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!

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iPod Playlist: B&V Murder And Mayhem Songs, Inspired By the Rock Chick

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As those of you who are familiar with BourbonAndVinyl know, I’m always looking for an excuse to cull through my vast musical collection and put together a playlist. My dear, dear, late friend Nancy once brought over a book of playlist ideas and we poured over it for hours while drinking martinis. I miss that woman dearly. That book is what gave me the idea for thematic playlists. I used to make my own “greatest hits” tapes for certain artists. Even as far back as my earliest vinyl and cassette days I was always putting together the dreaded mix tapes. Arkansas Joel, who always had a great car stereo but no records, used to request tapes of my music but that was a long time ago. My wife, the Rock Chick, can put together the best playlists, either by an artist or just tunes that go well together. She has a great Van Halen mix, all Roth of course. I’m not as skilled as she is in the art of the playlist.

However, as with most things I write or do, the Rock Chick is my muse. She inspires me in ways I didn’t know were possible. Lately, I’ve been a little worried about her. My Corporate Overlords have me traveling so much it’s been exhausting. When the road finally bends back towards home, I usually return to find the Rock Chick watching the Investigation Discovery Channel. She seems addicted to shows about what I’ve nicknamed, “murder and mayhem.” She loves to recount the countless stories of people who have committed murder. I think she missed her calling and should have looked into a career in forensic science. Vanity Fair Confidential, Dateline (with that pretentious Keith Morrison) and 20/20 reruns on OWN are in high rotation on our TV. She recounts these murder stories with great enthusiasm… almost too much enthusiasm. Luckily we have a cat that I use as a food taster just in case the Rock Chick gets any ideas about antifreeze cocktails.

I started musing on all this murder and mayhem the other night. I realized there are some great classic rock tunes about killing and murder and what not. Using the Rock Chick’s musical taste as my guide, I narrowed my playlist idea down to the following twenty-five songs. Sure, there are other tunes that would fit… Lou Reed has a great song called “The Gun” that nobody but me has heard but unfortunately the Rock Chick agrees with my friend Doug who says, “Every punk rocker knows Lou Reed is a dick.” And yes, I could have just filled up my playlist with Tupac and Biggy songs where they threaten each other, but this is a blog dedicated to the joys of classic rock and roll, not hip hop.

I must admit, post Kentucky Derby Day, I almost wish someone would kill me. The curse of bourbon is upon me.  Perhaps a little hair of the dog and these fine 25 rock tunes about murder might cure what ails me… By the way, I will admit I was as surprised as anyone that Green Day had so many murder and mayhem tunes.

