Monday, December 31, 2007
Of course, that's not true. Public Enemy - one of the greatest groups in history, and I'm talking hip-hop, R&B, rock and roll, whatever genre you want to talk about - hasn't been "hot" for a long time.
Most fans will agree that their best albums were 1988's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and 1990's Fear Of A Black Planet. I always felt that the next one, 1991's Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Black is also a classic. That seems to be when they stopped being "hot," though. Maybe because on their first few albums, they were scaring the crap out of white people, by criticizing the government and society in general. Adding to that, the music was appealing to lots of young, white people, despite it's pro-black message. But on Apocalypse, they started looking towards their own community, and maybe people didn't like that.
But as a long time fan, even I had to admit that the albums that came next weren't classics: Muse Sick N Hour Mess Age and There's A Poison Goin' On had moments, other albums didn't really have any songs that I loved. Then, all of the sudden, they did this collaboration with Moby, called "Make Love Fuck War," and it is one of their greatest tracks ever. The song was a one-off, but was later included on their New Whirl Odor album, which turned out to have some other great songs, like "Bring That Beat Back" and "New Whirl Odor."
But this new album, How Do You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul??? is damn near a classic. I really like the latest albums by Common, Kanye and Nas, as well as KRS-One's album with Marley Marl, but P.E.'s latest is the best hip-hop album of the year. The fact that Chuck D. and Flavor Flav are in their 50's, there are no "hot" producers, and the album criticizes materialism and fake gangsterism in hip-hop makes it commerically dead on arrival, which is just a damn shame. Do people really need to hear Jay-Z's return to his gangster roots? They'd be a lot better off with this record.
A critic from Rolling Stone magazine really summed the album up in a short review: "Young hip-hoppers respect Chuck D.'s hectoring legacy from a distance, but his moralizing conscience and increasingly uncompromising disdain for gangsta lies makes them nervous. So they claim his flow has thickened and his beats have falen off, which is just more lies." Or as Chuck says in "Can You Hear Me Now?": "At the age I am now/ If I can't teach/ I shouldnt even open up my mouth begin to speak!"
The hip-hop and R&B industry totally reminds me of the country music industry: very conservative, likes to sort of look rebellious, while not toleralting any rebelliousness. I'm starting to think of Public Enemy as the Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash of hip-hop. I guess maybe they should be referred to as "Outlaw Hip-Hop."
But still, the rumors that The Kinks may be reuniting in 2008 are pretty exciting. As the stories go, it will be the original band - Ray Davies, Dave Davies, original drummer Mick Avory (who stayed in the band through the '80s) and original bassist Pete Quaife (who left the band in 1969).
This version of the band recorded lots of classic stuff, and is the most beloved version of the band in thier native England. They recorded "You Really Got Me," "All Day And All Of The Night," "Waterloo Sunset," "A Well Respected Man," "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion," among many other classics.
But if they tour the U.S., I wonder if they'll add some of thier '70s and even '80s material: after Quaife left the band, they had lots of huge hits here, like "Lola" and "Come Dancing" to name two.
The other question is what will these guys sound like? Ray recovered from being shot in New Orleans a few years back, but Dave has suffered a stroke in recent years, and Pete has dealt with kidney failure. But I guess Ray won't sign off on the reunion if he doesn't feel that the shows will be good.
And, of course, this is just a rumor circulating in the British press, never the most reliable source for this kind of thing. Still, here's hoping we get one more chance to see The Kinks in 2008.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
But I maintain that Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck can come up with a great album - although they have yet to do so since Bill left the band (in my opinion). They have had some great moments though, like "The Great Beyond" and "Bad Day."
R.E.M.'s next album is yet another release to look forward to in 2008.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
They also sound like a band called The Network, whose album, Money Money 2020 came out on Adeline Records, owned by Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day.
Paste Magazine - one of the better U.S. music/culture mags - is reporting on its website that Bill Berry may be rejoining R.E.M. for a tour.
I'll let the cynics come up with mean-spirited theories about why this would happen. But Bill leaving R.E.M. was one of the most amicable splits in rock and roll history. He just wanted to get off of the bandwagon. The fact that he had a potentially life threatening brain aneurysm on his last tour with the band probably contributed to his decision to move on with his life. I don't imagine that he'd be doing this for the money, I think he just wants to play those awesome songs again. Here's hoping that the rumors are true.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
And speaking of “Conquest,” The Stripes have just released a Conquest EP, with a bunch of new songs, two of which are collaborations with Beck: “It’s My Fault For Being Famous” and “Cash Grab Complications On The Matter.” There’s also another new song, “Honey, We Can’t Afford To Look This Cheap,” plus a new version of “Conquest.”
