Review: Billy Idol With Steve Stevens – The New EP ‘The Cage’ – Superb, Prime-Idol Rock n Roll, Yes!

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It’s been about a week and half since Billy Idol and his wonderful partner in crime, guitarist Steve Stevens, released their latest EP The Cage and man, it’s simply superb. It rocks so hard it makes me feel like it’s 1983 and I’m going to take the t-tops out of the Camaro and drive up and down Main Street with my car stereo turned up to 11… maybe grow my mullet back. I must confess, prime Billy Idol always puts a little steam in my stride.

I feel bad I’m only now getting around to writing about this new Billy Idol EP. With new LPs by Ozzy Osbourne (Patient Number 9) and Starcrawler (She Said) combined with going to see the Cult in concert here in KC last week (a very special evening) my rock n roll cup “runneth over” so to speak. Late summer and fall have always been my favorite times of year and this year is no exception. Great music to go with the great weather. Soon I’ll be sitting on the patio in the “wee small hours” with headphones and (yes!) a sweater on while nursing a tumbler of sour mash and ruminating on… everything.

Billy Idol burst onto the scene as a solo artist after leaving his first group, the English punk band Generation X in the early 80s. He somehow connected with guitarist Steve Stevens and things took off from there. His first album came out in the summer of 1982 and I’ll have to admit, I don’t remember hearing any Idol in KC on the radio at the time. Of course I was immersed in Van Halen, Journey and the Robert Plant at the time… I do remember after going to college in the fall of that year (gads, has it been that long?), seeing – not hearing – Billy Idol on MTV. You read all the time about how MTV helped certain artists’ careers and it’s true for many. For Billy Idol, to a bunch of beer drinkin’, Midwestern kids just out of high school I have to say Idol was kind of hurt by his videos in our circle. What can I say, we were small minded. Were we just afraid of punk rock? Punk had already affected all of our favorite bands, so why the fear? Idol’s blonde, severe crew cut and leather clothes put us off for some reason. He was always snarling and punching the air. We were used to rock stars that looked like hobos – long hippy hair, a couple of guys with beards (usually at least the bass player or the drummer), all dressed in blue jeans and tie-dye. Actually by the mid-80s it was more likely our rock stars were wearing spandex and yet we were still put off by Idol?

I remember working in the kitchen where I lived that fall of ’82 and hearing “Hot In The City” on the local (mostly pop) radio station and really digging it. Of course I had no idea it was Billy Idol. I remember thinking, while hearing the song and melting in the heat of the dishwasher (I could never get away from crappy kitchen jobs) and thinking, “This guy is a real crooner…he sounds a little like Jim Morrison.” Then I’d go to the common room and MTV would be on – because it was always on except football Saturdays/Sundays – and see “Dancing With Myself” and think, “This punk rock guy is crazy, he’s killing zombies.” I was listening with my eyes and not my ears. I don’t know if I’m the only one who let video imagery turn me off a band? I was the same way with Guns N Roses, I’m embarrassed to admit. If you’d blind folded me and tied to me a chair – and I had a girlfriend at the time who tried once – and made me listen to the music I think I’d have jumped right in on Billy Idol. I remember hearing “Eyes Without A Face” on my car stereo and then going to work and singing “Steal a car go to Las Vegas, oh the gigolo pool…” on the loading dock until my foreman Howard said, “Shut up and load the barrels on the truck.” It was then that I started to think Idol might actually be, well, “ok.” But of course by early 1984 everybody’s hair had kind of taken a step toward the more chaotic so maybe I was more emotionally prepared to accept a guy with a blonde crew cut by then. Finally, somewhere in there, a guy named Walt (name changed to protect the guilty) moved in with us and he had Rebel Yell on cassette. Man, we wore that thing out. “Blue Highway” is still my favorite track from that album and should have been a hit.

I have to admit, after Charmed Life in 1990, I sort of lost touch with Idol. He put out a couple album over the first 15 years of the new millennium and while I was hoping for the best I couldn’t connect with them. Then, last year in late summer he released an EP entitled The Roadside. I think he and Steve Stevens may have found the perfect vehicle to release new music. EPs only have four songs they have to focus on. The lead track from that one was “Bitter Taste” and it’s not only one of Idol’s best songs EVER, it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, period. Oddly, despite absolutely loving “Bitter Taste,” and shouting that fact from the rooftops, I didn’t review The Roadside. I’ve gone back and listened to it. “Rita Hayworth” and “You Don’t Have to Kiss Me Like That” are strong tunes. I remember being oddly disappointed when I heard the rest of the EP. I think “Bitter Taste” was so huge it eclipsed the rest of the songs to me. And admittedly, I didn’t like the ballad “Baby, Put Your Clothes Back On,” because… who says that?!? to anyone? But in retrospect The Roadside was a fine comeback for Idol.

The Cage is definitely a harder rocking affair than the previous EP. The lead off track, which is nominally the title track, “Cage” is just a huge hard rocking track that I can hear people in the arena singing along to. I can’t say enough about how great Steve Stevens’ guitar is. I have reviewed this song already, so I don’t want to beat the dead horse, but it’s a great rock n roll anthem. And I will say “Cage” was in high rotation here to end my summer.

The next track is “Running From The Ghost” and it’s a stunner. It covers a lot of the same themes that “Bitter Taste” did. A man looking back at his checkered past not with regret but perhaps more resolve. It’s a “yeah it was tough but it was what it was” kind of track. It starts with just Billy’s voice and a piano. I thought it might be a ballad. But then then some light percussion and strings come in. You can feel the track building. And then Steve Stevens’ guitar pops in and melts your face off. Guitar notes hitting you fast and furious. It’s a great, great song in the car. Billy sings over rumbling drums while Stevens weaves his guitar in and out through out the song. “I’m running from the ghost, the ghost inside of me, heavy on my mind.” Talking about ruminating over a tumbler of sour mash… Great guitar solo from Stevens on this track too. It ends the way it started, with just Idol’s voice (which may be treated) and that haunting piano. Splendid stuff.

The third track, “Rebel Like You” of course harkens back to Idol’s big song “Rebel Yell.” It starts with the sound of a motorcycle. It’s about the singer meeting his soulmate in the front row of a show. It’s an upbeat, bouncing rocker with an infectious chorus, “Yeah it’s alright, now you’re here.” I wish I could have written this track for the Rock Chick. I totally get the vibe. Like “Cage” I could see this track bringing the crowd to it’s feet with arms thrown in the air. I can’t get over how great Billy and Stevens sound on these rocking tracks. He obviously had some pent up energy to expend after the lockdown.

The last track is “Miss Nobody.” I’ll admit it’s a complete left turn. It’s still upbeat. Idol actually speaks the lyrics vs sings them. There are background singers… it’s kind of, well, Vegas-y. But I still really like it. I think the Rock Chick is a little more reserved about the track but while I blasted the new EP in her car on Saturday for her she could see I was into it and didn’t say much. Idol sets the scene in the first lyric, “I was walkin’ ’round MacArthur Park, It was late night and the streetlights sprayed the dark.” Idol just sounds like he’s having a great, naughty time and who isn’t down for that? The track is like nothing I’ve heard Idol do, and yes, when the back-up singers sing the chorus they overwhelm Idol’s voice a little and I understand if I alone dig this tune but I’m into it!

This is great new music from Billy Idol and I think none of us would have guessed he’d still be this vital in 2022… I’m sure many of us would have guessed he wouldn’t be here in 2022 but let’s not get negative. Everybody needs The Cage on high volume. When I reviewed the song “Cage” I said that Idol had arrived to “save summer.” He may just be saving my early fall as well! Turn this up to 11… get out the Camaro (but don’t drink and drive) and have a ball!

Cheers!

LP Review: Starcrawler, ‘She Said’ – They Expand Their Sound Palette On Their Strong Third Album

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I feel like I’m a little late to the game in sharing my thoughts on Starcrawler’s great new LP She Said. I think it’s been out a couple of weeks now and I’m just getting around to talking about it. It’s been a crazy two weeks. I had company here at the house so that always blows a hole in the music listening schedule. It’s frowned upon when I hide in the B&V labs listening to obscure B-sides on headphones when the house is full of company. And then, while I was drinking on the balcony with family, we had a flood of great releases: Ozzy’s new album Patient Number 9, CCR had their great vault release At The Royal Albert Hall, and then Beck surprised me Sunday night by releasing a Neil Young cover “Old Man,” on a commercial no less (terrible motive, great song). I had to comment on that one… And of course this week on Tuesday I went to see the Cult who roared into town and blew the roof off the Uptown Theater. How can a poor boy keep up with and listen to all of this rock n roll!! I think fall is going to be great for music!

A lot has happened in the world of Starcrawler since their last LP, 2019’s Devour You. Well, if I’m being honest a lot happened in the world since 2019. After the Rock Chick turned me onto Starcrawler, I actually got a chance to see them live right after Devour You came out. It was a great show and I really like Devour You. But then the pandemic and lockdown hit and like every other band out there Starcrawler was grounded. And like most bands they turned to writing the next album. I read a story about Arrow de Wilde (lead singer) being in her apartment and Henri Cash (lead guitarist) coming over and sitting outside her window, playing her the beginnings of “She Said,” the title track. She sang lyrics at him from the balcony “like Romeo and Juliet.” There were additional changes for Starcrawler since that last LP. Founding member Austin Smith (drums) left the band. He was replaced by Seth Carolina. I always worry a change in the line up can hurt band chemistry. Then Henri Cash’s brother Bill Cash joined the band to augment their sound. Bill not only plays rhythm guitar, he also plays pedal steel which I find fantastic. Tim Franco remains the band’s bass player. Starcrawler carries on now as a five-piece band.

