guys.

They had an amazing run. In 1969 alone, they released three fantastic albums: Bayou Country, Green River and finally (my favorite of their albums) Willy And The Poor Boys. They toured and recorded constantly. They had a string of hit singles that rivals any band you can name. John Fogerty wrote one of the greatest protest songs ever, “Fortunate Son” that has been covered by Pearl Jam and Bob Seger, to name a few. It’s probably the most enduring protest song of the 60s. There are just some artists, like Bob Dylan who are cultural antennas, they pick up on the tension and angst of their time and translate it into music or literature or poetry. The late-Sixties were a heavy time in the U.S. with Civil Rights, the Vietnam War and gads, Richard Nixon. The songs John Fogerty wrote reflect those times. Songs like “Commotion,” “Bad Moon Rising,” and “Effigy” crystalized those difficult times into song. While he denies it, “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” is one of my favorite songs about drugs. “There’s a giant doing cartwheels, a statue wearing high heels,” c’mon John, you were high. CCR’s version of Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine” is one of the most epic ten-plus minute jams ever. John doesn’t get his due as a guitarist, he’s amazing.

I was introduced to CCR when I was in college. My friend and at the time and future roommate Drew came bursting into my room and said, “You’ve gotta get out to Walmart. They’ve got Creedence Clearwater Revival’s double-LP, greatest hits album on sale for $5.” Who could resist an offer like that? I was familiar with CCR, but didn’t know that much about them. I trusted Drew’s musical advice implicitly. I went out immediately and purchased Chronicles Vol 1, and I was amazed at the number of great songs these guys had. I think everyone I ever met who dug Creedence started with that greatest hits package. Drew, naturally, slowly amassed all of their individual records and he let me tape them on cassette but they’ve long since disappeared. So yes, I too am missing my Creedence tapes. I don’t hold much hope of finding them…

CCR was always a ferocious live band. Despite that, during their brief career they really didn’t have a seminal live album. They put out the much maligned Live In Europe in 1973. It was recorded on the tour for their last album, Mardi Gras which was also viewed rather dimly so that probably effected the critical reaction to the live album. Finally, in 1980 they released The Concert a show from Oakland in 1970. As “research” for this post, I went back and listened to it. It’s a really great live album. For some reason you don’t ever see it on any “best of” list of live records… not even my own, BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums, although it certainly deserves consideration. Now, after leaving it mouldering in the can for fifty years, CCR has finally released the tape of the full set they played at the historic Woodstock Festival, aptly titled Live At Woodstock. CCR, much like Neil Young, refused to be a part of the film or sound track album so this was big news to me.

The reason it took so long for any of this music to see the light of day: John Fogerty didn’t like it. Big surprise there… He’s described the performance as “sub-par.” Well, if this is Creedence on a bad night, one has to wonder how explosive they were on a good night, because this is an awesome concert document. Creedence was slated to play Saturday night, August 16th. Unfortunately they were following the Grateful Dead. While most bands played fifty to sixty minute sets, the Dead played over an hour and a half. They ended their set with a 50-minute version of “Turn On Your Love Light.” They played 1 song that lasted the length of everyone else’s complete set. That performance pushed Creedence’s start time to 12:30 am on Sunday the 17th and Fogerty was pissed. He said the Grateful Dead put everybody to sleep and compared what he saw in the crowd to something out of Dante’s Inferno. Bitter, John? I imagine when they hit the stage, CCR was pissed, well at least John was.

Despite that, or perhaps because of that Live At Woodstock is a fabulous live album. John Fogerty’s guitar playing in particular is unhinged. His guitar is literally worth the price of admission on this album. Oddly the set list is similar to the one on The Concert, they both open with a fiery version of “Born On the Bayou” and then “Green River.” CCR were such a touring machine, they must have kept a consistent set list, only updating it as new  music came out. They play the big hits, and play them well I might add, like “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising.” I love the version of “Commotion” here, it sort fit the setting. They also play some great deep tracks like, “Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do),” and “Bootleg.” They play all of this with great passion. I can’t believe anybody slept through this set.

The show ends with not one, but two, epic ten-plus minute jams. They end the main set with a fantastic “Keep On Chooglin'” that includes some epic harmonica. Again, John’s guitar is phenomenal. The encore is equally as epic, an almost 11-minute version of “Suzie Q,” their first big hit. When CCR decide to stretch out, they don’t do that endless noodling thing the Dead did, they just flat our rock. I can’t believe they left this epic performance in the can for 50 years.

