Concert Review: Soundgarden, Kansas City May 14, 2017

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*Photo taken by your intrepid blogger

My friend’s younger brother, who I call Young Goodman Brown for no good reason, emailed a couple of months ago. He lives in Tulsa now and is a successful orthopedic doctor. And here I remember him as high school kid with a bleach blonde mullet. Time passes quickly, folks. Young Goodman Brown was excited about this year’s line-up for Rocklahoma, the annual hard rock/heavy metal festival held out in some field in the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma. He’s always trying to convince his brother and I to come down there. After using “the Google” to find the line up, I too was impressed. The Cult was playing this year and you know how much I dig the Cult. I was surprised to also see Soundgarden on the line-up. It’s always great when a band gets back together. At the time it was the only gig they had scheduled but I knew they’d have to be doing some sort of spring/summer tour. Nobody goes out for just one gig.

To my delight and Young Goodman Brown’s disappointment, I found out that Soundgarden was indeed touring more extensively and better yet, coming to Kansas City. There would be no heavy metal camping in Oklahoma for me this year. I was a little shocked a band as heavy as Soundgarden was playing at Kansas City’s venerable Starlight Theater – it’s usually the host of Broadway type musical theater, my parents have season tickets every year, but not so last night. Right before I left for college my parents took me out there for the first time to see Elton John, which was actually awesome (much to my surprise at the time) which tells you Soundgarden isn’t the usual Starlight fare. The Rock Chick, my old friend Steven and I snapped up tickets as soon as they went on sale and Ubered out there last night. I even saw my stereo guy out there and he’s a bigger music junkie than even I am. I knew this would be a special evening.

I will say, the evening started off with the opening act, The John Dillinger Escape Plan and it was not a good start. It was three guys pounding their instruments while the lead “singer” screamed at the crowd. I literally told the beer guy I felt like I’d done something wrong and was in trouble. The lead singer was that angry… It’s hard being Catholic. It’s best to spend the time the opening act is on stage in the beer garden like I did last night. In the interest of full disclosure, I did take ear plugs out there… I knew this was going to be a loud evening.

I’m embarrassed to admit, I forget how heavy and how hard rocking Soundgarden is. I tend to think of them along with the other great grunge bands like Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. And while all those guys rocked hard with an almost punk sensibility, none of them rocked as hard as Soundgarden. I remember thinking back in the 90s that they were the Sabbath of the grunge movement. My buddy Steven told me last night he heard someone say that on MTV so my “Sabbath” analogy may not be purely original, although I sure thought I came up with it. These guys rock with a fucking vengeance. Why they’re not in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame is a mystery and perhaps even a scandal.

I knew Chris Cornell was a great front man, that’s expected. His vocals are simply amazing live. I was blown away by his singing. I went out there thinking, “Well, Cornell is awesome, but Thayil will be the hero of the evening.” Kim Thayil, the lead guitar player is one of those great, great guitar gods you never hear anything about. He’s quiet, unassuming, and just shreds. He was laying thick slabs of monster riffs in the most laid back manner. He also plays some intricate, beautiful solos. The guy is the definition of virtuoso. However, I wasn’t nearly as impressed with him as I was with drummer Matt Cameron, which is saying a lot. Cameron is the engine that drives this band. After seeing last night I must say he ranks up there with Neal Peart or Tommy Lee, two of my favorite hard rock drummers. His back beat with Ben Shepherd’s loud, insistent bass guitar was the rock-bed, solid foundation from which Cornell and Thayil soar. Their chemistry is fabulous. Cornell kept having issues with his ear buds and at one time had to run backstage. The first time that happened, Cameron played a great, brief drum solo to cover for Chris. The second time it happened, the whole band joined in on a improvisational jam. I like the moments when things fuck up on stage almost as much as the precision moments.

The opening track, “Incessant Mace,” was a track I was not familiar with. My history with these guys only goes back as far as ‘Batmotorfinger,’ so the opening track wasn’t in my memory bank. Usually when I see a show, I’m such a completist I know every tune they’re playing, which I will say, helps me enjoy the show more. “Incessant Mace” is a slow rolling heavy rock number. I didn’t know it but I really enjoyed it. They played a couple other tunes I didn’t know, which I enjoyed, but then they hit their stride when they played “Spoonman.” Cameron really had the chance to shine on that one. They actually opened with the beginning of “Searching With My Good Eye Closed,” which I wish they’d played in it’s entirety.

After “Spoonman” they launched into “Outshined,” a muscular, slow dirge-y “Black Hole Sun,” and then the hard “By Crooked Steps” from the great, overlooked comeback LP, ‘King Animal.’ The band played tunes from their entire career. It’d be easy at this point for them to come out and play most of ‘Superunknown’ and phone it in. These guys played all over their catalog and played with passion. “Rusty Cage” is a Rock Chick favorite and I can now say it’s one of my favorite since I heard it in all it’s glory last night. Steven turned to me last night after “Jesus Christ Pose,” and said, “I never really liked that tune until this very moment, seeing it live.” Support live music folks, it’ll change your perspective of the music and the songs. You haven’t experienced a song until you’ve heard it live.

“Fell On Black Days” was a particularly high point for me. The song came out when I was going through some bad shit, and the song means a lot to me personally. I’d announced it’s the only tune I’d be disappointed not hearing. They did not disappoint. It was built around Cornell’s fabulous vocal. I was blown away. It was truly the high point in an exceptional concert. Cornell actually played a lot more guitar than I expected last night and I have to admit, he can play. Cornell said at one point, before the encore, that his grandparents lived in Kansas City and it was always a special place to him. I don’t know if it’s true, but it seemed genuine and it was a really nice moment. Then they launched into the encore tune, “Slaves and Bulldozers,” which Cornell said was named by a 5 year old. If you want a hard rock/heavy metal clinic, put on “Slaves and Bulldozers.” It led to a feedback frenzy as each band member slowly left the stage.

