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

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*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!

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Concert Review: Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters, KC 9/10/18

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*Photo from the internet, credited to The Telegraph and likely copyrighted

“Kansas City, here I come…” Robert Plant, September 10, 2018

The Rock Chick and I had been on the road for a little R & R the last four or five days. We’d been barnstorming around Florida, partying like escaped, pirate convicts. I knew we’d be exhausted by the time we got home on Monday, September 10th, but when I saw Robert Plant was coming in concert at the beautiful, historic Midland Theater, I knew we’d have to suck it up. After a brief but – and I don’t say this word often – lovely opening set from violinist/singer/multi-instrumentalist Seth Lakeman, who joined the Space Shifters for their set, we were all anxiously awaiting the man himself, Robert Plant.

I hadn’t seen Plant solo since the tour in support of Dreamland. I did see him with Alison Krauss when they toured together and it was fabulous. I can’t believe it’d been almost 10 years since I’d seen him. When the lights came down, and the band walked on stage, Plant, looking fit and dressed all in black, hung back in the shadows, near the drum riser. He danced around the stage like a prize fighter before the championship match… I couldn’t take my eyes off of him…with his long hair and full beard he looks like a grizzled lion. The band launched into the opening track, “New World…” from their great album, last year’s Carry Fire LP Review: Robert Plant, The Sensational ‘Carry Fire’ and Plant stepped to the microphone… and he unleashed…the voice. Wow, can he still sing. In the back of my mind I always wondered if he wasn’t getting back with Led Zeppelin because he wouldn’t be able to hit those notes. I was terribly wrong about that. I mean, sure, it’d probably be hard for him to do “The Immigrant Song” at top banshee wail every night (who could?), but his voice is as strong as ever. He could go from a whisper to a Viking wail in one breath. On stage Plant’s charisma is palpable. Not just the voice, the looks on his face, the dancing, the hand gestures, it’s all amazing. He’s truly still one of the best front men, ever. And from all appearances last night, he’s having a blast.

When I see an artist like Plant it gets me thinking. I don’t think rock and roll was ever originally conceived with longevity in mind. When it came along in the middle 50s, built on post-war teen rebellion, I think people thought it was just a fad, and it’d fade away. No one ever imagined that a man who just turned 70 could walk out on stage and still captivate an audience. But therein lies the horns of the dilemma for Plant – how does someone like him balance past glories with the adventure of new creativity. How do you blend your past with your present without being trapped by it. And lets face it, Plant’s past, namely Led Zeppelin, casts a big shadow. I thought Plant and the Space Shifters – Justin Adams and Skin Tyson on guitars, Dave Smith on drums, Seth Lakeman on violin, Billy Fuller on drums, and John Baggott on keyboards – do a great job of blending the old with the new. Plant spends half his set playing Zeppelin tunes, and half on his solo career.

Plant and the band seem to shift back forth, past to present, seamlessly but there are moments where I fear the crowd doesn’t quite make that jump. When Plant would try to speak before songs, like when introducing “Gallows Pole,” which was sped up last night and played like a psychedelic hoe-down, he was explaining it was a Leadbelly song… Some idiot screamed, “We love you Robert!” To his credit, Plant gave a somewhat exhausted, “Yeah, yeah, I know.” During one of the most beautifully sung moments of the night, the band had gone quiet and Plant was softly singing a passage of “Please Read the Letter” (a Page-Plant track that he’d redone with Alison Krauss and he described as a song being written by two “up and coming songwriters,” in his funniest line), some crazy, fucking idiot chick in front of me, screams, “You’re incredible” at the top of her lungs… ruining the moment in the song. The look on Plant’s face was telling… mild frustration, surprise, and a long way from pleased. It’s not 1972, honey. Sober up and let the man sing a ballad. Despite all that, Plant remained charming the entire night. His between song anecdotes were always enjoyable.

At this stage in his career, it’d be easy for Plant to reunite with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones and travel the world singing songs from the seventies. It’s obvious to me that Plant doesn’t care about that fame and fortune thing any more. For him, it appears, the joy is in the discovery and exploration of the roots of all music. He blends folk, rock and roll, Middle-eastern and African rhythms into one big, new whole in his latest music. That’s why I love it. He sees the commonality of a Celtic folk song and something that springs from the Appalachians to something that’s from the bazaars of Morocco. He’s searching and in that search he’s creating some of the most interesting music of his career. The fact that he can deliver that AND old Zeppelin classics over the course of one evening is mind blowing.

As I mentioned, they opened up with “New World…” and carried on playing new tracks, the rocking “Turn It Up” from lullaby…And The Ceaseless Roar proved the night was not going to be a mellow affair. “The May Queen” his first single from Carry Fire was next and it was spot on. One has to give a special shout out to Adams and Tyson on guitars. They go from acoustic to blasting electric as effortlessly as Plant goes from quiet to loud. By song four, Plant had dug into the Zeppelin catalog when they launched into “Black Dog.” What I loved about it, the band and Plant played it perfectly, down to the call and response vocals, until the end where they stretched it out and jammed a little bit more in the style of Carry Fire than Led Zeppelin IV and then brought it right back to sounding like Zeppelin. It was like watching musical gymnastics. I will admit, the band did tend after that to stretch most songs out toward the end and I get it, when a band is grooving they like to jam, but if they’d cut a few of those jams short, they could have fit a few more songs in… I saw in Europe they were opening with “When the Levee Breaks” and were also doing “Rainbow” and I would have enjoyed hearing one or both of those versus the jams, but I’m splitting hairs.

After “Black Dog,” Tyson and Adams huddled on the side of the stage with an acoustic guitar and mandolin, respectively… Plant sang “Going to California” in what was perhaps the most beautiful moment of the night. I don’t mind admitting, I got goose bumps and tears welled in my eyes. I have no idea why I reacted that strongly, the performance just moved me. After that they played the Rock Chick’s favorite “Please Read the Letter” which was only marred by the aforementioned drunk idiot, and then the sped up “Gallows Pole.” It was then that Plant played “Carry Fire” the beautiful, Middle-Eastern flavored title track from his last album. I don’t know how Justin Adams was able to make the sounds he was making – it looked like he was playing a 12-string dobro, but I’m not a instrument genius. It was a real highlight for me.

