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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

 

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

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*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

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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?

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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

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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

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*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

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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!

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.