Review: Middle of the Map Fest: Spoon 6/29/18; Social Distortion, 6/30/2018, LIVE

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*Photo of Mike Ness of Social Distortion taken by your intrepid blogger

Sometimes you just gotta see a band live to understand what they’re about…

When the Rock Chick approached me about going to a new music festival in town entitled Middle Of The Map Festival, I was skeptical. I mean, it’s late June… fucking hot weather in the Midwest. And besides, I didn’t recognize most of the bands involved. But then I examined the line-up more closely. Two names immediately jumped out at me. Greta Van Fleet and Social Distortion. GVF is my new, classic rock crush and Social D, well, the Rock Chick got me on their bandwagon when we met in 2000 and I’ve been a fan ever since. I also noticed that one of the Rock Chick’s favorite bands, Spoon, was on the list… I could easily discern that this was the reason she wanted to go. Although, in truth she’s a bigger Social D fan than I am, so it was probably a win/win for her…

I have posted a couple of times about Great Van Fleet, (Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘From The Fires’ LP, er, Double EP or per chance, Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP). I was so stoked to see these guys live… are they for real? Only seeing them live would tell me. Even my buddy, Drummer Blake texted me and asked if I was going to the MOTM Festival. Was I!?! And then on Thursday I saw the tweet… Danny, the drummer in GVF, hurt his wrist and they were cancelling their appearances in KC and Chicago, prime blues rock country. Goddammit son! I don’t know how he hurt his wrist, my guess would be skateboarding… I’m certain his wrist wasn’t hurt throwing a TV out of the window of the 30th floor of a Hilton like Bonham would have done. Without B&V who will teach the children about rock and roll? The fucking show must go on, son. Suck it up Danny, rub some dirt on that wrist and hit the stage, goddammit.

I was disappointed. The Rock Chick was still pretty excited about Spoon and to tell the truth without the GVF hype, I sort of felt free. I could just drink a bunch of vodka and groove on the tunes. Our friends, Edie and Brad (names changed to protect the innocent) came over and everybody seemed jacked up for the show. My corporate overlords kept me on the phone right up until the time I had to jump in the Uber. Someone handed me a strong vodka drink and I was like, OK, no GVF, I’ll just party. We got down to the festival and the first band I saw, on the second stage, in a parking lot no less, was a band called Y God Y and they were just taking the stage. I was hammering down another vodka when these guys hit the stage. Two keyboards, never a good sign, a drummer and a groovy, hipster lumberjack in shorts on lead vocals and guitar…That guy was extraordinarily hairy… I couldn’t help but think, well fuck… But here’s the weird thing and the great thing about music festivals, they give you exposure to bands  you’d never hear. The really hairy lead singer actually had a nice falsetto voice… these guys sounded great. I realized perhaps I’d taken this thing too lightly… Forget about GVF. I grooved to Y God Y for a few great songs and then lurched into the main venue, the intrepid Grinders, which is basically a mulch covered field and hunkered down for Spoon. Y God Y had me grooving.

I will be the first to admit I am the last person who should review Spoon. Short of knowing my wife likes them, I couldn’t have told you anything about them. I’ve heard a number of their tracks, because, as mentioned, the Rock Chick loves these guys. Frankly, I thought they were European. But my dear friend, hummus and chardonnay enthusiast RJ will tell you, “Did you know they’re from Austin, Tx, Ken?” For the 8th time RJ, yeah I got that… Spoon, lead singer Britt Daniel, drummer Jim Eno, bassist (and unsung hero of this band) Rob Pope and keyboardist/guitarist Alex Fischel with touring member Gerardo Larios (keys/guitar) took the stage a little earlier than expected. These guys had me immediately… the first track, which I’d never heard was “Knock Knock Knock.” They have a slinky groove, I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but they are catchy AF, as the kids say.

The lead singer, Britt Daniel, would occasionally pull out his guitar and play a funky rhythm guitar… there was no intense solo’ing. It was more of a groove or a mood. Alex Fischel plays spooky, epic keyboards that Rick Wakeman would envy. The only thing Alex is missing is a big high collared cape. The bass player, Rob Pope held everything together with a tight, insistent bass line. These guys tore it up on their set. I was very very impressed with them. “Don’t You Evah,” “I Turn My Camera On,” and “Do I Have To Talk You Into It?” were all great. Towards the end of the show, they even did this long, psychedelic jam… I’m ashamed to tell you I don’t know what track it was. I’m not qualified to talk about Spoon, and well, vodka. These guys were great. As I staggered out of the venue a great power trio were starting on the Tito’s parking lot stage… I still don’t know who they were, but I stood there mesmerized for two songs… I wish I’d taken it more seriously. Some great music went down Friday night… Sometimes, you just gotta see the band live to understand. I’ve spent the last two days listening to Spoon.

Nursing what the medical profession would call a “hangover” I rode the Uber down to Grinders for Night 2 of Middle of The Map Fest. I got in the venue early enough that I saw a number of songs by an artist I want to check out more in-depth, Nikki Lane. She was awesome. She lives in Austin and sounds like old country. She even covered a Jesse Coulter song. Thankfully I wasn’t using vodka as liberally on night 2… I didn’t see, but I could hear the Sluts play on the parking lot stage. Great punk rock. The only down part of the build up to Social D was Built To Spill whose senseless jams sounded like serial killer testimony set to music… Oh well.