This was an exceptional night and an exceptional performance. These guys are just astonishingly good. From guitar solos to vocals to drums, there were so many jaw-dropping moments. It was so heavy and so loud I felt like I was in college again. Never underestimate master musicians practicing their craft. If you’re in a city lucky enough to be on this Soundgarden tour, do yourself a favor and get a ticket. Buy the ticket, enjoy th ride! Hell, I might even go down and camp in Nowhere, Oklahoma to see them again… and that’s saying something.

Cheers!

Artist Lookback: Black Sabbath, 1980-1981, The Superb Dio Era

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A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about Ozzy Osbourne’s albums with Randy Rhoads. It was one of Ozzy’s greatest eras. I think, in the interest of “equal time,” that it’s only fair to take a look at what his old band mates were up to while Ozzy was launching his solo career. Fed up with Ozzy’s erratic addict behavior and diminishing album sales, Tony Iommi and the gang decided it was time to make a change. Ozzy was sacked. The choice for replacement was none other than former Elf and Rainbow lead singer Ronnie James Dio. It was an inspired choice.

Other than a brief flirtation with the ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ album when my mom’s friend brought her children’s records over for me to tape on cassette, I really didn’t know anything about pre-Dio Sabbath. That LP frankly, scared me at the time. I had to wonder what was going on at my mom’s friend’s house. Sure, I knew the song “Paranoid” but I’m not even sure I connected that with Ozzy. I was into bluesier rock like The Stones, ZZTop, Foghat, not heavy metal. Looking back, one has to wonder why Dio would quit Rainbow, who seemed to be on the upswing, and join Sabbath who were sinking under the weight of their own addictions and commercial failures. Coming off two absolute clunkers, “Technical Ecstasy” and “Never Say Die,” Sabbath was in need of a shot in the arm. “Never Say Die” seems like a joke now, considering they blew up the band by firing Ozzy right after that LP.

I remember the first time I heard the first “single” if you an call it that, from ‘H&H,’ “Neon Nights” on KY102, the local radio station in Kansas City. With it’s galloping pace and heavy guitar, and that voice, who was that singing I wondered, it was the type of tune you’d put on before riding into battle. Perhaps I’d been wrong and there were non-blues-based music out there I needed to check out. This was my inauguration into heavy metal. Oh, and I was hooked!

The two 80’s albums Sabbath did with Ronnie James Dio are absolutely essential to not only heavy metal fans, but fans of rock and roll of any stripe. While it was only a brief period lasting a little over 2 years and only two albums, it was one of Sabbath’s most fruitful periods. Let’s look at both LPs.

‘Heaven And Hell’ (1980)

When I saw the album cover of ‘Heaven and Hell’, with the group of angels smoking cigarettes and gambling, I thought, “Oh, yes, I’m in the right place.” This was going to be a special listening event. I went downstairs to use my parents considerably better and more powerful stereo. I put the headphones in the jack and dropped the needle. Unfortunately, my parents stereo had a knob that had to be turned to “auxiliary output” before it would divert the music to the headphones, so while I thought I was privately enjoying “Neon Nights” it was actually blasting out of the speakers overhead sending my mother into a gasping, screaming fit of rage as she ran from the kitchen all the way to the living room to throw her body on the stereo. In her defense, I had it turned up to “11.” Sorry, mom.

Side one of the original vinyl LP of ‘Heaven And Hell’ is as good as any in the Sabbath pantheon. Not only does it kick off with “Neon Nights,” but side one had “Lady Evil,” just a great, spooky tune with a furious bass line and the title track, “Heaven And Hell.” “Heaven And Hell” ranks amongst the greatest tracks of all time. “Children of the Sea” rounds out side one and is another stand-out tune. For me the key track on side two is “Die Young” a hard rocking basher that could be argued was the template for Dio’s whole career. There’s a quiet bridge in the middle of “Die Young” with an acoustic guitar and Dio singing that’ll stop your heart. “Wishing Well” is another great, heavy track on side 2. They end with two very strong tracks, “Walk Away” swings and “Lonely Is The Word” is an epic Sabbath tune. This album is a must have. There isn’t a bad note from start to finish. This album equals anything Ozzy was doing on ‘Blizzard of Oz’ at the time. This was a lot heavier than anything Ozzy was doing, certainly. Bringing in Dio completely rejuvenated the creative process in Sabbath. In short, this tour de force is a triumph.

‘Mob Rules’ (1981)

The follow up to ‘Heaven And Hell,’ ‘Mob Rules’ came out so quickly afterward I didn’t even realize it had come out. Actually the follow up to ‘Heaven’ was a quick and dirty live LP where Dio sang a number of Ozzy-Sabbath tunes. They probably did that to piss Ozzy off, which I’m sure it did. My future college roommate Matthew and I were driving up to Kansas State to check out the campus one weekend when he slid a cassette tape of ‘Mob Rules’ into his super-powered, Subaru stereo. Sabbath was back with another great album. I went to the vinyl store Sunday afternoon right after we got back home to buy the album, post haste. Once again, the album art was terrific. When my mom saw this album, for the first time ever, she started to question what I was doing up in my room with the headphones on. I could see it in her eyes, “was my son in a Satanic cult?” No mom, I’m just a metal fan.

‘Mob Rules’ kicks off with “Turn Up The Night” which almost feels funky. Is there such a thing as disco metal? Geezer Butler’s bass almost makes you want to dance. The epic “Sign Of The Southern Cross” is the centerpiece of side one of this album. It leads into an atmospheric instrumental “E5150” that bleeds into the fast and hard title track, “Mob Rules.” “When you listen to fools, the mob rules…” was something I would quote to my parents when they’d take me to church, which may have been the proof my mother needed that I was indeed in a Satanic cult. Side two starts with “Country Girl” which is an OK tune, but not my favorite. I’ll admit I like they were branching out on subject matter. Side 2 immediately picks up with “Slipping Away,” the fantastic “Falling Off The Edge Of the World,” (which has my all time favorite Sabbath quote, “I’ve seen some visions of Hell that are horribly strange”) and finally the dramatic “Over And Over” to end things. This is top shelf heavy metal and while perhaps not as mind altering as ‘Heaven And Hell’ it’s certainly still a stunning album. I would label ‘Mob Rules’ as another must-have, essential LP for any rock and roll fan.

