Concert Review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Kansas City, 6/2/2017

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*image from the Kansas City Star

It was a bit of a rough May… First we lost Chris Cornell and then we lost Gregg Allman. I was beginning to feel that numb sense of despair I’d felt for much of 2016. But then I remembered on Friday, June 2nd, I had tickets to see Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers on their 40th Anniversary tour. And as a bonus, former James Gang/Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh was slated to open. While I love Tom Petty, and concerts in general, I was having a bit of trouble getting up for this show. It’s just that I’ve seen Petty so many times, I was fearful it would the same old set, the same old show. As usual, I was wrong…

As Petty is reflecting on his 40th anniversary, I couldn’t help but think back to my history with Tom. I can still remember my first Petty show. I had been a huge fan of his since their debut album came out when I was in junior high school, but I didn’t get to see him live until I was in college on the Pack Up The Plantation tour in support of the flawed but still enjoyable album, ‘Southern Accents.’ That show was ok, but the Heartbreakers were augmented with a horn section and back up singers. Sadly they also chose to hang a giant Confederate flag behind them, a choice Petty now regrets.

It wasn’t until I saw them on the ‘Let Me Up, I’ve Had Enough’ tour that I got the real, genuine rockin’ Tom Petty experience. That album was very Stonesy, for lack of a better word, and the show was more full on rocking. Sure, I’d seen them behind Bob Dylan, but they were better on their own. It was at the ‘Let Me Up…’ show in Boston that I realized what great musicians these guys are. Stan Lynch was still manning the drum kit and he was a monster. It was Mike Campbell’s guitar that really caught my attention. The man should be on the list of every “Greatest Guitarists” everywhere. I can’t say enough about Benmont Tench’s abilities on keyboards. He sits on a stool surrounded by every type of keyboard imaginable and seemingly plays all of them at the same time… it’s like the guy has 4 arms.

After that experience, I made a point to see Petty on every tour. I remember my buddy Stormin and I drinking with a group of friends of ours who were going down to old Kemper Arena in Kansas City to see Petty on the ‘Full Moon Fever’ tour. Stormin and I were broke and I was unemployed. Neither of us had bought tickets. Our friends talked us into going down to scalp, something I rarely do. Some guy walked up to us and asked us what we thought his tickets were worth. They were 5th row on the floor. “Uh, face value?” He just smiled and said, “Give me $20 each and we’ll call it even.” We ended up with better seats than our friends. That was such a great show for me, when you’re that close it changes the experience. I can remember, looking up to a darkened entry way, behind the stage, and a couple I could only see in silhouette were dancing to the music… it was like they were the perfect stage decoration. I envied them their joy.

It was my old friend Stormin who called to alert me that Petty was on tour for his 40th Anniversary. I hesitated a bit, only because at our last Petty show my wife, the Rock Chick said, “He plays the same 10 songs every time we see him… I may be done with Petty.” But knowing this was his 40th anniversary show, and likely the Heartbreakers last big tour, I did some research. Petty claimed they were going to mix up the setlist. I was in. I can only say, thank God for my over 30 year friendship with Stormin, because I would have hated to miss this beautiful Anniversary celebration.

Petty strolled out on the stage last night in a purple jacket. He’s so charismatic and lets face it, purple is just a regal color. I knew this was going to be a different night when they opened with the first song from their first album, “Rockin’ Around With You.” It’s got a Bo Diddley beat and was just a nice burst of rock to start the show. He followed up with a blistering version of “Last Dance With Mary Jane” which ended in a guitar dual between Petty and Mike Campbell… You just know Campbell is going to win all of those. He put on a guitar clinic all night. Everyone really needs to see this show just to hear Campbell play.

While Petty did mix up the setlist last night, what does it say about his catalog that when he plays a song like “You Got Lucky” which was a big hit, that it’s his change of pace material he rarely plays. That would be a must-play for any other artist. Last night was the first time I’d ever heard it live, and it was fantastic. I was thrilled he played some of his newer material… he really accessed all of his catalog and the newer song “Forgotten Man” is more relevant today than it was a few years ago. Playing these unfamiliar tracks put new life into “Won’t Back Down” and even “Free Fallin'” that Petty always plays.