Beyond all of that Starcrawler signed to a major label, Big Machine Records, after being on a small independent label for their first two LPs. I had forgotten their raunchy, punk rock debut was produced by creepy Ryan Adams but I’m off topic here. I couldn’t help but think about Social Distortion, another Cali punk band who made a huge leap forward between their second LP and their major label debut third LP. I mention all of this just to again frame the fact that a lot has happened to this band in the last three years. Not to mention they always seem to be on tour since the lockdown lifted. They’ll go from KC to Minny to NY to the UK to South Korea. They’re certainly putting in the roadwork. I actually just saw Starcrawler again a month and a half ago, before the new LP came out, and they were as usual, sensational. While they remain untamed rock n roll electricity on stage, they’ve toned down the blood spitting antics but they still bring it live. They’re thrilling to watch. Seth Carolina was great on drums and I love the addition of Bill Cash…chemistry intact. I wish I’d seen them right after the LP came out – I totally mis-identified an acoustic track they did and called it “Runaway” and it turns out it was “Better Place.” I didn’t have a setlist to go from. They played two acoustic songs and I do believe one of them was a stripped down version of “Broken Angels.” It was guess work and weak detective skills using the internet that caused the mistake. My apologies for the error.

I really like She Said. While the band has come a long way from the debut, especially in terms of songwriting (there are no songs like say, “Pussy Tower” about “head” on this album), I can still hear their influences: punk rock (maybe a bit of the Runaways), classic rock (Stones/Faces), and a dash of Glam Rock (Bowie’s more butch-y moments). The LP was produced by Tyler Bates who is more well known for doing movie scores. Perhaps he gives the LP it’s more cinematic scope. While I do think this is a step forward for Starcrawler, I see it as more of a consolidation of the large leap they made between the debut and Devour You. Some bands do defy the “sophomore slump.” Although as I think of this as a consolidation of gains made on the second album versus a large leap forward, I can’t help but think of all the new textures present on this album like acoustic guitar and pedal steel. They’ve got a new Gram Parsons/Stones ala “Dead Flowers” vibe that they only dabbled in on “No More Pennies” from the last LP. And I can’t say enough about how much more advanced Henri Cash’s guitar playing has become. The guy gets better each time out and that really helps propel the music forward. Lyrically many of the songs seem to point to a theme of longing – for a lover, for connection – which was perhaps influenced by lock down. I will say the production on this album is a leap forward for the band.

For fans of Starcrawler’s more punky, harder rocking stuff, you need not worry. While they’ve got a much more varied sound on She Said, they blast out of the gate with the lead off track, first single “Roadkill.” It’s a classic meet-me-at-the-finish line rocker. I really like Henri’s riff on this song. It’s fast and hard. There are plenty of songs that just rock out on this album. “Thursday” is another riff rocker. I like Seth Carolina’s drums on that one. Henri Cash’s guitar is kind of Stonesy on this one too with a brief, snarling solo. “You always leave me with nothing…” “True” is another of their hard driving rock songs. It’s got a frenetic energy that reminds me of the first album. “Runaway” is just a great hard rock tune. It may be my favorite of their driving, punk-influenced tracks.

The title track, second up on the LP, is where we start to hear some varied sounds from Starcrawler. I think “She Said” will go down as one of their more iconic songs. It’s more of a chugging rocker than their usual full-tilt attack. There’s so much longing in this song…”Please, please, come back to me…” It would have been a perfect pandemic track and is the first track they wrote for the album during that dark time. Henri’s guitar tone really opens up on this track and gives me that Stonesy vibe. “Stranded,” the following track continues that longing theme. I love the lyric, “I met a racetrack girl at a bus stop.” The chorus is infectious, “Stranded on the side of a one-way street, The stars in her eyes won’t shine on me.” Arrow hauntingly repeats the words “shine on me.” Wonderful track. Henri’s solo here may be my favorite.

Beyond those great tracks we really see Starcrawler expand their sound. “Broken Angels” is a ballad/midtempo track that I just love. There’s a haunting guitar figure and a hint of keyboards. If I’m not mistaken Bill Cash makes his pedal steel debut here. “Broken angel burn your wings, I’ll make you stay.” The wobbly solo makes me think of the Faces’ version of Chuck Berry‘s “Memphis.” “Midnight” is an acoustic based tune that is like nothing I’d heard them do before. Despite being slightly mellower, I heard this in the car and noticed I was driving very fast. “Better Place,” the final track borders on country-rock and is a lovely ending. Henri and Arrow duet on that song like Gram and Emmylou. That track is just a knock out, worth the price of admission.

Finally there’s a track I really like called “Jetblack.” It’s a real change of pace and kicks off the second half of the album. The song is almost dance-able. I’m not saying it’s their “Miss You” or anything It’s just got a funky drum going on. It’s very Glam rocky. I find my shoulders moving in my chair as I listen… I never dance so that’s as close as I’ going to come. It’s just a slinky, groove that I connected with immediately.

I urge everyone to jump on the Starcrawler bandwagon. These guys are putting out great rock n roll, playing real instruments and rocking out with a vengeance. They get better with every album and She Said is no exception. I recommend putting this one on and turning it up to 11.

Cheers!

Review: The Cult, Live In Concert At The Venerable Uptown Theater, Kansas City, MO September 27, 2022 – Sensational Show!

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*Photo above of Ian Astbury (vocals) and Billy Duffy (guitar) of the Cult taken by your intrepid blogger

I wish I could capture the elation I feel after a great, great rock n roll concert. I felt like I was walking on clouds as I left Kansas City’s venerable Uptown Theater after last night’s show by the Cult – Ian Astbury (vocals extraordinaire), Billy Duffy (guitar), John Tempesta (drums), Charlie Jones (bass) and Damon Fox (keyboards). I felt even more pumped up than I did after recently seeing Starcrawler live in August and that says something.

I do have to admit, I couldn’t help but turn to the Rock Chick last night and say, “What a difference 4 or 5 months make…” We had seen the Cult previously on this tour, in Denver in May, and it was not like last night. The band was awfully sluggish that night although Ian Astbury worked his ass off to get the crowd into it. That wasn’t the case last night. When this band is on and they all lock into a groove – as they did last night immediately – it’s like watching the Bill Russell led Celtics in the late 50s… (not that I’m old enough to have seen that, I just like the metaphor). Championship play indeed! I was thinking it’d had been a while since I’d seen a band twice on a tour. I used to try and catch the Stones twice or more on their big U.S. tours. I would always try and see Van Halen in both KC and Wichita. I saw Springsteen twice on the Born In The U.S.A. tour. But that was all long, long ago in a galaxy far away. But then I realized I did see Depeche Mode on the Spirit tour in 2017 in both Denver and Tulsa. I am so glad we decided to see the Cult again, it was so much better last night.

I don’t know what it is about the Uptown Theater that seems to bring out the magic for the Cult. It’s where I saw them the first time on the Beyond Good And Evil tour in 2001 and it was one Hell of a show as was last night’s concert. Last night may have been so much better than the show in Denver because admittedly I had much better seats – the 5th row – and that always makes you feel more a part of the experience when you’re that close. The Uptown is a slightly smaller venue than the cavernous Mission Ball Room so that gave it a more intimate feel and maybe the band picked up on that. The stage was smaller so maybe that made them play so tightly. Or perhaps it’s just as Billy Duffy said when he got on the mic after the show, when the band was taking bows, “We’ve got a lot of history in this room.” Billy, I’m just glad to have shared some of that with you!

Make no mistake, this was a great show last night. The Cult, as my friend Stormin’ used to say, “brought down the sky” last night. I don’t know if that was the best Cult show I’d ever seen – it’d be hard to pick just one – but it certainly ranks up there. I really liked the Love tour where they played that entire LP. And yes, I also dug the Electric tour. My first time seeing them, which is always special, at that very same Uptown Theater also ranks up there… While I criticized Billy Duffy’s guitar playing at the Denver show as sluggish, I have to say last night he was on fire. He didn’t miss a note. His solo’s were incendiary.

The Cult climbed on the smokey, incense laden stage a little after 9pm last night. Astbury had a long, baggy black jacket on with a black bandana tied around his head. The bandana was so low it was hard to see his eyes. As the Rock Chick said last night, “It felt like he was always looking directly at me…” The first track of the night was one of my all time favorites from the aforementioned Beyond Good And Evil, “Rise.” While the setlist was very similar to the setlist in Denver, everything just sounded “on” last night. The crowd immediately had their arms in the air. I will say, that was one of only 2 tracks they played that weren’t on their best known trio of 80s LPs Love (1985), Electric (1987), and Sonic Temple (1989). I was late to getting on the Cult bandwagon – it was the Rock Chick who turned me onto them – so if I had any complaint I’d have liked to hear something from this millennium – “Dirty Little Rock Star,” or maybe “For The Animals.” They’ve put out some great LPs over the last 20 years. It’s a shame they skipped over that. Or I’d have been happy for maybe even “Dreamtime” from their debut.

After “Rise” they went into a great 4 song run from Sonic Temple. “Sun King” has always been a favorite and last night’s rendition was sublime. I was thrilled to hear a deep cut in “Automatic Blues,” a real crunchy rocker. Again, Duffy’s playing was on fire. It became apparent to me right off the bat that the rhythm section of Charlie Jones and John Tempesta may be the best the Cult has ever had. I could feel the drums and bass through the sound waves rippling through the legs of my jeans. For “Sweet Soul Sister” they let Damon Fox lead it off with his keyboards and then in the middle of the song he had a keyboard solo that reminded me vaguely of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Ian went on a rap and I could swear he was quoting the Doors’ “Horse Latitudes.” I’m not convinced that having a keyboard player adds much to the Cult – I liked it when they had a second guitarist on stage, but then I like guitar. But admittedly “Sweet Soul Sister” was a cool moment in the show.

After a soaring rendition of “Edie (Ciao Baby)” the band launched into a series of tracks from Electric. “Li’l Devil” is always rocking good fun. They followed that with “Wildflower,” and then another deeper cut in “Aphrodisiac Jacket” (a personal favorite), and finally “Peace Dog.” “Peace Dog” was a real highlight as it turned into a sing along toward the end with everyone flashing a peace sign high above their heads, yours truly included. After the Electric tracks they played one of the new songs from the upcoming Under The Midnight Sun album, “A Cut Inside.” I had only heard it once but will admit I was surprised they didn’t play “Give Me Mercy” which has been out a little longer. Hearing “A Cut Inside” makes me that much more anxious to hear the whole new LP! I will say I feel like “A Cut Inside” is an “ok” track but it didn’t hit me like “Give Me Mercy.”