  1. Rage Against The Macine, “Killing In The Name” – Yes, this song has broader, geopolitical ramifications but killing is killing.
  2. The Power Station, “Murderess” – Great, deep track from Robert Palmer, drummer Tony Thompson and a couple of dudes from Duran Duran. I’m hoping my wife never becomes the title character.
  3. The Kills, “Doing It To Death” – Not a bad way to go…
  4. The White Stripes, “Death Letter” – Jack White owns this old blues tune for me. Mellencamp did a pretty good version of this one too.
  5. Green Day, “Murder City” – “Desperate but not hopeless.”
  6. AC/DC, “Night Prowler” – Was anyone in rock and roll more menacing as a singer than Bon Scott when he turned nasty?
  7. Duran Duran, “View To a Kill” – I’m not a huge Duran fan, but I always liked this one and it’s a Rock Chick favorite. I think I like it so much because it was used in that James Bond film… I love James Bond films, but who doesn’t?
  8. The Clash, “Somebody Got Murdered” – Ph D courses could be taught about the Clash’s brilliant but flawed album ‘Sandinista!’
  9. Motley Crue, “Looks That Kill” – This song certainly describes the Rock Chick…
  10. Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer” – Is it that he’s singing in French that makes it creepy or is David Byrne just creepy by definition?
  11. The Police, “Murder By Numbers” – Not a Rock Chick favorite, but I had to have this song on the list.
  12. Queen, “Killer Queen” – The loss of Freddie Mercury is still felt, people.
  13. Echo And The Bunnymen, “The Killing Moon” – What I’ve gathered from all of these murder shows is that jealousy and spouses and murder are all tied up together. This is a great song about jealousy.
  14. The Rolling Stones, “Midnight Rambler” – The Rock Chick didn’t realize this was about a murderer. Killer slide guitar by Mick Taylor who had just joined the band.
  15. Audioslave, “Sound of a Gun” – “Running from the sound of a gun, til I’m weary.”
  16. Green Day, “Bang Bang” – Harrowing story told from the viewpoint of a mass shooter. Green Day is as relevant as ever.
  17. Mick Jagger, “Gun” – Jagger’s solo work always gets slagged but ‘Goddess In The Doorway’ was a killer record and this is a great cut. “Why don’t you just get a gun and shoot it through this heart of mine…” I should have entitled this playlist “Murder, Mayhem and Marriage.”
  18. U2, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” – A great U2 track that I believe was used in a Batman film. Don’t hold that against it.
  19. Green Day, “Kill the DJ” – Who doesn’t want to kill the DJ? Live music, not DJ’s, make the world go around.
  20. Alice In Chains, “Killer Is Me” – I prefer the live version on the unplugged LP because you hear Layne Staley say at the end, “I could hug you all, but I won’t.” Layne probably could have used a hug. Tragic story, or in the vernacular of today, #Sad.
  21. Depeche Mode, “Barrel of a Gun” – You knew these dark bastards would have to be on here. I can’t wait to see them on tour this year.
  22. Social Distortion, “Machine Gun Blues” – Mike Ness reimagining Social Distortion as Pretty Boy Floyd’s old time-y gangsters on a shooting spree. Lots of bullets fly.
  23. Bruce Springsteen, “Murder Incorporated” – One of Springsteen’s most rocking tunes with a fabulous guitar solo and naturally a great Clarence Clemons sax solo. All Hail the mighty Big Man!
  24. AC/DC, “Big Gun” – If you’re going to kill someone, bring a big gun. Not as menacing as Bon Scott’s tune, but a great rock tune none the less.
  25. Rage Against the Machine, “How I Could Just Kill A Man” – We leave where we came in, with Rage. Tom Morello uses his guitar like a machine gun. What’s not to love on this great tune.

If you come home and your spouse/significant other is watching shows about murder, turn them toward the stereo. There’s nothing good on TV…

The BourbonAndVinyl List of Rock’s Best “Side Projects”

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In the early days of rock and roll, listeners weren’t very sophisticated. As a musician it was easy to get pigeon-holed… you were either in a band or you were a solo artist. You were either Bob Dylan, all alone or The Beatles, four lads from Liverpool. If an artist in a band put out a solo album the general consensus was that the band was breaking up. You were either on the bus or the bus was coming after you…

The first artist I can remember who defied that paradigm was Rod Stewart. After he left the Jeff Beck Group to go solo, quickly followed by Ronnie Wood, he didn’t stay solo very long. He joined The Faces with Ronnie. But then he did something audacious that no one had never done before… he continued his solo career. He’d release a solo album and then a Faces album every year. Back and forth, back and forth. Fans, in the early 70s were clearly confused. Some concert venues went so far as to bill the Faces as “Rod Stewart and The Faces,” like the Faces were Stewart’s version of Wings… his back up band. That probably got a little awkward in the dressing room. There were always accusations from the band that Rod was keeping his best material for his solo albums. I think  we all know where that led. And likely, dividing his time between projects diluted the finished product on one end…

These days doing solo stuff outside the setting of your established band is pretty much expected. It’s not the death knell of a band when the lead singer or the guitar player branch out and do something solo. Well, unless we’re talking about Aerosmith and Steven Tyler who suddenly turns into the village idiot and decides to promote “his own brand” vs the band, but again that ain’t normal. All of this is well and good with me, artists should express themselves as they wish. But it occurred to me the other day, there is a third category outside of band projects and solo projects… the infamous “side project.” Many times, instead of going full-on solo, a band member will do a one-off project with other musicians. Maybe it’s the artist’s attempt to stick his toe into the solo realm. Or maybe it’s just a musical vacation away from the usual mates in the band to work with some other friends or just some new, different musicians to test the creative boundaries. Think of it as a vacation only with instruments. I’m not talking about a guest shot on someone else’s album, I’m talking about a full on diversion from one’s career to do something else. I don’t think anybody has really celebrated the best of these, so after some bourbon and a lot of thought.. here are the best Rock N Roll Side Projects…