The thing that really electrified last night’s performance was the enthusiasm of the crowd. They sang along on almost every song. I hadn’t seen a crowd that jacked up since the Stones a couple of years ago. The place was full and everybody was in full voice. I even caught the Rock Chick singing along loudly. It was just that kind of night. Petty announced the obscure soundtrack tune “Walls” as a song that had been requested… by him it turns out and the crowd even sang along for that one.

The middle of the set turns acoustic as he turns his focus on a subset of songs from his brilliant ‘Wildflowers’ LP. “It’s Good To Be King” was the usual extended jam. Then he went into “Crawling Back To You,” which has the great quote, “most things I worry about don’t happen anyway,” which could be my theme song. The acoustic strummer, “Wildflowers,” was simply transcendent. He kept things rolling with the rarely played “Yer So Bad” from ‘Full Moon Fever.” Wow!

Petty and the Heartbreakers brought it back up for “Should Have Known Better” which verged on punk rock last night. It was killer. After that, he even played “Refugee” which is a tune I’ve only heard him do once, maybe. The encore was one of my all time favorite songs “You Wreck Me” followed by “American Girl” which would have felt obligatory had the Heartbreakers not brought so much energy to it. When the lights came up, I was ecstatic. Even the Rock Chick turned to me and said, “That was a great, great show.”

I must also mention, the opening act, Joe Walsh. Joe is such a consummate showman. The things he did to his guitar could be classified as abuse. It was fantastic. “The Bomber” was a guitar workout like I haven’t seen in a while. The middle section of “The Bomber” where Joe sounds like he’s playing classical music on electric guitar was even better live. As my friend drummer Blake would say, he’s a very tasty guitarist. People take these amazing guitarists for granted… nobody can play like Joe (and later Mike Campbell) did. Cherish these guitarists people, they’re a dying breed. When Joe said, “I know there are a lot of millennials here, and most of these songs were done before you were born. Let me just say, welcome! This next song, however, is going to make your parents really happy…” and then launched into “Funk 49,” I almost wept with joy. In the words of my friend Stormin who saw the show two nights earlier at Red Rocks, “Joe Walsh is crushing it right now.” And, I’d be remiss, if I didn’t mention the beautiful gesture of Joe dedicating his cover of “Take It To the Limit” to his “brother and bandmate,” Glenn Frey. Class move, Joe, class move!

Last night was a celebration of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 40 years as a rock band. But it was more than that, it was a celebration of rock and roll and live music. It was a celebration of the communal aspects of concerts. Different people from all over coming together in unison to drink a little, sing a little and enjoy a whole lot of great music. The temptation to skip seeing that favorite band can sometimes be strong. Many times you think “I’ll catch them next time…” I’m telling you people, get out and see live music… there will come a time when these bands will disappear and you’ll wish you had…

Simply put, a magnificent show last night. Kudos to the crowd! And of course, Happy Anniversary Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

P.S. Joe Walsh for President!

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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!

The Moving HBO Documentary: Eagles of Death Metal: Mon Amis (Our Friends), Bravo!

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I remember the horrible Paris attacks of November 13th, 2015 as if it were yesterday. I chronicled my feelings, mostly simmering rage, in these very pages. While I’m not a religious man, there are things I hold sacred. Along with my family, rock n roll and concerts are one of those things. The communal joining together for an evening of food, drink and music is as close to a church as I’ll ever get (on purpose, at least). So, when the terrorists chose to attack cafes, a football game, and a rock concert, it was as if for the first time, they’d walked into my church with guns. The senseless murder of 89 people in the Bataclan during Eagles of Death Metal’s show particularly upset me, and is why I wrote the post, “My Heart Is In the Bataclan.”