I know they were pissed about how late they had to play that day… but when you look at it, the Who didn’t play until 5 am… the Jefferson Airplane didn’t come on until 8am the next morning. It was Woodstock, go with the flow, baby. This is a testament to how great some of the playing at Woodstock really was, despite the adverse conditions. This is a great live album for all fans of CCR, like the Dude and me or for fans of rock and roll everywhere. Not to mention this is a historically important rock and roll artifact from the most famous musical festival ever. Turn it up loud.

Cheers!!

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese – What Happened?

Rolling-Thunder-Martin-Scorsese-Bob-Dylan-header

Image taken from the internet, likely copyrighted. 

I should have known…

I was never a big Dustin Hoffman fan and I certainly had no desire to see his movie, Tootsie. Someone invariably drug me to the movie and in retrospect I’m glad I saw it for one and only one reason, comedy legend Bill Murray. Apparently Hoffman met Murray at a party and invited him to be in the movie. When Murray agreed, they had to change the script and create a new character for him to play in order to write him into the story. In the movie, he plays struggling actor Hoffman’s struggling playwright roommate. I assume the script looked something like this:

ANY OTHER CHARACTER: “Blah, blah blah”

BILL MURRAY: Ad-lib something hysterical.

In the movie, Hoffman and Murray (the roommates) have a big party. There’s a scene where Murray is drinking and talking to a table full of people. He says, “When someone sees one of my plays, I don’t want them to come up to me afterward and say, “I saw your play and I was moved, I saw your play and I loved it.” I want them to say, “I saw your play. What happened?”

With that as a backdrop, after finally completing all 2 hours and 16 minutes of this “documentary,” all I can say is… wait, what happened? Scorsese is of course a brilliant director of full length films. He also has his rock and roll film bona fides. He filmed the Band’s The Last Waltz which is one of the best concert movies ever. He’s even done a nice job before on Dylan on No Direction Home, which also had a soundtrack that ended up a volume in Dylan’s long running Bootleg series. Admittedly, he looks like a clown in the Stones’ concert film he did, Shine a Light, running around like an idiot begging for a set list…but I try to forget that part of the movie.

I tuned into this thing expecting a straight up documentary. The Rolling Thunder Revue has always had a bit of a mythical quality to it. Dylan was coming off the critical and commercial success of Blood On The Tracks. That album clearly documents the beginning of the end of his first marriage to Sara Dylan. His last tour had been the big extravaganza in 1974 with the Band. For reasons unclear, Dylan retreated to his old stomping grounds in New York, in the Village and gathered a bunch of friends at Gerde’s, a folk music bar. Loose jam sessions ensued. He invited Jacques Levy to write some songs that eventually became the acclaimed album Desire. 

Dylan decided to take his group of friends, who had been jamming in the Village, out on the road, in the style of an old folky hootenanny. They did one leg before Desire and one after. The idea was to play smaller venues for people who typically couldn’t afford “good seats” in arenas. Dylan wanted to get more intimate and close to his audience. He took a host of people with him – Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, poet Allen Ginsberg, Ronnie Hawkins (who Dylan stole the Band from), Ramblin’ Jack Elliot amongst others. Patti Smith declined to join but on the second leg it looks like Joni Mitchell joined. It sounds like a great party… if I hadn’t been in grade school, I’d have loved to ride along but I digress. The show really was a Revue, but Dylan was clearly the draw.

I think the reason this period of Dylan’s career has such a mystique is a) it was during a period when he created what many describe as his final masterpiece, Desire and b) it was never really appropriately documented except for the rather slip shod live album, Hard Rain. Although I would argue that Volume 5 of Dylan’s Bootleg Series, which cobbled together various performances from the Rolling Thunder Revue shed an all new light on the proceedings. He also recently released a 14 CD box set from the Rolling Thunder Revue tour featuring everything from rehearsals to complete concerts. It appears this Scorsese release was timed to accompany and call attention to the box set. I love Dylan, and I love his bootleg series, but 14 discs is too much even for this Dylan-phile.