Sadly, as quickly as it had begun, and as fruitful as it proved to be, the Dio Era in Sabbath ended. There was a sudden announcement that Dio had left for a solo career (which was great on its own) and that former Deep Purple lead singer Ian Gillan had joined Black Sabbath. In my mind Sabbath didn’t really do anything I liked again until ’13’ the Rick Rubin-produced reunion album with Ozzy. They even reunited with Dio briefly in 1992 for the lackluster LP ‘Dehumanizer.’ Alas, the magic was gone. When you find lightning in a bottle folks, hold on tight.

I recommend immediate purchase of both these records. If you can find them on vinyl, all the better. Turn that stereo up to 11 and Rawk! Oh, and make sure you have that “auxiliary output” thing taken care of… we wouldn’t want to scare mom again.

Artist Lookback – Ozzy & Randy Rhoads: A Match Made In 80s Metal Heaven

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I had an odd history with Black Sabbath. When I first became a music obsessive, my mother’s friend Mrs. Smith (name obscured to protect the guilty), a busty, hard drinking smoker, brought a hand full of albums over to the house. She said these were the records her kids were listening to and to be friendly she thought she’d bring some music over to share with me and I could record it to cassette tapes if I so desired. I have to applaud Mrs. Smith for doing that, she was a nice if a bit unstable woman. When I saw the records I couldn’t help but think, “Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs Robinson?” I mean, I was 14 years old, all I thought about was sex and rock n roll and of course, more sex. And Mrs Smith sizable breasts were enough to be distracting…But, as usual I digress.

When I started sorting through this sudden windfall of vinyl, I realized it was all stuff I’d never heard of. My musical exploration was pretty nascent at the time. I was still a Stones, ZZ Top, bluesy rock kind of guy. The stack of records included Motorhead, Black Sabbath (‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ jumps out in my memory), and Judas Priest. This was all the current hard rock/heavy metal of the day. Just looking at the (at the time) frightening album art, I couldn’t help but think, “what the fuck is going on at the Smith house?” When I dropped the needle on “British Steel” and the music exploded out of the speakers, I thought I’d broken something on my stereo. I couldn’t help but imagine cigarette smoke filled rooms, loud screaming music and pagan sacrifices going on over there. I felt for the only time in my life, that perhaps I needed to start paying attention in mass on Sunday. Needless to say I quickly returned the Satanic musical collection to Mrs. Smith without taping any of it, which in retrospect is a shame.

Less than year later, I heard the song “Neon Nights” on the radio. Ah, I do long for those days when you could turn on a radio station like KY/102 in Kansas City and actually hear the latest in great rock n’ roll. Obviously “Neon Nights” was not the Ozzy version of Black Sabbath but the Ronnie James Dio fronted version of the band. I didn’t know Sabbath, Dio or Ozzy from Adam, as the saying goes, even though only months prior the boozy, Satanic Mrs. Smith had brought a couple of their albums to the house. I’d pretty much repressed that weird afternoon. Well, except the low cut blouse Mrs. Smith was wearing… paging Dr Freud.

I immediately ran out and bought Black Sabbath’s LP, ‘Heaven And Hell’ and absolutely loved it. I even loved the album art, a picture of angels playing poker and smoking like Mrs. Smith… Hmmm, I sense a pattern. I played the heck out of that classic LP. The fact that it scared my parents made it all the better. As far as I knew this new Black Sabbath was the only Black Sabbath. I had no idea that for years Ozzy Osbourne had been the front man of Sabbath or that he’d either quit or been fired for substance abuse. The now famous story of Ozzy languishing in a filthy LA hotel room until Sharon Arden (soon to be Osbourne) showed up to resurrect his career was something I’d never heard.

About six months after ‘Heaven And Hell’ came out, I was over at my friend Matthew’s house drinking a few afternoon beers while he burned some local herbs for medicinal purposes and he pulled out a new LP he’d purchased by this Ozzy guy, ‘Blizzard of Ozz.’ I had no idea who this Ozzy was but I loved the guitar work on this album. I’d heard “Crazy Train” on the radio, you couldn’t escape that tune, and I liked it, but the album was even better. “Mr. Crowley” was an immediate favorite. “I Don’t Know,” the opening track hooked me right away. I quickly grabbed the liner notes and read that the lead guitarist, who wrote the music was Randy Rhoads. Unlike Iommi, who was all riffs with the enormous solo interlude, Randy played like Eddie Van Halen, the man is all over the fret board. Those two, Eddie and Randy, created the blueprint for the rest of 80s metal bands. A charismatic lead singer and a speed merchant guitarist were all the parts you needed to be successful. Many emulated that sound but few got it down the way these guys did. Ozzy and Randy Rhoads were a match made in 80s Metal Heaven. I can’t explain the excitement of hearing Randy play for the first time. Something exploded in my temple. My world had been changed, the axis had altered.

‘Blizzard of Ozz’ is a must have LP for any metal enthusiast. I remember that afternoon at Matthew’s house reading the lyrics for “No Bone Movies” which is actually a condemnation of porn, something you don’t think you’d hear in 80s metal. “Suicide Solution” was about the death of the great, great Bon Scott by drinking misadventure, and not the call to kill yourself the small-minded Religious Right tried to label it. The band actually had some deep lyrics to go with the magic guitar work. ‘Blizzard’ is a stone cold classic and I immediately committed it to a cassette tape that Matthew gave me and played it in my car until the tape broke.