I’ve heard that The White Stripes may never tour again – my guess would be that Meg White doesn’t like being on the road. That would be a shame, but as long as they put out music this good, that’s cool. (And as long as Jack still tours with The Raconteurs).
They’re often compared to Bruce Springsteen and The Replacements, which I’m sure is fine with them. I heard a song of theirs “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” from their last album, Separation Sunday, which I liked. Then I heard “Chips Ahoy” from their latest, last year’s Boys And Girls In America. It's just an incredible album.
So when I just read on their web site that they’re working on a new album, it gave me something to look forward to (music-wise) in 2008, other than Aimee Mann's upcoming album.
If you think that you don’t like “new” bands, check out The Hold Steady, you’ll thank me.
Pegi used Anthony Crawford – a musician who was part of Neil’s ‘80s rockabilly band The Shocking Pinks, and who worked with Neil on and off over the years – as her acoustic guitarist (she played acoustic as well). The rest of her musicians, bassist Rick Rosas and steel guitarist Ben Keith are from Neil’s band. I liked her set – it went on a bit long, and it was a long night, but I was definitely enjoying most of it.
Neil’s solo set was much like last week’s, with a few notable differences. He played a beautiful version of one of his greatest songs, “After The Goldrush.” I’ve seen him do the song a lot over the years, but since ’92 or so, he usually plays it on his pipe organ, which is a cool. But last night, he kicked it old-school, playing it on piano. It was amazing. He also did “Cowgirl In The Sand,” which would have been great with the band – but regardless, it was just as haunting just on acoustic guitar. It’s one of my favorite Neil songs, and one he rarely performs. Finally, he closed the first set with the opening song from Harvest – “Out On The Weekend.” He mentioned that “Someone asked me to play this the other night. He’s probably not here now, but here it is.” I’d never seen him perform that, so it was really cool that he did it. He left “Heart Of Gold” off of the setlist, which was fine with me.
The electric set kicked off with his Buffalo Springfield classic, “Mr. Soul”: for my money, one of his most enduring songs. That was worth the price of admission right there. But the whole set was great. I thought the band, who were occasionally joined by Pegi on backing vocals and vibes, and Anthony Crawford on piano and backing vocals – really jelled well.
I read that Jonathan Demme has been shooting some of the shows: hopefully the result of this shooting will be something that comes out, and not one of Neil’s (many) shelved projects. Demme did a great job on Neil’s Heart Of Gold film.
Monday, December 17, 2007
If his name sounds familiar, it's because he was the bassist for one of the best bands of all time - Jane's Addiction. In April Eric Avery will release his solo debut, Help Wanted. You have to respect the guy for not being involved in any Jane's reunions. The tours were great - and I really liked their reunion album, Strays (one of the better reunion albums ever, in my mind). But the guy didn't feel it was the right thing to do, and he turned down a lot of money, you have to respect that. The stuff he's done since then has been... interesting. His one-off post-Jane's project with Dave Navarro - Deconstruction - was so weird, it's not that fun to listen to (although maybe I should try to revisit it). I haven't heard his Polar Bear project. On the other hand, he tried out for Metallica, and has played in Alanis Morissette's band.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to hearing what the album is like. His contributions to the Jane's Addiction albums were incredible: it was truly a band that was way more than the sum of it's parts (as evidenced by most of the stuff they've done since they first split up).
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Which is a bit weird, as most people who are vaguely familiar with Aimee's music probably wouldn't associate her, or her music, with fun.
I am a huge fan of Aimee's. Yes, her music can be depressing, and her sense of humor isn't totally apparent if you just listen to her music. A few years ago, Aimee and her husband, Michael Penn, toured together and hired the comedian Patton Oswald to not only open the shows, also to provide the in-between songs banter. What was funny about that is that Aimee and Michael were hilarious on thier own, and Mr. Oswald just added to the general hilarity. Also, I've always felt that theres some undercurrent of optimism in her music. Like, maybe the wrecks that she sings about have some chance of redemption or improvement.