  1. The Traveling Wilbury’s – George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty all between albums convene at Lynne’s house and end up striking pay dirt with Vol. 1. After Orbison’s death they actually did a second album, but the second side project record is usually not as good as the first one.
  2. The Notting Hillbillies – Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits gets together with some old mates and does the underrated, mellow strummer, “Missing…and Presumed Having a Good Time.” “Your Own Sweet Way” was the stand out, but don’t under-estimate the charm of the other guys in the band’s turns on lead vocal.
  3. Mad Season, ‘Above’ – Mike McCready, the guitarist from Pearl Jam, says he got together with Layne Staley (among others) to show Layne that you could create music while sober. This record is murky but “River of Deceit” is one of Staley’s greatest vocals.
  4. Chickenfoot – Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, Joe Satriani, & Chad Smith got together for not just one LP, but 2, much like the Traveling Wilbury’s. I actually thought both of these records were great, but the second record, named Vol 3, just never caught on…
  5. Power Station – Robert Palmer took a break from his solo career to get together with a couple members of Duran Duran and the incredible Tony Thompson on drums as a lark to record the old T Rex song, “Bang A Gong.” Things got rolling in the studio and they knocked out an entire LP. I love, love “Some Like It Hot,” with the immortal line, “She wants to multiply, are you gonna do it?” Unfortunately this led the lead singer of Duran Duran, Simon Le Bon, to do the misguided Arcadia project… Oh, well. Palmer refused to tour behind the smash hit and went back to his solo career. That’s why it’s called a side-project, people.
  6. The Hindu Love Gods – Warren Zevon backed by REM. REM had been tapped as Warren’s backing band on the superb ‘Sentimental Hygiene.’ I’m not sure why but the band (sans Michael Stipe) went back into the studio with Zevon and punched out this LP of covers as diverse as Hank Williams, Muddy Waters and of all things, “Raspberry Beret” by Prince. They sure sound like they’re having a great time. It’s relaxed and awesome. Highly recommend this LP.
  7. Tin Machine – David Bowie decides to chuck the solo career for the anonymity of a band project. They actually did two albums, but the first one is the gem. “Under the God” is a great song, but check out their electrified cover of Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.” Pretty amazing stuff.
  8. Stills/Young Band, ‘Long May You Run’ – Originally an attempted CSNY reunion, early in the sessions Crosby and Nash exited. Since the CN part of the equation had done well with their collaboration LPs, it only seemed natural that the SY part would follow suit. Critics decried this album for a lack of songwriting, but my college roomie Drew turned me onto this superb LP and I love it. The title track is great but so is Stills’ ode to scuba diving “Black Coral.” Recorded in Miami, this is like a much, much cooler Buffet album. Young split early in the tour for this album to get back to solo records… too bad. I love these two collaborating.
  9. The Little Willies – Norah Jones doing country covers and originals with a bunch of New York buddies of hers. They’ve done two full LPs, and contrary to the rule, they both kick ass. But as usual, I have to say, Norah could sing the phone book and I’d listen in… But be aware, the other guy sing selected tracks too. I have to admit I love the humorous song “Lou Reed.”
  10. The Foxboro Hottubs – Green Day in disguise. On this superb LP, they’re doing punky, surf-rock tunes while taking a break from doing rock operas. This is a great gem of a record.
  11. Temple of the Dog – Chris Cornell of Soundgarden uniting with most of Pearl Jam for a tribute LP for the former lead singer of Mother Lovebone, Andrew Wood. I love this record. These guys actually just reunited for a short series of concerts on the coasts. I’m hoping for a live LP document of those shows.
  12. Mudcrutch – Tom Petty and several Heartbreakers reunite with other original members of Mudcrutch as Petty explores his first pre-Heartbreakers band. They’ve done two full LPs, and again, unlike the normal rule, both kick ass. Petty is more laid back and jammy with Mudcrutch. These are must have LPs for any fans of Petty’s.
  13. The Raconteurs – Jack White’s first side project outside of The White Stripes, followed shortly by the Dead Weather project. I prefer the Raconteurs. It doesn’t matter what Jack White does, it’s typically brilliant. I actually like the second LP they did better than the first. Check out the epic “Carolina Drama.”
  14. The Firemen – Paul McCartney’s fabulous side project with electronica producer Youth. They’d done a full-electronica album prior to “Electric Arguments” but “Arguments” is the record to buy. Youth told McCartney, “I want chords and vocals this time” and McCartney delivered. Paul always seems to come alive when alleviated from the pressure of the McCartney name… This album brings out the best of McCartney’s experimental side. Weird, quirky – yes. Excellent, yes.
  15. The New Barbarians – Ronnie Wood needed a backing band after his wonderful solo LP, “I’ve Got My Own Album To Do,” and Keith Richards volunteered to go out on the road with him. I think they actually did two tours, but I’m not positive. There’s a limit to even my knowledge… They never actually released anything, but how much fun would this have been to see? Lots of white powder consumed on this tour… I think they finally did a live LP years later…