Finally, shortly after 10 pm, Mike Ness and the latest incarnation of Social Distortion hit the stage while a tape recording of Tom Petty’s “Last Dance With Mary Jane” played to honor the fallen… A wonderful gesture. Besides Ness, currently Social D consists of Johnny Wickersham (guitar/backing vocals), Brent Harding (bass) and David Hidalgo, Jr (drums). It was like seeing old friends. These guys do punk/cowpunk/hard rock like it’s meant to be done. They started with a brilliant trio of songs, “Reach For the Sky,” “Highway 101″ (one of my favs…”I believe in love again…”), and “Don’t Take Me For Granted.” Sadly KC took Social D for granted… the crowd was spartan. “She’s a Knockout” turned into an extended guitar jam. They also did extended guitar jams on “Story of My Life,” and “California (Hustle and Flow).” It was so great to see hard rock guitar on a beautiful night in KC.

“99 To Life” brought the country/cowpunk influence in for the night, it was just great. My wife has a cat, named Rhett, and his theme song is “Mommy’s Little Monster” and I was thrilled to hear Social D play that song last night, a first. As was early punk track “Another State of Mind,” which they crushed.  “Machine Gun Blues” and “California (Hustle And Flow)” from the last album were both high lights. I just wish Ness would stop being the 10 year cicada, issuing a new album every decade… Mike, get in the studio, we need more guitar rock! Ness introduced “Don’t Drag Me Down” as a song he’d written about racism back in 1994… He said it was sad in 2017 the White House started tacitly making racism ok again… Indeed, Mike, indeed.

After a 12 song, hour long set, Social D left the stage. They came back for a three song encore, the highlight of which was “Ring of Fire,” the Johnny Cash cover… I was tired, I was hungover, but I was very very happy! Social D always brings it people, get out and see them!

That’s my report from the front lines of MOTM… I hope they do this again next year, it was a blast. See you next year folks!

 

 

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BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums

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You don’t see a lot of live albums any more. Back in the 70s and 80s, when dinosaurs with guitars roamed the Earth, spitting fire and lighting their guitars on fire and well, there was just a lot of fire, live albums could be a big deal. I say “could be” because often times “live in concert” records were just throwaways. Bands would put out a live album as a way to fulfill contract terms. If a band owed a record company four albums and they only had 1 more album due to fulfill the contract, they’d pump out often uninspired, rote, live album so they could sign with another record company and get a big signing-bonus check. Sure, there were more creative ways to get out of a record contract – The Stones famously submitted a single to their record company entitled, “Cocksucker Blues,” a slow, bluesy number about, well, a guy who…nevermind, you get the picture. The record company guys were so horrified by the Stones they released them from their contract for purely moral reasons. Ah, the 60s.

Because so many bands put out “contract fulfilling” live albums, the live album as an art form gets a bit maligned. Tom Petty used to call those live albums, “greatest hits played faster” albums. Not unfairly… However, in the hands of a committed artist, a live album can be something special. There are many cases of a live album being the key that actually broke an act nationally – Bob Seger, Peter Frampton, and Cheap Trick are all great examples of that. The live album choice was a way to capture those band’s on-stage magic, that up to that point they’d been unable to find in the studio. I’ve always felt to be a truly classic rock and roll artist, you’ve got to be able to bring it live. With that thought in mind, it’s no surprise, that many acts on this list would be on anybody’s “greatest of all time” lists. Great bands tend to do great live albums.

I’m not fond of just putting out lists of things. “It’s not really writing, it’s just typing” as Truman Capote once said. But every now and then I have to submit a summer listening list to the B&V faithful. I have arranged this list in alphabetic order. Some of these acts have more than one essential live album so I have tried to list only the pick of the litter. Although in some cases, I couldn’t make up my mind and just listed all of them. In many cases, it’s us in the audience and our wild cheering that can make the music that much more magical…and yes, I’ll be the first to admit, that many times, the band in question heavily overdubbed the vocals or the guitar parts…