Last year, Aimee released a Christmas album, One More Drifter In The Snow, and decided to do a Christmas tour. I missed it, but read about how great it was, so I was sure to catch this year's. Aimee and her great band played a few Christmas songs, plus some of her other stuff, like "Jacob Marley's Chain" and her classic "Save Me." But she also gave the stage over to a cast of special guests: comedian Paul F. Thompkins (probably most well known as a "talking head" on VH1's Best Week Ever), and singer-songwriters Ben Lee, Josh Ritter and Nellie McKay, as well as "The Hannukkah Fairy" who did a pretty hilarious rap about the meaning of Hannukkah. The show made me curious to check out more of all of their music.
Aimee also had a three part film which showed her quest to get "special guests" for her Christmas show, including Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Weird Al, Patton Oswald and someone from CSI: Miami (Emily Proctor?), and a few others. It was really funny. Aimee has great comic timing, I'm surprised she hasn't done more film work (although let's not forget her toe-sacrificing role in the classic Big Lebowski). I guess it's probably because in movies, you don't have much control, and after spending years fighting labels, she isn't prepared to sign over a few months to corporate movie studio. Still, she was really funny.
On another Aimee note, I saw her show at Warsaw in Brooklyn over the summer, and she played a few new songs - apparently, there's no electric guitar on the next album. That's cool: her new album is one of the records I'm most looking forward to in the '08.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I'm not a fan of the myriad of award ceremonies that seem to crop up week after week. But the Grammys seem to have (to me) a prestige to them, plus there's the fact that they are given out by an organization that works year round to support music.
Yes, it's a corporate thing, yes, the major labels have lots of influence, yes, critical favorites are often overlooked, blah, blah, blah. But I think that they've done a good job of getting a clue since the days that Jethro Tull beat Metallica for the heavy metal Grammy or DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince beat Public Enemy. At it's best, the Grammys award artists who combine artistic merit (which, of course, is subjective) and sales.
And that's why I was floored (like a lot of other people) when I saw that Bruce Springsteen was shut out of the "major" categories of Album, Record and Song of the Year. I figured Bruce, along with Kanye West and Amy Winehouse were going to be the big nominees, and I was right in two out of the three. Where The Grammys used to be more about older artists, now it favors younger ones (probably in no small part because of the TV ratings). But Bruce is the type of artist the voters seem to love: he's older but (unlike Steely Dan, who won a big Grammy a few years ago), sells a lot of records, and is a big influence on younger artists, from Pearl Jam to Arcade Fire.
"Girls In Their Summer Clothes" is such a great song and production, I was really surprised that it wasn't nominated for Record and Song. Although I don't write about mainstream pop too often, I like a lot of big pop hits: so I have no problem with Justin Timberlake's "What Comes Around... Goes Around" being nominated for Record. I love Amy Winehouse's "Rehab." I haven't heard the new songs by Beyonce or Rihanna (who seems very Beyonce-like). And I am definitely a Foo Fighters fan. But from a production standpoint, I can't see how the Foo Fighters' "The Pretender" is a great production - it sounds like the producer stayed out of the way and let the band rip. Rightfully so. But "Girls..." is a great wall of sound production.
"Rehab" is also up for Song, which I have no problem with (although I prefer Amy's "You Know I'm No Good"). I really like Corinne Bailey Rae's "Like A Star," but I don't think it is as good as "Girls..." A lot of people diss American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. I don't know much about her, but "Before He Cheats" is a great song (albiet one she didn't write). Is the Plain White T's song really better than Bruce's?
Both Amy Winehouse and Kanye West are up for Album of the Year, rightfully so. I'm happy to see Foo Fighters up for it. I was suprised to see Vince Gill: I like the music that I've heard from him, but it was a quadruple album. Did it really make that much of an impact? You'd think that if the voters were in tune with country music, it would be a Keith Urban or Brad Paisley or even Carrie Underwood album, with all due respect to Mr. Gill. Finally, with all due respect to Herbie Hancock - who has some incredible music on his resume, including his stint with Miles Davis, his own band The Headhunters and the immortal "Rockit," just to name some. But how is his Joni Mitchell tribute album nominated for Album Of The Year? It just seems like block voting or something. Meanwhile, I guess Columbia Records' staff was more interested in getting nominations for Beyonce than for Bruce.
This is coming off like a whiny post. Well, Bruce did get a few nominations: Magic is up for Best Rock album, against Foo Fighters, John Fogerty, Wilco and Daughtry. As long as Daughtry doesn't win, that's cool. "Radio Nowhere" is up for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance against Beck's album-less single "Timebomb," John Mellencamp's "Our Country," Lucinda Williams' "Come On" and some Paul McCartney song. And Bruce's version of Ennio Morricone's "Once Upon A Time In The West" is up against Metallica's version of Morricone's "The Ecstasy Of Gold," Rush's "Malignant Narcissism" and songs by Joe Satriani and Steve Vai (if I were to vote, I'd go for Rush!).