After an incendiary version of “Fire Woman,” Ian stood up on the riser at the front of the stage, held out his long braided hair and said, “Why the short hair bro’s?” I laughed out loud. Hey, I’d grow my hair long too if it looked like Ian Astbury’s. They then launched into “Revolution” a great deeper track from Love. They ended the main set with two more tracks from that LP, which were both absolute highlights from the night, with “Rain,” and then “She Sells Sanctuary” (my all time favorite Cult track).

The encore was only one song but they made it count with an AC/DC-esque version of “Love Removal Machine.” They stayed on stage to sing Happy Birthday to John Tempesta… they even had a cake for him. Then they announced the band. They seemed genuinely touched by the crowd’s reaction, especially Billy. Billy asked if any of us had been there for their first show at the Uptown… and went on to say it was a GA show, and only 4 people were there… It just felt like a really special show for these guys.

If you’re out there somewhere and the Cult is coming to your town, as I always say, “Buy the ticket, see the show.” It’s worth it, trust me.

Cheers!

New Song: Beck Covers Neil Young’s Classic “Old Man”… For A Commercial? And It’s Good!

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Sometimes good things can come out of bad ideas. Or maybe we should describe it as good things sometimes come from bad motives.

My lovely daughter and her boyfriend were in town this weekend. They came in for the local Art Fair which was nice but let’s be honest, it was more of a rolling bash. Yesterday we had a little gathering – I wouldn’t call it a party – that was half house warming and half NFL football game watch party. My parents were here. My aunt and uncle made a surprise cameo. It was a nice afternoon if you don’t count how my team lost. The weather was perfect, quite a few people showed up. I described it as a successful gathering to my father who quickly pointed out, again, our team lost. I had no response other than, “Well other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

As the Sunday Night Football game came on last evening and the crowd had thinned out here at the house, suddenly I heard a countdown and then the beautiful acoustic melody of one of Neil Young’s greatest tunes, (and the Rock Chick’s favorite Neil Young song and that’s a short list) “Old Man.” I couldn’t help but think, in stunned surprise, “Wait, is this a commercial?” I was surprised that Neil Young, a staunch anti-corporate guy would use his song in a commercial. I mean it was Young who sang “This Note’s For You,” a song that railed against selling your songs to Pepsi or Budweiser. The lyrics of that song were pretty on the nose, “Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi, ain’t singin’ for Coke, I don’t sing for nobody, makes me look like a joke.” I believe we’re all clear on where Neil stands on the issue. It turns out it wasn’t Neil Young, but as I quickly realized from the video, it was Beck. The song was being used to pimp next week’s SNF (Sunday Night Football) game that will pit Patrick Mahomes, a young star QB against Tom Brady the titular “old man.” What in the Hell were they thinking? Rock n Roll and football… “cats living with dogs, mass hysteria,” worlds colliding.

I am on record as being a big Beck fan. I wasn’t crazy about his last couple of LPs 2017’s Colors or 2019’s Hyperspace but he’s always good for a great song or two even on his weaker albums. I may not have liked Colors but I certainly liked the single, “Wow.” “Giddy up, giddy up,” indeed. And I thought “Saw Lightning” was a great track from Hyperspace. Beck always seems to be able to slip a little blues riff in on the occasional track and that always pulls me in. I’d like to tell you I was an early adopter on Beck. I liked “Loser,” his big breakthrough single, and still do, but couldn’t connect with the LP it came from, Mellow Gold. I remember hearing Odelay and thinking it was brilliant but I didn’t buy it until the Rock Chick re-introduced me to that record years after it was released. Frankly, I’ve always liked Beck’s more acoustic stuff than his more “dance-oriented,” electric tracks. In fact the first LP of Beck’s I purchased was the acoustic driven Mutations, although an ex absconded with it. I lost a lot of music in the 90s. There was a theory, briefly, that I only got married to keep a hold of my CDs.

When I think about Beck’s more acoustic side, I can’t help but immediately think of Sea Change, his brilliant breakup record. I can’t  believe it’s been 20 years this month since that album came out. Everybody should check out Sea Change. I probably should have included it on my list of grim and sad LPs everyone should hear. After Sea Change Beck was on a hot streak. He released three great LPs in a row: 2005’s Guero, 2006’s The Information, and finally 2008’s Modern Guilt. Those three albums, along with Odelay, for me anyway, cement Beck’s status as an important artist. In 2014 he finally returned to his acoustic side with his masterpiece, Morning Phase. I consider it a sister LP to Sea Change. With those 3 LPs sandwiched between them you might consider them “bookend” albums. Since then though, his output has slowed down and I haven’t been able to connect with more than the stray track or two.

Being the music obsessive that I am, I had to go out and buy this cover song… heaven knows how we do love our cover songs and albums around here… This may have come out of a bad idea – a commercial for a football game which is as bad an idea as me opening a bottle of wine last night after an afternoon of beer drinking (terrible idea) – but I have to admit Beck crushes this song. It’s a pretty faithful cover. Just Beck’s voice and an acoustic guitar. He does bring in somebody in on back up vocals for the high harmonies on the chorus, “Old man, take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you, I need someone to love me the whole day through, Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that’s true…” There are really two ways to approach a cover song. One is to turn it on it’s head and make it something completely different. The artist “makes the song his own” so to speak. The other approach is basically what Beck does here – record the song and remain faithful to the original. There’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s a beautiful song and it’s beautifully sung here. There are some people who don’t particularly care for Neil Young’s voice in general… and I may be married to one of those people. If you’re one of those folks you might like Beck’s vocal better. Beck manages to capture the angst of Neil’s original. To the Neil Young purists out there this all may seem like blasphemy. You don’t touch an iconic song. I remember a friend of mine who was literally disgusted that Metallica covered Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page.” I’ve never really understood his anger. It was like it was a personal affront to him. He stood around red faced with a furrowed brow and rage spittle hanging at the corner’s of his mouth. I was like, dude, it’s a song?

I remember Beck turning Hank Williams’ track “Your Cheating Heart” on it’s head and I would have welcomed a more experimental treatment of this song. At the end of the day, long after everybody has forgotten this commercial and the football game it’s advertising, we’ll still have this kind of cool cover song. Being a Chiefs fan, I’m certain I’ll be trying to forget this football game even before it’s over but then, the Chiefs have been breaking my heart my whole life (until recently, anyway). It may have been spawned by the most awful corporate motives but something good, a cool cover song, came out of it. You don’t hear a lot of simple acoustic music these days. I urge everbody to check it out:

Here’s to hoping your football team or whomever you’re rooting for in whatever sport you’re into wins their next game! Well, unless you’re a Tampa Bay Bucs fan… Cheers!

Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘At The Royal Albert Hall – April 14, 1970’ – Another Great Live LP From Their Vault

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It seems it’s time here in the B&V labs for us to (like the Dude) slip into our big, tan, baggy Westerly cardigan and mix a White Russian as we turn our attention once again to the mighty, mighty Creedence Clearwater Revival. You’ll have to forgive me for referencing the classic movie The Big Lebowski and Jeff Bridges’ iconic character, “The Dude,” but ever since the Dude lost his Creedence tapes when his car was stolen at the bowling alley the two have always kind of been tied together for me. CCR has once again opened up the vaults and released another searing live LP, At The Royal Albert Hall – April 14, 1970. I have to wonder how much great live stuff they have in the vaults and why it’s taking over half a century for these live recordings to see the light of day?

Say what you want about Creedence but they were a great band. I don’t think they ever had that “cool” cache like the Stones or the Beatles but they put out some great, straightforward, meat and potatoes rock n roll. They rocked but had a touch of blues in the music… along with a swampy southern vibe. It was a wonderful goulash. They were from San Francisco but dressed like lumberjacks from the great northwest. These guys had the Grunge look 30 years before it was a thing. And of course John Fogerty had that awful “page boy” haircut. Maybe that’s what hurt their swagger? They had a profound influence on rock n roll. Springsteen inducted them into the Rock Hall of Fame. In 1986 Bob Seger covered their iconic protest tune “Fortunate Son” and released his live version of the song as a B-side to the song “American Storm” (it was later added to the CD as a “bonus track”). I 100% agree with what Seger says to begin the song, “This by a band that I’ve always loved called the Creedence Clearwater Revival…” (although Bob, it’s just Creedence Clearwater Revival, there’s no “the” in the name). If ever there were two acts cut from the same cloth it was Seger and CCR. I think you can trace Creedence’s influence well beyond Springsteen and Seger though. Ike and Tina Turner covered “Proud Mary.”

For a band who never really released a great live LP during their active period of 1968 to 1972 they’ve certainly made up for it since. They did release Live In Europe in 1973 but that one feels like an LP released to fulfill contractual obligations. The Concert also recorded in 1970 but not released until 1980 was a more accurate portrait of this iconic band’s live show. It was only 3 years ago that they finally released the full recording of their performance at Woodstock, Live At Woodstock. Man, we loved that down here at B&V. But then as long time readers know, we love our live albums around here. Although embarrassingly we didn’t include any CCR on our list of our favorite live LPs. Oh well, live and learn. CCR – John Fogerty, vocals/lead guitar; Tom Fogerty, rhythm guitar; Stu Cook, bass; Doug Clifford, drums put out a body of work that will forever keep them in the conversation for “Greatest American Rock Band.” And live, well they could really bring it live. I’m going on record today as saying Creedence may be one of the greatest live bands ever.