  1. Aerosmith, Live Bootleg – Before they looked like the Real Gypsie Housewives of Rock N Roll, Aerosmith used to be menacing, gypsy drug addicts who could rock. This is a great document of that time.
  2. The Allman Brothers, Live At the Fillmore East – Blues with a jazz improvisational twist.
  3. Gregg Allman, The Gregg Allman Tour – Joined by Allman Bros Jaimoe (drums), and Chuck Leavell (piano), Gregg is more soulful/R&B-ish than with the main band. His backing band Cowboy even gets one side to show off their stuff.
  4. The Band, Rock of Ages or The Last Waltz – Either of these are great, I lean toward Waltz as it’s like a drunken wake for the 60s as the Band play with influences to contemporaries.
  5. The Beatles, Live At the Hollywood Bowl – The Beatles were such studio wizards, it’s nice to get a different view of the legends. This album puts a little meat on the bones of the myth. Live at the BBC iis also a great listen, just without an audience.
  6. David Bowie, Live in Santa Monica ’72 – Bowie and the Spiders from Mars… Mick Ronson almost outshines Bowie… almost.
  7. James Brown, Live At the Apollo – Soul Brother #1’s greatest album.
  8. Jackson Browne, Running On Empty – A concept album about the road, recorded on the road. His last classic record.
  9. Johnny Cash, Live at Folsom Prison – The man in black, “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die…” A young inmate in the audience went on to some fame… his name was Merle Haggard.
  10. Cheap Trick, Live At Budokan – This takes me back to riding to high school in my buddy Brewster’s car, listening to this on 8-track.
  11. Eric Clapton, Just One Night – The definitive version of J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine.”
  12. Leonard Cohen, Live In London – About what other artist can you say: After years spent in a Buddhist monastery, he emerged to find out his manager had ripped him off. He had to tour to fund his legal fees. It was a treat to hear how warmly he’s greeted by his fans.
  13. Sam Cooke, One Night Stand: At the Harlem Square Club – Greatest. Singer. Ever.
  14. Chris Cornell, Songbook – Sentimental choice here… An acoustic run through solo, Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave tunes.
  15. CSNY, Four Way Street or 1974 – I probably lean toward 4-way, but 1974 is a 3-disc, superbly curated (by Graham Nash) look at the tumultuous ’74 tour.
  16. Dire Straits, Alchemy – The definitive version of “Sultans of Swing” and my buddy the accountant’s favorite live album.
  17. Bob Dylan, Bootleg Series Vol 4, Live 1966 – Mislabeled as being from The Royal Albert Hall. Dylan backed by the Band (sans Levon) before they were the Band. The most combative live album ever – his folk-y fans resented his electric turn.
  18. Bob Dylan and the Band, Before the Flood – During a career lull for both acts in 1974 Dylan and his erstwhile backing band reunited for Planet Waves and this incendiary live album.
  19. Peter Frampton, Comes Alive – After a series of great solo records, it took this monster to break Frampton to the world.
  20. Free, Live Free! – Perhaps their best album.
  21. Grateful Dead, Live/Dead – So many to choose from, ’72 is also great… but I love how muscular they sound here. Pigpen’s keyboards are epic. They were never this experimental/innovative again, in my humble opinion.
  22. George Harrison, Concert for Bangladesh – My buddy Ron was there and says it was as epic as it sounds.
  23. Jimi Hendrix, Band of Gypsies – So many choices… I went with this one because it was the only one released while he was alive. Winterland, the box set is also a must have for The Jimi Hendrix Experience at their peak.
  24. Humble Pie, Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore – Frampton’s last album with Humble Pie.
  25. J. Geils Band, Blow Your Face Out – Before the sleek, synth pop of “Freeze Frame” the J. Geils Band were a soul, blues extravaganza, documented here. They also have a single disc live album, Live, Full House that’s exceptional.
  26. Billy Joel, Songs From The Attic – After hitting it big, Joel turns back to his early material and rerecords it with his road band, bringing the sometimes lifeless studio renditions to life. A rare case of an artist reflecting on his past.
  27. Elton John, 11-17-70 – Buy this just for the essential version of “Bad Side of the Moon” but stay for the rest. No hits, just rock.
  28. Journey, Captured – Greg Rollie’s last album with Journey and the last thing they did before becoming corporate sell-outs.
  29. B.B. King, Live At the Regal – B.B. and his rapport with his audience makes this great performance even more special.
  30. The Kinks, One More From the Road – Great Kinks arena-rock.
  31. Kiss, Alive – Heavily overdubbed, yes. Excellent, yes. Alive II was also a fan fav.
  32. Led Zeppelin, BBC Sessions – Zeppelin never really recorded a great live concert album. I liked How The West Was Won, but BBC is really the pick of the litter. Don’t forget their reunion live LP, Celebration Day.
  33. Little Feat, Waiting For Columbus – Internal dissension was tearing them apart, but you couldn’t tell listening to this great live document.
  34. Bob Marley, Babylon By Bus – You could equally pick Live! or Live At the Roxy. Marley and the Wailers were money on live albums.
  35. Dave Matthews Band, Live At Red Rocks – The best of many choices. I like this one since it focuses on the early DMB albums.
  36. Paul McCartney, Wings Over America – Derided as a “tour souvenir” I still like this record. It’s the first one I can think of with an acoustic set in the middle.
  37. Van Morrison, It’s Too Late To Stop Now – The Caledonian Soul Orchestra!
  38. Nirvana, Unplugged In New York City – Stripped off all the strum and drang, Cobain’s beautiful songwriting and sense of melody pop out at you.
  39. Ozzy Osbourne & Randy Rhoads, Tribute – Ozzy’s fine tribute to Randy, RIP.
  40. Pearl Jam, Live In Seattle, November 6, 2000 – My favorite from their bootleg series. This is a powerhouse show in front of the hometown fans.
  41. Tom Petty, The Live Anthology – A box set that is the ultimate statement on Petty and the Heartbreakers live… RIP Tom.
  42. Otis Redding, Live At the Whiskey A Go Go – I like this one better than Live In Europe, it’s more raw and immediate to me.
  43. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Live In Hyde Park – Overlooked gem of a live LP… Frusciante and Flea are on fire.
  44. Lou Reed, Rock N Roll Animal – Ferocious live solo and Velvet Underground cuts.
  45. R.E.M., Live At the Olympia – I don’t know if Michael Stipe was ever this engaging on stage ever again.
  46. The Rolling Stones, Get Your Ya Ya’s Out – The Stones have started a wonderful live Vault Series, but this is still their quintessential live album.
  47. Rush, All The World’s A Stage – This one came early in their career and it’s a powerhouse… although they medley up on “Working Man,” which is too bad.
  48. Bob Seger, Live Bullet or Nine Tonight – I’d give the nod to Live Bullet here only because it’s the sound of a funky, rock and roll bar band, The Silver Bullet Band to be specific, conquering the world.
  49. Bruce Springsteen, Live 75 to 85 (Box Set) or 1978 Cleveland – The box set captures Springsteen at the peak of his popularity, but really anything recorded on the iconic ’78 tour from his bootleg series is worth the price. I also like Live At the Hammersmith Odeon from the Born To Run tour. You really can’t go wrong with live Springsteen.
  50. Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense – Also get the DVD, visually entertaining too.
  51. Thin Lizzy, Live and Dangerous – True on both counts.
  52. U2, Under a Blood Red Sky – Before they were world spanning titans… they just simply rock Red Rocks outside of Denver.
  53. Stevie Ray Vaughn, Live at Carnegie Hall – SRV had to self finance this thing to get it recorded. Thank God he did.
  54. Velvet Underground, Live With Lou Reed, Vol 1 &2 – Rough sound quality but essential for any rock and roll fan.
  55. Muddy Waters, Live at Newport – Muddy launching the blues revival in America at the iconic Newport Festival.
  56. The Who, Live At Leeds – The power and the glory of “maximum R&B.” They’ve got a great BBC collection as well.
  57. Neil Young, Live Rust – On tour for one of his most popular albums, this live album is split between an acoustic and an electric performance. Neil has put out a number of excellent concert recordings in his vault series, from Massey Hall to Tonights The Night Live that are all worth checking out.
  58. Warren Zevon, Stand In The Fire – Sober but still unhinged. Zevon never gets his due…

There it is rock and roll fans. A nice list of live records to pour over during your summers by the pool… call it your summer homework assignment. If there’s something I left out, just post it in the comments. I’m always open to ideas! Hold those lighters in the air and celebrate the majesty of rock and roll played live!