This list isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list but these are some of the greatest “side-projects” done by some of the greatest musicians of all time. You’ve got a couple of Beatles and a couple of Stones on the list, so it can’t be half bad! Do a little spelunking and chances are if you like a band their members have done something creative on the side! Look outside the box and you may just be rewarded!

Cheers!

 

 

 

LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic

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It’s early, but the album of the year may have come out on St Patrick’s Day this year… namely, Depeche Mode’s new amazing album, ‘Spirit.’ I’ve waited to post this review because I was so blown away I wanted to spend a good long time with this record to make sure I wasn’t overstating that… I am not.

During the 80’s and 90’s I was still focused on more traditional classic rock. I was into blues rock, heavy metal and hard rock (well, and Fleetwood Mac, blame Stevie Nicks). Sure, in the 90’s I stretched out to grunge, punk and “alternative rock,” but it was from the same school of music. Dark, synth-rock with songs containing themes that seemed to indicate behaving very badly with drugs or a lover could be deeply seductive and alluring hadn’t punctured my consciousness quite yet. I don’t know, maybe I’m a late bloomer….Heaven knows, I was familiar with that ethos, but those records are sealed. With that backdrop, I will admit I wasn’t that into Depche Mode. I knew who they were, a few tracks had penetrated my more “traditionalist” rock bubble, “I Feel You,” or “Personal Jesus.” Most likely the stuff that had distinctive videos were the songs I was familiar with.

All that changed when the Rock Chick entered my life. Depeche was always a favorite of hers. She was slow to turn me onto them, telling me one time, “you have to be in the right mood for Depeche…” Maybe she just thought I wasn’t ready yet… I was immediately pulled into Depeche by the seductive voice of Dave Gahan, the group’s front man and lead singer. However, just as seductive and alluring were the musical soundscapes guitarist/songwriter Martin Gore created. The 1990 LP ‘Violator’ is largely seen as their “magnum opus,” their creative high point. I will say, the latter half of these guys career has been more fruitful than most bands with half their lifespan. Their latter work is one of the reasons I started B&V.

In this millennium, 2001’s ‘Exciter’ was a fantastic record, almost on par with ‘Violator.’ While their ’05 LP ‘Playing the Angel’ wasn’t as good, it contained one of my all time favorites songs (that’s songs, not just Depeche Mode songs) “Precious.” That song never gets old. I enjoyed ‘Songs of the Universe’ but was really into ‘Delta Machine’ which introduced a more bluesy element to their music, especially Martin Gore’s guitar sound. Martin doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a guitarist. His playing is very atmospheric, almost like U2’s the Edge. Needless to say, excitement was running high when I heard they would be returning in 2017 with this new LP ‘Spirit.’ It will become cliche, I think, in most reviews to say that ‘Spirit’ is “the best DM album since ‘Violator.'” In my opinion ‘Spirit’ may be just as good as ‘Violator’ which is pretty amazing for a group this far in.