I teed this opus up last weekend and again I expected something along the lines of No Direction Home. I should have known during the opening credits I was not going to get what I expected when I saw the subtitle, “A Bob Dylan Story.” All of the current interview segments in this thing are fictional. I thought I was seeing a revelation when actress Sharon Stone comes on and says she met Dylan on the tour as a 19 year old and he hit on her with the song “Just Like a Woman” only to find out she was never on the tour…she was also only 17 when the tour occurred. Dylan claims he doesn’t remember anything about Rolling Thunder. There’s an actor who plays a fictional director who filmed the tour… actually Dylan directed all of the footage in this thing back in the 70s for a movie Renaldo and Clara. Most of this film is outtakes from that footage. At the end there’s a fictional Congressman (played by a guy who played a fictional Congressman on TV) who claims Jimmy Carter was a Rolling Thunder Revue/Dylan fan and hooked him up with tickets for a Niagra Falls show. Sigh.

I had really only one burning question about the Rolling Thunder Revue. What the hell was Mick Ronson, who had just been let go as David Bowie’s guitarist in the Spiders From Mars, doing on this tour? No one has ever answered that question to my satisfaction. Alas, this documentary never touches on that subject. There is a lot of live, concert footage in this movie. Dylan appears in the iconic cowboy hat with flowers strewn all over it, with white face paint on. I have to admit he rocks a really good scarf game. I said to the Rock Chick, while watching one of the live shots, “Do you think I can pull off that scarf look?” I’m still waiting for an answer.

What I like most about the live concert footage, is it shows what command Dylan has on stage with his band. He can stop or start a musician with a glance. I hadn’t seen that much control on stage with a band since James Brown. He’s got around 15 people on stage, so that’s quite a feat. One of the unsung heroes of this period in Dylan’s career was the space alien-violinist Scarlett Rivera. She comes across in this documentary as someone who likely sleeps in a coffin, but her violin is front and center. She stands to Dylan’s right on stage, and she’s pretty amazing. I love every moment that Joan Baez is on screen. Whether she’s dancing a “boogaloo” on stage or being interviewed about “Dylan,” she’s great. She was indeed, at one time, his equal (and a former lover).

There are a few live scenes that I really enjoyed. In one they perform in what looks like a lady’s mahjong tournament. Ginsberg uses the word vagina on stage in front of a group of grandmothers. Old ladies dancing around to Dylan… surreal. There’s also a cool sequence where Dylan plays “Ira Hayes” (made famous by Johnny Cash) at an Indian Reservation. It’s interesting in a, what the hell was going on in the 70s, kind of a way.

There have always been two Bob Dylans. The real one, and the one he presents to the public. Since he was dubbed the “Voice Of His Generation” he’s done everything he can to deconstruct and manipulate that public persona. He takes every chance he can get to change people’s perception of every stage of his career and that’s what this “documentary” is all about. Maybe he was just having a laugh, and didn’t want to play it straight here. Who knows, it’s Dylan.

If you’re a Dylan fan, and you’ve never seen footage of the Rolling Thunder Revue this is a must see. Just ignore the fictional interview segments. Do not approach this film thinking it’s going to shed any new light on Dylan or the Rolling Thunder Revue.

Have a Happy Independence Day for our US readers and remember… sparklers are really hot and can burn you. Never hold a firecracker in your hand, you want to get through this weekend with all 10 fingers.

Cheers!

 

 

 

LP Review: Neil Young & The Stray Gators’ Live ‘Tuscaloosa’ From the Archives

image

Neil Young has once again opened his vaunted Archives and released a live album, Tuscaloosa, from a show in Alabama on February 5, 1973. Say what you want about Neil Young, but to go down to Alabama and sing the song “Alabama” with lyrics like, “Make friends down in Alabama/I’m from a new land/I come to you/And see all this ruin/What are you doing Alabama,” you have to admit he’s got some church-bell sized balls. I’m surprised he didn’t double down and play “Southern Man,” his other scathing indictment of the south. “Alabama” and “Southern Man” were the tracks that inspired southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd to write the response, “Sweet Home Alabama.” You have to remember in Alabama in 1973, other than the use of automobiles, it was still 1866. It’s a wonder Young made it out of the state alive.