It's not all about Bruce, either. I was happy to see Foo Fighters get those props. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss got a nod, as did The Beastie Boys (for their underrated The Mix-Up album), The White Stripes ("You Don't Know What Love Is [You Just Do What You're Told]" is surely one of the best songs of the year), U2 (for "Window In The Skies" from their best-of, and "Instant Karma" from the John Lennon tribute album). Green Day (for "Working Class Hero" also from the Lennon tribute), Ozzy Osbourne (for his great song "I Don't Wanna Stop"), Common and Steve Earle. Alicia Keys got some for her great song "No One" - I don't think her album will be eligible until next year's Grammys, a strategy often used by U2. Ben Harper got one for Best Instrumental for "Paris Sunrise #7" but realistically, it is probably because he is one of the few "pop" artists with an instrumental who the voters have heard of.
I guess there's no use in taking the Grammy Awards that seriously: this Friday, tickets go on sale for three Springsteen shows at Giants Stadium. Last time he did Giants Stadium (in 2003 with The E Street Band on The Rising tour) he started out by putting three shows on sale, and ended up playing ten sold out nights (followed by three at Shea Stadium weeks later). I guess it's better to have the vote of the people - that's democracy for you.
Every review I've read has raved about how great they were. I'm glad to hear it. I wonder... can they really end it here? I'm sure Robert Plant is still committed to touring with Alison Krauss to promote their awesome Raising Sand album. But surely the temptation to at least do a few festivals has to be more real than it was before last night's show. (I've also read that Plant is planning his next album, to be produced by T-Bone Burnett, who also produced Sand). Next year could be very interesting for Zeppelin fans...
But next year, we might see a reunion by Mudcrutch. For those of you who have never heard of them, that was the band that Tom Petty was in, before The Heartbreakers: yes, this is another mention of Tom Petty. Anyway, Mudcrutch also included future Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench. Probably their best song was "Don't Do Me Like That," which The Heartbreakers revisited a few years later. Tom said in a recent Rolling Stone interview that they've recorded a new album, and that they may tour - but he just wants to do festivals. I guess if they're not doing Petty's Heartbreakers material, it doesn't make sense for them to bear the burden of selling lots of tickets. I'm psyched to hear this. Of course, I'm also looking forward to his next album with The Heartbreakers.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
That's the rumor circulating on the web right now: that Led Zeppelin and Metallica will be headlining Bonnaroo in 2008. Of course, Robert Plant has been bullish in every interview that the upcoming Zeppelin reunion concert is a "one-night stand" (although Jimmy Page clearly hopes that they'll do more). Plant has stated that next year, he'll be touring with Alison Krauss for their awesome collaboration, Raising Sand. Of course, he could do that and hit the festivals with Page and John Paul Jones in the summer. Bonnaroo is the perfect festival for Zep: it kind of has the hippie spirit that Plant at least has. He's always been more into the psychedelic and garage rock scenes than hard rock and metal. In fact, being associated with hard rock and metal seems to annoy and embarass him. Bonnaroo would also be a great place for him and Ms. Krauss to perform, if he was of the mind to perform with her and with Zep in the same weekend. John Paul Jones kind of did that last summer: he performed with a bluegrass band that he produced called Uncle Earl, and then also at the "superjam" with Ben Harper and ?uestlove from The Roots. Man, if Zeppelin didn't do a U.S. tour, but just played Bonnaroo, that would be crazy. Last summer, The Police were one of the headliners - but they also did a fairly extensive tour. But if Bonnaroo was the only opportunity to see Zeppelin in the U.S... that would be pretty insane.
Add to that Metallica. One of my favorite bands, but a surprising choice for the festival, given James Hetfield's conservative politics and the fact that he's always had a disdain for hippies. But if they play a set like the ones they did at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit a few weeks back (they covered Rare Earth, Nazareth, Garbage and The Dire Straits!), that could be a cool deal for Bonnaroo.
Although Bonnaroo always books lots of jam bands, I wonder what happens when tons of rockers come just to see Zeppelin and Metallica? While I've never been to the festival, there's been many years where the lineup has been tempting. I've just never wanted to take the time off, pay for the plane fare, and go through the trouble of camping. I've always read that the festival has been incredibly well-run, treats the concert-goers well, and has been enviornmentally conscious. But I wonder if this brings it dangerously close to a Woodstock '99 type scene.