We live in very troubled political times, from Trump in the US to Brexit to Nationalist movements across Europe. I wondered if, like the Sixties which were tremendously turbulent, music and art would incorporate that unrest. I don’t have to wonder about that any more. ‘Spirit’ is nothing if not a political broadside. The turbulence in the world seems to have really inspired Depeche. Although, this is not a totally political record. Don’t be fooled, there are still some great, rocky, sexy tunes.

The first 1/3 of the album is a fantastic, political statement. “We’re Going Backwards,” followed by “Where’s the Revolution” set the tone right off the bat. Both songs have an almost martial feeling, like you could turn it up and march in the streets to the music. Yes, indeed there will be dancing at this Revolution. “The Worst Crime” could be interpreted as an indictment of those of us out there who didn’t get involved in the political process and allowed some of this unprecedented shit to happen. “Scum” is a great guitar/distorted challenge, “Pull the trigger” growls Gahan in a distorted voice. It’s a great song. “Eternal” reads to me like a father promising a son to protect and love him forever, no matter what comes next… or maybe he’s talking to a lover. The point’s the same, we need to stick together. “Cover Me” is another great song that builds and builds. When, in “Cover Me,” Gahan sings, “We better take cover, will you cover me…” it sends chills up my spine.

“You Move” is just a great Depeche song that’ll get you moving… It drops the political themes and gets you up on your feet. “Poison Heart” is a great upbeat break-up song, if there is such a thing. “So Much Love” can be seen as defiance from the downtrodden, “you can’t shake me, you can despise me,” or just a statement of hope, “there is so much love in me…” The track near the end, “Poorman” picks up the political and the personal again, with the lyrics “Corporations get the breaks, keeping almost everything they make,” but makes it personal, when pointing out the Poorman of the title, “he’s on the street, laying in the snow and sleet.”

This is heady, politics mixed with personal, music. There are so many layers lyrically and musically. It’s truly a work of brilliance. The political themes of the record come off with an almost joyful defiance. The only songs where I truly hear despair, or perhaps a flagging of hope, are “Eternal” and the final track, “Fail.” I look at those songs as almost a warning to not give up the fight.

When most people think of music like this they think of Dylan with an acoustic guitar and searing harmonica. This couldn’t be farther than that. It still has the smart, thought provoking lyrics but with that great Depeche template of moody guitars and swelling synths. I can’t say enough about the interplay of Gahan’s beautiful voice and Martin Gore’s atmospheric guitar playing. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention keyboardist extraordinaire Andrew Fletcher.

I was somewhat surprised to hear some of these dark political themes on a Depeche album… but when I think about their history of dark music with heavy themes, maybe this shouldn’t have been such a surprised. Maybe the darkness in the world just finally caught up with Depeche Mode.

This is a very strong recommendation to buy this record immediately. Play it loud, groove to the music but be sure to listen closely to the lyrics…

It’s a dark ride out there folks. Stick together and take care of each other… “The train is coming, so get on board…”

Depeche Mode: “Where’s The Revolution,” The First Single From ‘Spirit’

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 “Who’s making your decisions, you or your religion, Your government, your country, you patriotic junkies” – “Where’s The Revolution” Depeche Mode

Finally a new album in 2017 I can get excited about, Depeche Mode’s upcoming March 17th release, ‘Spirit.’ I won’t lie, I was beginning to think no interesting music was going to be released this year. In my defense, it’s been pretty grim around here this year…

It was the Rock Chick who turned me onto Depeche Mode, like so many other bands. She really has phenomenal musical tastes. I was wandering the house one Saturday, early in the marriage, indentured like my step daughter, to clean the house. On Saturdays my wife is a lot like Strother Martin’s character in the movie Cool Hand Luke. She’d assemble us in the living room and force us to dust and vacuum things. I can still almost hear her instructing us, “What we have here, is a failure to clean up after yourselves…” 

The one caveat to all of this “cleaning” was that I was allowed to choose and play whatever music I wanted to. I wrote that into my wedding vows… The Rock Chick and her daughter went upstairs when I stumbled upon a double Depeche CD entitled, ‘The Singles, 1986-1998.’ Intrigued, I dropped the first disc into the stereo. Almost immediately, the Rock Chick came bounding down the stairs to veto my selection (which actually happened more times than I’d care to admit). “You have to be in the right mood for Depeche…” she exclaimed and then almost as suddenly disappeared.