Neil Young’s “archive game” is amongst the best. Only perhaps Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen have released more archival music than Neil Young has. I can only hope Prince and Tom Petty follow the path blazed by those guys. Of course Petty’s extended, double-album version of Wildflowers has been held up indefinitely by a lawsuit between his daughters and his second wife. Even Prince’s screwed up legal situation pales in comparison to that stuff going on, but I digress. If you haven’t, you should really check out neilyoungarchives.com. There is a subscription fee, if you’re really into Neil, but there is also some free content. You can pretty much find everything he’s done out there.

The 1973 tour was in support of Neil’s biggest album yet, his commercial breakthrough, Harvest. The hit from that album “Heart of Gold,” made Neil Young the most improbable of superstars. It’s pretty clear how uncomfortable he was in that kind of bright spotlight. When he introduces “Heart of Gold” on this album, he mentions that he turned down the offer to let it be used in a commercial. He says he and the band were going to re name the song, “Burger of Gold.” It draws a laugh from the crowd, but you can tell Neil is bothered.

The Harvest tour was fraught with problems. During rehearsals for the tour Neil had to fire his old friend, guitarist Danny Whitten (the leader of Crazy Horse) because he was so messed up on drugs and booze. The night after he was fired, Whitten was found dead of mixing booze and valium (aka diazapem). Neil felt a crushing amount of guilt. To make matters worse, his backing band, the Stray Gators – Kenny Buttrey on drums, Tim Drummond on bass, Ben Keith on pedal steel and slide guitar, and Jack Nitzsche on piano – were all session players instead of musicians Neil knew (well, he knew Nitzsche). Buttrey demanded the then-unheard of sum of $100,000 to play on the tour, to make up for lost studio session money and the rest of the band soon stuck their hand out. Neil said yes to the demand but it pissed him off royally. Anger on top of guilt made for an explosive combination. All of that added to his discomfort with being a superstar made for a less than ideal atmosphere. Then someone turned  him onto tequila, which he drank copiously on the tour. They knew which drug to legalize when they ok’d tequila. When I drink tequila, and I never drink tequila, I’m either going to fight you or try to fuck you and many times, both at the same time. Stick with bourbon, it’s safer.

The legend goes that the crowds who showed up to see Neil on the Harvest tour, expecting an evening of acoustic strumming and hits were surprised and horrified by the raucous and loud playing of the Stray Gators. Neil didn’t make it any easier for them by choosing to play a bunch of new, unheard-of-at-that-time songs as he had decided to record this whole train wreck. It was his goal to cut his next album live on this tour and to take a stylistic left turn, to get out of the middle road where he’d found himself and head into “the ditch.” As I listened to Tuscaloosa, the first two-thirds is just what the crowd expected – acoustic tracks, played faithfully. It’s only that last bit where the Stray Gators turn it up to 11 and play a bunch of unheard, new tracks. I have to imagine the crowds were at least initially happy with their evening but then it took an odd turn.

The shows on that tour usually started off with Neil doing an acoustic set, which he’s often done since. He comes out with an acoustic guitar and plays “Here We Are In the Years” from his first album. Then he sits down at the piano and plays “After The Gold Rush.” I have to think, at roughly 45 minutes long, this album is a truncated version of the concert. I’ve read he left a couple of songs from this concert off the record, just because he’s Neil Young, and the rest of the show wasn’t even taped. Neil is nothing if not mercurial.

Overall I’d tell you I really like this record. If you compare it to his last archival live release, Tonights The Night Live, (Review: Neil Young’s ‘Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live’) they are vastly different. There is a dark mood that hangs over this concert album. The tensions with the band are palpable, if just under the surface. It’s clear on Tonights The Night Live, where he’s backed by his pals in Crazy Horse, he’s happier and having a lot more fun. The staggering thing is that album was recorded only 7 months after this album in TuscaloosaOne might describe this album as a tad brooding.

The middle of this record, after Neil plays his brief 2-song solo set, is really brilliant. The Stray Gators come out and play one of my all time favorite Neil Young deep tracks, “Out On The Weekend” and it’s just stellar. I’d never heard it played live before and they nail it. Ben Keith on pedal steel really shines on this part of the set. During the lead into the song “Harvest,” Neil introduces the band with all the warmth of a “Dear John” letter. “Harvest,” “Old Man,” and the big hit “Heart of Gold” are all played well and the crowd seems to really enjoy that part of the set.