But despite what I said in an earlier post, I think that if this turns out to be my only chance to see Zeppelin, I may have to buy a tent.
Monday, December 3, 2007
There's also news that he's re-releasing Thriller. Bad move I think: even though he's having some of the hottest producers like Kanye West and will.i.am remix tracks, it just feels desperate. Although I am interested to hear what his new album will be like. I hear he's working with will.i.am: that could actually be good. One of Michael's big problems is that he's never been OK with not being huge. All of his superstar peers like Springsteen, Madonna and Prince have, at some point, accepted that they won't ever be as big as they were in 1984. Michael's never been able to swallow that, and because of it, he comes off as desperate. I'm not at all interested in the tabloid aspect of his life. But if he could do a few new songs that are as good as the better moments on Dangerous (like "Black Or White"), that'd be pretty cool.
I don't think Billy gets enough credit for his songwriting. He'd be the first to admit that some of his songs are a bit cheesy (I've read interviews where he openly mocks "Just The Way You Are"). But he writes about regular people struggling with the world around them with a near-Springsteenian eye. "The Downeaster 'Alexa,'" "Goodnight Saigon" and "Allentown" are great examples of this. Billy isn't in my top echelon of favorite artists, but I've always been a big fan. I'm looking forward to this song, which hits iTunes tomorrow.
Incidentally, I really respect Billy's deciscion to get off the treadmill. He has nothing more to say, why put out new albums just because he's "supposed" to? He tours, plays the old songs that his fans want to hear, and that's great. I think it's more natural for a guy like him, who has recorded so many great songs, to quit if he can't match the quality of his earlier music. Not everyone can be Springsteen or Petty. That said, I have high hopes for this new song.
Still, it's such a corporate event, and Tom (to my knowledge) doesn't have a new album to promote. But whatever, I'll tune in, and good for Tom for getting such a large forum for his music. As much of a joke as the Superbowl halftime shows have historically been, there's been a few good ones. U2 was transcendent. I thought Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones were both great. Prince blew the roof off last year. I'm curious what songs Tom will play (I'm guessing "American Girl" will be one) - whatever he does, it will be great. He comes with less hype than the other artists that I've mentioned, but he's just as great. Hopefully he'll play "Money Becomes King."
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Back in my days as an interviewer, I had a few occasions to speak with Danny. He was always really cool. A few of them were before Bruce reunited with The E Street Band. Like the rest of the group, he was trying to get a new career going (he was recording solo albums of mainly accordian-based instrumental music)... and of course every interviewer asked about Bruce. Danny was very gracious about it. I was really happy for him when Bruce got the band back together. Anyway, get well soon, Danny, it won't be the same without you.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Unfortunately, I missed out when tickets went on sale for the concert he is playing tonight at Madison Square Garden. And, of course, they sold out really quickly. So, I'm not going. Which is a big time bummer.
Still, in the weeks leading up to this show, I've been listening to a lot of his music, sort of as a prayer vigil in hopes that tickets would somehow materialize. That fact is, it's always good to listen to some Stevie. He truly is on of the greats. I don't know if it is cliche at this point to talk about how 1976's Songs In The Key Of Life is just one of the best records ever. But that's one that I always go back to. I have it on vinyl: it's a double LP, but it came with a bonus 45". That's unbelievable: a double album wasn't enough for him, and he didn't want to hold on to the other songs for his next album. He was 26 years old at the time. And it was like his 20th album.
I always love to sort of turn people on to non-"greatest hits" songs from iconic artists. In Stevie's case, there are a bunch of them - which is crazy, when you consider how many huge hit singles he's had. From his early days, I love "A Place In The Sun" and "Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday." From the '70s, there's like an embarassment of riches: "I Believe (When I Fall In Love With You It Will Be Forever)" is one of them. I love the richard nixon bitch-slap of "You Haven't Done Nothin'," which, today, sounds like it could've been written about w. Another song that not a lot of people cite is "As," from Songs In The Key Of Life. It's such a great love song, and it kind of works for any kind of love. I remember when we hired the band for our wedding, they asked if we wanted them to learn any songs for us, and I asked for "As." "No problem!" I was like, "Are you sure, it's a pretty long, pretty complex song..." They ended up playing the CD version. I actually told Stevie Wonder this story, and he laughed (more on that below). I'd read that he has said that "As" is his best lyric. Another one I love is Stevie's version of Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind." He first recorded it when he was 15, and years later he performed it at the Dylan tribute concert in 1992. The performance is just so moving, and in my mind he kind of owns the song. Oh yeah, one more: "Love's In Need Of Love Today," which opens Songs In The Key Of Life. He also performed it at the post-9/11 telethon America: A Tribute To Heroes.