The moment that brought the house down was the next track, from all the way back on Led Zeppelin I, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” Skin Tyson sat down and played a beautiful acoustic solo intro that eventually led into the song. It was musically gorgeous. The band muscled into the electric portion of the track and the crowd, including me, went wild. After the exotic “Little Maggie” the band played an old Bukka White song, “Funny In My Mind, (I Think I’m Fixin’ To Die)” from Dreamland. While I love the song, they sped it up and played it almost in a Johnny Cash train-song style that lost me a bit. It went on for a long time.

The encore was a complete surprise and delight when they came out and played “In The Mood” from 1982. Plant typically eschews music from his first few albums so I was delighted they played one of the Rock Chick’s favs at the show. It was played more in the Plant-Krauss style, all natural instruments, piano/violin/great vocals, than the original synth version. It was smile-inducing pleasure. With that, it was time for the big jam – “Bring It On Home” which led to “Whole Lotta Love.” There was a weird interlude where they sang some song about heading down to the Gulf of Mexico… and then it was back to “Whole Lotta Love.” The crowd, who had been ready to release their Zeppelin mania in a guitar frenzy orgasm, seemed satisfied at last.

We were spent, but the Rock Chick looked up at me and said, “I’m tired, but that was awesome…” Plant waved to the crowd and said, “Remember what you heard tonight… see you next time, at least I hope so….” And right before left, he turned back and quoting the same song he’d quoted at the beginning of the night said, “Kansas City, here I go…” And with that the Legend, Robert Plant and his band left the stage.

I say this all the time, buy the ticket, see the show, folks. It was an enthralling evening of rock and roll. These artists are treasures and they ain’t gonna be around forever. I believe Plant when he says, “I carry fire for you, here in my naked hand…” He’s carrying the fire of rock and roll.

Review: Neil Young’s ‘Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live’

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Heart of Gold – This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.” – Neil Young, from the liner notes of his superb greatest hits LP, Decade.

I’d like to tell you that I was born with a fully formed musical identity. Sadly, that’s not true. Everybody’s taste in music changes and evolves, especially if you’re a music spelunker like us here at B&V. I remember reading a long time ago that whatever you’re listening to in junior high school/high school is likely the music you’ll listen to the rest of your life. Thank God some kick ass music came out in the 70s/early 80s. For me, a lot of my musical gestation took place in college. I was lucky my freshman year to meet one of my future roommates, Drew. Drew helped shape my musical tastes as much as anybody I can think of, give credit to or perhaps better said, blame.

I was a basic Stones/Springsteen fan and Drew was a Who/Billy Joel fan. Clearly we each had something to teach each other. The countless hours we spent together in our college town’s lone record store are amongst some of my most cherished memories from that time. I learned a hell of a lot from Drew back then. There was also a girlfriend in there who was a lot of fun who I learned a lot from too, but I’m married now and those records are sealed. One of the key artists that Drew turned me onto, that he knew extensively but was a blindspot for me was Neil Young. I don’t know why I’d never listened to Neil. “Heart of Gold” was about the only tune I knew and I thought it was ok. I thought of him as being like the Eagles, sort of country rock… little did I know. I hope I wasn’t one of those “I don’t like his vocals” people. I already loved Bob Dylan by that time, so I don’t think that was it. Young doesn’t sing like Steve Perry, but the emotion and passion he puts into his vocals are incredibly moving. His songwriting can be dream-like, bizarre, spot-on and deeply affecting all at the same time.

By the time Drew turned me onto Neil Young, Neil had so much music out there, I thought I’d never catch up. I didn’t have that kind of bankroll. So I did what I often did as a poor student, I bought his greatest hits album, Decade. Decade was a bit of a landmark “greatest hits” package. It was a full three albums long, which was a hefty price tag. I used to blanch at the thought of buying double albums, let alone triple albums. It also encapsulated Neil’s entire career from 1966 to 1976 (hence, the name) – there were tracks from the Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, solo and a track from the Stills/Young Band. There were hits but there were also deep cuts and a few songs he’d never released before. I suspect it may have been the model that Bob Dylan’s box set Biograph  was built on. It was truly a superb package and a great place to start your Neil Young collection. Although Neil’s Archive, Vol 1 box set probably supersedes it now. In the liner notes, quoted above, Neil mentioned taking his career “into the ditch” where he met “more interesting people.” And with that one line, hand written in the liner notes of a greatest hits package, Neil was able to actually provide a name to a trio of albums that make up the period of his career from 1973 to 1974 that have henceforth been known as, The Ditch Trilogy.

The Ditch Trilogy consists of three of my all time favorite Neil Young albums: Time Fades Away (1973), On The Beach (1974) and Tonight’s The Night (1975). Tonight’s the Night was actually recorded after Time Fades Away and before On The Beach but the record company sat on the record for two years. They didn’t want to release it because they thought it was too bleak. Neil has cited Time Fades Away as his least favorite record and for years it was out of print. I couldn’t find it anywhere… the only person I knew who owned it was, yes… wait for it… my old roommate Drew. Finally it was released last year (Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP). Now that I’ve heard all three of the Ditch Trilogy albums, its my opinion, if you’re going to spend an afternoon listening to all three with a nice sour mash – and everybody should – you should listen to the records in the order they were recorded vs the order they were released (i.e, Time Fades, Tonight’s The Night, Beach). The albums make more sense that way.