And then, like someone flipping a light switch the band blasts into “Time Fades Away.” That songs first lyrics are amongst my favorite Neil Young lyrics, “Fourteen junkies, too weak to work…” The guitar solo from Neil during “Time Fades Away” is monumental. I have to wonder why he didn’t use this version on the album of the same name. The Gators continue jamming on a host of newly written stuff that probably did baffle the crowd, but still sound great here. It was an awesome night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “Look Out Joe” which Neil dedicates to returning Vietnam vets, “New Mama,” and the final track, “Don’t Be Denied” would all end up coming out later on either Time Fades Away or Tonights The Night. The versions here are great if not a tad shambolic. I like my rock and roll messy and Neil and the Stray Gators certainly deliver. The only track that the crowd would have known during this electric part of the set is “Alabama,” which again, what balls Neil had to play that song deep, deep into that southern state.

I do love that Neil introduces “Don’t Be Denied,” one of his most autobiographical, vulnerable songs as being about “an aspiring folk singer…” By this point in his career, Neil was a little past aspiring. This concert album is an interesting look at a pivotal and fascinating part of Neil Young’s career. Eventually tensions between Neil and the Stray Gators would lead him to fire Buttrey and bring in Johnny Barbata to play drums. He also brought in Graham Nash and David Crosby to do backing vocals… he must have needed some friendly faces. That line up is the one that ended up on the follow-up album, (the first of the legendary “Ditch Trilogy”), Time Fades Away (Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP).

Check this album out and be sure to check out the Neil Young Archives. Fair warning: you can get lost in there…

Cheers!

Review: Netflix’s ‘Springsteen On Broadway’ – The Artist’s Dialogue With Fans Comes to the Great White Way

IMG_7096-700x789

*Image taken from the internet and probably subject to copyright

I’ve been a Springsteen fan for as long as I’ve been a rock and roll fan. The first LP I bought of his was The River, a double-album which at the time was a huge financial commitment on my part… there are only so many lawns you can mow or tables you can bus to feed a vinyl habit when you’re in high school. That album quickly led me backwards in his catalog, through Darkness On The Edge of Town to Born To Run to The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (which is frankly my favorite of his albums). Since that time I have been on this journey with him. He likes to describe his body of work as a dialogue between an artist and his fans. When I heard he was taking a 1-man show to Broadway, I thought it was a natural progression of that very conversation.

Springsteen On Broadway is indeed just that – a dialogue. One might describe it as a recap of the entire dialogue we, his fans and Bruce have been having all along. I had really wanted to try and get tickets and fly to New York to see the show live, like my friend Judy did (name changed to protect the guilty). But like most people, watching the Netflix special was how I got to see the show. I am sure the opportunity to see this show live, in the intimate Walter Kerr Theater would have completely changed the experience. I finally caught it on Netflix yesterday and I was deeply moved. I will admit freely, that despite being a huge fan, I never did read Springsteen’s highly acclaimed autobiography fittingly named, Born To Run. Unfortunately, rock autobiography has been destroyed for me forever by Keith Richards’ Life. I didn’t need to read Keef comparing dick size with Mick.

Despite my not reading the autobiography, I realized right away it was the source material for much of the show. But that was probably because I’m a huge fan. I’m not sure a casual Springsteen fan can connect with this performance without reading his autobiography. Springsteen writes in such an epic, poetic style that it’s no wonder his story was a perfect fit for the stage. There’s a theatrical nature to all things Springsteen. And like all things Springsteen, On Broadway was long – two and half hours long. After seeing the show, I wondered to myself how often I would return to the soundtrack to listen again. I’m glad I saw it and heard it, but like reading a book, I’m not sure I’d go back to it, and again, I’m HUGE Bruce fan. For once I might have to actually say, this Bruce Springsteen performance may be only for the true fans. And there are plenty of us out here.

Over the years Springsteen’s legend has grown so huge – as a performer, writer, activist, it’s nice to see him cut loose and spend a little time debunking the legend. He begins by explaining that he’s from a boardwalk town, where everything is based on a little magic and deceit. Despite being considered the champion of the working man, he’s never “held an honest job.” He’s never worked in a factory. To the Rock Chick’s great amusement, despite being known as the foremost writer of car songs, he couldn’t drive a car until he was in his 20s. He expresses a host of emotions as he tells the stories he chose and it’s quite a ride. I was happy to hear Springsteen cuss, which I think was also meant to undercut some of the “Saint of Rock N Roll” legend. Then there are times when Bruce goes into, what I describe as “The Reverend of Rock n Roll” act which also made me feel a little like Bruce was playing a character named Bruce Springsteen.