So, my meeting with Stevie. I got to interview him at the Grammy Awards, I think it was 2005. I was packing up my VH1 crew to go to the edit when I heard he might talk to us. "Wait!" We set back up, and then Stevie Wonder appears in the door of our one-on-one room. I was told he would answer one question. Luckily, no one told Stevie that. It wasn't the longest interview, but I'll never forget it. A weird thing happened: at these events, when you do an interview, there's a ton of people in the room: everyone from VH1, and the artists publicist, maybe some label people, management, other people from their entourage. Stevie came by at the end of the night, everyone was beat, and no one was in the room except for me, him, and two members of my crew. We were chatting while the crew was setting up, I told him the "As" story, asked him about his next album (he said he was finishing it up, the album was A Time To Love) and he says "How old are you anyway?" He was surprised that I knew so much about him. I told him that I saw his last New York concert at Radio City Music Hall in 1994 or 1995, and that I'd never seen such a wide mix of young and old, black and white people at a concert, and he smiled.
Another thing about these interviews, is that you usually have people telling you that your time is up. But there was no one in there to do that. But after a few minutes, I thought I shouldn't take advantage of the situation, and said, "Stevie, I could talk to you all night, but I know you gotta go." Then I realized, he can't just get up. I walked over to him, and he held my arm in both hands as I led him out the door. I just couldn't believe it, and I have chills writing about it right now.
Well, I'm still bummed about missing the show tonight. But I feel blessed to have seen his Radio City concert, and to have had a conversation with the man, brief as it was.
Truth be told, I probably hadn't listened to any Van Halen at all in a really long time. Earlier this year, when it was announced that they were going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I started listening again. And in the weeks leading up to this concert, I started yet again. It really is amazing how well thier music (from the DLR-era) has held up. In the course of six albums, they hardly had any bad songs - Van Halen, II, Fair Warning, Women & Children First, Diver Down and 1984 - they were just great albums. I think for a long time I sort of lumped them in with hair metal, and kind of decided that I wasn't into them anymore. Well, listening to them over the past few weeks has made me realize what a great band they were.
The show was a lot of fun. I bet any singer of any Van Halen tribute band probably sings better than Dave - but they wouldn't be better than Dave. What I mean is, his charisma and stage presence is so undeniable, and is such a huge part of the band's vibe. So what if he couldn't hit all the notes. The show was really satisfying. Unlike The Police, they weren't trying to stretch the old songs out, or show how they've grown, or whatever. I'm a bigger fan of The Police, but I think Van Halen's show was much better.
What surprised me most was the vibe between Dave and Eddie Van Halen. They seemed to be loving playing together again: it was almost like they were wondering, "Why did we ever break up? What the hell were we fighting about anyway?" That rapport definitely took the show to the next level.
I don't think any fan was happy with the way things went down with Michael Anthony: Ed essentially kicked him out of the band, and replaced him with his 16 year old son, Wolfgang Van Halen. Michael was there from day one, and Ed's rationale for ditching him was that Michael was playing with Sammy Hagar's band. I think there's no doubt that Michael would have dropped everything to do a VH tour, and Sammy has said he would have had no problem with that. Sammy has even said that Eddie was trying to boot Michael since their Van Hagar reunion tour a few years back. The only positive thing about it was that Eddie was totally enjoying playing with his son, and the 16 year old kid really rose to the occasion.
My only complaint was during the synth-heavy 1984 songs "Jump" and "I'll Wait," Eddie didn't play keyboards - yet you could hear keyboards. Either they had someone playing backstage (which is corny) or they were playing to canned backing tracks (also corny). I know that there were canned backing vocals (Ed and Wolfgang sang backing vocals, but it was obvious that they were singing with recorded backing vocals - The Police did the same thing, by the way), I was OK with that, sort of. But they keyboard thing bugged me a bit. Also, Ed's guitar solo and Alex Van Halen's drum solos were both too long.
Anyway, great show, and I hear they're extending the tour. I don't know if I'll go again (I imagine it would be the exact same show as I saw this week - they didn't leave out many songs), but I'm glad that I saw it at least once.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
1 - The 3-CD compilation, Dylan. Not many artists can have a 3 CD "best-of" which still has tons of omissions. The best starting point for people who want to know what the big deal is (and it makes The Essential Bob Dylan obsolete).