To truly understand the Ditch Trilogy, one needs to look at Neil’s career up to that point to give it some context. 1970 was a huge year for Neil Young. He’d joined CSNY and they released Deja Vu. In the same year Neil had released the album that made him a star, After the Gold Rush. The CSNY momentum continued with the amazing live album, 4-Way Street (1971). I can still remember walking through the living room at my college place and hearing Drew listening to 4-Way Street… the music at that place was always kick ass thanks to Drew, but I digress. By 1972 there was a lot of pent-up demand for another Neil solo record. He delivered the biggest selling album of 1972, his masterpiece, Harvest. Suddenly Young was a superstar and he did not handle it well but who does? (Artists Who Changed Their Music to Escape Fame) The hit song “Heart of Gold” was enormous. It was so big it pissed Bob Dylan off… he thought it was actually one of his songs when he first heard it. He thought he’d been ripped off… Supposedly his response was “Forever Young” a hidden jab at Neil. Who knows if that’s true or not…

To support Harvest, Young convened a group of session musicians in New York to prep for a tour. The pressure on Young was immense. The musicians all demanded $100,000 each for the tour, an unheard of sum back then, which supremely pissed Young off. He was touring on the pastoral, mellow grooves of Harvest with an openly hostile relationship with his backing band. To help balance things, he invited his friend from Crazy Horse, guitarist Danny Whitten to join the tour as rhythm guitarist. Unfortunately Whitten’s substance abuse problems, booze and heroin got in the way. Neil was quoted as saying, “he just couldn’t cut it. He couldn’t remember any of the songs.” So Neil did what he had to do, the show must go on. He fired Whitten. I had always heard he’d given Whitten $50 and a plane ticket back to L.A. and that Whitten had OD’d on $50 worth of heroin. Actually, he’d mixed booze and valium into a lethal combo. Literally, this happened the night after Neil Young had fired him. Now added to the pressure of having the biggest record in the world and a hostile band environment was an enormous sense of guilt. I don’t know how Young continued on tour. Oh, yes perhaps I do… he discovered and started drinking tequila. I try to avoid tequila… I used to say, they knew which drug to legalize, tequila. If I drink that stuff I’m either going to fight you or try to fuck you… maybe both at the same time… but enough about me.

To add to all of this mayhem, Neil brought along a mobile recording studio to capture it all on tape. Instead of a folky, country-rock evening the fans were expecting they got the electric Neil. Blaring, blasting guitars like it was an armed assault instead of a concert. To add to that, he performed a bunch of newly written songs that nobody had heard. It’s tough to attend a concert when you don’t recognize the music. When you know and are familiar with the songs, it multiplies the enjoyment exponentially. God knows what the audiences thought, but the resulting album, Time Fades Away is brilliant. After the tour, one of his roadies (and CSNY’s roadie) Bruce Berry succumbed to drugs and OD’d on a lethal mix of cocaine and heroin. Man, what a shitty year.

After the tour, Neil holed up in his studio with a band he dubbed the Santa Monica Flyers which consisted of Billy Talbot (bass), Ralph Molina (drums) both from Crazy Horse, Nils Lofgren on guitar (and in a surprise move, Neil had him play piano, an instrument he had previously never played) and Ben Keith on pedal steel guitar. As mentioned above, the album was pretty grim. Its basically the recording of a man exorcising his demons. It’s not often that an artist can lay himself and his emotions so nakedly bare in front of the world. I can only compare it to John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band. The two versions of the title track which bookend the album both reference the late Bruce Berry who “was a working man, he used to drive that Econoline van…” The performances are ragged and messy. They all sound like a first take, where the band is just watching Neil and trying to follow along. And I will say, it’s a very druggy album. There are a lot of drug references and Neil sounds fucked up half the time. There may be no hits on this record, but there’s not a Young fan who doesn’t consider it a masterpiece.

Last week Young released another superb entry in his wonderful Vault Series. Apparently, even though the record company refused to release Tonight’s The Night Young decided to play some live dates at the Roxy in Los Angeles in September of 1974 and play the unreleased album. And, as usual, he recorded the concerts resulting in this great live, vault release, Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live. While the performance still starts and ends with the song “Tonight’s the Night” he doesn’t just play the album in it’s running order. He also omits a couple of songs, the Danny Whitten sung “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown” and “Borrowed Time.” He also adds as an encore, “Walk On,” that Neil introduces as an old song, despite the fact that it wouldn’t be released until a year later on On The Beach.

I might be slightly overstating this when I say this was a bit of a bracing listen. I don’t mean that in a bad way… it’s just a surprise. I’ve heard the original LP so many times, it’s etched in my mind, it’s part of the canon. So to hear Neil get up and be joking on stage – he starts by saying the first topless woman to jump on stage wins a prize of some sort… it was the 70s, way before Me Too, so let’s not get upset – is kind of shocking. In terms of the music, it’s played with more precision than on the original album. Obviously the band was much more familiar with the music by the time of these performances and everybody plays at a high level. The cloud of grief that hangs over Tonight’s The Night seems to dissipate here quite a bit, not that this is joyful music. “Roll Another Number (For The Road) swings so much it sounds like something Hank Williams might have done. The songs are still tough and gritty, but Neil is engaged and seems to be enjoying playing them. I love the way he bears down on his guitar when starts playing the title track to begin the show. Everybody plays so well here. I wonder how the crowd remains as enthusiastic as they do since no one in the room, who isn’t on stage, knew the material.

For me, and I admit, I’m a completist (guilty as charged), this is an essential companion piece to Tonight’s The Night. The lighthearted manner in which Young plays these tunes is evidence that the grief he was feeling was slowly lifting. I think this live album is a key link between Tonight’s and the follow up, On The Beach. I actually went out and listened to this on Neil’s archive web page, which I highly recommend to anybody, neilyoungarchives.com which is free for now. I will warn you… if you’re a Neil fan, you can get lost in there. I pulled it up one Friday in February and the next thing I knew it was Monday… At the very least everyone should go out to the Archive website and listen to this phenomenal historical document. Tonight’s the Night really comes alive in this performance… and don’t forget to put on the entire Ditch Trilogy with a nice tumbler of sour mash… you can thank me later.

 

Concert Review: U2 with Beck, Kansas City, Sept 12, 2017: A “Night of Epic Rock And Roll” – Bono, #U2TheJoshuaTree2017

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*Photo by your intrepid blogger…if you squint you can see U2 performing “Where The Streets Have No Name” on the right hand side of the stage – September 12, 2017

When I heard U2 was touring in celebration of ‘The Joshua Tree’ 30th Anniversary, I knew I had to see this show… I was even looking into plane tickets and hotels in New York. I considered heading to the Chicago show, but that was the same weekend of the Tom Petty show here in Kansas City, reviewed earlier on B&V (Concert Review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Kansas City, 6/2/2107), and I am very glad I stayed in town to see Petty. I have a long history with ‘The Joshua Tree’ and the emotional resonance it stirred in me in 1987 remains to this day… Luckily, they announced a KC show, at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs play. I told my friend, The Accountant, “There is a high likelihood I will weep several times during this performance…” Thus is the power of this music for me.