As it turns out, At The Royal Albert Hall – April 14, 1970 actually documents CCR’s first concert appearance in the U.K. They certainly came to conquer as if this was the reverse of the War of 1812. The Americans are setting the capitol on fire. When we listen to this concert it helps to step back and look at the then current British rock n roll environment at the time. The Beatles, who had returned to a more rock n roll approach (vs the psychedelic approach they’d adopted) on Abbey Road and the soon to be released (May 1970) Let It Be had just announced their break-up. McCartney’s debut came out three days after this show. Cream had broken up the year prior. The Stones were coming off the successful Let It Bleed album and tour but founding member Brian Jones had quit and then sadly drowned in his pool. It feels like there might have been a rock n roll void in the U.K. at the time… enter “a band I’ve always loved,” Creedence Clearwater Revival.

At the time Creedence was at their zenith. 1969 had been an amazing year. They’d released three of their best LPs – yes, 3 LPs in one year – Bayou Country followed by Green River followed by my personal favorite Willy And The Poor Boys. Talk about a 1-2-3 punch. They’d also played in the wee hours of August 17th, 1969 at a little festival known as Woodstock. They were supposed to play the night of August 16th but the Grateful Dead just kept jamming and CCR had to come on after midnight on the 17th, much to John Fogerty’s chagrin. But that Woodstock set was legendary stuff. This concert at the venerable Royal Albert Hall was right before CCR was to release another great LP, Cosmo’s Factory. The time was ripe for an American Invasion of the British rock scene.

CCR come out on this recording and deliver. I will admit there are parts of this where Fogerty’s vocals are slightly distorted which only make the recording more deliciously menacing. They kick it off with “Born On The Bayou.” Right off the bat you can tell Fogerty is taking no prisoner’s on guitar. There’s no in-between song chatter (for the most part) it’s just set ’em up and knock ’em down. There was certainly some “chooglin'” going down that night. Fogerty is just wailing and talkin’ about old hound dogs and the 4th of July. They stretch “Born On the Bayou” into a hypnotic groove. What a perfect opening. That quickly rolls into “Green River.” It starts to feel like the Royal Albert Hall is turning into a roadhouse out at the crossroads, outside the city limits with beer for a quarter or perhaps for a pound. Fogerty’s lead stabs through clean and strong. That leads us into the third track, from the album Green River, the more obscure “Tombstone Shadow.” “Everytime I get some good news, there’s a shadow on my back.” Great, great track with a bluesy vibe and great lead guitar.

That leads us to my favorite track on the album, “Travelin’ Band.” I love this version of the song. It borders on manic. It is a full tilt, meet me at the finish line rocker. Fogerty says a quick thank you and then they launch into “Fortunate Son.” This middle section of the album is some of the greatest rock n roll I’ve heard in a long time. A screaming guitar solo kicks off “Commotion” and at that point it’s just hold on for your life. CCR is rawking. The pace is relentless. To give everybody’s heart a rest at that point, CCR slow it down and go midtempo with another personal favorite, “Midnight Special.” You can hear the crowd cheering as Fogerty sings the first few lines. The chooglin’ keeps on rolling with a spirited rendition of “Bad Moon On The Rise” ( the studio version of we included in our Moon themed playlist).

After that the hits keep coming. The band sounds enthused and into it. They hit “Proud Mary” which is one of their early hits. When Fogerty wasn’t playing any Creedence songs because he was tied up in litigation and just plain pissed, it was Bob Dylan who told him he needed to play his CCR tunes… “otherwise people are gonna think “Proud Mary” is a Tina Turner tune.” While Fogerty is on fire so is the whole band. The rhythm section of Cook and Clifford are tight. They keep rolling right into “The Night Time Is The Right Time,” perhaps the bluesiest moment of the night. The big surprise for me was the rollicking version of Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly,” and it’s big fun. Fogerty’s guitar is on fire at this point. I imagine the London Fire Dept having to pour water on the guy… But he manages to come back for one more, the appropriate ending, “Keep On Chooglin’.” After exhorting the crowd to keep on “chooglin’,” Fogerty jams and bends his guitar strings – and plays harmonica – through the longest song/jam of the night. I love this song.

I don’t think the set lasted even an hour. The crowd had to have left the Royal Albert Hall smiling and keyed up. If you’re into live albums this is a great one to have. It’s a high energy, full tilt rock n’ roll performance. Turn this one up loud and if you’re out there and you’ve had your Creedence tapes stolen… I hope this will help ease that pain. I know that between this live album and Ozzy’s latest LP, Patient Number 9, I am certainly feeling great these days. Although that might be the White Russians…

Keep on chooglin’ out there people. We need that vibe today more than ever.

Cheers!

Review: Ozzy Osbourne, ‘Patient Number 9’ – Glorious Metal LP Packed With An All-Star Band

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“It’s one of those days that I don’t believe in Jesus…” – Ozzy Osbourne, “One of Those Days”

I can’t tell you how good it feels to have a new Ozzy album out in the world. It’s like having your favorite, cool uncle who used to slip you beers at wedding receptions in town for a long visit. Ozzy went a decade between 2010’s Scream and his next album 2020’s surprise comeback LP Ordinary Man. We loved Ordinary Man here at B&V. But then we’ve been an Ozzy fan from the start. Well, almost from the start. I merely taped a friend’s copy of Blizzard of Ozz. At the time I was actually more into the Dio incarnation of Sabbath but there’s room for both in any record collection. My first Ozzy album purchase was actually Diary Of A Madman, his second LP. I had to wait until I was in college to finally see Ozzy live on the Ultimate Sin tour in Wichita. Jake E. Lee was his latest guitar wizard in 1986 and it was a great show.

Rather than waiting a decade for another album, apparently only four days after Ordinary Man came out, Ozzy grabbed producer/guitarist Andrew Watt and headed back into the studio to record the follow-up. I really like Andrew Watt as a producer. Besides Ozzy he also produced the fabulous Eddie Vedder solo LP, Earthling. The strategy on this LP was very similar to the last album – recruit top notch players and rock out. Much is being made about the all-star cast of guitarists who play on this album, but there are great musicians on every instrument here. While Chad Smith mans the drum kit for most of the songs on Patient Number 9, like he did on Ordinary Man, there are a few tracks where the late Taylor Hawkins drums. It makes me wonder if these songs were Hawkins’ last recorded tunes? Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, who actually played in Ozzy’s band before joining Metallica, plays bass on most of the tracks. But, Duff McKagan from Guns N Roses mans the bass on several of the tracks. And former Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney plays on “Nothing Feels Right.”

When you have a bunch of guest stars playing on an album I always wonder about continuity. Will the songs hang together well as an album? Recently Edgar Winter did a fabulous tribute album for his brother Johnny, creatively titled Brother Johnny. There was a host of guitarists who showed up to pay tribute to the late, great bluesman. I felt the album, reviewed in these pages, held together well because all the tunes were in a blues framework. I think despite all the guest appearances Patient Number 9 holds together so well as an album because a) it’s all in a heavy metal framework which keeps everyone rocking in the same direction and b) the base band for this album: Andrew Watt/guitar, Robert Trujillo/bass, and Chad Smith drums – who all play on a majority of the tunes – hold the continuity together from Eric Clapton to Metal Viking Zakk Wylde. It doesn’t matter who plays lead guitar, they have to play with the band. Everybody, including Ozzy, plays with enthusiasm and gusto. Despite some heavy themes you can feel the joy coming off this album.

It’s clear Ozzy has mortality on his mind. With titles like “Dead And Gone,” “Immortal” and “Mr. Darkness” it’s not hard to figure out where Ozzy’s head is at. But in the years since Ordinary Man the Ozzman has “been through hell.” He was diagnosed with Parkinsons. He got Covid. It’s a wonder he got this album out. While I doubt he’ll ever tour extensively again I think having this wonderful metal LP is a blessing. I can understand after all he’s been through why Ozzy sings, as I quoted above, about it being “One of those days that I don’t believe in Jesus.” I think we’ve all had those moments when we feel abandoned by Fate. I will say, and it was the Rock Chick who noticed this first, Ozzy’s voice does sound a bit treated on this album. It’s auto-tuned in quite a few places. But hey, it’s Ozzy I can forgive that. And again, you can tell everyone including Ozzy had so much fun on this project the heaviness doesn’t get to you.

I just love this album. If push came to shove I’d probably admit I liked Ordinary Man just a smidge more but that’s mostly because it’d been 10 freakin’ years since we’d heard from Ozzy and it was such a pleasant surprise. There is a lot to like here. As promised it’s a smorgasbord of guitarists. Ozzy managed to get two of the three former Yardbird guitarists to play on this record. Jimmy Page was approached and declined but I don’t think Jimmy plays that much any more which is a shame. Mercurial Jeff Beck plays lead on two of my favorite tracks here. I love the title track which features Beck’s fabulous solo’ing but I reviewed “Patient Number 9” already. Beck also plays on the power ballad “A Thousand Shades” and his playing is so melodic it’s one of the absolute highlights of the LP. Jeff Beck needs to rock out more. I was stunned when I read Clapton agreed to play on this album. He shows up on “One Of Those Days,” quoted above. I don’t know how they did it but Clapton plays like he’s still in Cream. It’s a great solo and perhaps the best solo Clapton has played since he guested on the Steve Winwood tune “Dirty City.” (Seriously, check that tune out).

While much has been made of Ozzy getting the former Yardbirds to play on this record for me two of the best moments on this album are when Ozzy teams up with his erstwhile bandmate from Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi. Those two go together like peanut butter (a substance I was forced to give up) and jelly. “Degradation Rules,” reviewed previously, an ode to masturbation – although I can’t decide if it’s pro or con – is a wonderful, sludgy metal tune and sounds like an outtake from Masters of Reality. Iommi’s guitar is unmistakable. Ozzy even plays some harmonica on the track, which I love. The other Iommi track is the epic “No Escape From Now.” It starts off like the spooky “Planet Caravan” from Paranoid but then the band shifts through several time changes. They go fast, they slow down. Then the band falls away and Iommi drops some of the heaviest riffage I’ve heard since Vol 4. His solo’ing on this song is so epic and beautiful it belongs in an opera.

Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready shows up on the heavy track “Immortal.” His solo verges on Eddie Van Halen territory. Many notes are shredded. It’s wonderful. He really acquits himself well here. Dave Navarro of Janes Addiction (and briefly the Red Hot Chili Peppers) shows up on the other power ballad here “God Only Knows” and it’s actually one of my favorite tracks. There’s a track on here that doesn’t credit any lead guitarist, “Dead And Gone” that is also an absolute highlight. It takes me back to “Shot In The Dark” just a bit. I’m guessing Andrew Watt saved that solo for himself. Although I’ve heard that Josh Homme from the Queens of the Stone Age played on here somewhere – I can’t find him in the credits – and maybe it’s him. All of these are great moments.

Ozzy’s longest tenured guitarist Zakk Wylde shows up on more tunes than any other guest guitarist. The guy is just a Heavy Metal Viking. He’s got to be a  head taller than Ozzy. I saw them together on the Black Rain tour and it sounded like an airplane landing in the arena. My favorite of the Zakk tunes is probably “Evil Shuffle.” That’s pretty much how the Rock Chick sees me walking through the house – with my evil shuffle. Its a typical, HEAVY Zakk tune. “Mr. Darkness” about an obsessed fan “stanning” over Ozzy is another Zakk highlight. “Nothing Feels Right” which was released as the third single could be seen as Ozzy giving us the state of his health over Zakk’s soaring guitar. It’s all great stuff.

If I had any complaint about this record – and I don’t really – it’s that it feels a little longer than the sixty minute running time. They likely could have edited a few things out. There’s a little bluesy throwaway at the end, “Darkside Blues,” where Ozzy again plays harmonica that they could have cut. It’s only a minute and a half long. Although I kind of wish they’d fleshed that out into an actual tune because well, I love the blues. They could have cut the “scary monster, b-movie, horror film” intro on the title track. And they likely could have cut one of the four Zakk tracks to streamline this thing a little bit. But again, complaining about too much Ozzy on an album is like complaining about too much money in your checking account.

This is a great album and a wonderful celebration of the man, the myth, Ozzy Osbourne. The Ozzy comeback or renaissance continues strong on Patient Number 9. I’ll probably spend most of my weekend up in the B&V lounge cranking this metal mayhem up to 11 and spilling Woodford Reserve on the carpet. This one is a must have for all you hard rockers out there. Enjoy this one at max volume!

Cheers!

Song Lookback: Pinball Wizard – With 3 Versions To Pick From, What’s Your Favorite?

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I was listening to my MP3 player on “shuffle” the other day while I was reclining in the sun. All these years after those summer jobs, toiling in the heat and here I am still working on my tan. While listening to an MP3 player seems to run against our vinyl ethos here, I’m on record as listening to multiple sources of music as it’s hard to take a turntable everywhere you go. While my turntable may fit in the overhead space on an airplane it’s generally frowned upon to bring it with you on the flight…it is certainly frowned upon by my wife. There is something to be said about the convenience and portability of your music. I have to “not so humbly” admit, my MP3 player is the best “radio station” around right now, but I digress. Anyway, I’m basting in the sun, half expecting a chef to come rotate me ala rotisserie while pouring butter on me, and up pops the great Who song “Pinball Wizard.” It got me thinking about that particular tune and the different versions by different artists that I’ve heard over the years. Most of my ideas for B&V come when I’m listening to tunes and I guess this is no exception.

There are certain songs that are just classic in and of themselves regardless of who records it. The song seems to take on a life of it’s own. I remember long ago before I met the Rock Chick, having an argument with a woman in a bar – not an irregular experience at the time, sadly – and she was insisting that the song “Black Magic Woman” was first and perhaps only recorded by Santana. I was gently trying to explain to her who Peter Green was and that there was a Fleetwood Mac before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. She was having none of it. I’m not sure she even believed me about Peter Green founding Fleetwood Mac and she certainly didn’t believe that he’d written that song. If I may quote the movie Cool Hand Luke, “Some (wo)men you just can’t reach.” It was indeed “a failure to communicate.” I finally demurred and backed off realizing it was better for her to live in ignorance and for me to head to a different bar stool.

As I thought about “Pinball Wizard,” I was reminded of a similar post I’d done a few years back. I had the good fortune to be able to go on a beach vacation. One rainy afternoon I ducked into the lobby bar and the guy was playing the old Smokey Robinson tune “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me.” That melody quickly lodged itself into my rum-addled brain. I started thinking about the three versions of the song I like the most: the original, the Beatles’ version and finally Eddie Money’s version. To the surprise of most people, I like the slinky almost bluesy version done by Eddie Money(!) best. That may seem crazy and perhaps hurts my rock n roll credibility, but that was the first version of the song I was familiar with – being a product of the late 70s/early 80s – and the version that appeals to me most. Sometimes, a version of a song you hear first is the one you attach to.

In the 60s when the British invaded they brought with them all these great blues and soul tunes that they’d been listening to. Most white folks over here weren’t listening Little Richard, Chuck Berry or Muddy Waters but Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Keith Richards and Paul McCartney (among others) were. When young teenagers in the suburbs heard all those great cover versions on early Stones’ or Beatles’ records it’s doubtful many of them realized they were songs by great African-American artists right here in their own backyard. It was kind of subversive if you think about it. There are probably a large number of people who think “Roll Over Beethoven” was strictly a Beatles tune… and word to the wise, if you happen to get into an argument in a bar about it, just quietly change seats. It’s not worth it.

When I was growing up, the source, yay the font of rock n roll music was local radio. For us here in Kansas City it was KY/102. There was a more pop oriented station Q104 but that was for wussies and soccer moms. I’m sure most cities around were similar. They may have had more than one rock n roll station, and probably more than one pop station, but the radio universe was similar wherever you went. As a young teenager in the late 70s, I didn’t have a vast knowledge of all the music that came before me. I was into what was on the local radio. While they played the Who they really didn’t play “Pinball Wizard” very often. I heard “Baba O’Riley,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and “Who Are You” on high rotation but “Pinball Wizard,” not so much. I even heard “You Better You Bet” from one of the LPs only I like, Face Dances, more than “Pinball Wizard,” but it was then-current. The version of “Pinball Wizard” that did get airplay was the one by Elton John, recorded in 1975. To this day, it’s the Rock Chick’s favorite version of the tune. That freaks the purists out but I get it – it was the first version of the track she heard.

For me, there are really three essential versions of the song. They are, as follows, the original by the Who, a version recorded by Rod Stewart with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and finally the aforementioned Rock Chick favorite by Elton John.  Let’s look at all three:

The Who, 1969

“Pinball Wizard” was the first single released from the Who’s fourth LP, the epic rock opera Tommy. It’s hard to overstate how innovative it was for Pete Townshend and the Who to marry low brow rock n roll with the high brow concept of opera. Tommy is one of the earliest examples of a “concept album.” I remember being somewhat disappointed that the main riff, played by Townshend, was on an acoustic guitar instead of an electric but when I was a teenager I liked it loud and I too was raised on Elton’s version. It’s one of the Who’s great singles. It’s hard not to love this track. It’s one of the fundamental building blocks or rock n roll.

Rod Stewart & the London Philharmonic Orchestra , 1972

This is a version of “Pinball Wizard” that I’m going to guess not many people have even heard. I hadn’t ever heard it until I bought Rod’s box set Storyteller. Rod had been approach by the Who to sing the song with the London Philharmonic Orchestra – a project they were fully involved in – and appear in the movie version of Tommy. The Who did a few versions of songs from the rock opera with the Orchestra as well. Rod agreed to sing the song (in a more rock n roll version) and be in the movie but his drinking buddy Elton John talked him out of it. Elton told Rod he’d be too identified with and tied to the song if he appeared in the movie. I like this version of the song because well, I like Rod but also like the dramatic tension the Orchestra brings to the music. It’s a really elevated, cool version.

Elton John, 1975

Having screwed his buddy Rod Stewart by talking him out of the role and performance of the song, Elton slipped in and recorded his version. And he also appeared in the movie, pictured above. This is a more 70s rock n roll version. The piano and electric guitar fuel the classic riff instead of Townshend’s acoustic guitar on the original. There are a lot of people from the 70s who grew up listening to this version rather than the Who’s version who will swear it is the ultimate version of the song. I bet there are a few drunk people in bars who think that but hey, I don’t hang out in bars any more… OK, at least I don’t argue with women in bars anymore other than my wife. This really is a great version of the song. Davey Johnstone, Elton’s great guitarist, plays a tasty solo toward the end.

Conclusion?

As you listen to these three versions of the song back to back – as I did over and over this week while waiting for Ozzy’s new album to drop (review forthcoming soon) – you come to realize this is really one of the absolutely great rock songs of all time, whoever is performing it. I would advise any rock band whether they’re just starting in a garage or if they’re a bar band or playing arenas to learn how to play this song.

So what’s my favorite? Will I make a radical choice like the Eddie Money pick from the “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” post? For me, the favorite is clear, it’s the Who’s version. Although I’ve always been more partial to Quadrophenia than Tommy. For all of those who vote for Elton, I get it, it’s a tremendous version of the song and it gave me pause when trying to decide which version I liked best. For those who dig the Rod version – kudos on thinking outside the box.

If you want to voice an opinion of these three, I encourage everyone to contribute in the “comments” section. Enjoy this and be good out there.

Cheers!

Review: Roger Waters “This Is Not A Drill,” Live In Kansas City, Sept 3rd, 2022 – A Spectacle of Sight & Sound

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*Picture of Roger Waters performing “Wish You Were Here” taken by your intrepid blogger

I have to admit, it’s been so long since I’ve been to a big, arena-sized concert that I’d be hard pressed to even tell you the last band I saw in such a big venue. I did see Joan Jett and Cheap Trick about a year ago at an outdoor venue, commonly referred to in the music industry as “a shed”. A few weeks ago, I also saw Starcrawler at what’s basically a bar. But in an arena, I haven’t gone to a concert since before COVID. I was a bit surprised when I heard from an old buddy of mine who said he had tickets to see Roger Waters and asked if I wanted to go with he and his daughter. Naturally, I was in. While Waters’ split with his original band, Pink Floyd, was decades ago his setlists are still packed with classic Pink Floyd tunes. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself when I thought about Roger Waters last show in Kansas City, way back in 2017. I didn’t attend, but the Rock Chick and I went out for drinks with this “friend of a friend” of hers and the lady’s boyfriend. The boyfriend – who plays music and has groovy long hair – said of the Waters’ concert he’d attended that he’d walked out offended by Roger’s politics and anti-Trump commentary. To which I replied while laughing incredulously, “Have you not been paying f*cking attention to Pink Floyd’s lyrics all these years?” Oddly we never saw that couple again.

