Concert Review: Lucinda Williams, Kansas City, August, 2, 2017

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*Photo taken at Knucklehead’s Saloon By Your Intrepid Blogger

I had a buddy who was texting me from Denver last night. He was at Mile High Stadium, home of the dreaded Denver Broncos, watching the power and the majesty that is Guns N Roses. I saw that show about a year ago and man did I love it (Concert Review: Guns n Roses, Kansas City, 29Jun16: The Power & The Glory). Of course we all love GnR here at B&V. It was great to finally get to see them live for the first time last year, although I must admit I’d have liked to see Izzy Stradlin with the band. Izzy never gets the credit he deserves. His rhythm guitar playing is some of the best. I saw Izzy playing in a bar once with my friend Stormin’ and he was amazing. Judging from the setlist, my Denver pal saw one hell of a show last night. Although I think he was bummed they played “Live And Let Die” instead of the obscure “Ain’t It Fun.” Yeah, I don’t understand why he’d want to hear a Dead Boys’ cover vs the McCartney tune either… But, to each, their own.

Meanwhile, one very long state away, I was sitting in the bleachers at a dive bar in Kansas City’s East Bottoms neighborhood. Nestled under an underpass and right next to active train tracks (I’m not kidding, I think I counted 4 trains go by during the show) Knucklehead’s Saloon has become KC’s premier spot for live music. In the old days, The Grand Emporium was the spot to hear live blues. They also had a great reggae night, every Wednesday (I think). I saw a band called the Bone Daddy’s there, it was great reggae… the ladies went nuts when they played, but I digress. Greats like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Koko Taylor all played the Grand Emporium (I missed the former, saw the latter). Alas, it’s now in the mist of memory but thankfully Knucklehead’s opened up and has taken the Grand Em’s place as the seat of blues music in town.

Last night I convened with several hundred other people to hear some live music the way God intended it, outside under the stars. And while it was not the enormous spectacle of GnR, Lucinda Williams was powerful and majestic in her own right. Most of the time, the best shows are in small bars and halls instead of stadiums. She was backed by a simple three piece band consisting of a great lead guitarist, a bass player and a drummer. Lucinda herself played acoustic guitar for most the night and some rhythm electric. I was surprised she didn’t have a keyboard player but her band really brought the sound, they didn’t need one. The guitarist was particularly muscular in his playing. I loved the red Gretsch he played on a number of tunes.

I guess Lucinda’s music could best be described as “roots” music. It’s bluesy, with a dash of country mixed in. At the heart of her music is that fabulous voice. She barely opens her mouth when she sings. She makes it look effortless and yet she belts these tunes out and I’m sure the conductors on the trains could hear her. To describe her singing as powerful is an understatement. And yet, she never misses the nuance in her songs. She could go from a bluesy rocker to a ballad and it all sounded great.

By the fourth song, “Drunken Angel,” one of my all time favorites, Lucinda had the enthusiastic crowd in the palm of her hand. It was a great version of a great song. She announced the song, “Burning Bridges,” from her LP ‘Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone’ as being about a guitar player who had left her band in a bad way. I don’t think she said his name, but it was clear from the lyrics she was not pleased by his leaving. To underscore her point, her current guitar player, melted the faces off those of us in the crowd with some of the best solo’ing of the night. Don’t cross Lucinda, folks.

One of the most poignant songs of the night was “Memphis Pearl,” from ‘Sweet Old World.’ Lucinda intro’d the song with a story about seeing a homeless woman when she first moved to LA, going through trash bins looking for food. She said she tried to imagine that woman’s story and that’s where the song came from. Very moving stuff. She featured several songs from ‘Sweet Old World’ which she has apparently just recut in the studio for September release. “Six Blocks Away” from that album was another highlight.

I have to admit, broad smiles crossed the faces of both the Rock Chick and I, when mid-set Lucinda broke into “Lake Charles.” I’ve always loved that one. When I woke up this morning, that was the song running through my head. I even belted out the chorus, and with my sleep-ragged voice, I felt I nailed it but the Rock Chick merely laughed at me. She also played a great tune I thought was a Tom Petty song, “Changed the Locks,” but apparently it’s a Lucinda song. Petty only covered it.