I can remember coming home on spring break, my senior year in college, or well, one of my senior years in college and finding out my brother had already purchased ‘The Joshua Tree’ on cassette tape. I had been on the U2 bandwagon, like most people, since the ‘War’ album. I purchased ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ the day it came out along with ‘Boy’… but I’d been busy with midterms and hadn’t had a chance to pick up ‘The Joshua Tree.’ I remember lying on the floor in my bedroom, with my brother’s cassette tape in my, yes, Sony Walkman cassette player… for you kids out there, think of it as an iPod that was infinitely less cool and considerably bulkier. I was blown away by the album. It had crystallized all the leaps forward and experiments they’d been working toward on ‘Unforgettable Fire.’ The musical universe had changed.

I graduated from college that following May and the Gods cursed me with a job outside of my hometown of Kansas City. I ended up working for a mega corporation and they put me, in all their cruelty, in Ft Smith, Arkansas…aka Ft Hell. The only good thing about Ft Hell was I met Arkansas Joel, a person who turned out to be a friend for life. The Corporation sent me, that December of 1987, down to Atlanta for training. It just so happened that while I was down there starting my training, Arkansas Joel was there finishing his classwork… he was six months ahead of me. He found me in the seedy apartment complex they housed the trainees in and slapped a flier down on the table in front of me. “Ken, U2 is playing here in Atlanta tonight… we’ve gotta go see this show.” Arkansas Joel was an even bigger U2 fan than I am… “We can scalp tickets…” At the time I didn’t have two nickels to rub together and I was concerned about the money… but in truth something else was holding me back. I had met a young lady from Louisiana with a Scarlett O’Hara accent and a mane of long, black hair… Her parents were both from Thailand… she was… alluring.

I smiled wistfully back at Arkansas Joel, slid the flier back across the table and said, “I can’t go… I’ve gotta see about a girl.” Joel was stunned I would give up the chance to see U2 on their biggest tour. Hell, I’m stunned that I said no. I ended up dating the girl for a year before we broke up… Joel, on the other hand, saw the concert of a lifetime. U2 came out in disguise and played a set of country songs to open up for the opening-act. It wasn’t until they played one of the country songs again, in the main set, that Joel realized he’d actually seen U2 twice in one night… Me, I’m left with a lot of regrets and stories about Shreveport. Sigh. The heart wants what the heart wants. If I learned anything, it’s don’t listen to your heart when you’re in your 20s… Every time I see Joel now he says, “Well, you could have seen U2 on ‘The Joshua Tree’ tour but….” Always choose the concert, not the romantic interest.

Now, here we are 30 years later and U2 has returned to celebrate the album I missed out on. I was further encouraged about the concert when last week U2 released their first single from the upcoming album ‘Songs of Experience,’ and it’s a great song. Then, it was announced that Beck would be the opening act. Beck hasn’t toured since he hurt his back 10 years ago. Then, Beck releases 2 new songs last week. The karmic stars were lining up in my favor.

Beck started out the night and I was delighted. He started out with “Devil’s Haircut” and then went right into “Go It Alone.” From there he shoots right into “Black Tambourine” also from the excellent ‘Guero’ album. I will admit, I thought the drums were a tad loud and drowned out the vocals but that was only on the first few performances. He continued with a couple more ‘Guero’ tracks, “Think I’m In Love,” (a favorite of mine and the Rock Chick’s, I might add) and “Que Ondo Guero.” His band looked huge, I still don’t know how many other players he had on stage with him. I was hoping he’d play something from his acoustic side and he didn’t disappoint with the ‘Sea Change’ track, “Lost Cause.” I was hoping for one or two more, perhaps a mini-acoustic set, but he went right back into the noisy side of his catalog with “Loser” which brought the crowd to it’s feet. I was also hoping to hear some of the new stuff… He did play “Wow” but that was the only track he played from the upcoming ‘Colors’ LP… Overall I liked Beck, but at the end of the show, in the middle of “Where It’s At” he does the band intro’s which consisted of each musician playing a snippet of a song. I heard a little Gary Newman, Talking Heads and a big drum solo… then he starts back into “Where It’s At.” Ok, I get it, your band is talented, but Beck could have played a couple more songs rather than do the “band medley” thing. He only played 50 minutes, which is long for an opener, but I was left wanting more. Overall I was glad I saw Beck but was somewhat disappointed in the performance… Maybe if he comes back as a headliner.

Then, to a recording of the Waterboy’s tune “The Whole Of The Moon,” Larry Mullen, Jr came all the way out to the satellite stage, followed by the Edge, Adam Clayton and finally Bono. The energy in the stadium was palpable. They tore into “Sunday Bloody Sunday” followed by “New Year’s Day.” It was an eviscerating rock attack. The Edge’s guitar was loud and he was rocking his ass off. Bono’s vocals needed to be turned up a bit, but he rectified that after the band had returned to the main stage. From the satellite stage they followed up the two ‘War’ songs with two from ‘The Unforgettable Fire.’ The whole 4-song opening set was almost a historical journey of how they got to ‘The Joshua Tree.’ “Pride (In The Name of Love)” was, as you’d expect, spectacular. But it was the preceding “Bad,” a song I’ve always loved but never heard them play live before, that blew my mind. Before I knew it, yes, I was fucking weeping. Luckily I pulled myself together for “Pride.”

After “Pride” was over the band walked the long bridge to the main stage. It was a physical metaphor for their career… when ‘The Joshua Tree’ came out they literally crossed a bridge to superstardom. As they walked toward the main stage to the keyboard intro to “Where the Streets Have No Name” I got goose bumps. It was one of the highlights of the night…and yes a tear drop or two fell for me during that moment. The Edge was amazing. Larry Mullen Jr’s bedrock drumming and Adam Clayton’s bass are such a great engine for U2… Bono was at his most sincere self. He said early on, “Lets let everything else slip away for tonight, let’s enjoy an epic evening of rock and roll…” It certainly was. Although my friend Jean-Genie who was up in the nose-bleed seats said the sound was bad and she groused about the video behind them. It was great from where I was sitting.