After that I went back to ignoring them. A few years later, over some wine, my wife finally put the greatest hits package back on the stereo. I was surprised at how much I liked these guys. They’re definitely “alternative rock” and synth based, which is outside my blues-based template but they’re just great. The thing that jumped out at me initially was Dave Gahan’s voice. The guy is a top notch crooner. The lyrics are also great. Martin Gore, the principle song writer includes a lot of darkness, which appeals to me, especially late at night drinking bourbon.

For Christmas this year, Santa brought the Rock Chick the blu-ray, ‘Depeche Mode: Video Singles Collection’ and it spent the holiday season on high rotation. I was amazed that, like the Stones, Depeche has remained very close to a basic sound, but have been able to do so much, so differently with that sound. Watching their videos got me primed and ready for this new, upcoming album.

I’ll save my praise for their latter day LPs for my full album review, but needless to say, their last few albums, dating back to 2001’s ‘Exciter’ have been very strong LPs and if you’re a fan of their earlier work, I advise you to check those records out post haste. This is a band that unfolds for you like a flower… I will say, their latter day work is an example of why I started BourbonAndVinyl in the first place, to put a spotlight on veteran groups making outstanding music. You’re not likely to hear this great new music on any radio, so I need to spotlight it for you here…but I digress.

I had also been a huge fan of Gahan’s solo work with the Soulsavers (reviewed in an earlier post on B&V) but even so I was excited to read last year that Depeche were in the studio recording a new album. The results of that recording, as mentioned earlier, comes out next month. For now, we have the fantastic new single “Where’s the Revolution.”

I wondered if the current political climate was going to effect art and music in a similar way the turbulent late 60s and early 70s music was effected. For example, I had heard U2, who have mostly completed their new album, were heading back into the studio with some new songs inspired by the current political climate. I have to ask that question, whether today’s politics are going to effect music, no longer… “Where’s The Revolution” is a political broad side. I love the lyrics.

It starts off as mid tempo in the verse, Gahan’s voice over syncopated synth and percussion. The song has a galloping feel, almost like a march, as an underpinning.  When the chorus kicks in, with tortured guitar, the song gets louder. You can feel the call to arms when Gahan howls, “where’s the revolution, come on people, you’re letting me down…” His vocal is urgent, slinky and sexy all at a the same time. All the elements of this song come together to make this a classic Depeche Mode tune. The Rock Chick has it on high rotation on the Sonos… This is the most political song I’ve heard Depeche ever do. When the song starts to wind down, they slow it down a bit and Gahan issues his invitation, “the train is coming, the train is coming, get on board, get on board…” Oh, yes this is a train I wanna be on.

Let the “Revolution” begin today people… “the engine is humming, the engine is humming, get on board, get on board…” Oh, I’m on board alright… All the way to the finish line.

I urge everyone to check this new single out. It gets a high B&V recommendation. I hope the rest of the album is this strong… If recent Depeche history is any indicator, I think listening to this new record when it comes out on St Patrick’s Day is going to be very special…

It’s dark out there people. Pour something strong, dark and murky, and “get on board.”

Cheers!

Get Out The Vote: The BourbonAndVinyl Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Ballot

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It’s that nasty time again, Election season… time to vote for your Rock And Roll Hall of Fame nominees. At least their are no threats to jail the nominees who fail to get elected… When the RnR Hall of Fame first opened I thought, like Ray Davies, “what a drag” to see the music of rebellion institutionalized. But the ceremonies have led to some great performances and jam sessions. I can’t help but think of Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Prince performing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for George Harrison’s induction. Prince owns that guitar solo for me now.