U2 had been scheduled to perform live in Paris and broadcast that concert on HBO but postponed the show due to the attack. They were seen placing flowers at the memorial for the fallen outside the Bataclan. Is there any greater rock n roll ambassadors of Peace than the guys in U2? If I ever met U2, I’d have to use the words of my favorite TV policeman Kojak, “Who Loves Ya Baby.” I remember my friend Steven saying to me, the last time we saw U2 in a stadium in St Louis, “These guys are the soundtrack to our lives.” True dat, Steven. I was thrilled when toward the end of the HBO broadcast concert, U2 brought up the members of Eagles of Death Metal to play the show they were robbed of. It was a beautiful moment which I also chronicled in the pages of B&V.

This Monday, I happened to be watching HBO with the Rock Chick… we happened to love ‘The Young Pope,’ which has some great music, I might add. Afterwards on HBO was a documentary about Eagles of Death Metal and that tragic evening at the Bataclan. I had no idea it was coming on, fate must have willed me to see it. The title is ‘Eagles of Death Metal: Mon Amis (Our Friends)’ and I recommend that everyone see it. It was healing, cathartic and entertaining all at the same time. I’m not too proud to admit that during portions of the show, I had tears in my eyes.

As a back drop to the events at the Bataclan the documentary starts with the history of Eagles of Death Metal. Josh Homme, more famously the genius behind Queens of the Stone Age, and Jesse Hughes, lead singer/guitarist for EODM were high school buddies. I thought it was very cool how their friendship is the very fabric this band was created from. Jesse and Josh record the albums and then Jesse takes the band out on the road. Josh joins on drums when he can, schedule permitting. He was scheduled to be with them the night of the Bataclan attack, but had stayed home in the States for the birth of his child.

The title of the documentary, ‘Mon Amis (Our Friends)’ really sums up the relationship this band has with their fans. They’re a good time, funny, hard rocking band and their fans are some of the most dedicated out there. I had never really heard much of their music prior to all of this, though I was a QOTSA fan. The relationship these guys have with their fans is something special, making the events of November 13th that much worse.

When they finally got to the story of the concert at the Bataclan, they bring in some of the survivors of the attacks. They talk about their love for the band and they talk about the awful, frightening events of that night. It was bone chilling, but you could tell these people needed to talk about it to heal. One of the things that struck both the Rock Chick and I was how close the killers got to the band. I had always heard, “the band got out” before it got dangerous. That is not accurate at all. The guitar player actually hid in the shower of the dressing room while the terrorists kicked at the door to try and get to him. It was very clear from the tearful interviews that Jesse Hughes gives, that this is a band with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Jesse peaked through the curtain and his description of what he saw, people being mown down, is heart stopping.

In a brief snippet, the makers of the documentary interview Bono and the Edge of U2. Bon really summed it up, much better than I did in my B&V post a year and half ago, when he said, “this was an attack on a lifestyle, a lifestyle they hate.” Well said, Bono, well said.

While EODM playing at the U2 concert a few weeks after the Bataclan attack was healing, it was time for Eagles of Death Metal to come back and complete the show they never got to finish. Playing at the Bataclan would have probably been too traumatic, so the documentary chronicles their prep and return to Paris to play at the Olympia theater. They brought back anybody from the Bataclan who was willing and able to attend – and who could blame those who didn’t feel like going back to a concert… the bastards who pulled off the attack have likely ruined that part of those fans lives. To watch Jesse and the band, this time including Josh, come outside the theater prior to the show to greet and hug the fans was another beautiful moment. It just underscores how close this band is to their fans, to their friends, “mon amis.”

This was really a great documentary and I applaud HBO. I also applaud all those fans who survived and attended the EODM’s return to Paris. And I especially applaud the Eagles of Death Metal. May they rock and roll forever! Again, everyone who loves rock and roll, heavy metal and hard rock should see this movie.

Don’t let the bastards drag you down….

Cheers!