My first vinyl Ozzy purchase, was the follow-up LP, ‘Diary of a Madman.’ Often times great bands struggle on their second LP, the famous “sophomore slump.” Not so with Ozzy and Randy. In many ways I like ‘Diary’ better than ‘Blizzard.’ The first two tracks, “Over the Mountain” and “Flying High Again” rank amongst my favorite songs ever. When Ozzy sings, “mama’s gonna worry, I’ve been a bad, bad boy, no use saying sorry, it’s something that I enjoy,” he completely summed up my teenage years. Many people have purchased ‘Blizzard of Ozz’ but to truly understand this band, you have to have ‘Diary of a Madman.’ The title track, “Believer” and “S.A.T.O.” are all on my desert island metal list. The centerpiece of the album for me was “You Can’t Kill Rock N Roll.” It’s a determined statement of purpose and as a budding young rock enthusiast, it became my National Anthem. Unfortunately, that song’s title proved untrue. While on tour in support of ‘Diary’ Randy Rhoads was killed in an airplane crash misadventure. One of the truly gifted rock guitarists stolen away at the tender age of 26. He didn’t even make it to the 27 Club.

At that point, I feared the Ozzy/Randy partnership had ended and we’d hear no more from that great combination. Not so! Years later Ozzy released the fabulous live album ‘Tribute’ which features live recordings of Randy Rhoads and the rest of his ‘Blizzard’/’Diary’ era band. To the amazing selection of tunes on the Ozzy/Randy LPs, the band does fantastic versions of the Ozzy Sabbath tunes “Paranoid” and “Children of the Grave,” the latter of which may be the definitive version of that song. This album stands as a living testament to the truly symbiotic nature of Randy’s guitar and Ozzy’s vocals. This is not only one of Ozzy’s best albums, it’s one of the best live albums ever, by anyone. It gets a high recommendation from BourbonAndVinyl.

If you’re like me, and Spring Fever has started to set in, the only thing that will cure it is heavy metal. If you needs some good, vintage, 80s, Heavy Metal look no further than these three albums. If Ozzy had given up recording after the untimely death of Randy Rhoads, these three albums would still encompass what would be considered an amazing career. Luckily Ozzy kept going. The guy has an eye for guitar talent almost unrivaled. He recorded with Jake E Lee, Zakk Wylde, and as has been recently reported Steve Stevens of Billy Idol fame. That should be interesting. Many think of Ozzy as a daft, old, reality TV star. These albums remind us of what a true force of nature he once was… with Randy at his side, he could do no wrong… well except that whole plane crash thing… (too soon?)

Turn it up loud, and as always, Cheers!

LP Look Back: The Overlooked Gem, AC/DC’s “Powerage”

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We’ve reached that dreaded time of year when the holidays have descended up on us, and bands have stopped releasing new albums. Oh sure, I’ve spent most of the past few weeks listening to the superb new Stones album, “Blue and Lonesome,” but as I found myself shut in because of the snow and ice outside, cabin fever has set in. Which is odd, because I’ve only been shut in since I got out of bed this morning. I began to flip through my album collection but I didn’t get any farther than the A’s… more specifically, AC/DC.

Is there a joy more pure and wonderful than listening to AC/DC? They’re just a fun band. When I first met my wife, the Rock Chick, one of the first things I liked about her was she was one of the first chicks I’d ever met who knew the difference between the Bon Scott-era AC/DC and the Brian Johnson-era. Most women I’d known didn’t know the difference. It was the Rock Chick who got me back into AC/DC, who I thought were spent creatively after “For Those About To Rock,” when she turned me onto “The Razor’s Edge” and more importantly “Stiff Upper Lip” which are great, great late period albums. The first concert I ever took the Rock Chick to was AC/DC on the “Stiff Upper Lip” Tour… ah, fond memories. That was a  wonderful evening with Angus’ guitar solos and women taking their tops off… and that was just on the ride down to the show…

I will admit, if the Rock Chick has a flaw musically it’s her complete dismissal of the Bon Scott-era of AC/DC. Although I will give her credit for loving “If You Want Blood, You Got It.” As most people know, Bon was the original, charismatic lead singer of AC/DC. He tragically died sleeping in the back seat of a car after a night of drinking when he choked on his own vomit. Which frankly, is how I think every great rock star should go out. The man has been described as a “street poet” and for once I think they got that one right. His lyrics about the grimier, darker side of life are nothing short of brilliant – the Nobel Committee ought to put on the “Highway To Hell” LP and start considering following up the Dylan nomination with Bon… but as usual, I digress.

Most people focus on the Brian Johnson-era of AC/DC’s career probably because a) it’s lasted longer and b) they were much more popular during Brian’s tenure. After “Back In Black,” one of the best selling albums of all time, AC/DC became international superstars. I can see where that kind of LP sales could eclipse the earlier, lesser-known work. If you look at the macro picture though, under Bon Scott, the band was headed that way. With each successive album, from “High Voltage” to “Dirty Deeds” to “Let There Be Rock” AC/DC’s following and stature continued to grow. While they didn’t even tour in the US until 1977, hitting small venues no less, like CBGB and the Whiskey (underscoring once again, if I could time travel, I’d spend all my time at concerts), they were building toward that eventual breakthrough which came in the form of “Highway To Hell.” While everybody loves “Back In Black” it was “Highway” that broke them. If you listen to Bon’s lyrics you can discern several things… he truly believed he was battling for rock and roll as an art form and that he was going to go to Hell for doing that. Although it certainly seems like  he was having an extraordinarily good time doing so. One could imagine him crossing the River Styx, with his shirt off and a bottle of Old Crow whiskey in his hand, howling…”Don’t stop meeee!”

Eventually, after “Back In Black” people began to go back and discover AC/DC’s earlier albums and many, many of their songs began to get airplay that before weren’t getting much play at all. The early albums added depth and context for “Back In Black.” And while all that is great, there is one album that for reasons that are inexplicable to me, remains overlooked. That album is “Powerage.” Maybe it’s the odd cover art. I absolutely love this dark, dark record. I realize that there wasn’t really a discernible single on the record. I realize that “Highway To Hell” eclipsed everything that came before it but to overlook “Powerage” is criminal. Keith Richards, of all people, has been quoted as saying “Powerage” is his favorite AC/DC album, and frankly does anybody need more of an endorsement than that?