 

Paul McCartney: Two New Songs From The Upcoming ‘Egypt Station’

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It’s been a tough year… for rock and roll and for pretty much everything else. Personally, I’ve been in a bit of funk of late. Work hassles and other mounting issues occasionally feel like they’re going to overwhelm me. The loss of Anthony Bourdain continues to puzzle and bum me out. Being a Kansas City native, even the loss of Kate Spade has touched me. Her father died the morning of her funeral, two hours prior, apparently from despair. It’s a dark time in all of our lives.  It’s in the dark times, for me at least, that I’ve always turned to music for solace and lets be honest, escape.

However, music this year has been, well, not great. Nineties stalwart’s the Dave Matthews Band and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong have put out strong albums this year but that’s about it. Jack White’s album was wildly disappointing, although I still think he’s a genius. Too bad Meg White went into witness protection (come back Meg, we miss you). It was nice to hear David Byrne come out with an album that was accessible in a very Talking Heads’ way. Those few examples of great albums in 2018 aside, I was beginning to despair that no great music was going to come out this year. Most the stuff I’ve liked this year have been vault releases or re-releases.

It was a couple of weeks ago I started to see legend, former Beatle and kick ass bass-player Paul McCartney began to tease new music on what the kids call, “the social media.” On both Twitter and Instagram, McCartney started posting black and white pictures of himself in the studio. Or he’d post a picture of his guitar, or the keyboard of a piano, and in one post the knobs on his amp.

It’s been since 2013 that McCartney put out a proper album, the great New. I can’t believe it’s been five years. Prior to that you have to go all the way back to 2007’s exceptional Memory Almost Full for a McCartney album. Two proper records in over a decade, I’d say Paul was overdue. For many of us, it’s a big fucking deal when a Beatle puts out an album. For McCartney, it’s a doubly big deal since after a rocky period during the 80s and the early 90s, a period where many of us stopped listening to him, he found his footing again with the comeback album, Flaming Pie. After collaborating with the remaining Beatles on the Anthology series, McCartney said he’d rediscovered his approach to making music. I don’t know what happened, but every album he’s put out since then has been sensational. Unfortunately terrestrial radio doesn’t play artists like McCartney any more… but that’s another post.

This Friday, McCartney put out two new songs from the impending album Egypt Station (release date: September 7th). Based on these first two new tracks, “Come On To Me” and “I Don’t Know,” I needn’t worry that some superb music will be released this year. I think Egypt Station might be another in a string of great, late period McCartney albums. McCartney’s hot streak, From Flaming Pie to Chaos And Creation In The Backyard to New are the type of albums that inspired BourbonAndVinyl in the first place…

The first track I heard was “Come On To Me.” It’s a bouncy rocker. Even the Rock Chick, who doesn’t dig the Beatles, (like me she’s more of a Stones’ person) said, “That’s really good…” Obviously I haven’t seen the liner notes, but I suspect that McCartney played all the instruments on this album. Many guitarists have an instantly recognizable sound or tone on their instrument. McCartney has a very distinguishable drum sound, so that’s got to be him behind the kit…and I love the drumming that drives this song. “Come On To Me,” in my mind, shows how McCartney has re-discovered his inner “Beatles-ness.” There are guitar parts that almost sound like a sitar and every now and then a big horn section comes in. This song is big and bold and I love it. Paul throws everything into this song. Towards the end, McCartney growls, “Yes, I will, yes I will, now…” and you can tell he’s having a blast.

The other track, “I Don’t Know” is a classic McCartney ballad. The man should be known as the Magician of Melody. The song starts off with a beautiful, meditative solo piano. I love that McCartney has long abandoned synthesizers and gone back to real instruments like piano and acoustic guitar. This song really affected me. The lines, “What am I doing wrong? I don’t know,” just seem to fit for me right now. I’m always a sucker for a great ballad… I had an ex who once said, “You only like the sad songs…” and at first “I Don’t Know” almost grabbed me harder than “Come On To Me.” It’s a truly beautiful song. I would tell Paul, you’re not doing anything wrong. Both of these songs are among the best stuff I’ve heard this year.

Let’s hope the rest of the album is this strong. I could really use a great Paul McCartney album about now. I bet you could too.

Cheers!

 

New Single: The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Solara”: The Original (3/4 of it Anyway) Line-Up’s Rocking Return

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“I’m not everyone…” – “Solara,” The Smashing Pumpkins

Thanks to my buddy Doug, I was an early adopter of the Smashing Pumpkins. He was the one who gave me their breakthrough album, Siamese Dream as a birthday gift in early ’94. Ok, the album was almost a year old, but I live in Kansas City, not Chicago. I quickly picked up Gish at the used-record store. I was also one of the throng of people who showed up at the record store the day Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness came out – it was truly the band’s magnum opus at three vinyl LP’s or 2 CD’s length.