2 - Mark Ronson's remix of "Most Likely You'll Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)." It's the first time Dylan has let anyone remix his music. Ronson is the guy who produces Amy Winehouse - yes, she has a great voice, but his production is why the records have that awesome vintage sound. As he did on her album, on this remix, he uses The Dap-Kings, who really have that vintage soul sound (their main gig, if not their best paying one, is as Sharon Jones' backing band).
3 - The upcoming film, I'm Not There, a biopic starring a number of different actors, including Christian Bale, Richard Gere and even Cate Blanchett as Dylan. I'm looking forward to seeing it.
4 - The I'm Not There soundtrack. It has a big indie-rock slant, which is cool: Dylan's music should be as welcome towards the margins as it is in the middle of the page. Still, it's weird to hear Pavement's Stephen Malkmus - a guy who isn't the most passionate singer I've ever heard - warbling though venomous songs like "Maggie's Farm" and "Ballad Of A Thin Man." It's like weird karoke. Eddie Vedder doing "All Along The Watchtower" is a bit obvious... so much so, I'm surprised he did it. But I hope he brings that one back to Pearl Jam. A big highlight is Mark Lanegan doing "Man In The Long Black Coat." I guess that one is a bit obvious too, but man, he nailed it. Calexico is an indie group that I've been impressed with. I liked the song that they did with Roger McGuinn, "One More Cup Of Coffee," but their best contribution on the album was backing Willie Nelson on "Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)." I really liked the album that Willie did with Ryan Adams last year - I'd love to see what he would do with Calexico. Some other highlights: Cat Power's "Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again" (which suprised me, as I've never been knocked out by her, I think she's using Al Green's band on this one) ; John Doe's "Pressing On" (I'd never heard the song before), The Hold Steady's "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window," and The Black Keys' "Wicked Messenger." And Dylan's "I'm Not There," which I'd never heard before.
5 - Perhaps most exciting was the project that seemed to get the least amont of hype: a new DVD, The Other Side Of The Mirror: Live At The Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965. It's all footage of Dylan's performances at the legendary folk fest, both on the "main stage" (don't know if they called it that back then) and also at "workshops." You've read it before: the evolution that the guy went through in three years is pretty incredible, as is the way people reacted to him. The set he does in '65 with a rock band is as punk as anything I've ever seen. People are just booing him. I can't imagine what an artist like that could possibly do in 2007 to upset their fans that much.
I'd love to add a "#6" to this list - hopefully Bob is working on new music. Last year's Modern Times was my favorite album of the year. On the other hand, if that's his final album, it's a great "last word." And there's lots of archival material out there. I'd love to hear some live recordings from the '90s: I went to lots of shows in the '90s, and despite the bad rap Bob had for his shows, the ones I saw were pretty incredble.
I think it's been impressive how both of these guys have had enduring careers through the '60s, '70s, '80s and even '90s.
After playing with The Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek & The Dominoes, Clapton in the '70s became a middle of the road mellow rocker, which was probably pretty appropriate for where he was at that time in his life. Phil Collins produced some of his '80s albums, which haven't aged well, but they pointed him towards the boomer adult contemporary market that VH1 mined so well at the time. Clapton's commercial peak probably came with 1989's Journeyman. John Mayer once told me that that was the best thing Clapton had ever done. I would disagree, but it was a huge album at the time. He followed it up with the Rush soundtrack, which included "Tears In Heaven," and then the Unplugged album and then his Babyface collab, "Change The World." He hasn't really made any records that I've been excited about since then, although I liked his Robert Johnson tribute albums.
Winwood is sort of easy to overlook, because he has a pretty laid back personality - he doesn't seem to have the charisma of many of his peers, although he has more talent than most of them. Not only is he a great singer and songwriter, he's incredible as a keyboardist and guitarist. Like Clapton, he was in some pretty cool bands: The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith, Ginger Baker's Airforce, and Traffic again before going solo. His solo career took off in the '80s, starting with Arc Of A Diver, on which he played every instrument himself. But his biggest album was Back In The High Life. Like Journeyman, it had a load of hits and videos, and seemed to bring him to a more "adult" phase of his career.
Unlike Clapton, Winwood didn't seem to mind the idea of reuniting with old bandmates, and in the mid-'90s he reunited Traffic with drummer/singer Jim Capaldi. I don't know if the album was that great, but I saw their tour, and I thought they were great.