As the 70’s went on, as I mentioned, AC/DC’s fame and fortune continued to increase on the international rock scene. They opened for Black Sabbath… wouldn’t you have loved to drink with Ozzy and Bon back then? I know I would… They were gaining attention, especially in Europe. They were poised to break through in a big way… and then it’s like Bon Scott knew the end was near, and right before the breakthrough, they paused and went into the studio and recorded a dark and foreboding LP, “Powerage”….and it’s fucking brilliant.

This album finds Bon’s lyrical gifts beginning to blossom. The LP opens with what was ostensibly the first single, “Rock N Roll Damnation.” It starts the LP off with a MONSTER riff… and then Bon comes in with, “They say that you play too loud, well baby that’s tough.” The chip on Bon’s shoulder is as big as a car. This song sets the table and signals, this is going to be a dark ride and Bon has some scores to settle. I really don’t think of AC/DC as a “singles” band and frankly I think “Powerage” is an album that you need to listen to in it’s entirety, like Pink Floyd. It sets a mood. I listen to this album and I just want to take a shot of whiskey and do some brawling… and I haven’t been in a fight since grade school and I lost that one.

“Down Payment Blues” and “Gimme a Bullet To Bite On” are just great tunes. In “Down Payment Blues” Bon sings, “I got myself a Cadillac but I can’t afford the gasoline.” This is dirty, dirty bloozy rock. “Gimme a Bullet…” is a classic Bon break up song… He’s got a “pain in his heart” and he’s calling for a bullet to bite on… and he’s going to make believe it’s his ex… I think we’ve all been there…

The centerpiece of this record, for me, is the tune “Gone Shootin’.” The riff is infectious. The dark story about a man lamenting that his girl friend has gone out in their bad neighborhood to score herion is harrowing, but the way Bon growls, “My baby’s gone shootin’… she’s gone, gone, gone,” it brings chills to my spine. Likely the subject matter kept that one off the radio… it’s the heart and soul of this record. It is my all time favorite AC/DC tune.

I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention the amazing lead guitar playing of Angus Young. With Malcolm Young on rhythm guitar, these guys lay down gargantuan riffs throughout the album. The song “Up To My Neck In You” may be Angus’ finest hour as a guitarist. “Riff Raff” is a colossus of a guitar party. The Young brothers set the scene with their one of their best riffs as Bon takes us into “Sin City” another gem of a song on this album. The guitar riff on that song makes me feel like I’m in the car with the band at the city limits of Las Vegas… and some shit is going down. There isn’t a bad song on this record. The frantic LP ender, “Kicked In The Teeth Again” is a break neck hard rocker… You can barely keep up with Angus’ solos on that one. These guys don’t really slow down at all on this record.

I’ve turned a few of my esteemed rock friends onto this album, Matthew and Stormin’ out in Denver and both of them at some point have turned to me and said some version of, “how did I miss this album?” You true rock guys out there, and you know who you are, should do yourselves a favor and get this record on the turntable as soon as you can. You will not regret it…

As always my friends, on this cold, cold winter day, stay warm, pour something brown and murky, put on “Powerage” and enjoy… Although don’t give into that mood to start brawling… I’m a pacifist… a lover, not a fighter.

Cheers!

Metaphysical Wisdom: The 1986 Ozzy Concert, The Preacher and the Pot Smoker

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It’s rare that you find any “Universal Wisdom” at an Ozzy Osbourne concert. Somehow, in the 80s, I managed to do so.

It was 1986, right in the heart of the 80s, when a group of friends and I loaded up in the car and drove from Manhattan, Kansas down to Wichita to see the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne, in concert at the Kansas Coliseum. We were especially excited to see the Oz-man in Wichita because the arena had “festival seating,” where you show up, line up at the door, and when the doors opened, you sprinted as fast as you can to get a seat near the stage, or better yet, get to the open area in front of the stage. I saw Van Halen in Wichita once and actually stood right in front of the stage, hanging on to it for dear life. God Bless Eddie Van Halen, but as usual, I’m off topic. The opening band for Ozzy was some dark metal band we’d never heard of, Metallica, but that’s another topic. We didn’t fight to get down to the stage but found some nice seats on the lower deck, really close to the stage.

This being the 80s there were a lot of stimulates among the pirate crew I’d journeyed to the concert with. We were drinking a lot of beer that day, which could be said of most of our days at the ol’ University. As the old song goes, “for it’s not for knowledge that we came to college but to drink beer while we’re here…” We had a rule when road tripping, not a very smart one, that you had to have a six pack for each person in the car at all times. (Don’t Drink and Drive kids, it’s a bad idea.) I was with several herbal enthusiasts as well. I’ve always been a fan of dark, murky fluids and was never a smoker but I’d probably list myself as a “pot sympathizer.” You enjoy your vices, I’ll enjoy mine. For some reason we had a bunch of black beauties with us. I was never big into stimulates, but speed was always prevalent at college, especially during finals. If you needed to stay up cramming, rather than drink a pot of coffee, take a black beauty or a “No Doze” and zoom, you’re up. Soon we realized it was fun to take one with beer – one foot on the gas, one foot on the brakes. We were so riled up by the heavy metal and speed, we were on our feet, high-fiving like amateurs and sloshing beer all over. Even before Ozzy came on, the poor high school kids in front of us politely moved off to find safer seats. We were young Vikings on a quest for Heavy Metal Valhalla.

Finally, after playing louder, faster, louder, faster these dour guys calling themselves Metallica (how did we not realize what we were seeing, perhaps it was the beer?), left the stage and after a short intermission to remove Metallica’s white-cross cemetery stage set, a giant Ozzy Ghoul descended from the rafters. The stage prop was designed to look like the cover of his latest album, “Ultimate Sin.” The arms/wings of this Ghoul opened up and sitting on his throne was Ozzy, in all his glory. He leapt out of the chair, launched into “Bark At The Moon,” and didn’t stop moving all night. We went bonkers. I think at one point I may have actually barked in the general direction of the moon…Ah, youth.