I will admit that I got into one of the boxes where I store my old concert t-shirts that have been retired for various reasons to dig out my shirt from the 1990 performance Roger did of The Wall at the Berlin Wall that I was lucky enough to attend. I figured he’d see me in the audience and be like, “Hey, man you were in Berlin, come on up on stage and play some tambourine…” But alas, there are reasons I’ve retired some of those old concert T’s… The shirt from the Berlin show is now yellowed and stained with age and perhaps sloppy eating habits. Even washing it didn’t perk that thing up. Oh, well.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I had as we drove down to see Waters. I knew that he was going to play mostly (80%) Pink Floyd tunes. I think for most of us who became fans of rock n roll in the 70s Pink Floyd, and maybe Led Zeppelin, were the zenith of our rock n roll worlds. They were certainly the two coolest bands on the planet. I have such a visceral connection to all of Floyd’s music I wondered if I’d feel emotional when hearing it again, played live. When those guys split – Waters the bassist and primary composer in the band was on one side and David Gilmour (guitar, vocals), Rick Wright (keyboards) and Nick Mason (drums) were on the other. In the end the Gilmour/Wright/Mason side won the rights to continue as Pink Floyd. Waters retained the rights to The Wall. Only he is allowed to perform that concept album in full. It was Waters’ magnum opus after all.

Waters certainly focuses on the music but he also puts a lot into the visual piece of the performance. Last night can only be described as a visual spectacle.  Everything he writes is typically built around a concept and I guess you could say his concerts are constructed similarly. He has this giant, X shaped video screen that lifted off the stage and up into the sky where he projected not only images of the band playing live, but short videos, political commentary and animation. He spoke lovingly of his “old band,” but only showed images that included himself, Syd Barrett (the late founder of Pink Floyd and their original vocalist/guitarist), Rick Wright (who is now sadly deceased as well) and Nick Mason (who is like Ringo, in that only he gets along with all the other members of the band… I guess drummers are the peacemakers). Gilmour was in exactly 0 photos projected on the screen. Grudges, can’t live with them, can’t live without them. There was also a flying pig with “Steal from the poor give to the rich,” and “Fuck the poor” written on the side. And for a while there was a giant sheep floating around the arena. You really feel like you’re part of the performance. And for the politically sensitive snowflakes out there, Waters did say before the show, “We’ll start in 5 minutes and for those of you who don’t like Roger’s political commentary, fuck off to the bar now.”

The band acquitted themselves quite well especially guitarists Johnathon Wilson and Dave Kilminster who admittedly have the biggest shoes to fill in recreating David Gilmour’s splendid, iconic guitar work. Waters played acoustic guitar and piano but many times just stood at the mic and sang. He’s a little awkward without an instrument but I was riveted. He held out playing bass guitar – the instrument he’s known for (and frankly I’ve always thought he was a criminally underrated bass player) – until the very end when they were doing tunes from Dark Side of the Moon. The stage was a big X or cross and the band performed in “the round.” I’m not a huge fan of that set up. When Waters went to the opposite side of the stage to play piano I couldn’t see him or the grand piano except on the big screen hanging precariously above us.

The show started with an ominous version of “Comfortably Numb,” sans the guitar solo at the end, set to acoustic guitar and synth. Then the screen rose up into the rafters and we were off and running. He started off with “The Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick In The Wall Pt 2/Another Brick In the Wall Pt 3” and the crowd was into it. I did feel Roger’s vocals were a little low in the mix but I’m knit picking. He then played “The Powers That Be” from an album only I like, Radio K.A.O.S. There’s a moment in that song in the chorus where they sing, “You better run, you better run on home” that hits like a sledge hammer although it was little muted or muddled last night. It didn’t hit me as hard as usual. I will admit I was pretty blissed out for most of this show. Being so intimately familiar with the material really helps.

After Waters played a great new song, “The Bar,” he went into a muscular “Welcome To The Machine.” He closed out the first set with “Wish You Were Here,” where I snapped the photo above, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and finally “Sheep” from the album Animals, a personal favorite. Those four songs were worth the price of admission. The band was cooking. The keyboards on “Sheep” played by Jon Carin and Roger Walter were spot on.

To kick off the second set, Waters marched right past my chair dressed in his neo-fascist character from The Wall and played “In The Flesh.” The band captured all the menace in that song. That led us into a great version of “Run Like Hell,” which is the Rock Chick’s favorite… alas she was not with me… Never trust a woman whose really into Pink Floyd – trust me on this. One of the absolutely highlights for me last night was the tune “Deja Vu” from his last solo record Is This The Life We Really Want? He muses in the song, “If I had been God, with my staff and my rod, I think… I coulda done a better job.” That song is the one I woke up with still lodged in my brain. It was then that Roger finally picked up his bass and the band launched into a set of songs from Dark Side Of The Moon. Roger let the band members do most of the vocals during that part of the show – “Money,” “Us And Them,” “Any Colour You Like,” “Brain Damage,” and “Eclipse” – and call me crazy but that seemed to be when Waters was happiest. He just wandered around the stage, almost in the background playing bass with a huge grin on his face.

After explaining the “Doomsday Clock” to the audience he played the sole track of the night from The Final Cut, “Two Suns In The Sunset” which is an underrated gem. I was a little disappointed he didn’t play “The Gunner’s Dream,” but again I’m knit picking. He did a quick reprise of the new song, “The Bar” with his band gathered around him at the piano, doing what appeared to be shots and ended the night with “Outside The Wall.” And with that both Roger and I were off and racing through the night time streets on our way home.

It was really a great show. The music of Pink Floyd – and much of Rogers’ solo music (for me at least) – is so much a part of my rock n roll universe it was just sheer joy to hear it played live. I was so utterly present in the moment it was wonderful. You’re taken in by the great songs and all the amazing visual aspects of the show and it’s hard not get swept away. It was certainly a great way to spend an evening.

If Waters is headed your way, do yourself a favor, buy the ticket see the show. One has to wonder how long big spectacles like this are going to exist!

Cheers!

Playlist: Happy Labor Day Weekend – Songs For All The “Working Stiffs” & The Saga Of My Summer Jobs

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*Image above taken from the Internet and likely copyright

I can’t believe it’s already Labor Day Weekend. I guess Steve Miller was right, “time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” This coming Monday is Labor Day, a day to celebrate Labor and working people and is generally a day of vacation for people. Labor Day was established as a Federal holiday in the U.S. as the first Monday in September in 1894. Prior to that 30 states had an official state holiday honoring Labor. Oregon was the first state to declare a state holiday for Labor Day so good on them. Most other nations celebrate Labor on May Day, or May 1st. It’s comforting to know that we pause as a nation and celebrate working people. For a long time I thought Labor Day was just a holiday that signaled the end of summer. I mean, how else would local municipalities know it was time to close the city pool? Memorial Day is the start of summer in the U.S. and Labor Day wraps it up.

I’m a white collar guy now but I still consider myself a working class dog, as Rick Springfield once sang. As awful as my current job can be at times it beats being a coal miner but then I’m claustrophobic. I have the utmost respect for Labor – it’s working people who built this country. Organized Labor helped build the middle class in America between 1932 and 1980. Even though I’m now merely a traveling salesman (see playlist) I still think back to my younger, high school/college days when I had to work every summer to pay for school. I had a number of difficult, dirty jobs.

My first job ever lasted exactly two weeks. There had never been a discussion at the house with my father, nicknamed The Hard Guy, telling me I had to get a job. My buddies were starting to get jobs and they always had walking around money for illicit beer purchases and vinyl records. Ever ambitious I felt I had to follow suit and applied for and got a job at my local Dairy Queen. While the surprised Hard Guy muttered approvingly when I got the job, the owner/manager was a sociopath with eyes that looked in two directions at once. He was not a nice man. Were it today, I would have suspected meth amphetamine abuse. The heat and grease that hung over the grille while I attempted to cook burgers and fries did wonders for my acne. I looked like a burn victim. Finally after the boss descended into a screaming fit because I didn’t clean up something properly I decided the culinary arts were perhaps not my chosen path.

Despite that, my next endeavor was as a busboy at a steak joint in the mall. I wore a white shirt, a bow tie and a leather tunic. I was the fastest busboy they had. I could clean a table in the blink of an eye. Although I must admit I started having nightmares that I was trundling my cart out into the dining room and all the tables were covered in dirty dishes… I’d wake up sweating from trying to dream bus tables… dreams are crazy. Perhaps that was a sign I wasn’t going to handle stress well. The steak joint had the advantage of actually having female employees. I met a bunch of girls who went to different high schools than I did which was an advantage, believe me. The steak joint was managed by a bunch of reprobates which may explain why they’d only seem to hire pretty girls… The cops came into the restaurant during a lunch rush one Saturday and arrested one of the assistant managers… he’d found an abandoned car along the highway and allegedly stole the license plate. We never saw him again. We would typically spend our breaks at the restaurant on night shifts standing in the walk-in cooler drinking beer and talking trash to the hostesses. It was a tough job but someone had to do it. I worked at that place on and off even through my early college years.