In the ’90s, “grunge” was such an overpowering force that many bands, including the Smashing Pumpkins, got lumped into that category. That era when the Pumpkins came out was when I first began to hear the term “alternative rock.” Kansas City even got a new alternative rock radio station. You wouldn’t hear Foghat on that station, but you would hear the Seattle bands – Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and of course, Nirvana. That is also where I started to hear the Smashing Pumpkins. They were so much more influenced by classic rock – layered guitars, epic songwriting, and big drums – than many of their alt rock compatriots who were more influenced by punk, especially the grunge bands. I agree with the label alternative rock, but certainly not grunge for the Pumpkins. The Smashing Pumpkins were like the midwest, more specifically, Chicago’s answer to the Seattle music scene.

By the time ’95’s Mellon Collie came out the Smashing Pumpkins – principal songwriter Billy Corgan on vocals/guitar (and almost all other instruments), James Iha on guitar, D’Arcy Wretzky on bass and Jimmy Chamberlin on drums – were one of the biggest bands on the planet. That was the first tour I got to see them on and they were amazing. But alas, at their zenith is where the worm began to turn. It was on that tour Jimmy Chamberlin and touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin (brother of Prince’s old side kick Wendy Melvoin) both O.D’d on heroin, fatally for Melvoin. Chamberlin survived, but the rest of the band, who’d been dealing with his heroin and alcohol addiction for almost a decade made the decision to move on without him.

They followed up with the heavily electronica influenced album, Adore in ’98 as a trio with Kenny Aronoff on drums for the tour. I loved that record. The title track is the Rock Chick’s absolute favorite Pumpkins tune. For the Pumpkins next outing, MACHINA/The Machines of Gods, a now clean and sober Chamberlin was invited to return to the band. Chamberlin and Corgan were roomies when they were out on the road in the early days, and I think that bond brought them back together. However, just as suddenly as the foursome were reunited, bassist D’Arcy left the band. Rumors of crack cocaine use were circulating about her. Melissa Auf der Maur formally of Hole came in to replace her. It was after that tour the Smashing Pumpkins disbanded.

Chamberlin and Corgan worked together in the “supergroup” Zwan, but that ended up being short lived. Corgan released a solo album and I believe a book of poetry. Eventually, however, Billy put out a full page ad in the Chicago newspapers, stating he wanted to reunite the band. Unfortunately, only Chamberlin showed up for 2007’s Zeitgeist, an album best glossed over…

After releasing two very strong albums under the Smashing Pumpkins moniker (Oceania and Monuments to an Elegy) with Corgan as the only original member left, the rumors of a full on reunion began. The Smashing Pumpkins had really become Corgan and a loose collection of other musicians. The only guy who seemed to “stick” in the band was guitarist Jeff Schroeder. I think it was 2 years ago that both Chamberlin and Iha had signed-on to return and join Corgan & Schoreder. I was delighted to hear that, but I am still hugely disappointed that D’Arcy and Corgan couldn’t bury the hatchet. I loved their chemistry on stage. My friends Matthew and Stormin saw them in Denver and D’Arcy threw her bass on the floor and stormed off during the encore – you can’t buy that kinda passion. I’ll have to put her on my list of musicians left out of high profile reunions, My Proposed Supergroup: Those Band Members Left Out of Big Time Reunions.

There were rumors the 3/4 reunited Pumpkins would put out an album. Then I heard it was going to be a series of EPs… Who knows? Corgan, who I consider a genius, is a hard guy to figure out… he certainly means it when he says, “I’m not everyone…” While I was busy doing all my Dave Matthews Band research, LP Review: Dave Matthews Band, The Atmospheric ‘Come Tomorrow’, the Smashing Pumpkins – now Corgan, Iha, Chamberlin and Schroeder – released a new song, “Solara.” It’s our first tangible evidence of the reunion. I guess both or either Iha and Corgan played bass.

As a fan of the harder rock end of the spectrum, I like this song. It’s quite a layered, 3-guitar attack with Corgan/Schroeder/Iha all pounding out a giant riff. Chamberlin’s drumming, as always is fierce. The song actually starts with the beat of his drum. I will say, with all those guitars in the room, I didn’t hear a discernible solo. On his last few albums, the aforementioned superb Oceania and Monuments to an Elegy, Corgan’s singing has been sweeter and almost wistful. His nasally snarl is back for this track. And while “I’m not everyone,” may not be as menacing as “Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage,” it’s nice to hear Corgan’s vocals have that old bite again. As guitar driven rock continues to seemingly disappear, I gotta say, I’m glad to hear a track like this. We need more rock n roll. It’s not on the level of that classic Pumpkins stuff, like, say, “Cherub Rock,” or “Today” but it’s a damn good Pumpkins’ song.

I urge everyone to check this out. Rumor has it there’ll be a tour soon. I’m just hoping whatever they’ve been doing in the studio will see the light of day… Corgan can be… mercurial.

 

LP Review: Dave Matthews Band, The Atmospheric ‘Come Tomorrow’

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I can’t believe it’s been almost 25 years since the Dave Matthews Band’s major label debut, Under The Table And Dreaming came out. Dylan was right folks, “time is a jet plane, moving way too fast.” That album was so mid-90s it features a harmonica solo from that awful Blues Traveler guy, John Popper. Back in ’94 I was an early fan of the DMB. I loved “Ants Marching” and “Satellite.” That album was actually gifted to me by a sociopath, er, I mean a woman I was dating at the time. The sound was different from anything I’d heard before. A jam band who actually wrote hooks. Even the lineup was odd: Dave Matthews was on acoustic guitar/vocals, Carter Beauford on drums, Stefan Lessard on the biggest bass I’d ever seen, Boyd Tinsley on violin (violin?), and taciturn LeRoi Moore on horns. Not your typical 2 guitars, bass and drums lineup. The rhythm section jumped out at me, their sound had a rich, full bottom.