Ozzy had had an up and down decade. He’d started his surprisingly successful solo career with the legendary guitarist Randy Rhodes but then Randy was killed in a freak airplane accident. Ozzy had finally recovered and pulled a new band together with Jake E. Lee as his new lead guitarist. Jake was with Ozzy that night and while he was no Randy Rhodes, he held his own. The man could “shred” as the kids say. The song “Shot In the Dark” was our favorite and we went appropriately insane when Ozzy played it. “Never Know Why (We Rock)” was another highlight because let’s face it, Ozzy was right when he sang “they’ll never know why we RAWK!” By the time Ozzy played “Paranoid” as the encore, we were certain we’d reached that Heavy Metal Valhalla we had been seeking.

We slowly began to file out of the Kansas Coliseum to find the car when, in the midst of the exiting metal fans we saw a giant cross. I couldn’t help but wonder what the heck was going on, was this more Ozzy theater? It was then that I heard the Preacher’s voice over the loud speaker, decrying the “Evil” that we had just been a part of. The 80s were a weird decade. Ronald Reagan was President and it was “morning in America.” Out of nowhere Heavy Metal and hard rock came under siege from religious groups. Ozzy and his fellow Metal buddies, Judas Priest had been sued for their dark music being wrongly considered to cause suicides. You had the PMRC, the Parents Musical Resource Committee (or was it Center), led by the uptight Tipper Gore who was attempting to censor rock lyrics. For me this all reached it’s apex when my mother went so far as to warn me that Rush was Satanic, “Ruled Under Satan’s Hand.” Sigh. Ozzy in particular seemed to like to goad these “enemies of rock” as we dubbed them. The Ghoul on the cover of his album and the LP title “The Ultimate Sin” seemed to be aimed right at his religious critics.

Apparently inspired to respond, this Preacher had set up a giant cross in the parking lot and had a bullhorn he was shouting scripture through, along with extended diatribes about why we were all going to Hell for attending an Ozzy show. I never thought nor do I think the music you listen to can condemn you to a life of eternal damnation (unless you listen to Wham) but sure as shit, this guy was telling us it could. My friend SB and I stood at the edge of the crowd that had assembled around this guy, merely for amusement purposes. The guy was really into it, screaming into his bullhorn and foaming at the mouth. Most of the Ozzy fans around him were chuckling and a few had the temerity to make fun of the guy. I was worried the Preacher might stroke out in front of us and we were going to need to clear out of there pretty quickly if that happened. I never liked to hang around when the cops showed up.

It was then that a diminutive kid in the hard rock uniform: jeans, concert t-shirt and flannel shirt over it, came forward to ask a question. “Excuse me, Sir…” The Preacher looked stunned and frankly a little joyful that someone had paid close enough attention to ask him a question. Most of the concert goers were merely walking past him. The intrepid Pot Smoker then posed this metaphysical question to the Preacher, “So, if God created the natural world, and pot grows in nature, doesn’t that mean God put pot here for us to enjoy? I mean, doesn’t that mean God wants us to smoke pot?” My mind was blown. Unfortunately for the Preacher, I think his mind was blown too. He didn’t have an answer. The stunned look on his face betrayed his confusion. He began to sputter and stutter into his microphone…The crowd was hanging on what his response was going to be. After what seemed an eternity, the Pot Smoker turned and walked off toward his car. He was pretty sure, as we all were, that the Preacher couldn’t answer that “Big Question.” When the Pot Smoker walked away, the Preacher suddenly composed himself and muttered unconvincingly, “He doesn’t want an answer, look, he’s walking away…he doesn’t want an answer.” Like the rest of the crowd, I just shook my head and we headed to the car. Game, set and match for the Pot Smoker. As we walked to our car, I could hear the Preacher bellowing through his loudspeaker again and maybe it was my imagination, he seemed to have lost a little of his vim and vigor.

I felt like I’d walked away from that great concert a little smarter about the universe and how it works. While I’m a bourbon man, I certainly don’t think a little pot and a lot of heavy metal is gonna send anybody to Hell or anywhere else. I know I realized that night that you should never allow a judgmental individual or group to influence your behavior or your listening. As long as you’re not hurting anybody I say, go for it.

It’s a dark ride folks. Find someone you love, put on some good music and enjoy yourselves.

Cheers!

LP Review: Metallica “Hard Wired…To Self Destruct,” Holy Shit! Epic, Awesome, Heavy Metal

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My relationship with Metallica’s music got off to a rocky start. In the 80s, heavy metal and hard rock was all about hedonism and partying. Guys with more product in their hair than the Rock Chick jumping around in spandex. Metallica were the antithesis of all of that. Their lyrics were dark and serious. Their music was heavier than anything else around. I just always thought they were dudes who were missing out on a great party. At the time I was more into Van Halen and David Lee Roth’s ethos of “I’ve always been a sucker for a real good time.” Needless to say, I wasn’t one of the early converts to Metallica’s music. It turns out, I was the one who was missing out.

I actually saw Metallica in concert on March 27th, 1986. A bunch of friends and I drove down to the Kansas Coliseum in Wichita, Kansas to see the Lord of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne. There was a lot of beer, black beauties and pot in the crowd. Needless to say all that speed and heavy metal was an edgy combination. We were partying pretty hard getting ready for Ozzy when the opening band came out. The stage was covered in white crosses like Arlington Cemetery, which I found out later matched the cover of the Metallica masterpiece (masterpiece or master puppet?) “Master of Puppets,” when these guys in blue jeans and sleeveless, ratty t-shirts strolled out and just started shredding. They all stood in place, leaned over so their long, long hair covered their faces and bobbed their heads in unison. We all thought this was a little ridiculous and didn’t really pay any attention. We’d never heard of this Metallica(?) before. We were pretty hopped up on speed and beer, we’d scared the people in the seats in front of us so that they’d actually left to go sit elsewhere. I can’t believe how thoroughly we ignored Metallica, which was hard because these guys played louder and faster than anybody but Ozzy.