Toward’s the end of the main set she turned it up with a raucous version of “Righteously,” followed by the rocker “Honey Bee,” one of her dirtiest of songs… She smiled at one point in the show and said, “This is just who I am folks, this is what I do. This is how I am when I’m comfortable and y’all are making me real comfortable.” She also went on to say it was the artist’s duty to comment on social unrest as she noted that there were people in the streets, protestors, and scenes she hadn’t seen since Vietnam. It didn’t come off as preachy, it was just down home wisdom.

She started off her encore with ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and that was a real unexpected treat. She also covered the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and her and her band nailed it. It was quite a bit different than the Stones’ version, but hey, I dug her interpretation. She also played my friend Jeanne’s favorite tune, “Joy,” during the encore and it brought the house down.

Live music is so essential to life. Especially when practiced by a true master like Lucinda Williams. Do yourself a favor and try and get out and see her. As the Rock Chick said to me, when the band left the stage and the house lights came up, “That was a great concert.” Lucinda may be getting older, but like the fine wine she was drinking on stage, she’s just getting better.

 

 

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B&V Goes Out Drinking, Supports Live Music: Kansas City’s Amanda Fish

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Anymore I find myself staying home more often than not. My Howard Hughes-hermit-loner phase is getting stronger. I haven’t quite got the point where I’m urinating into milk bottles, but I’m sure that’s coming. I seem to forget to shave for days on end but at least I do bathe regularly. The problem for the Rock Chick and me is that our friends are all married with children. Usually we just end up alone, sitting on the deck, sipping something strong.

However, work does occasionally pull me out of the house. I had one such evening a couple of Wednesdays ago. A guy who works for me, who I’ll call Ned, came to Kansas City so we could do some “second half planning,” which means eat BBQ and drink. After a rigorous afternoon spent in the office where surprisingly to me we actually did some work, Ned and I headed out to one of Kansas City’s premier BBQ joints, Q39. It may possibly be the best BBQ I’ve ever had and I’ve had a lot. The place is always packed. Although I must admit I was terribly disappointed they’ve removed the burnt ends from the appetizer menu, but this isn’t the place to air my grievances.

After feasting on perfectly smoked beast, Ned and I sat at the bar sipping whiskey. After a quick Google-Map search, I saw that he was staying at a downtown hotel, near a couple of bars I used to frequent prior to meeting the Rock Chick. While I don’t go out or drink on weeknights anymore, sometimes when I do, the wind just sort of pushes me along, I never know where I’ll find myself. I end up bouncing from bar to bar, talking to strangers, in the old days bumming cigarettes and making people laugh. I’m like Tyrion Lannister, “I drink and I know things.” I’m out spreading joy folks, one bar, one drink at a time. Although now it’s without the cigarettes.

We quickly Uber’ed down to John’s Big Deck on Wyandotte. We went bounding up the stairs, which I had trouble finding (I really need to get out more) and went up to the big deck a few flights up. John’s Big Deck boasts, as you would expect, a giant deck on the roof that has a magnificent view of KC’s skyline. The sign by the stairs reads, “Can You Handle Our Big Deck.” It was just that kind of night. Ned is from a “Red” state and I’m not sure he was emotionally prepared for the mix of hipsters, bohemians, and gay off-duty waiters in the crowd up there. We sat at the end of the bar and I educated the youngsters around me on the politics of income inequality. It didn’t take long before it was just Ned and I sitting at the end of the bar… I suppose you should never talk a little treason on a Wednesday night in Kansas City…

I was restless, as I’m prone to be, and after a few rounds, it was time to walk up a block or so to the Phoenix, a piano bar on 8th street. I briefly dated, more like “hung out with,” a woman who lived in that neighborhood, many moons ago, and we drank at the Phoenix quite a bit. The Rock Chick and I actually took our dear friend Rhonda, who is newer to town, down there one Saturday afternoon this spring. I always loved the Phoenix. There was a bald piano player, whose name escapes me, who might have owned the place at one time and he used to play there almost every night. Any more, you never know what you’ll find there. Most of the time it’s a small jazz trio/combo. I’ve heard some great singers in the Phoenix and since we were close, I felt Ned deserved the full Kansas City experience – BBQ and jazz.