The 10 Concerts I Should Have Skipped

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 I will start by stating the obvious. I love listening to music. I have spent hours sitting around my home listening to vinyl, CD and now iPod versions of albums. There is nothing more satisfying than finding something new to listen to, something that gives me the same thrill as the first time I heard “Some Girls.” As you may have guessed from reading through the posts of B&V, another thing I love to do is go out and see live music. I love watching musicians perform whether it’s a local band in a small bar all the way up to seeing national acts perform at a festival. I think any band that you want to consider “great” has to not only deliver on album, but they have to deliver the goods live. There are some bands I didn’t really like until I saw them live, like say, The Stone Temple Pilots or Bush. When I see a great band live, something just clicks.

Of course, I’ve had the opposite happen too. I’ve gone out with the expectation that I was going to see a great concert, only to come home baffled or disappointed. It’s rare, considering how many shows I’ve seen over the years that this happens, but as I was pondering this I realized there are 10 shows that frankly, I just wish I hadn’t attended. I try to stay positive at B&V but I felt chronicling these misfires was important. Now, there are different reasons for a bad concert. The band may have been tired or indifferent in this small market. There are occasional equipment failures. Sometimes it’s the choice of material performed. And alas, there are those “self-inflicted” wounds, where I was the problem, not the band. Here are my 10 examples, where maybe staying home and watching Kojak reruns might have been a better idea….

The “Self-Inflicted Wound” Shows 

  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse: This is the show that got away from me. They were playing Kemper in 1986, billing themselves as “The Third Greatest Garage Band In the World.” From all accounts from my friends I attended with, this was a great show. We started drinking in Manhattan, Ks and continued the entire drive into KC. I’m told I threw up and promptly started making out with the girl in front of me… who was on a date. I tried to rush the stage and ran into the barricade, falling face first to the floor where the booze pinned me down. I was rightly shown the door by security. I am not proud of this one…. To describe me as hammered is… generous. I’ve never been that drunk for another show.
  • Scorpions/Deep Purple/Dio – This one, I can at least blame on my friend Steven. He and his brother-in-law had been drinking and partying pretty heavily that day. The Rock Chick was pretty excited to see the Scorpions, but I didn’t realize how much she was into them. We fucked around with the 2 drunks so long, I missed Dio. I saw him walk off stage flashing the devil-horns, that was it. Deep Purple came out and I’m not sure what Ian Gillian was celebrating but he was dressed like a gay pirate in capris and a sleeveless t-shirt (not that there’s anything wrong with gay pirates, mind you). The Scorps came out and my two buddies fell apart. They were our ride, yes the drunks were driving, so to the Rock Chick’s never ending scorn, we had to leave.

The Artist Chooses Bad Material

  • Boston, in Boston (well, really Worchester): Boston took what, 7 years to put out their weak third album, “Third Stage.” We had all grown up on “Boston” and “Don’t Look Back.” Boston still threw a long shadow in those days. I thought seeing them on their home turf would be fantastic. Boy, was I wrong. After 2 or 3 great songs, they decided to play “Third Stage” front to back, in it’s entirety, like it was fucking “Quadrophenia” or something. I actually fell asleep during that part of the show. Asleep at a concert, while sober?
  • Neil Young: I love Neil Young but my luck with this guy has been horrible over the years. I did see him on the CSNY tour and he was fabulous, but solo, I always crap out. I made the mistake of seeing him on the “Greendale” tour. Like Boston, he played the entire album, front to back. Yuck. Can we please leave the “rock operas” to The Who, folks? I made the mistake of taking the Rock Chick, who is not a big Neil fan to begin with… Needless to say, I now have to play my Neil Young when she’s out of the house. The encore was good…