After “Where the Streets…” naturally they proceeded to play the entire album, in it’s original sequence. It’s always dicey when a band chooses to perform an entire record as a set. Springsteen did a pretty good job with ‘The River’ but it was such a sprawling mess of a masterpiece it worked. I’ve seen the Cult do both ‘Love’ and ‘Electric’ and both were sensational. But of course, the Cult are a hard rock band so most songs on their albums are of “a piece,” if you will. I did see Motley Crue do the ‘Dr Feelgood’ album and, alas, it was awful. The pacing of an album is rarely set up for concert pacing.

The crowd stayed with U2 for the first half of ‘The Joshua Tree,’ the half with the hits. I’ve seen bands excite a crowd and I’ve seen a crowd’s energy elevate a band. Toward the second half of the album, around the time of “In God’s Country” the crowd’s energy started to flag. I don’t know if people just don’t turn records over any more, or they just listen for the hits. U2 was certainly holding up their end, delivering rocking versions of these songs. I was  lapping up all the side 2 stuff, it’s the stuff they never play. “Trip Through Your Wires” is one of the Rock Chick’s all time favorite songs, as it is mine. I know people who are really in to side 2 of ‘The Joshua Tree’ as much as some people fetishize side 2 of the Stones’ ‘Tattoo You,’ it’s that great, people… but alas, Kansas City just stood there. “Exit,” the next to last song rocked with a ferocity I had almost forgotten. It was a true highlight. “Mothers of the Disappeared” found Bono back out on the satellite stage, on his knees in supplication to a video image of, literally, the Mothers of the Disappeared, holding candles. It was moving, striking imagery.

After ‘The Joshua Tree’ was over, the band left the stage. The post-album set, or I guess in this case, the encore was a six song blast of rock and roll. They led off with two ‘All You Can’t Leave Behind’ gems, “Beautiful Day” and “Elevation,” which I hadn’t heard since that tour. Bono continued to deliver positive messages without being preachy at all. He’s a gifted man. And I love his lurch-jump, weird dance move he makes. It’s like a nervous tic. The band did take one brief shot at Trump in a video, but other than that U2 stayed positive and apolitical – “left, right, young, old, everyone is welcome at a U2 show!” Bono exclaimed.

The next track was a screaming, rocking version of “Vertigo.” That tune never gets old. I did zero research on the set list and yet I knew we’d hear that one. I was thrilled they actually did the new song, “You’re the Best Thing About Me,” which I sang loudly to my wife. Live, “Best Thing” really rocks. It translates very well in concert. The way the Edge is playing guitar at these shows bodes very well for the new album.

The final two tracks were from ‘Achtung Baby.’ “Ultraviolet Light (Light My Way)” was a highlight in that it was a deep album cut and totally unexpected. It was performed to a video backdrop of many of the strong women from history from Maya Angelou to Malala to Patti Smith. The message, let’s make history, HERstory… As the father of a daughter, I was moved. Finally, as you would expect, they ended with a beautiful crowd singalong for “One.” It was the perfect ending.

And with that, U2 disappeared into the night… As Bono promised, it was an “epic night of rock and roll.” And at last, thirty years later, I finally exorcised the demons created by a very bad decision on a cold, December Atlanta night. Buy the ticket folks, take the ride!

 

Concert Review: Depeche Mode, Denver, August 25th, 2017: Mind Blown!

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*photo taken by your intrepid blogger with his crappy phone, while standing behind the tallest man whose ever attended a concert, who was naturally sitting right in front of me

One of the first books I read, that wasn’t assigned to me by a high school or college teacher was Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. I don’t know if it was reading that book that led me to an absolute love of driving long distances or that it came to me naturally. I’m lucky in my marriage to the Rock Chick in many ways, but one of the things I love the most is that she too loves the open road. I was also very lucky that when she entered my life, she turned me on to many great bands that were outside my typical blues-rock-guitar construct. Depeche Mode is a great example of one those wonderful bands that the Rock Chick turned me on to. Depeche isn’t just a great band, the more I listen to them, the more I realize they’re also an important band…

When I read that they were touring, which they only seem to do every four years or so, in support of their fabulous new album ‘Spirit’ (reviewed previously, LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic ), I felt it was a big enough deal that I was ready to travel to see them if they skipped Kansas City. As it turned out, I was lucky enough they were hitting Denver, Colorado which is easily within driving range. When I approached the Rock Chick about the idea of driving out to see them, she embraced the idea whole-heartedly. So much so, that I didn’t even get to do any of the driving. I sat in the passenger seat and DJ’d. Well, on the way out there I DJ’d… on the way home Monday I was sleeping off what the medical profession calls a “hangover.”

As I mentioned earlier, since 1993’s ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion,’ Depeche have been on basically the same repeatable cycle. They record/release an album, tour and then take a year or two off for solo projects. They’re like the US election cycle in that each successive album comes out every four years. With gaps like that between albums, when they do tour, it’s kind of a big deal. I am so delighted I got a chance to see lead singer Dave Gahan, guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Martin Gore and keyboardist Andy Fletcher perform live. (Depeche also have a couple of additional musicians who tour with them, I don’t know if you’d call them “sidemen” as they also play in the studio with them… Christian Eigner plays drums and Peter Gordeno plays additional keyboards and bass guitar…) I actually can’t believe it’s taken me this long in my rock and roll career to see these guys. Of course they were always classified as “synth rock” or “alternative” and it took me a while to discover their deep catalog.

This was a great concert. Any more, when I see a more mature act, who’ve been around for twenty or thirty years, I sometimes just see a greatest hits show. There’s nothing wrong with that but when a band of the stature of Depeche has put out a masterful album like ‘Spirit’ I go into the show hoping to hear quite a bit of the new album – you know, like it was in the old days when bands wanted you to hear the new stuff…. I’m starting to sound like my dad here…. I’m afraid I’m going to start yelling at kids to get off my lawn, but I digress. I needn’t worry about Depeche Mode. To my delight, they played almost half the songs from ‘Spirit.’