For the true Springsteen fans, there are a host of stories that touch on all the important points of his story. Each story (and some are quite long and revealing) is accompanied by a song and they compliment each other very well. To be clear, the songs are there to compliment the dialogue and not the other way around. He starts off, of course, with “Growing Up” and a story about Elvis and his first guitar. It’s clear, like most of us, Elvis had a big impact on Bruce. Looming even larger was Springsteen’s father and the relationship between them. The most moving pieces of this show were about Bruce and his dad. I was pleased to hear him play “The Wish,” a song about his mother. It’s a deep cut off Tracks. It’s wonderful that his catalog has a song for almost everything he’s been through. His real life completely informs his art which is probably why the legend has grown.

The performance here of Born In the USA is stunning. It follows Bruce talking about Vietnam and how it affected his generation and more personally some of his friends and Jersey idols. He spoke of meeting Ron Kovic and reading his book, ‘Born On the Fourth of July’ and what an effect it had on him. I think that was probably the birth of Springsteen the activist. When he speaks of Clarence Clemons and everything that friendship meant to him I got tears in my eyes. I love the version of “10th Avenue Freeze Out” that he plays in tribute.

Patti Scialfa Springsteen comes out and sings a couple of the most personal songs, (love songs naturally), “Tougher Than the Rest” and “Brilliant Disguise.” Both of those performances were definite highlights. They are not only married, they harmonize spectacularly. “Ghost of Tom Joad” and “Land of Hope And Dreams” are two of the more political moments and Springsteen handled them both deftly – both the songs and the things he said prior.

From Elvis, to his dad, to his mother, to Clarence, to Vietnam, to being a parent, to our current political situation, Springsteen covers it all. He does so with at times good humor and other times deep, sorrowful feeling. This was a great performance and I really regret not making it to Broadway to see it in person. I will say, this one is just for us in the cult of Springsteen.

Life is a long ride… Turn up the radio and try to be good to each other.

 

Concert Review: Billy Idol, Kansas City’s Uptown Theater, Sept 21, 2018

image1

*Photo taken by your intrepid blogger from the balcony of the Uptown Theater

Happy Fall, Rock and Roll Fans everywhere! It’s officially fall now and I can’t help but quote the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “autumn’s sweet, we call it fall.” It’s my favorite time of year. The leaves turn, out comes the bourbon and football has begun. This weekend in Kansas City was already an action-packed one. Kansas City’s premier entertainment district, the Plaza, is having it’s annual Art Fair. People will be drinking wine on the streets, eating with their hands and admiring paintings and sculptures. It’s a big deal in KC. Add to that my NFL team, the Kansas City Chiefs, have their home opener on Sunday. That’s already a lot to have going on…Tailgating is about to get serious.

I was musing on all of this weekend fun while I was in Chicago this week on Wednesday. I was having a nightcap in some Irish dive on Dearborn, lecturing people on the music of Van Morrison… Can you believe there are people who have never heard his music? “Tupelo Honey” people, listen to that song, post haste. Anyway, I was in this Irish pub when I got the text from the Rock Chick…”Did you know Billy Idol was coming this Friday?” I hadn’t even heard about it. It was frenzied trip out to Stub Hub that night. The Rock Chick had never seen him, which is criminal. If only I’d known her in the eighties.

A work friend messaged me yesterday and said, “Are you going to Billy?” Proudly I said, “Yes!” It was only then that I realized she meant Billy Joel, who played last night at Kaufman Stadium, where the Royals play. I love Billy Joel, and have seen him three or four times. My favorite story about him, back in the old days, was when he came in concert, typically the night before, he’d pop into the Crown Center piano bar and take requests and play for a couple of hours. That’s pretty fuckin’ cool. While I love Billy Joel, last night, for me, was all about Billy Idol. While most concert goers were at Kaufman Stadium, the rock and roll faithful were crowded into the intimate setting of the Uptown Theater down on Broadway, ready to be transported back to 1983.