Just Plain Bad Shows

  • Joe Walsh, circa 1980: Joe came to KC as a headline act. My high school concert buddy, Brewster, who later betrayed me and took someone else with him to Springsteen’s “The River” Tour, yes that wound still stings, called me and said, “we gotta go, Rocky Mountain Way, man.” Joe comes out and he’s on fire, he’s laying down blistering solo’s, raising the roof off the place. After setting that furious pace during the opening 30 minutes, he said, “We’re gonna turn it down a little bit, but don’t worry we’ll bring it back up…” And I’m still waiting for him to turn it up. He mellowed the place down for the next hour. He came out for an encore and I yelled, “Walk Away” in an attempt to get him to play that wonderful James Gang chestnut… Unfortunately Joe took me literally, and played 1 mellow song and uh, walked away.
  • Rush, “Moving Pictures” Tour: My first time seeing Rush was a disaster. They’d incorporated keyboards into their music but were baffled on how to incorporate them live. I did see them a few years later, on the “Signals” tour, and despite it being a weaker album, the show as much, much better. Every time I’ve seen them since, it’s been better than that first one… Wait, we’re still talking about music here aren’t we?
  • R.E.M., “Monster” Tour: Again, another great album by a great band and I just felt bored shitless at this show. I think R.E.M. is a band better suited to a club or small theater than a huge outdoor amphitheater. Stipe’s state presence was off this night. He sang one song turned around facing the drummer. I looked around the expansive lawn, where we were camped out in the GA section and small knots of people had gathered where they were all talking. The music wasn’t holding their interest.
  • Ryan Adams, “Cardinology”: Ryan played a truncated version of the shows he’d been playing in bigger cities. He game zero fucks about the KC audience… No effort. It’s frankly been hard to listen to his stuff since then without this show shading it. Effort matters, even out here in the provinces people.
  • Eric Clapton, circa 2005: Went to Dallas with my buddy Steven to see Clapton. I seem to recall this was a birthday gift from Steven, so I don’t want to be too harsh. Any fire that was in Clapton as a performer or guitarist is completely gone. He ended the show by covering “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Sigh.
  • Bob Dylan, circa 2004: Merle Haggard opened this show and I thank God every day I saw ol’ Hags live. He had a voice like smooth whiskey. Then Dylan came out. I’m the biggest Dylan fanatic you’re gonna find and it took me forever to identify the songs he was playing. I still don’t know how a show could go this wrong. His vocals were buried way down in the mix. I had to read the playlist on a website the next day to find out what I’d heard. My buddy Drew has seen Dylan on a night when he’s on and said it was great… I was not so lucky.

I don’t ever want to discourage anybody from seeing a live show. Support live music, folks. These examples serve merely as a cautionary tale about how it can go wrong. Most of these artists I’ve seen again and the shows were better. There’s nothing like the magic that happens when the lights go down, and that first chord gets struck. The anticipation, the presence of truly skilled, great musicians is just amazing. It’s a communal, almost religious vibe… Unfortunately, on rare occasions the sermon gets lost… If you have any examples of bad shows, please share in the comments section.

Cheers!

Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP

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“Fourteen junkies, too weak to work…” – Neil Young, “Time Fades Away”

There are certain albums that for various reasons have taken on a certain “mystique” over the years. In most cases it’s albums that don’t get released. Prince had “The Black Album,” an album that was supposedly so perverse it couldn’t be released… we have to save the children from such sex talk in music (cue the PMRC). Years after the rumor of the album, Prince finally released it and it was, to be generous, meh. Ryan Adams’ record company rejected “Love Is Hell” because they thought it was a downer so he released “Rock N Roll” instead. The fact that his record company rejected “Love Is Hell” brought so much interest in this supposedly “dark” album, that the record company finally released it. It’s an ok Ryan Adams LP… I mean, dark is kind of his thing. You’ll never find Ryan Adams being played at a party here at the B&V house, that’s for sure. One could describe Ryan’s music as, “Music to Overdose to.”