By 1996 when their second album, Crash came out, we all ran to the record store to buy it the day it came out. I actually gifted that album to a different sociopath I was dating at the time. The DMB was the soundtrack to every romantic disaster I encountered in the 90s…this one was a rebound from the first sociopath…it’s a wonder I still can listen to that album. I actually got to see the DMB live on that tour with my friend Judy’s husband and her two step kids, one of whom told me I had a big, pointy nose. Lovely kid. I prefer to think of it as a Roman nose…. Anyway, seeing these guys live was mind blowing. They did their cover of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” and I spent months looking for that on CD. By 98’s Before These Crowded Streets DMB was on my exclusive list of favorites. And yes, by 98, I was dating someone different, a nice woman, who actually bought the album for me. “Don’t drink the water, there’s blood in the water…” That early DMB stuff was quite a 3 album run.

But then suddenly the hot streak ended. The DMB went through a mid-career crisis. They released the awful, Glen Ballard produced Everyday. It was glossy and slick and he’d removed all their rough edges. I took the Rock Chick to see that tour and she broke up with me a week later… the DMB and my romantic flame-outs continued working in tandem. (It was the last time I saw the DMB live, it’s too hard to get tickets since everybody loves these guys.) They rebounded with one of their best records, one everyone should own, Busted Stuff, most of which had been written and shelved in favor of the material that became Everyday. Matthews put out a solo album, Some Devil which was also better than Everyday, but didn’t grab me like the early albums or Busted Stuff did. When the DMB regrouped and released another clunker, Stand Up, I got off the bandwagon. I loved the first single, “American Baby” but there was little else to recommend the album. I walked away from the DMB.

It was my friend Judy, with the cruel stepson, who after seeing the DMB at the New Orleans Jazzfest, gave me their 2009 album, Big Whiskey And the GrooGrux King. It seems I rarely actually buy one of their albums. The band, never a stranger to tragedy, had been struck by the dark forces again when their horn player, the great LeRoi Moore died after an ATV accident. They replaced him with a horn section, two guys, Jeff Coffin on sax and Rashaun Ross on trumpet… Moore’s were big shoes to fill. Tim Reynolds, who had played acoustic and electric guitar on some of the early albums, and who toured as a duo with Matthews, finally formally joined the band. It was this new configuration that recorded Big Whiskey, which was a tribute to Moore. It was a fantastic album. I remember thinking at the time, they must have been inspired by their loss.

Oddly, I totally missed their next album, Away From the World. In my research on their new album, Come Tomorrow, I backtracked and spent some time with Away From the World, and I must say, it was another impressive outing. Both those albums, Big Whiskey and Away were the kind of records that caused me to start this blog. Great, later period albums in a band’s career. I would have never expected this Dave Matthews renaissance. Bands that have been around this long, who have such a huge live following, can settle in and just tour to make money. I was happy these guys still had the creative chops.

All of this leads me to the new album, Come Tomorrow. This is a dark, atmospheric little record. It reminds me, attitudinally, not sound-wise or style-wise, of Lenny Kravitz’s album Circus. There’s an undercurrent of sadness under a lot this music. That mood may be influenced by the band’s firing of longtime violinist, Boyd Tinsley under the cloud of a sexual harassment suit, bad juju indeed. All of that aside, this is a strong DMB album. It starts with a song I can only describe as hymn-like, “Samurai Cop (Oh, Joy Begin).” It’s quite an affecting tune, a cry to the heavens. That track drew me into the album almost immediately.

The emotional heart of this album for me were the two songs “Virginia In The Rain” and “Again and Again.” Those two tracks are stone-cold, classic, DMB songs. Atmospheric, brooding and catchy as hell. With a band of this skill and a songwriter as strong as Dave Matthews, there are always going to be gems like these on any album they do. There’s a lot to like here. “Can’t Stop” is a funky little number that proves Carter Beauford is an epic drummer. He never gets his due. He should be on everyone’s “best of” drummer lists.

There are two “Crash”-like ballads, “Here On Out” and my favorite, “Black & Blue Bird.” Beautiful, little, quiet ballads. The album also ends on a ballad, an almost sad, “When I’m Weary,” a piano driven track that oddly calls to my mind Simon and Garfunkel for no rational reason I can explain. The DMB can go from those quiet ballads to an almost metal-ish track like “She,” where Tim Reynolds gets to show off his chops. That song almost sounds like Green Day. These guys can do so much. “Idea of You” has a horn section that the E Street Band of the 70s would envy. “Come On Come On” is a beautiful wash of acoustic guitar, that calls to mind a flowing river, that allows the vocals to just flow over you. There are the typical Matthews’ excesses, like the track “That Girl Is You” where Dave’s high pitched vocals sound almost unhinged.

I would recommend this album, along with Big Whiskey and Away From the World. Come Tomorrow is a strong continuation of a great creative period for the DMB, outdone only by their first three albums. And luckily, when the DMB releases an album these days, as a married guy, there’s no relationship drama anymore, thank God… I am surprised that I’m not hearing more about this album in the mainstream rock press. When an important band puts out an album, it’s a big fucking deal…. It’s taking them longer to get these gems out, it’d been 6 years since the last release, so cherish this one folks. I’d like to say I’m going to see these guys live, but the Rock Chick doesn’t dig the “jam band” ethos… which is a little like saying you don’t want to see Springsteen because you don’t like car songs…marriage is compromise…

Cheers!

 

Album Lookback: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born In The USA’ June 4, 1984

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There aren’t many exact dates in my life where I can tell you where I was. Hell, I’m not sure where I was last Tuesday, let alone a random day in the 80s. When I was a kid I can remember my mom telling me she could remember where she was the day John Kennedy was shot… for the record, she was pregnant with me, ironing in her living room and watching ‘Days Of Our Lives’ when the network broke in to announce the sad news. I don’t have any of those momentous geopolitical days in my life where I remember where I was… I do vaguely remember I got up late and came downstairs to find that the Challenger had exploded…but I don’t remember much other than that. All that said, I know exactly where I was on June 4th, 1984.