My lack of attention to Metallica continued unabated pretty much the same over the next decade. In 1996 I went out to Smithville Lake to attend Lollapalooza which was a touring show back then, not just in Chicago. I was really there to see Soundgarden who were the next to last band to play that day. I remember they opened with a Doors’ cover, “Waiting For the Sun” that really caught my attention. I could have split after that, but lead singer Chris Cornell said, as he was leaving the stage, “I bet your glad now Metallica is going to play next.” There had been quite a bit of consternation amongst the grunge hipsters (was there ever such a thing as “grunge hipsters?” I digress) that Metallica was playing this “indie rock” festival. How dare they bring these heavy metal neanderthals to our perfect little fair. I must admit that anti-Metallica sentiment drew me toward Metallica, not away from them. They were great that night, despite Hetfield coming across as a bit of a dick. I think it’s good he’s off the sauce now. Lars hit the wrong drum at the end of a song and Hetfield gave him shit for the next two songs. I remember being particularly fond of the tune “Ain’t My Bitch.” “Until It Sleeps” also jumped out at me. I suddenly thought, maybe I’ve been wrong about these guys. I went out the next day and bought the “Black Album” and “Load.” And suddenly, I was a Metallica fan – not a big one, but I was on the band wagon.

Little did I know, I’d only scratched the surface. Metallica was stuff I would listen to when I was working out but they really weren’t in the BourbonAndVinyl Pantheon of Rock Greats until much later. From “ReLoad” to “St. Anger” I remained aloof from them but then something weird happened. In 2008 they returned with “Death Magnetic.” It was hailed as a return to their early, epic sound. I heard “That Was Just Your Life” and “Cyanide” and something in my head clicked. The long, epic songs with their signature time changes, very Sabbath-like – and I don’t mean that comparison to suggest they were derivative in anyway. Metallica are singularly unique in metal and in music. “Death Magnetic” made me realize how great a band Metallica is. I immediately went out and bought the big 4 – “Kill Em All,” “Ride The Lightning,” “Master of Puppets,” (how did we ignore that set in Wichita, the shame, the shame) and finally “And Justice For All.” I realized, very late in the game the awesome power and fury of Metallica. Do yourself a favor and buy all of those albums immediately.

What drew me in first with Metallica was the drums. Lars Ulrich’s drums are some of the best in rock and roll. He is the engine and the heartbeat of the band. After that it was the melodic, fluid guitar solos of Kirk Hammett. Beyond his solos were the great riffs that Hammett and James Hetfield play. Big slabs of hard guitar riffs served up fast and loud. The lyrics are dark, usually about feelings of anger, isolation and fear. Hetfield delivers the vocals in an anguished howl that conveys all the pain in the universe. What’s not to love. No wonder teenage boys are into this testosterone fueled music. This is the sound of a Panzer division rolling into town.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as a follow up to “Death Magnetic.” As is typical now, they took forever to get the record out. I had heard early rumors that this new record would be to the “Black Album” what “Death Magnetic” was to say, “Ride The Lightning,” or to put it succinctly a return to that style. Now, many purists say Metallica sold out around the time of the “Black Album” but I like both their early stuff and the latter stuff although I will acknowledge it’s much different. I’m not here to get into any purist battles over the Metallica catalog. I must admit I’m more drawn to the early stuff so I was worried that they would try and recapture that “Black Album” ethos of shorter, weirder tunes. Those reports turned out to be false.

“Hardwired…To Self-Destruct” isn’t so much of a return to that early style but an extension of it. I will say, right up front, that Kirk Hammett’s guitar solos are almost completely missing from this record. I read that he felt left out of the creative process. That’s a shame, it’s like Van Halen doing keyboard songs…why would you leave your strongest player on the bench? Other than that knit-picky complaint, this is an amazing album. It’s sprawling, ambitious, epic, heavy metal. Metallica is the only band who can pull this off. Lars Ulrich once again proves that his name belongs alongside Bonham and Moon in the drummer Hall of Fame.

“Hardwired,” the title track and first track starts things off in that galloping, breakneck-speed metal these guys are known for. It’s almost got a punk-rock feel, it’s so fast and hits so hard. “Moth Into Flame” is another fast paced instant classic that boasts one of the few Hammett solos. “Halo On Fire” which starts slowly and builds to an amazing crescendo may be one of Metallica’s greatest songs ever. Who would think, this far into the game, that these guys could deliver something that mind blowing. “Dream No More” is another great metal track. These guys don’t slow down the entire album. The tunes all clock in way past five minutes (for the most part). The closest they get to a “ballad” or a mid-tempo track is “Am I Savage,” which has an almost funky feel to it, but it ain’t slow. “Murder One” may be Hammett’s finest moment in terms of solo’s. It’s a face melting burst from him. Lars’ drums on “Spit Out the Bone” are as fast and manic as any drumming I’ve ever heard – if I have a heart attack, put that tune on and throw my body on the speaker, turn it up loud and I’m almost certain it’ll revive me. This entire album is intricate, well played, classic metal.

I did spring for the “Deluxe” edition of the record which stretches out to 26 songs. They originally planned on releasing early versions of the “riffs” that they built the songs on, but at the last minute changed their mind to release a few covers and a bunch of live stuff. I don’t have a lot of live Metallica, so I’d describe the live stuff as a nice to have but not as anything essential. I do like the covers, especially the “Ronnie Rising Medley” for Ronnie James Dio, RIP. “Lords of Summer” is a great tune that was purportedly released a while ago, but I’d never heard it and is probably the best of the bonus material. Put together with the actual, proper “Hardwired” album this thing is as sprawling as “Garage Inc.” I would advise getting the “Deluxe” version vs the base LP, but hey, I’m a completist.