Usually albums only carry this kind of heavy mystique if someone dies during or shortly after the albums release. “Blackstar” by David Bowie and “You Want It Darker” by Leonard Cohen will always carry a little more weight because they can be read as an artistic farewell to the world and to their fans. Jimi Hendrix’ last recordings are always heralded as people wonder, what might have been. People point to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s final song on his final album, “Riviera Paradise” as a signal that he was headed into an all new creative direction that would have changed music and guitar as we know it… had he not passed away in that tragic helicopter crash. It’s like a painter whose paintings become more valuable after they’ve died. I’m surprised more rock stars don’t fake their death more often but that makes me sound like an agent hustling for coins.

Of all the artists around, other than maybe Bob Dylan, Neil Young has more than his share of “mysterious,” unreleased albums. “Chrome Dreams” is an oft bootlegged, amazing record that Neil chose not to release in 1977. It would have been as big as “Harvest” in my opinion, which may be why Neil chose not to put it out. That “fame thing” never worked out too well for Neil. He said in the liner notes of “Decade” that “Harvest” found him in the middle of the road and very popular so he chose to steer into the ditch, “It was a rougher ride, but you meet more interesting people there” (I believe is the direct quote). He’s put out most of the songs on other albums, but taken as a whole “Chrome Dreams” would have stood with some of his best work.

Of all of Neil Young’s unreleased and released albums, the one that always had the most intrigue for me, for some reason, was “Time Fades Away.” Part of the problem was you simply couldn’t find the record. I could never get my hands on it. After the initial release, Neil refused to release it on vinyl or any other format so copies of the album were really hard to find. Neil basically disavowed the record. My college roommate Drew was the only guy I know who could have been capable of even finding a copy such were his “completist” tendencies, but I don’t think even he had a copy. It was like you had to “know a guy” to even hear the thing, which I never did.

The backstory alone is enough to draw a rock and roll obsessive like me in… Neil Young, fresh from his twin triumphs of “After the Gold Rush,” and the even bigger success of “Harvest” was set to go on tour. It’s hard to overstate how popular Neil Young became after “Harvest.” I heard a story once, that Dylan heard “Heart of Gold” on the radio and thought it was one of his songs. When he realized it was Neil Young, he felt ripped off and wrote “Forever Young” as some sort of angry, “you ripped me off, you dick” kind of a song. Who knows if that’s true. Anyway, Neil gathered members of his “Harvest” band, the Stray Gators, and invited Danny Whitten from one of his other backing bands, Crazy Horse to New York to rehearse. Unfortunately Danny Whitten, a very talented guitarist and songwriter in his own right, was addicted to heroin. He’d already been kicked out of Crazy Horse, who were working on their own without Neil, because of his drug addictions. Whitten just couldn’t “hack it” at the rehearsals. He was taking a lot of Valium to help him kick the heroin habit and it was just destroying his timing. Finally Neil had to tell Danny he was fired and gave him $50 and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles. That very night, the night Neil Young fired Danny Whitten, Danny was found dead from mixing alcohol and $50 worth of Valium. Enter…. guilt and despair.

So after releasing his biggest album, with thousands of adoring fans waiting to hear the soft rock troubadour of “Harvest” come out and sing “Heart of Gold,” Neil plugs in his electric guitar and attempted to conquer his demons. Oh, and he brought along the 8-track mobile recording machine to document the whole thing. At the time, one of his band members turned him onto tequila. Ah, tequila. As I used to say in my younger days, the authorities knew which drug to legalize. When I drink tequila, which I rarely do, if I drink too much of it, I’m either going to fight you or fuck you, and quite possibly, both at the same time. Add tequila to a depressed, fragile mental state like Neil Young was in and God knows what can happen. Apparently the fans were not impressed. Part of the problem with concert audiences is that it’s hard to play new, unheard music for a crowd. They want to hear the hits, songs they’re familiar with. This was especially true in 1973 when the crowds were not that sophisticated.