This year’s nominees are a diverse set of acts, from punk to grunge to soul to disco to hip hop. There are a lot of deserving acts but in the end, you can only vote for 5 on the HoF’s website. The fans are allowed to vote on the website once a day with a Facebook address or an email address and the fan’s ballot is then treated as 1 of the about six-hundred that get sent out to Rock journalists, historians and performers. To date, BourbonAndVinyl has not been formally asked to participate in the process which frankly, chaps my ass.

You may cast your vote daily here:

https://vote.rockhall.com

Here are the five acts your humble blogger at BourbonAndVinyl feel are the most deserving and who we’ll be voting for daily. It doesn’t make a huge difference but at least we have a small voice in this thing:

  1. Pearl Jam – the Kings of grunge. These guys have been kick ass their whole career. If you’ve seen them live, you know what I’m talking about. “Lightning Bolt,” their last album was proof that they’re still going strong. Eddie Vedder is one of the greatest voices of all time.
  2. Depeche Mode – Dave Gahan and the gang are so influential I’m not sure why they haven’t been voted in already. Their new LP drops in 2017, entitled “Spirit.” I could listen to Dave Gahan sing all day long.
  3. The Cars – They could be voted in on the strength of their debut album alone. Consider “Candy-O” and “Heartbeat City” and these guys deserve to be in the Hall.
  4. Jane’s Addiction – Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro… Another very influential 90’s band. Perry also created Lollapalooza which should give Jane’s extra consideration. Who doesn’t love “Jane Says”?
  5. J. Geils Band – this fifth choice was tough for me. I almost voted in Tupac but I love Peter Wolf. The band’s earlier, bluesy stuff is what I feel qualifies them. “Musta Got Lost” is one of my favorite songs of all time.

In the spirit of democracy, I shall list the remaining nominees this year, and the reasons I didn’t vote for them:

  1. Tupac – the man is a legend. He’ll likely get in first ballot. I always loved the tune “California Love.”
  2. Chic – I love Nile Rodgers as much as the next guy, and he should get into the Hall as a producer, but Chic wasn’t my cup of tea.
  3. Journey – these guys are actually leading the fan vote now which disturbs me deeply. I mean, I saw Journey twice in high school – that’s high school folks, who didn’t make mistakes in their youth. I grew out of it. I always liked the Gregg Rollie era better than the later stuff. Steve Perry turned into such a dick. I fear people are voting for Journey in the hopes Perry will show up and sing with the rest of the band, but knowing Steve, I doubt it. And really, who wants to see Jonathan Cain get into the Hall….
  4. Bad Brains – I know zero about them. There are limits to even B&V’s music knowledge.
  5. Janet Jackson – it’s the Rock And Roll Hall, not the Pop Hall of Fame.
  6. Chaka Khan – One hit wonder.
  7. ELO – Oh, spare me. These guys were so derivative of the Beatles Jeff Lynne ended up producing George Harrison. They had a few good songs but were a bit twee in my mind.
  8. Joan Baez – I’ve never been able to stand this woman’s screechy, warbling. I blame Bob Dylan for her influence.
  9. Joe Tex – I know nothing about this guy either. With a name like Joe Tex, he might be a blues guy so I might have to do some home work here.
  10. Kraftwerk – this is a scary German synth band that people who want to sound cool cite as an influence. Don’t believe them, no one listens to Kraftwerk.
  11. MC5- Solid, if short lived punk band in the same vein as the Stooges… I considered these guys in J Geils place as well…
  12. Steppenwolf – Overrated…
  13. The Zombies – Not a bad band, solidly blues based, but Hall of Fame worthy?
  14. Yes – The prog rock giants. There were so many configurations of this band I wonder if the stage is large enough to hold them all. Guitarist Steve Howe looks like the Crypt Keeper these days. I liked Yes, but outside of “The Yes Album,” “Fragile,” and maybe “90125” I’d be hard pressed to name another Yes album.