It was summer time and I was home on break from college. In the summer, us folks who grew up in “olden times” had to find a summer job. I did a lot of different jobs, from temp work to bus boy to light construction. The summer of ’84 was a happier summer for me than the summer of ’83. In ’83 I’d gone through an embarrassing breakup and spent the summer as a man of leisure or more appropriately a man about town…the ladies of Kansas City were helping me grieve, with my eternal gratitude. By ’84 I was well past all that heartbreak and was desperately in need of money to fuel my beer and vinyl habits. My oldest and dearest friend Doug had a line on work… his father owned a small company that installed scoreboards and more importantly, built tennis courts. I was hired to help on the tennis court construction. Utterly difficult, filthy work in the hot sun, but it was an honest day’s work, unlike what I do now, and at the end of the day you didn’t really worry about the job, again unlike what I do now… Like the Cure, I submitted my unanswered prayers for rain every day… Every night after work I had to soak in hot tub to get all the grainy, hardened tennis court surface to slowly melt from the hair on my legs… it was that or pull out all of the hair on my leg with the tennis court goop. I’m a guy so I found that too painful… hats off to you ladies who pluck, shave and otherwise eradicate hair… but I digress. I was, in all senses of the word, a working stiff.

But on Monday, June 4th in 1984, and I don’t recall why, we weren’t out on a job. For some reason our foreman, I’ll call him Norman, had us working in the warehouse yard. We were moving large 55 gallon barrels of sludge around so they looked to be in some semblance of order. For some reason Norman put me in the giant one-ton truck and had me go pick up sand at a local quarry. I was instructed to hurry back and then he’d let me go to lunch. I can remember being in the cab of the one-ton, driving down Pflumm, headed back to the warehouse when the DJ on our local radio station, KY102 came on and said, “We just got the new Springsteen album and we’re going to put it on now…” This was huge to me… I’d been anticipating this record for weeks, since the single “Dancing In The Dark” had come out… I knew somewhere in Wichita, my college roomie Drew was equally anticipating this moment. When the first song “Born In The USA” came over the tinny speakers in that truck I got goose bumps and tears welled up in my eyes. The anguished cries of a Vietnam vet, who never turned his back on his country, although it seemed his country had turned its back on him, was one of those, music-hits-my-lower-brain-stem moments that bring me back to the turntable. After work, as filthy as I was, I drove straight to the nearest record store and bought the album. It was a big day.

The album by the same name, Born In The U.S.A was Springsteen’s biggest selling album. It’s the record where everything changed. The album spun off at least 7 singles, and sold a kajillion copies. This was where those of us who were in the relatively small (especially in Kansas) clique of people who liked Springsteen had to share him with the rest of the world. This album was Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau’s greatest dream. Making Springsteen a name that was uttered along with Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna. Me, I liked Springsteen already, this was just gravy. Springsteen managed to merge a modern sound, complete with synths, into his core sound seamlessly, a thing a lot of 70s acts had struggled with. Many believe that’s why the album was as popular as it was. Naturally I have a different theory. To understand why this album was so popular, you have to step back and look at Springsteen’s career up to that point.

When Springsteen released Born To Run he was christened the new Dylan, the savior or the “future of rock and roll.” He was on the cover of both ‘Time’ and ‘Newsweek’ the same week. The hype was almost too much. But then he ended up in a legal battle with his manager Mike Appel that drug on and on. He toured incessantly through 1976 and 1977 on tours dubbed “The Chicken Scratch Tour” and “The Paying the Rent Tour.” One has to wonder why there wasn’t a “Paying the Legal Fees” tour but I wasn’t there to consult with. Finally Springsteen made what was considered a come back in 1978 with Darkness On The Edge of Town an album that had harnessed his anger and frustration about his legal battles with the energy and feel of punk rock to great success. It had very little to do sonically with Born To Run, but it succeeded.

In order to publicize his return in 78, Springsteen allowed several radio stations in LA, NY, San Fran, and elsewhere to broadcast his concerts over the radio. These concerts were widely bootlegged and helped build Springsteen’s legend as a live act. Springsteen returned relatively quickly in 1980 with a double album, The River, which while uneven, to me was always the rightful successor of Born To Run. With all the hype of the bootlegged 78 concerts, they say that more people slept out for tickets on The River tour than actually saw him in 78. My friend Brewster was apparently on the bandwagon and bought 2 tickets but never asked me to go… It’s my belief that Shakespearean betrayal  is what caused his family to move to Houston, in shame. It was the only honorable thing to do short of cutting off a finger. By the time The River tour concluded Springsteen was huge… he was on the cusp of superstardom. So what’s he do… he releases, in 1982, the spartan, demo-sounding, acoustic record Nebraska. There might be more dour, depressing music out there, but one would have to go to some hippy coffee shop to find it. It was a shock. I get it, it’s a masterpiece, but it’s not an album you put on at a party.

If you take Nebraska out of the equation, it was actually a full 4 years between studio albums for Springsteen, much like the lapse between Born To Run and Darkness. The reason Born In The U.S.A. was such a smash, was the simplest reason – pent up demand. Yes, it’s a kick ass album, but the guy had been away for four-fucking years. That was an eternity back then. Especially for guys my age, who were too young to see the Darkness tour, we just had to settle for the bootlegs. Some of us had sadly missed The River tour – thanks Brewster. We were dying for new music from the Boss… we were dying to actually see this myth, this legend in concert. Which, we all did on this tour, I might add.