When the lights went down, and the enormous video screen behind the band lit up, a wild, colorful display, the band took the stage to a recording of The Beatles’ “Revolution.” When the recording stopped the band launched into one of the great new tracks from ‘Spirit,’ “Going Backwards” which was just a great opening. The band started the song and suddenly I saw a lone silhouette behind the band, in front of the video screen on a hidden walkway… Dave Gahan was in the room, people! What a great entrance! “Going Backwards” was followed by another new ‘Spirit’ song, “So Much Love.” I was so happy that they led off with two new songs. I realized any worry that they’d gloss over the new stuff quickly dissipated.

After that opening duo of songs, they played a great version of “Barrel of a Gun” and then went right into “A Pain That I’m Used To.” ‘Spirit’ can certainly be read as a commentary on the current political conditions in the world. And while Depeche has never been explicitly political, like say, Roger Waters, one could interpret the song selection, like “Corrupt,” or “Everything Counts” as an inspired selection that by itself comments on the current zeitgeist in the world, and especially America. There were so many great moments. “Where’s the Revolution,” the first single from ‘Spirit’ was especially rousing. “Never Let Me Down Again” and “Wrong” were both inspired performances.

The stage, other than the giant video screen behind the band, was fairly spartan. There were two synthesizer stands where Andy Fletcher and Peter Gordeno both stood (Fletcher to the right, Gordeno to the left as you face the stage). There was a third synth stand that they’d pull out when Martin Gore switched from guitar to keyboards. It looked like what I would imagine Kraftwerk’s stage would have looked like in the 70s. Gordeno would occasionally come down and play bass guitar for a song or two, the guy is like a great utility infielder. In the middle of the stage was Christian Eigner’s drum kit… Eigner may be the unsung hero of the show – his drumming was loud and powerful. It really was a great engine that drove the songs into harder, more rocking arrangements. He’s a strong drummer, something every band should have.

Martin Gore was to the left side of the stage and as I mentioned, he alternated between guitar and keyboards. I had a fucking behemoth standing in front of me, so it was hard for me to see how Gore was playing guitar. The guy makes playing look so effortless, yet puts out so much great guitar sound, a bit like the Edge. I don’t think he uses a pic, and I couldn’t see if he was using a bunch of effects pedals. It looks like he’s plucking the strings with just his thumb and forefinger but that can’t be right, can it? He plays a beautiful selection of guitars, including a gorgeous Gretsch White Falcon. I still don’t know how he gets that sound. He took lead vocals on several songs. “Question of Lust” was actually just him singing to the piano accompaniment of Gordeno. It was a lovely song and Gore seemed almost fragile in his delivery. I was worried it would be like when Keith Richards sings with the Stones and everyone would head to the bathroom. Not so when Gore sings, the fan base, and the Pepsi Center was full, was totally embracing of Gore. Everyone loved his lead vocal. From “Question of Lust” they brought the band back and Gore sang “Home” which may be my favorite track with his lead vocals. He’s a talented man.

There are not many people who I would personally describe as a Rock Star. Dave Gahan is on that short list. I’ve always loved his voice, and believe me, his voice was great and strong during the show. Seeing him live, with his charisma on full display was something else. The guy was all over the stage, waving his arms, getting the crowd to clap their hands. He was reaching into the crowd and shaking hands, pointing to people in the stands. He revved the crowd up like few front men know how to do any more. He could belt out the rockier stuff and still capture the nuance of some of the mellower tunes. There was a ramp out into the crowd, to the right side of the stage, where my seat was, and he kept walking down there and the crowd would go nuts. He made the giant arena feel like an intimate club. And talk about “moves like Jagger…” The guy danced, clapped and shook his ass jokingly at the crowd. The Rock Chick looked at me at one point and said, “The Brits really know how to do the front man thing better, in ways American bands just don’t get…” True that, honey. My only complaint is that other than the occasional “thank you” Gahan really didn’t say anything to the crowd. Neither did Gore for that matter… not that musicians have to speak during a show, but I’d have liked a “good evening Denver…” but that’s probably just me.

The crowd was at a fevered pitch as the band left the stage after the main set. Depeche’s music is often described as “dark,” and I’d agree with that (as would likely some of the tattoo’d, goth, provocatively dressed ladies in attendance at the show) but they delivered the music with such a strong sense of joy, it’s hard not to hear the hope and the defiance in this music too. For the encore, Gore came out and did another voice with piano only version of “Somebody” and despite it being a mellow tune the crowd went nuts. Gahan returned and sang “Walking In My Shoes” which was one of my favorite performances. The next song was the only cover of the night. The band did Bowie’s “Heroes” which was the song Dave Gahan sang at an open mic night that landed him in Depeche Mode in the first place. I just love that story. You can draw a pretty straight line from Bowie and his influence to Depeche Mode, just like you can draw a line from Depeche to say, Arcade Fire. It was such a nice tribute, I hope some version of that song gets released.

They finished with an almost industrial, hard rock version of “I Feel You” that was so strong it almost sounded like they were channeling Nine Inch Nails. They wrapped the evening with “Personal Jesus,” which was perfect. And with that, a wonderful two hour and fifteen minute show had come to a close. I’d been on my feet dancing behind a giant for over two hours but I felt great.

The principal members of Depeche have been through so much in their history: Martin had issues with alcoholism and seizures; Fletcher had to drop out of a tour for a depression he described as “mental instability”; Gahan of course, overcame heroin addiction so bad he actually died for a few minutes like Nikki Sixx… To see them now delivering such a forceful, joyful evening of rock and roll is a real treasure. If you’re lucky enough to be in a city that they’re playing, buy the ticket. I must admit I’m still baffled they chose to play Salt Lake City, not that there’s anything wrong with SLC, and not play Kansas City, but hey, I love the road too…

Cheers!