There you have it folks, the B&V take on this year’s all important Election. Who will you be voting for? Let me know in the comments section who you like if you disagree with my take.

As always, take care of yourself out there, the actual Election for US President gets darker every day, which is something I thought would be impossible. Even my cat woke up hissing from a nightmare today, which seems biblical in it’s portent. It’s a dark time… put on some groovy music and pour some of the dark stuff. For me today it’s Bob Dylan and Buffalo Trace… Hunker down, that’s my advice.

Cheers!

 

Charity Single/Bowie Tribute: “Cat People” feat: Dave Gahan, Mark Lanegan

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 “And I’ve been putting out fire…with gasoline”

It would be virtually impossible for me to pick a “favorite” Bowie tune. But perhaps influenced by the film starring a comely Natasha Kinski of the same name, “Cat People” was always a particular favorite of mine. There was something about that tune that always hit me hard… perhaps it spoke to the urgency of being in my late teens when I first heard it? I can still remember the first time hearing it playing over the credits as the movie ended and thinking, “what is that?”

Bowie recorded a different version of the song for the album “Let’s Dance” but when I first heard that version, I knew something was different. The guitar had been punched up and the percussion was different. It was still a great version of a fabulous tune, but something was missing. I didn’t hear the original version until the second semester of my freshman year, the one I commonly refer to as “the dark semester” when I changed colleges, for a chick no less, and moved in with a man that I still consider, to this day, to be a sociopath. I mean, I’m no doctor, I’m just a bourbon drinker but in my opinion this guy’s lack of empathy or conscience at least puts him on the sociopath scale.

We were talking one day about Bowie and I mentioned I loved the tune “Cat People,” which most people considered obscure. Out of nowhere he produced the soundtrack album, with that fabulous picture of Kinski’s head and shoulders, soaking wet in the rain with eyes glowing green…Oh yes, Natasha, I still see you in my mind… er, uh, I digress. When he put the album on, my mind immediately returned to hearing the song in the theater. The slow build at the start, Bowie’s painful, plaintive howl as the guitars kick in when he screams “with gasoline,” followed by those fabulous, tribal drums in the background. Chills still go up my spine. I actually stole that album from him… maybe he wasn’t the only sociopath in the room… Don’t judge me… I fully admit to having a problem when it comes to collecting music.

Now, on the heels of the tragic loss in January of the icon himself, David Bowie, comes a version of the song from Martyn LeNoble and Christian Eiger. I couldn’t help but think, when I read about the cover song, “the balls on these guys.” It’s a pretty risky chance to take to cover one of Bowie’s most idiosyncratic tunes. The recording was made both as a tribute to Bowie but also for a charity benefitting liver cancer research. I had never heard of LeNoble or Eiger but apparently they have connections to the Soulsavers and Depeche Mode respectively. For the most part the vocals are handled by Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan. I was not familiar with Mr. Lanegan or any of his previous work, but I might suggest he haul Tom Waits in for a DNA check because I think he might be Waits’ illegitimate son. And yes, Dave Gahan’s majestic voice is on the tune, but it merely sweeps in at the end for the counterpoint chorus of “been so long, so long, so long…”

I approached this song with caution due to my reverence for that original version that I hold so dear. I must admit, I love what these guys have done with the tune. I read it described as “bluesy” but I think the more proper term is “swampy.” This version is less dramatic than Bowie’s but they capture the longing and the need almost as well in this slow boil version. Lanegan’s vocal turn is especially on point. He captures the burning desire perfectly with his gravelly voice. The song has an almost menacing undercurrent that really grabbed me. At first I was disappointed Gahan didn’t sing more on the song, but his use at the end to sing the chorus back and forth with Lanegan is the perfect crescendo, as if Gahan was an angel answering Lanegan’s demon… or maybe I’m reading too much into it.

This is a great tribute to David Bowie and a great song to boot. And, the cherry on top, it was done for charity. So spend a buck, pour someone you love (or someone you want to love) something strong and whisper, “you wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through…”

You can find the tune at this link:

http://martynlenobleandchristianeigner.bandcamp.com/

Cheers!