At long last, I discovered this “lost” live album on iTunes. I had always heard that the music on this album was all loud, screaming guitar. It was going to be all noise like “Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black).” That is not exactly the case. The band did not get along well and Neil’s vocals were so fried he brought in Crosby and Nash to help sing harmonies, although, this wasn’t an album big on harmony. I will say, this is a very, very good Neil Young album, although I prefer the even darker music found on “Tonight’s the Night.” One might see this as a companion piece to “Tonight’s the Night” and “On The Beach” which are some of Neil’s darker works.

The album starts off with the raucous title track, which is one of the best here but I’ve always liked my Neil Young a little ragged. “Yonder Stands the Sinner” is another ragged rocker that jumps out at me and it’s followed by the great song “L.A.” (“city in the smog…”). But interspersed with those rockers are a couple of delicate, beautiful piano ballads, “Journey Through The Past” and “Love In Mind.” I never expected this kind of balladry from a guy on tequila. The crowd claps politely at the end of “Love In Mind” but you kind of feel they’re not thrilled.

The centerpiece of the album for me, is the beginning of what would be side 2 for you vinyl enthusiasts, “Don’t Be Denied.” It’s a a better autobiography than Neil’s book “Shakey.”It’s a long, mid tempo song about Neil’s love of and dedication to music. It tells his life story from being a bullied kid at school, to forming a band. It’s one of his best songs and coincidentally was recently covered beautifully by Norah Jones. It’s really the only hopeful bit of light in an otherwise dark album.

After the ballad, “The Bridge,” another lovely piano and harmonica song, Neil and the band launch into the epic, eight-minute “Last Dance.” I really like the ragged guitar riff in this song. Although, it’s so bleak that it wouldn’t have been out of place on “Tonight’s the Night.” At the end of the song, Neil just howls, “no, no, no…” When Neil sings, “Wake up, it’s time to go to work,” it’s with an utter lack of enthusiasm.

“Time Fades Away” is a portrait of an artist who is really suffering. And by sharing that pain with us through his art, he let’s we who are also suffering know we are not alone. That’s the power of an album like this. And powerful is the word I would use to describe this record. For anybody out there who likes to explore the musical backwaters of an artist’s catalog, like I do, this is must have music. Although, I wouldn’t recommend putting this on at Christmas… not a lot of Yule time joy here….

It’s a dark ride, folks. Stick together and take care of each other. 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: The Beatles, “Live At The Hollywood Bowl”

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Long before BourbonAndVinyl, long before I collected hundreds of albums and CDs, long before my music obsession, there was my brother’s stereo… I had an old black-and-white TV in my room, and a clock radio but I only turned the clock radio on if I was listening to the Royals or the Chiefs. I never listened to music. I was a sports guy, not a music guy. My brother, who I’ve mentioned in these very pages as the polar opposite of me, didn’t have a TV but he did have a stereo. It was one of those turntable/tape deck/receiver all in one jobs. I couldn’t understand what he was doing spending all of his spare money on those albums, it made no sense to me. Be careful what you make fun of, it eventually takes you over.

I would walk by his closed door on the way to my own room and I’d hear all these… sounds… coming from his room. What the hell was going on in there. More often than not those “sounds” were the Beatles. They say you can tell a lot about a person by which Beatle they favor… My brother was a George guy. I’m more of a John guy. I’ll let Beatle-0logists decipher the meaning of that. Maybe if our family dentist had dosed my brother and I with LSD like John and George, we’d have been closer as kids, but that time has passed. I eventually knocked on the closed door and after being admitted entrance to my brother’s inner sanctum, plopped down on the floor to listen to these Beatles he was so fond of. It took the Stones to put out “Some Girls” to completely turn me onto music, but my brother’s vast Beatles LP collection certainly pushed me onto that path. Its odd that on so many things my younger brother led the way…

Like I was to eventually become, my brother was nothing if not a completist. He’d buy a greatest hits album if it had an unreleased single on it even if he owned all the other tunes already. One of the albums he seemed to play a lot was the Beatles’ “Live at the Hollywood Bowl.” It sounded like a bunch of girls screaming like a cat in a blender to me but my brother loved that record. I remember the liner notes, printed on the back of the album sleeve. George Martin, who had been asked to put the album together in 1977, long after the Beatles’ break up, wrote the essay printed on the back. If I recall correctly, he said he was only convinced to put the Live LP together after his granddaughter (or maybe it was his daughter) had asked him if the Beatles had been “as big as” or “as exciting as the Bay City Rollers.” I’d say he proved the point. Game, set and match to Mr. Martin.