While those indoor jobs were fine and dandy there wasn’t much over the “minimal” wage in those jobs. The real money lie in working outside. My buddy Brewster was always an enterprising young lad and he stumbled upon a yard crew mowing an apartment lawn and asked the guy for a job. The next thing I knew, Brewster got me hired and after school every day I’d jump in his car and we’d go mow lawns until it got dark. The guy paid like $5/hour vs the $3.50 an hour I was getting at the mall. I was in the tall cotton now. Never mind the fact that I ruined a number of pairs of blue jeans turning them green. Mom wasn’t thrilled but the Hard Guy seemed to enjoy those evenings at the house while I was out working a little more. The outfit was known as Lewis’ Quality Lawn Service (name changed to protect the innocent). His hiring practices were somewhat suspect… I’m pretty sure there were more than one convict on the crew. At one house in the rich neighborhood we serviced, an old lady approached Bob (the owner/foreman), Brewster and I and asked “Who took a shit in my window well?” Sure enough…someone did. Brewster always said it was a guy named Sanchez (name changed to protect the truly innocent) but I wouldn’t put it past him to do such at thing. Brewster, if you’re out there, time to confess.

It was in that lawn mowing job I began to realize the class system in the U.S. was alive and well. One house we mowed, the guy had a white Rolls Royce and he’d park it in the circle drive out in front of the house all the time to show it off, I guess? It was a Friday and one of the neighbors was throwing a party, merely houses away just down the street. I mean, even I could walk down there to the party and I’d been mowing lawns all day. The son of the Rolls owner was about my age. And he came out front cradling an iced tea, watched us mow for a second and then yelled in the screen door, “Daaaadddy are we taking the Rolls to the party?” I was like dude, c’mon, don’t be such a douche bag, you can walk. Or at least offer us some damn iced tea. Ends up the family took the Rolls to the party. I’m surprised they didn’t ask me to drive… probably because I was sweaty and dirty. It was tough work but man what a tan I had.

Finally, in college my best bud Doug saved me from hustling to find a job and got me work with his dad’s company. They built and resurfaced tennis courts. It was hot sweaty work on sizzling asphalt but it paid well and again, the tan was spectacular and that’s how I really judged these things. I typically worked with a guy named Howard and a couple of bikers he’d hired… well until one of the bikers was killed, but that’s another story… Dave was a nice guy and I was truly sad about that… Anyway, when I took the gig I thought I’d be working with Doug on a more regular basis. I love the man but frankly when it came to physical labor I realized he was insane. He would describe days where he put in 12 hours or more as “Iron Days.” I would describe 12 hour-plus days as a “Nightmare.” My job was to work hard for 8 to 10 hours and then go spend that money on beer. Or better yet, shower and take my girlfriend to the Motel 6, but those records are sealed.

The worst part of the tennis court gig was working with wet cement and this paint that was called, I believe, Plexipave. You mixed the Plexipave with sand and cement and if you got a dab of it on you it turned hard on your legs enveloping your leg hair. I’d come home with sandy, hard, green lumps on my legs. My mom would make me take off my work clothes in the garage. I’d wrap myself in a towel and head up to sit in a bath tub – and I was strictly a shower guy – so I could soak the Plexipave off my leg hair instead of tearing the hair out by the root. I don’t know how women get waxed… it’s painful. The struggle is real and beauty is hard, ladies.

Despite all of that pain, sunburn, acne and burns from a hot grille, I wouldn’t trade one day of my checkered history as a working stiff. Those were glorious summers either at the mall or in some giant rich guy’s yard, mowing or resurfacing his tennis court. I actually ended up at a party at one of the houses we mowed… I kept thinking, what if she found out I mowed her dad’s lawn. There’s something to be said about hard work and how good it feels at the end of the day to crack a cold beer and realize that you’d accomplished something. There was no worrying about the job at night – save for those crazy busboy nightmares. It was a glorious time.

I felt it was essential to honor all of you out there doing actual hard work with a Labor Day Playlist. It can be found currently on Spotify under “BourbonAndVinyl.net Labor Day” (I’m looking at moving off Spotify, finally, in support of Neil Young). Here are some of my favorite songs about working and working people. I’m not a “9 to 5” or “Take This Job And Shove It” guy, so those songs aren’t here. It works playing straight through or on shuffle, dealer’s choice. It’s not meant to be exhaustive and if you have a song you’d like me to add, please put it in the comment section. As you grille hot dogs and hamburgers and drink some cold beer this weekend celebrating the unofficial end of summer, enjoy cranking up these tunes!

  1. The Beatles, “Hard Days Night” – Always great to kick off with a Beatles track. “I’ve been workin’ like a dog…” I’ve always liked the Beatles but ever since the Get Back documentary, Let It Be box set and the roof top concert came out it seems to have reignited my Beatles fandom.
  2. The Clash, “Career Opportunities” – “Career opportunities, the ones that never knocks.” I can relate to that. I am currently at the zenith of a mediocre career.
  3. Dire Straits, “Money For Nothing” – Where two working guys delivering appliances envy the lifestyle of Rock Stars in videos. So 80s…
  4. Huey Lewis & The News, “Workin’ For a Living” – Rare that I’d turn to Huey and his News but couldn’t resist this track. “I’m takin’ what their giving as I’m workin’ for a living.” Truth.
  5. Styx, “Blue Collar Man” – As I’ve grown older I’ve grown more conflicted about Styx but this Tommy Shaw tune – like most of the stuff he wrote – is a little tougher and more guitar forward.
  6. Lou Reed & John Cale, “Work” – This is the weirdest track here. But I couldn’t resist Lou Reed singing about Andy Warhol lecturing him on his work ethic. Even artists have to put in the sweat.
  7. Bob Marley & the Wailers, “Work” – Everyone should explore Marley’s work beyond just the greatest hits compilation Legend. This is a great track that spirals itself around my mind. “Everyday is work – work – work – work.” Bob knew the struggle was real.
  8. Elvis Costello, “Welcome To The Working Week” – The ultimate Monday morning song.
  9. Bob Dylan, “Union Sundown” – Great blues-rock track where Dylan laments the decline of unions which fought so hard for the American worker, and the sad fact that most of what you buy is made elsewhere. “Well, my shoes, they come from Singapore, My flashlight’s from Taiwan, My tablecloth’s from Malaysia.”
  10. Randy Newman, “Mr. President (Have Pity On The Working Man)” – Randy Newman, the greatest satirist of his time, making a plea to the President for the working man.
  11. Pete Townshend, “Keep On Working” – Pete encouraging us all to just keep on working…
  12. The Rolling Stones, “Dirty Work” – Not exactly a fit but who can resist a great Stones’ deep track. “You let somebody do the dirty work, find some loser, find some jerk.” Somehow I can relate to this in my working life…
  13. The Who, “Dirty Jobs” – Great track about bad jobs from Quadrophenia, my favorite of their many “concept albums.
  14. Genesis, “Just A Job I Do” – A song about being either an assassin or a spy or perhaps both. Collins hits the drums hard to simulate a gun shot. Impressive. It sums up how I feel about work, it’s not a career it’s just a job I do.
  15. Lou Reed, “Don’t Talk To Me About Work” – Sometimes when you get home you just don’t want to talk about your job. Time to crack a beer and forget about it. “I’m up to my eye balls in dirt, with work.”
  16. Chris Rea, “I’m Workin’ On It” – This is one of my favorite tracks here. I know I could say this to my boss, “I got eight little fingers and only two thumbs, Will you leave me in peace while I get the work done.”
  17. Van Halen, “Get Up” – One of those early “trying-too-hard” rock tracks from the early Van Hagar era. “Get up and make it work.”
  18. Rush, “Working Man” – This is the ultimate song for the working man. Epic rock from one of the greatest bands of all time. Check out the live version on the Moving Pictures – 40th Anniversary Edition.
  19. Bachman Turner Overdrive, “Takin’ Care of Business” – Who could resist a little Bachman Turner Overdrive, “B – T – O!”? “I love to work on nothin’ all day.”
  20. Bruce Springsteen, “Working On The Highway” – Great track about building infrastructure until a young girl enters the picture. Very similar story to “Darlington County.”
  21. Prince, “Let’s Work” – This work doesn’t sound like what I’m talking about here but it’s Prince… get funky, baby.
  22. Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Workin’ For MCA” – I would think having a record contract and “working” for a record company would be good news for a band but clearly Skynyrd didn’t dig it.
  23. The Police, “Dead End Job” – Rare early track about well, not wanting a dead end job. Sting was a teacher, maybe he’s talking about that? Helluva fast pace.
  24. Bob Dylan, “Maggie’s Farm” – Where our narrator laments the working conditions on a family-owned agriculture concern. “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.”
  25. David Crosby and Graham Nash, “Fieldworker” – Great track honoring the folks who work on big farms asking for dignity and to be “treated like a human.” Good stuff from Graham Nash here.
  26. Neil Young, “Union Man” – This track won’t be on the playlist because, well, Spotify. “Loud music is better, bumper stickers should be issued.”
  27. Jim Croce, “Workin’ At The Car Wash Blues” – This one is for my folks. My dad was a huge Jim Croce fan and he may have been the only artist who the Hard Guy owned more than one record from.
  28. Bon Jovi, “Livin’ On A Prayer” – Where a young dock worker and his girlfriend, a waitress, struggle against the vicissitudes of capitalism and turn to religion and prayer.
  29. Van Morrison, “All Work And No Play” – “All work and no play makes Jack a dull chap.” That sums it up. Slip out early and have some fun this Labor Day.
  30. Bob Seger, “Makin’ Thunderbirds” – Great track about the American autoworker and lamentations on how we don’t build Thunderbirds anymore.
  31. Gary U.S. Bonds, “Out of Work” – With unemployment at a record low, one can only hope that most people can find a job. And that it pays a living wage…
  32. Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul, “Solidarity” – This lyric means the world to me: “Everybody wants to work for a living, Everybody wants to keep their children warm.” Indeed, everybody wants to work and take care of their family and earn a livable wage.
  33. Warren Zevon, “The Factory” – Warren Zevon, backed by R.E.M. on this album, singing about the hard life that factory workers face.
  34. R.E.M., “Finest Worksong” – Speaking of R.E.M., this is a great song from the first LP from them that I ever bought, Document. It actually is a fine work song.
  35. Bob Dylan, “Workingman’s Blues #2” – Dylan returning to the subject of the workingman. Does Dylan get enough credit for his mastery of the blues?
  36. Paul McCartney, “On My Way To Work” – McCartney reminiscing about his pre-Beatles working days.
  37. Godfathers, “Birth, School, Work, Death” – I was late to the Godfathers’ LP Birth, School, Work, Death but the title track sums up the circle of life for most of us.
  38. Todd Rundgren, “Bang The Drum All Day” – While I have no rhythm I’d rather bang a drum all day than work.
  39. Van Halen, “Beats Workin'” – Whatever you’re doing this Labor Day, it’s gotta beat workin’. What’s that bumper sticker, “The worst day fishing beats the best day workin'”? Truth. While Roth’s vocals could be described (as they were by my friend Dr. Rock) ” as the sound of a pet store full of animals burning down,” Eddie’s guitar work is always singular.
  40. Sam Cooke, “Chain Gang” – Sam singing about the deplorable practice of putting prisoners to work in chains. Watch the movie Cool Hand Luke if you have any doubts that this was a horrible thing.
  41. The Rolling Stones, “Factory Girl” – Dedicate one to the ladies… Rosie the Riveter, may I have this dance?
  42. Bruce Springsteen, “Factory” – Bruce writing about his dad and how hard he worked down at the factory.
  43. Van Morrison, “I’ve Been Working” – A great track that Bob Seger used to cover live. Funky, powerful… “I’ve been workin’, I’ve been workin’ so hard.” Even after a day of hard work, Van just wants to come and get some love.
  44. Chuck Berry, “Let It Rock” – A track where Chuck describes railroad workers and an impending accident. Where was OSHA?
  45. Steely Dan, “Dirty Work” – Again, a bit of reach here, as this is about a relationship instead of an actual job. But, if you think about it, relationships can be a lot of work. One of those early David Palmer on lead vocals Steely songs.
  46. Tom Waits, “I Can’t Wait To Get Off Work (And See My Baby On Montgomery Avenue)” – Beautiful ballad. I remember getting off whatever job I had, running home to shower and heading to see my baby. I love the lyric, “Don’t do this, don’t do that,” and then he speaks the line, “Tom don’t do that.”
  47. Neil Young & The Bluenotes, “Ten Men Working” – I listened to this on vinyl last night. It remains amongst those records maybe only I enjoy. This is a great track though.
  48. Peter Gabriel, “Don’t Give Up” – Beautiful ballad with Peter sharing lead vocals with Kate Bush who has recently seen a resurgence through the series Stranger Things. The song chronicles the doubts and despair of a working man and his wife offering words of encouragement, “Don’t give up, I know you can make it…” The devastating loss of and search for work is palpable. It’s a dialogue between husband and wife that is so intimate it feels like eavesdropping.
  49. Pearl Jam, “Unemployable” – Great Pearl Jam deep track. About a man whose frustrations about his precarious work situation has led to violence and perhaps even a loss of his religious faith. That’s a lot for a 3 minute rock song to take on. “I’m scared of life, near death.” Heavy themes set to heavy rock.
  50. U2, “The Hands That Built America” – The ranks of Labor – many of whom were immigrants – built the skyscrapers the 1% could hide away in while forgetting about us.
  51. Billy Joel, “Allentown” – The classic Rust Belt song.
  52. Loverboy, “Workin’ For the Weekend” – I don’t like Loverboy although admittedly we all listened to them back in the day and this isn’t a bad song. I knew if I omitted this song, it’d be one of the first to be recommended so I bit the bullet and added it. More cowbell!
  53. Bruce Springsteen, “Workin’ On a Dream” – I included this on my Playlists about the Surreal Realm of Dreaming, and hesitated to add it to this one, but this lyric jumped at me, “Rain pourin’ down, I swing my hammer, My hands are rough from working on a dream…” That’s working, man.
  54. ZZ Top, “Just Got Paid” – Why do we work? To get paid. When I heard, “If you believe I like workin’ hard all day, Just step in my shoes and take my pay,” I realized it totally fit. This riff is greasier than a bacon sandwich on Wonder bread. Turn it up and pass the napkins.
  55. John Lennon, “Working Class Hero” – This is one of the most nakedly honest songs I’ve ever heard. It’s tough but he’s not wrong.
  56. Merle Haggard, “Workin’ Man Blues” – I saw Merle Haggard live opening for Dylan and his voice was like smooth, aged whiskey. I rarely include any country songs – outside of Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson – but this is a great song. Come for his voice, stay for lyrics like “I’ll keep workin’ as long as my two hands are fit to use, I’ll drink my beer in a tavern and sing a little bit of these working man blues.” Barkeep, another round for the working man at the end of the bar.