We quickly bellied up to the bar and I noticed the crowd was a little thin. I was a tad worried there’d be no music. Suddenly a young woman, who looked vaguely familiar to me, but whom I couldn’t place, sat down behind the piano with an acoustic guitar. She started strumming the guitar and singing. I thought, “Oh, great, some college chick has come in to warble tortured romantic folks songs.” I put my nose in my beer and Nate and I chatted about sports. Every now and then, the singer’s voice would pierce through the fog the boilermakers were creating around my head and I’d think, “Wow, what a strong voice this chick has.” I quietly imagined her as busker on some street corner who had wandered into a great gig at premier jazz bar.

After a few acoustic guitar songs, the singer turned and pulled up an electric guitar. “Well, this just got interesting,” I said to Ned… The gal sang a few blues tunes but she really caught my attention when she played “Angel,” a Jimi Hendrix song. It was also covered by Rod Stewart, which I mention because it actually comes into play later in this story. Ned leaned over and said, “The music this gal is playing just keeps getting better… I don’t think it’s the booze.” Indeed, I don’t think we were drinking this gal’s music pretty, as the saying goes… she was incredibly talented. Ned and my conversation soon halted as we listened to this woman sing. “Who is this talented woman,” I kept muttering. I knew I’d heard her voice before.

Almost as quickly as she’d discarded the acoustic guitar, she put aside the electric guitar and turned to the piano. I couldn’t help but think, this woman is like Prince, there’s no instrument she can’t play. She belted a perfect rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.” I was all in now. I had turned away from the bar and was staring straight at her, trying to place her face. It was starting to get late and I knew Ned was ready to crash but I had to stay for one more song. She broke into the old Etta James’ tune, “I’d Rather Go Blind.” As she finished, Ned tabbed us out and we lurched toward the door. I had to speak to this woman… I pulled all the loose cash I’d accumulated over an evening of drinking and said to her, “Miss, this is a feeble tip considering the amazing music you’ve played here tonight,” and dropped the money in the tip jar.

She smiled and thanked me. I had to ask, “That version of “I’d Rather Go Blind,” was that inspired by the Etta James version or the Rod Stewart version? It was spot on.” The singer asked me, “Rod Stewart did that song?” I said yes, with Ronnie Wood. And this is the moment I embarrassed myself… She asked, “With the Faces?” I’m old, and deaf and thought she said, “on the bass?” I’m sure I looked puzzled when I replied, “No, Ronnie played guitar.” In my defense, not many young people know about the Faces. She was laughing at me now, when she repeated loudly, “The Faces, I know Ronnie plays the guitar.” I smiled as the Faces reference finally registered, as everyone knows, I love the Faces. Rod’s version was recorded by the Faces but released on one of his solo albums.

And, since I hadn’t embarrassed myself enough, I said, “What is your name, you’re super talented…” Ned was holding something just outside of my peripheral vision, but I was locked in on the singer’s face. She looked a tad astonished that I’d asked. “I’m Amanda Fish…” I glanced to my left and Ned was holding her CD, with her name printed on it just out of my vision. Amanda Fish! I almost swatted my hand upon my forehead. The Blues Gods should have smote me dead on the spot. If you haven’t heard Amanda Fish yet, you soon will. She’s an amazing talent. If you dig raw blues, pick up her LP ‘Down In The Dirt’ immediately. I’d seen her several times, but I was always in the back of a room, and she was always on stage with a band. I can’t believe I didn’t recognize her close up. I blushed when I saw and heard her say her name. I wanted to crawl into a hole… at least the whiskey helped…

This, people, is why I don’t go out anymore. But then again, maybe this is a cautionary tale, a sign, telling me I should get out more… it’s hard to know how to read this sign.

If you get the chance to see live music, especially the blues or rock and roll, and especially if it’s Amanda Fish, do yourself a favor and buy the ticket. Take the ride!

Cheers!

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!

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 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!

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!