The album itself is amazing. Although I will admit I’ve always had a problem with the sequencing. The title track, which starts the record, is one of the greatest things Bruce has ever recorded. Max Weinberg’s drumming is monumental. He keeps the whole thing together. That leads us into another single, the great “Cover Me.” The next two songs, however, “Darlington County” and “Working On The Highway” both tell the same story. Both are about a guy working construction who gets busted for messing with underage girls. Although “Working On the Highway” was a great rockabilly song vs “Darlington County”‘s anthemic approach. The first ballad, and the second best song on the album, “Down Bound Train” also ends with the protagonist in jail. The 80s were a dark time… But again, the next song, which concluded side one is another ballad, ‘I’m On Fire.” Spread it out Bruce….

Side two starts with two songs about Little Steven. The recording of Born In The U.S.A. was fraught with it’s own Shakespearean drama… Springsteen’s side kick, Little Steven who always advocated for the music was pitted against, Iago, er I mean Landau who was advocating for a big, commercial record. Eventually Little Steven split for a solo career. Springsteen obviously wrote “No Surrender” and the next track, “Bobby Jean” about his dearest friend, Little Steven, who had left the band. The rest of the side 2, is a little better sequenced, finally ending on the beautiful ballad “My Hometown.”

Born In The U.S.A ended up being the titanic album that Landau and, it would appear, Springsteen wanted. The enormous fame and attention dwarfed anything Springsteen had experienced before… one might argue the success changed the trajectory of his career… but for this working stiff, on a hot June Monday, it was a game changer, so much so, I know where I was that day. It really is one of the greatest albums of all time.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Inspiration, Kindred Spirit, Chef, Writer, TV Star, Anthony Bourdain, Dead At 61

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*Images taken from the internet and likely subject to copyright

I woke up groggy this morning… I’d been on the road all week. Traveling for work isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. I was trying to figure out what I was going to put on. I was in the closet, half-asleep and confused (which could be the title of my autobiography) when the Rock Chick tearfully burst through the closet door… “Anthony Bourdain has committed suicide.” Tragedy has struck again, darkness scores another triumph. “Ah, fuck…” was my anguished first response. My friend Al texted shortly after, “Horrible to hear about Anthony Bourdain. Sorry.” Al knows what a fan of Bourdain’s I am…

This blog is about the joys of sipping bourbon while listening to rock and roll music so it may seem odd that I’m posting about the loss of Anthony Bourdain. But, as with all blogs, it’s first and foremost a writing enterprise. I have so much love and respect for Anthony as a writer. I don’t tell many people this, I have occasionally mentioned it in these pages, I once wrote a novel. It wasn’t a very good one, but it was cathartic. I don’t know if I’d ever have even tried to write anything if it weren’t for Bourdain.

I first became aware of Bourdain the way most people did, through his TV show. I never saw his FoodNetwork show, but I did see his work on the Travel Channel on No Reservations. His ability to travel to far flung places and weave a story around the food and the culture that produced it were fascinating. He was a bad boy on the road, drinking and eating in small huts. He even went to places outside the American wheel-house like Iran and Vietnam. He seemed to particularly love Vietnam. Later he left FoodNetwork and joined the CNN team with a show called Parts Unknown. I always thought it made sense that he’d be on CNN – his show was about so much more than just food or travel. He gave us glimpses of the world we might not have otherwise seen. He made the world seem smaller and closer knit through his cultural and culinary observations.

Somewhere along the line, years ago, I finally sought out Bourdain’s first book, the one that made him famous, Kitchen Confidential. His wide eyed, utterly honest portrait of the restaurant industry was not only a big hit, it was a great read. All of us at some point, at least in our youth, have worked in a restaurant. At least we used to… I was a bus boy a life time ago. I always thought it was one big rolling, insane party behind the scenes. Bourdain’s book confirmed that for me. I saw him interviewed one time and while speaking about writing the book he said, when he woke up, he’d light a cigarette and before he’d finished his coffee he’d managed to bang out 8 to 10 pages. The writing, the wonderful use of language just came naturally to him. He was also wickedly funny. He had an ability to weave cultural references together with an ease that must turn Dennis Miller green with envy.

One could look at Bourdain’s career as a Chef as less than spectacular, until he cleaned up from his heroin addiction and took over Les Halles in New York. Yet, he was still able to sit down and write a book that made him more famous than many of the Chefs he admired and eventually did shows about. There’s something about that – the ne’er do well whose talent finally burst through in a late blooming moment – that just appealed to me. I loved that this rebel made good in the end. He will forever be intertwined in my mind with the city of New York, like the Empire State Building or Lou Reed… he’s just a part of that city for me.

And since this is a rock and roll blog, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Anthony had kick ass taste in rock and roll. He wore his love of punk rock on his sleeve. His show with Iggy Pop, who it was clear he idolized, was one of his best. Even his theme song for No Reservations was all big guitar cords. I followed Bourdain on Insta-gram and whenever he posted a video, usually a panorama of where he was, it was always highlighted with some rock and roll playing in the background.

Sadly, last night in a Paris hotel room it appears Anthony Bourdain took his own life. His dear friend, Eric Ripert is said to have found him. I’m sad for both of them. I’m sad that the darkness closed over Bourdain and took him from us, at the young age of 61. I’m also sad that his good friend was the one who found him. I can’t fathom what that must feel like. I’ve had my own brushes with the dark side. I’m glad I was able to push through them to find the Rock Chick, my stepdaughter and a world of joy waiting on the other side.

For those of you out there in pain, reach out to someone. There’s help to be had. For Anthony Bourdain’s friends and loved-ones, my heart goes out to you. RIP Anthony Bourdain. You will be missed, sir. You certainly enriched my life.

It’s a dark ride folks, take care of each other out there.