Concert Review: Lucinda Williams, Kansas City, August, 2, 2017

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*Photo taken at Knucklehead’s Saloon By Your Intrepid Blogger

I had a buddy who was texting me from Denver last night. He was at Mile High Stadium, home of the dreaded Denver Broncos, watching the power and the majesty that is Guns N Roses. I saw that show about a year ago and man did I love it (Concert Review: Guns n Roses, Kansas City, 29Jun16: The Power & The Glory). Of course we all love GnR here at B&V. It was great to finally get to see them live for the first time last year, although I must admit I’d have liked to see Izzy Stradlin with the band. Izzy never gets the credit he deserves. His rhythm guitar playing is some of the best. I saw Izzy playing in a bar once with my friend Stormin’ and he was amazing. Judging from the setlist, my Denver pal saw one hell of a show last night. Although I think he was bummed they played “Live And Let Die” instead of the obscure “Ain’t It Fun.” Yeah, I don’t understand why he’d want to hear a Dead Boys’ cover vs the McCartney tune either… But, to each, their own.

Meanwhile, one very long state away, I was sitting in the bleachers at a dive bar in Kansas City’s East Bottoms neighborhood. Nestled under an underpass and right next to active train tracks (I’m not kidding, I think I counted 4 trains go by during the show) Knucklehead’s Saloon has become KC’s premier spot for live music. In the old days, The Grand Emporium was the spot to hear live blues. They also had a great reggae night, every Wednesday (I think). I saw a band called the Bone Daddy’s there, it was great reggae… the ladies went nuts when they played, but I digress. Greats like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Koko Taylor all played the Grand Emporium (I missed the former, saw the latter). Alas, it’s now in the mist of memory but thankfully Knucklehead’s opened up and has taken the Grand Em’s place as the seat of blues music in town.

Last night I convened with several hundred other people to hear some live music the way God intended it, outside under the stars. And while it was not the enormous spectacle of GnR, Lucinda Williams was powerful and majestic in her own right. Most of the time, the best shows are in small bars and halls instead of stadiums. She was backed by a simple three piece band consisting of a great lead guitarist, a bass player and a drummer. Lucinda herself played acoustic guitar for most the night and some rhythm electric. I was surprised she didn’t have a keyboard player but her band really brought the sound, they didn’t need one. The guitarist was particularly muscular in his playing. I loved the red Gretsch he played on a number of tunes.

I guess Lucinda’s music could best be described as “roots” music. It’s bluesy, with a dash of country mixed in. At the heart of her music is that fabulous voice. She barely opens her mouth when she sings. She makes it look effortless and yet she belts these tunes out and I’m sure the conductors on the trains could hear her. To describe her singing as powerful is an understatement. And yet, she never misses the nuance in her songs. She could go from a bluesy rocker to a ballad and it all sounded great.

By the fourth song, “Drunken Angel,” one of my all time favorites, Lucinda had the enthusiastic crowd in the palm of her hand. It was a great version of a great song. She announced the song, “Burning Bridges,” from her LP ‘Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone’ as being about a guitar player who had left her band in a bad way. I don’t think she said his name, but it was clear from the lyrics she was not pleased by his leaving. To underscore her point, her current guitar player, melted the faces off those of us in the crowd with some of the best solo’ing of the night. Don’t cross Lucinda, folks.

One of the most poignant songs of the night was “Memphis Pearl,” from ‘Sweet Old World.’ Lucinda intro’d the song with a story about seeing a homeless woman when she first moved to LA, going through trash bins looking for food. She said she tried to imagine that woman’s story and that’s where the song came from. Very moving stuff. She featured several songs from ‘Sweet Old World’ which she has apparently just recut in the studio for September release. “Six Blocks Away” from that album was another highlight.

I have to admit, broad smiles crossed the faces of both the Rock Chick and I, when mid-set Lucinda broke into “Lake Charles.” I’ve always loved that one. When I woke up this morning, that was the song running through my head. I even belted out the chorus, and with my sleep-ragged voice, I felt I nailed it but the Rock Chick merely laughed at me. She also played a great tune I thought was a Tom Petty song, “Changed the Locks,” but apparently it’s a Lucinda song. Petty only covered it.

Toward’s the end of the main set she turned it up with a raucous version of “Righteously,” followed by the rocker “Honey Bee,” one of her dirtiest of songs… She smiled at one point in the show and said, “This is just who I am folks, this is what I do. This is how I am when I’m comfortable and y’all are making me real comfortable.” She also went on to say it was the artist’s duty to comment on social unrest as she noted that there were people in the streets, protestors, and scenes she hadn’t seen since Vietnam. It didn’t come off as preachy, it was just down home wisdom.

She started off her encore with ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and that was a real unexpected treat. She also covered the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and her and her band nailed it. It was quite a bit different than the Stones’ version, but hey, I dug her interpretation. She also played my friend Jeanne’s favorite tune, “Joy,” during the encore and it brought the house down.

Live music is so essential to life. Especially when practiced by a true master like Lucinda Williams. Do yourself a favor and try and get out and see her. As the Rock Chick said to me, when the band left the stage and the house lights came up, “That was a great concert.” Lucinda may be getting older, but like the fine wine she was drinking on stage, she’s just getting better.

 

 

U2’s Ten Greatest Non Album Tracks & 5 Best Covers, In Honor of Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary

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Excitement is brewing here at the B&V Labs in anticipation of U2’s tour to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of their landmark album, ‘The Joshua Tree,’ swinging through town. I can’t believe it’s been thirty years since that album came out. When it was released in March of 1987, I was near the end of my time at university. I had purchased ‘War’ on vinyl and had ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ on, of all things, cassette. Mistakes were made, people, mistakes were made. I thought cassettes would be around longer than vinyl and I could play them in my car. I was, naturally, mistaken. I can remember laying on the floor of my room at my parent’s house, on spring break, listening to my brother’s cassette copy of ‘The Joshua Tree’ on a Sony Walkman and mistakenly thinking, after only 1 low-fi listen, that there was nothing as big and catchy as “Pride (In The Name of Love).” Obviously, subsequent listens cleared up that misconception. Of course the night I first listened to my brother’s cassette, I believe there had been some beer consumed which likely clouded my judgment.