I sort of forgot about “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” until I got to college. One of my roommates, Drew would sit and listen to that album and laugh his ass off when the Beatles would speak between songs. It was so obvious they were mocking the entire Beatlemania thing. Before “Hard Days Night” John Lennon says, “we made two movies, one in color and one in black and white…” He sounds like a game show host. That was after my conversion to “music junkie” and it was the first time I gave that album a serious listen.

The Beatles famously quit touring in 1966. After that they became studio wizards. The breadth and depth of the music they recorded is amazing. Every album seemed to create two or three sub genre’s of music. It’s easy to think of them as composers like Mozart or Bach and it’s sometimes easy to forget that they were a working band, since after ’66 they only played live once on the roof of the Apple offices in London for the “Let It Be” album. That’s why this document of them as a touring, live band is so important.

In anticipation of hearing this album again, I started listening to the “Live at the BBC” album. It’s a great document of what was, what we tend to forget, a great band. It’s like they’ve turned the BBC studios into their own Hamburg club. They play a lot of their own music, but so many great covers that they never got around to recording and releasing in the studio. The only thing the “BBC” album leaves out is a studio audience. There’s nobody to react to the performances except the jolly BBC DJ. It’s a bit of a sterile live experience. Still, it’s a pleasure to hear these guys playing live together.

Which all leads me to the newly remastered “Live at the Hollywood Bowl.” I kept wondering if they’d ever get around to releasing this album. With every new remastered version, box set, “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” was always left out. I can’t confirm this without flying to Houston and having my brother put the old vinyl on the stereo, but it sounds like they’ve boosted the music up in the mix and turned down the screaming fans. Have no doubt about it, this is a great album. It’s so fun to actually put some flesh and blood on the legends. Taken with the “BBC” live album it helps round out a fuller picture of the Beatles. You see those old films of them performing at stadiums in the 60s and its a little like watching old-timey films of baseball players one hundred years ago. A crude document of history being made.

“Hollywood Bowl” is a fun, fun listen. The chemistry of the Beatles on stage is just amazing. You have to remember with the crude equipment they were using, they likely couldn’t even hear each other. It’s kind of hard to play as a band if you can’t hear the other guys. They bash away with a hearty gusto. I have to say, Ringo takes a lot of shit for not being a very good drummer, but he’s really bashing away on this record. Paul McCartney’s bass sounds like Flea. He lays down the most amazing bass lines. How these guys harmonize with all the screaming is just a miracle.

I love that they open with “Twist And Shout,” as if the rabid teenage girls at the Hollywood Bowl weren’t frothy enough, they start with one of their biggest jams. They play a lot of their early, classic hits, up through “Help!” but its great to hear them tear through some of those older cover tunes that they’d probably been playing since Hamburg: “Long Tall Sally,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” and even “Roll Over Beethoven.” They even let Ringo have a turn at the mic with “Boys.” Despite all the harrowing stories of their touring, it does sound like they’re having a good time on stage.

“Ticket to Ride,” “Things We Said Today,” and “She’s a Woman” all near the front of the album are a toss up for my favorite. These guys could do no wrong with a song. They add four additional “bonus” tracks that weren’t on the original vinyl LP at the end. They’re all very good songs and for those of us who know the original album, it’s almost like they’ve come back for an encore.

This is not only a great album, and a definite recommended buy from B&V, I would go so far as to say this is essential listening, not only for Beatles fans, but for fans of rock and roll in general.

Play this one loud. And as Ringo would probably say, Peace and Love, people. Cheers!