There you go! Again, turn this one up loud and enjoy your day off, God knows you’ve earned it. I welcome any and all suggestions for additions to the list in the comment section. Be safe this weekend!

Cheers!

The Struts Release Great New Song, “Fallin’ With Me” – Am I Finally On The Bandwagon?

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The Rock Chick came in last Friday and said, “I heard this new song this morning and I think you’ll like it…” Well, that’s always an invitation I can never resist. She’s turned me on to so much great music over the years – Oasis, Motley Crue (which I was shamelessly behind on), Green Day and more recently Greta Van Fleet. She is the Rock Chick, after all. The Struts – Luke Spiller (Vocals), Adam Slack (guitar), Jed Elliott (bass), and Gethin Davies (drums, and really you can’t get a more English name than Gethin Davies can you?) have been around a little less than a decade. Their debut LP Everybody Wants came out in 2014.

I have to tell you, I really like this new song, “Fallin’ With Me.” It made me wonder why I hadn’t gotten more into the Struts over the years. I’ve always been aware of the Struts and there are a few tracks that have pierced my consciousness over the span of their three released albums but I never quite completely embraced them. I remember listening to the debut when it came out and thinking Luke Spiller, the lead vocalist, might be Freddie Mercury’s illegitimate son. It’s uncanny how much he sounded like the late Queen-frontman on that first album. The guy trills his R’s so hard – which is kinda cool – one has to shudder when you think about him doing “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.” I guess I could never decide if these guys were a serious rock n roll band or if this was some sort of really intense Rock Star cosplay they were involved in.

I think my hesitancy around certain groups can be traced back to when I first started listening to music. It was right around puberty and at that time in a man’s life you’re not terribly confident about anything. When it came to rock n roll, you didn’t dare be caught listening to the wrong acts. They had to be legitimate hard rock or you were looked down upon as a dilettante or worse “uncool.” You didn’t dare listen to anything that was deemed “pop” music. I think that’s why some people shied away from Cheap Trick back then because they were often described as “pop rock.” It wasn’t until Live At Budokan that suddenly the Rock Gods decreed Cheap Trick was an acceptable band. I don’t know why, I’ve always liked Cheap Trick from my early days listening to music up to their latest LP,  In Another World.

But even since growing up, leaving high school and college, I’ve always been wary of brand new acts. During the 80s when my musical tastes expanded way beyond the classic rock radio I’d grown up with, I was still kind of wary of certain bands. While all my friends were listening to Motley Crue and Def Leppard I was busy listening to the “rock canon” from the decades prior. I couldn’t be bothered with new bands when I was in the process of discovering David Bowie, the Velvet Undersground/Lou Reed, the Faces, Neil Young’s “Ditch Trilogy” and Springsteen’s early stuff. I could more often be found listening to Mick Taylor-era Rolling Stones than anything you’d hear on the radio. Videos didn’t really help. All the hard rock bands had identical videos – to my eyes anyway – tall hair, spandex, chicks dancing around and that same 80s production. Often times the band’s videos would put me off so terribly I’d avoid actually hearing the music. Billy Idol was certainly someone whose videos kept me from plunging into his catalog. He didn’t look like a good Midwest guy from next door with his bleach blonde, crew cut hair and curled lip. (His new song is amazing, btw, “Cage”). It took me all the way until “Paradise City,” Guns N Roses’ third single before I bought Appetite For Destruction. It’s like I was closed off from all things current or I had a fear of jumping on the bandwagon of a “fad.” Since those early days it seems I was always searching for authenticity. I didn’t want to be “duped.”

Well between listening to a bunch of B-sides and the new Chili Peppers’ track “Tippa My Tongue” this weekend I spent a lot of time listening to the Struts. I listened to all three of their LPs. I’m nothing if not methodical. I’m not sure if I’m ready to declare I’m on the bandwagon, I need more time, but I can tell you this new song “Fallin’ With Me” is a great song. The track has that classic, 80s, Sunset Strip trashy rock/metal sound. It starts with drums, bass and sing-along chorus that just earworms it’s way into my head. Luke Spiller is a great vocalist. When the guitar kicks in, oh yes, I’m taking this ride. The opening lyric, “You be my Alice, and I’ll be your Madhatter” is the perfect invitation to this hard rock good time. I love the way Spiller drags the “fa” in the word “Fallin'” so it sounds like a twisted Christmas carol, “Are you fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fallin’ with me?” Hell yes! This chorus just makes me want to rock out:

“You’re coming with meLet’s take a diveMeet at the Rainbow9:45Wear something trashyThat’s what I like (yeah)We’re on the rooftopJumpin’ off the sides (jumpin’ off the sides)”

I don’t know if I have any clothes that would be considered “trashy” but… Anyway, here’s the video for the track:

I don’t know if these guys have an album on the way – no one on the internet seems to know – but I will be listening intently if they do. Even if they don’t I’ll certainly be enjoying “Fallin’ With Me” for the rest of time. It often takes just one song or concert to suddenly change all of my heavy preconceptions about a band. Metallica clicked for me on Death Magnetic, really late in the game. I waited until “Paradise City” to buy GnR’s debut. I had to see No Doubt live before I went, “Hey, these guys are good…that bass player…” “Fallin With Me” may just be that epiphany moment for me and the Struts. It’s a great rock n roll song and I think everybody, however you feel about the Struts, should check it out and turn it up loud!

Cheers!