“Hardwired” is an absolute must have for Metallica and metal fans. We should all pause and celebrate that a band who have been around this long, could put out something this epic, intricate and powerful. It’s LPs like “Hardwired” that B&V was founded on. A band this far into their career who can make music this passionate and immediate is something to thank the Metal Gods for. I feel that this stands amongst Metallica’s best work. I can only hope they don’t wait eight years for a follow up. Oh, and let Kirk play a few more solo’s next time guys…

Buy now, get some Southern Comfort, bob your head along with the loud music and as always, enjoy!!

Cheers! (Devil-horns to all of you!)

BourbonAndVinyl List of Bands Who Sadly, Should Call It Quits

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In a post a few weeks ago I mused about a proposed SuperGroup comprised of members of famous bands who were left out of some of these big reunion tours. I cited GnR and Black Sabbath just to name a few. In one of the comments back to me, Moutly58 commented that I should do a post on bands that should call it quits. I chuckled but the comment did inspire quite a bit of thought. Nothing like a provocative comment and a tumbler of bourbon to send me into brooding mode…

This blog was founded on the idea that, other than telling funny drinking stories, I would talk about older, more mature bands and artists who were putting out new music. There are so many great artists putting out music that have been largely ignored by radio and the public, I felt the market was underserved. Tom Petty, both with the Heartbreakers and Mudcrutch, has put out some great music over the last decade that you’re not likely to hear on your local rock stations. You’re lucky if you catch them on satellite radio. I’m more likely to hear “Born To Run” by Springsteen on the radio again (for the billionth time) than anything from his last LP, “High Hopes.”

But Moulty58’s comment made me put my love of those classic bands aside for a moment. I couldn’t help but think, are there bands that ought to call it quits? Are there bands who have stayed at the party too long (which coincidentally is something the Rock Chick accuses me of all the time)? The answer is, inevitably, yes. There are just certain bands that need to hang it up. In many cases it’s due to the tragic loss of a key band member. In some cases these bands are carrying on without key members. Never underestimate the magic chemistry of the right four or five guys in a room. In many of these cases these artists have just lost something, call it a creative spark…. Without further adieu, here are the B&V bands who need to hang it up:

Aerosmith: These guys haven’t done anything listenable since “Permanent Vacation.” Steven Tyler has some of the worst LSD in the history of rock music. I’m so sick of Tyler and Joe Perry bickering, they make the Stones look like a happy family. Tyler betrayed his blues rock roots and went on a TV show and then recorded a weird country-esque solo album that was crap. These guys can’t even get in the studio to record new music any more. They’ve announced a farewell tour, but we’ve all seen that before. Go away Steven, go away.

 AC/DC: These poor bastards. Founding rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young sadly succumbs to dementia. Drummer Phil Rudd becomes a meth dealing moronic thug. Bass player Cliff Williams has announced his retirement. Lead singer Brian Johnson has hearing damage so severe they had to bring in Axl Rose…. I mean,  you’re running on fumes if you have to turn to rock and roll’s most mercurial undependable front man to help you finish your tour. I feel for Angus Young, lead guitarist and lone founding member left. I hear Axl is inspiring Angus to write new music. If so, and he works with Axl again, call it something else, not AC/DC. Parts are falling off of this band faster than my high school car running down the highway.

Eric Clapton: When was the last time Eric Clapton recorded a song that didn’t sound like your grandfather sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch. When you’re known for playing guitar and refuse to do big solo’s… perhaps you’ve lost your way.

Bob Seger: I applaud Bob for putting out a couple of albums of new music over the last few years. He’s always said, when his voice goes, it’s time for him to go… I’ve got bad news for you Bob, your voice has gone. Seger’s voice sounds like a fork caught in a garbage disposal. It’s time to give up the rasping and turn to his vast, unreleased archives. I’d settle for releases of “Seven” and “Back In ’72.”

The Moody Blues: I don’t even think these guys are still around, I just can’t stand the fucking Moody Blues so I included them just in case.

Any Band Missing Key Founding Members; This is sort of a catch all for those late 70’s to early 80’s (think ’75 to ’85) bands who keep hanging around with only 1 or 2 original members. I’m talking to you Styx, REO Speedwagon, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Foreigner (currently touring without Lou Gramm) and most of all, Journey (no Steve Perry?) Give it up guys, you’re not Menudo with interchangeable members. I mean, sure Styx still has James “J.Y.” Young and Tommy Shaw in the band but I can never forgive those guys for letting Dennis DeYoung do that whole “Mr. Roboto” thing. They should be banished forever for that…

Sting: Every time Sting actually moves toward rock and roll the critics herald it as a return to his “Police sound.” I’ve heard his new song, “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You.” Having heard it, I can certainly stop thinking about Sting. After a jazz-lite solo career, he careened into Christmas music and then did a Broadway play. Now I’m supposed to believe he’s going to rock? I doubt it. Time for rock’s most Pretentious Man to slowly fade away.

Billy Joel: It’s hard for me to believe that the last album of new material Joel put out was “River of Dreams” in 1995. The guy has loads of talent but has shut down on writing or creating new music. I think that contributes to the alcoholism but I’m no doctor. He’s an amazing concert draw, but when you stop creating as an artist don’t you die? Record something new Billy so I can take you off this list.

The Who: I saw the Who this last April and they were great. Zak Starkey does a great Keith Moon imitation. Pino Palladino, who Townshend said was “too cool for jazz” did a nice job filling in for John Entwistle. Pete seemed to be having fun despite himself. Roger was Roger. They did have a cadre of musicians on stage to augment their sound, never a good sign. The Who haven’t recorded anything since “Endless Wire.” I don’t know why these guys can’t get themselves into a studio, they killed it live. Townshend continues to say how “done” with the Who he is and yet he continues to tour, likely to placate Daltrey. I love these guys, but again, without moving forward creatively I have to question, why?

Did I miss any bands you think should hang it up? If I did, please add your thoughts in the comments.

Fall is finally here, my favorite season, indeed it’s the high, Holy season for Bourbon drinkers. Pour something dark and murky, put on some great rock and roll and enjoy the crisp weather and changing leaves.

Cheers!