By the fall of 1987 I had gone to work for my corporate overlords, and in their wisdom they sent me to live in Ft Smith, Arkansas. I consider those years, my time in exile. I was banished from civilization the way Dante was kicked out of Florence. Instead of turning to writing epic poetry, I turned to rock n roll. It was in exile that I met my dear friend Arkansas Joel. He was an even bigger U2 fanatic than I was. By that fall I had ‘The Joshua Tree’ on vinyl and it was in high, high rotation. And yes, I taped it so I could listen to it in my car. We all did that in those days. The sound of cassettes was always inferior to vinyl…

As fate would have it, Joel and I found ourselves in Atlanta, where all the corporate training was done, at the same time. It just so happened that the ‘Joshua Tree’ tour was in Atlanta while both Joel and I were there. When he found out, Joel sought me out on the campus and said, “We’ve gotta see this show… we can scalp some tickets.” At the time, I was enamored with one of my classmates, a young woman whose parents had migrated from Thailand to Louisiana. She was full blooded Thai but spoke with a sugar-sweet, southern accent. What can I say, I was smitten. The class I was in was having a party that night, at this young lady and her roommates’ place. And, sadly, like Robin Williams’ character in Good Will Hunting, I just shook my head at Joel and said, “I’ve got to go see about a girl…” Mistakes were made, people, mistakes were made. Joel frowned, he can be hostile at times, and said, “This will be a mistake you will regret for the rest of your life…” But, he knew I’d made up my mind. Chicks before guitar licks? The shame, the shame.

Naturally, Joel was right. The U2 show that night was spectacular. U2, wearing disguises, actually opened up for their opening act, and played country music. It wasn’t until they broke into one of the country songs from the early set that Joel realized it had been them all along. That’s a story you can tell your grandkids. And naturally, the Louisiana-Thai woman has long since left me behind. In my defense we did date for a year, but those records are sealed until twenty-five years after everyone who was involved is dead…

So while I missed it the first time around, I am going to see the U2 30th Anniversary ‘Joshua Tree’ tour come hell or high-water. Besides, the Rock Chick would never forgive me if we didn’t attend. Like Arkansas Joel, she’s kind of a U2 fanatic. It was their LP, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ that we bonded over when we first started dating. As my buddy Steve likes to say, “U2 is the soundtrack of my life, man.” Me too, Steve, me too.

To commemorate this auspicious date, ‘The Joshua Tree’ turning 30, I put together a short list of their best deep tracks. Most of these songs aren’t on their proper albums. Some have come out on greatest hits/b-side collections. Some of these tracks came out on extended anniversary editions of older albums. These are 10 choice deep cuts that every U2 fan should own… After that I put a brief list together of their best cover songs. Seek these tunes out… Learn them, love them. And never, never choose a girl or boy over a concert… concert memories  last, relationships, well….

  1. “Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)”; ‘The Joshua Tree (Deluxe Edition)’ – This great outtake from ‘The Joshua Tree’ is an homage of sorts to Patti Smith. It’s of similar quality to all the stuff they put out on the original ‘Joshua Tree’ album.
  2. “Miss Sarajevo”; ‘The Best of 1990-2000’ – This was originally from a side project that U2 called The Passengers, where they invited other musicians to collaborate. Pavarotti’s vocal here is epic. Believe it or not, George Michael does a great cover of this record, a sentence I never thought I’d type.
  3. “The Ground Beneath Her Feet”‘ ‘The Complete U2’ – A great, forgotten track from a forgotten soundtrack…
  4. “Lady With the Spinning Head (UV1)”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides and Bonus Tracks’ – I have to wonder how this song missed the cut for ‘Achtung Baby.’ There are several versions of this song out there, make sure you get the one off this album.
  5. “Blow Your House Down”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – I think they started work on this during the sessions for ‘Rattle and Hum.’ This is a great rocking tune. I turned the Rock Chick onto this one over the weekend and it’s in high rotation here at the house.
  6. “Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad”; ‘The Complete U2’ – When ‘The Joshua Tree’ hit number 1 on the album charts, Edge and Bono went to see Sinatra in Vegas. He announced that they were in the audience, along with the fact they’d just topped the album charts. He then said, in his characteristic way, “Well, I don’t what they’re spending their money on, but you can tell it’s not their clothes.” I love Old Blue Eyes. Purportedly, they wrote this song specifically for Frank. Sadly, he never got around to recording it.
  7. “Fast Cars”; ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’ – This was a bonus track on the rocking 2002 album. If you didn’t get the bonus edition of the album, go back and pick up this track.
  8. “Ordinary Love”; ‘Mandela – Long Walk To Freedom (Soundtrack)’ – Rolling Stone magazine just did a “top 50” list of U2 songs. Inexplicably this soaring ballad was left off the list.
  9. “Invisible (RED) Edit Version”; single – They only released this song as a hidden track on the disappointing ‘Songs of Innocence.’ If you can still find this version, snap it up.
  10. “Lucifer’s Hands”; ‘Songs of Innocence+’ – After the debacle of the Apple release of this album, they released the ‘+’ which featured some extra tracks and some acoustic versions of songs from the album. This song was better than most of the stuff from the actual album.

And just for fun, kids, I thought I’d provide the Top 5 U2 Cover songs. I love U2, but I really love it when they do cover tunes. They seem to relax more when they’re covering other people’s music. They’ve got a bunch of good ones, but these are the B&V favorites…

  1. “All Along the Watchtower”; ‘Rattle And Hum’ – They tear into this Dylan cover. Sure, Hendrix’s version is definitive, but this is a great version…”three chords and the truth” baby!
  2. “Dancing Barefoot”; ‘B-Sides 1990-2000’ – Great Patti Smith cover. Great guitar work from Edge.
  3. “Night and Day”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – U2 turning Cole Porter upside down.
  4. “Paint It Black”; “Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – Well, I love the Stones and “Paint It Black” is a great song. These guys do it proud.
  5. “Satellite Of Love”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – I finally did see U2, with Arkansas Joel, but it wasn’t until the Zoo TV tour. And, to my amazement they did this Lou Reed song live that night. This is the studio version but it’s great too!

Enjoy! I hope all of you get to see U2 on this upcoming tour. It’ll certainly be fun for those of us who missed it 30 years ago because we were, well, stupid.