In the eighties, after the break up of his punk rock band, Generation X, Billy Idol went solo. He really broke through to the mainstream on MTV. We were all a little put off by the spiky punky hair. Who is this skinny kid with the snarl? Punk rock, that’s an English thing? That was the problem with the videos on MTV, sometimes we let the visuals get in the way of the music. Once I was able to set aside the images and just listen to the music, I realized, this guy Billy Idol really rocks. It’s no surprise in his later years he shifted from punk to heavy metal. He was always turning the guitar up to 11…

It’s frankly been a while since I’ve seen an in-your-face, rock and roll show. I loved the concerts I’ve seen this year: Depeche Mode, Robert Plant, Little Steven, but there’s just something about the squeal of guitar and the hedonistic lyrics of heavy metal/hard rock that I really needed to hear. Thankfully Billy has reunited with his guitarist from the 80s, Steve Stevens. I can’t say enough about how mind blowing Stevens is on guitar. It was so refreshing to see a guy so masterful, play the guitar. I love Billy, but I came away from last night with a new respect for Steve. The only time I’d seen Idol, Stevens wasn’t with him. Those two belong together.

The lights came down and Idol and his band, Stevens on lead guitar, Thor-like Stephen McGrath on bass, Erik Eldenius on drums (who is just a beast), Paul Trudeau on keyboards and Billy Morrison on guitar, stormed the stage and lit into “Shock To the System” a track I’d frankly, forgotten about. What a perfect opener. It was hard, muscular rock and roll that you just don’t hear anymore. God I miss the 80s, if only for that sound. After the opening track, they went straight to the hits, Generation X’s “Dancing With Myself” got the crowd going. That led to a funky, spot-on “Flesh For Fantasy.” I could almost feel my mullet growing back.

A couple of songs later, Idol strapped on a guitar, as did Trudeau and the band launched into the epic Doors cover, “L.A. Woman.” I had been hoping to hear “Cradle of Love” from Charmed Life, but “L.A. Woman” was so rocking, I didn’t miss that omission from the set list. Idol announced that the band had “finally figured out how to play this next song,” and Stevens put on this beautiful, all-white, acoustic guitar and they played “Catch My Fall” another great track from Rebel Yell. That led to the Rock Chick’s favorite part of the evening, “Eyes Without A Face.” Idol was in great voice last night and that song, especially the line, “steal a car and go to Las Vegas” were delivered with edgy intensity. We were all on our feet, even up in the balcony where I was.

After that, Stevens stayed on stage by himself and played an extended acoustic guitar solo that was mesmerizing. He even dropped snippets of Zeppelin’s “Over The Hills And Far Away” and yes, “Stairway To Heaven” into his solo. I could have sat there all night and just watched Stevens play but the band returned for a couple of tunes I didn’t recognize, but still enjoyed, “Rat Race” and “Whiskey and Pills.” Stevens then did a brief electric guitar solo and they launched into my favorite Idol deep track, “Blue Highway,” from Rebel Yell. What a kick ass road-rocker that is! The main set ended right after that with an epic “Rebel Yell.” The crowd sang along, “more, more, more.” Idol, as he’d been all night, was marching around the stage like a prize fighter, but he was especially animated during that song. He had his shirt open and I gotta say, Billy’s in great shape.

The encore was really the money shot… “White Wedding,” was perfect. Erik Edenius, or as the Rock Chick was referring to him last night, “the beast on drums,” then played a short but powerful drum solo. I couldn’t figure out what else Idol might play when the band launched into “Mony Mony.” What a great jam that I had again, almost forgotten about. Although the Rock Chick claims she called the song before they started it…

We filed out onto the street where we met the Rock Chick’s friend who had kindly bought my wife a Steve Stevens t-shirt. So the Rock Chick came home with two concert t-shirts, one with Idol on it, and one with Stevens, which is perfect. We were too wired to go home so we stopped in a local pub, near the Plaza, for a night cap where we met some cool 49er fans. I went to bed at 2 am, fully satisfied by a 1980s trip to rock and roll heaven. What a great start to what promises to be a great weekend.

If you’re out there and Idol is coming to your town, do yourself a favor. Get yourself some hard rock, good times therapy. Buy the ticket, see the show.

Cheers and… Go Chiefs!