But like Clapton, after a while, Winwood seemed to lose his direction a bit. At some point, VH1 moved on from playing new music from boomer artists, and no radio format would play thier new music anymore. In 2003, Winwood returned with a very Traffic-y album called About Time. I remember seeing him at the Austin City Limits festival that year and being blown away. (I'd seen Winwood do a club show a few years earlier, and wasn't too impressed). He was doing what he wanted, he had a good album of songs to perform, it was cool.
I saw some footage from Clapton and Winwood's set from the Crossroads festival, I thought it looked pretty hot. I may try to get these tickets - of course, they'll probably be out of my price range. But it would be cool to see them. I regreted missing the Cream reunion shows at the Garden a few years back, but I almost think I'd rather see this show than Cream.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Fair enough - their albums since Bill left aren't as good as the ones that they recorded while he was still in the band. And of course, bands tend to lose a bit of thier magic after ten years or so.
Still, people seem to attack new R.E.M. releases with a particular venom. As if the band betrayed them or something. The fact that they would release their first live album - but that it was recorded on a recent tour, not during the Bill Berry era - probably doesn't help. I think that the album is pretty solid, though, and highlights the fact that some overlooked songs, like "I Took Your Name," "So Fast, So Numb" and "Final Straw" are, in fact, good songs.
I have to admit, I was hoping that Bill Berry would rejoin the band, at least temporarily, after he performed with them at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year (they also recorded John Lennon's "#9 Dream" for the Instant Karma Amnesty International album). I was bummed when I realized that that wasn't going to happen. Still, I hear that their next album is going to be more rocking. I, for one, look forward to hearing it. I'm looking forward to a great R.E.M. album. But if it isn't a five star deal, I won't take it personally.
Prince, one of the greatest artists of all time, has proven to be an innovator, not only as an artist, but as a businessman. Selling his albums with concert tickets, bundling his albums with a weekend newspaper, offering fans subscriptions to his music... he's always taken innovative approaches to getting his music to the fans, often bypassing record labels to do so.
Like any other artist who bypasses the major label system these days - including The Eagles, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead and Madonna - he would not be in a position to do that without the fanbase that he built through the major label system. I don't think that any of these artists would claim that they would be able to make a living at what they're doing - much less live a very comfortable lifestyle as a result - without the muscle of the major labels. The labels empowered them to cultivate huge fan bases.
It's kind of mind blowing to me that Prince is now suing his fan base: particularly some Prince fan sites that are using his images, lyrics, album covers, etc. True, they may be copyrighted images and lyrics, but these sites are non profit, and anyway, it's 2007. You should be so lucky to have fans who are dedicated to do all that work to create an online shrine to you.
This doesn't - in my opinion - take away from Prince's great music. But still, lighten up dude. You can read more about this at Prince Fans United. And again, at no time were any images of said Artist used in this blog. And if the royal purple lawyer squad is reading this, and you don't want me to use His name - by all means, let me know. I can change it to "The Guy Who Did The Soundtrack of The First Batman Movie," or "The Guy Who Played That Awesome Guitar Solo During 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' At The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony A Few Years Ago," or something else like that.
(I wonder how the guys in the band took that? Joe Walsh has a pretty warped sense of humor, and Don Henley once joined Mojo Nixon onstage for Mojo's classic "Don Henley Must Die," so I guess at least some of the members can laugh at their own expense.)
Anyway, I'm not a huge Eagles fan, but I don't hate them. And I'd like to offer them congratulations: their first new album in 30 years, Long Road Out Of Eden, is the #1 album in the country. The album was sold exclusively at Wal-Mart, and sold over 700,000 copies (well more than what Springsteen's Magic sold in it's first week).
This is cool for a few reasons: one, it clobbered the first week sales of the new album by Britney Spears. I hate to jump in with all the people who rip on her all the time, but she deserves it. She exemplifies America's junk culture. Another cool thing is that, like an increasing amount of older artists (and not-so-old artists, like Trent Reznor and Radiohead) The Eagles have decided to bypass the major label system. I have lots of friends at major labels, and while I think the labels do great work with reissues and box sets and stuff like that, they seem not to be too interested in artists that have been around for a long time.
Finally, Don Henley knew what he was getting into with Wal-Mart - I know he had some conditions about their enviornmental practices, and since they've become a little more "green," he was OK with going into business with them. Which is a good thing.
I like some of Don's solo music, and I usually find myself 100% with him when it comes to politics, whether he's talking about the government or major labels.
So, congratulations, guys. And thanks for keeping Britney out of the #1 spot.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Anyway, a great record that music fans should dig is the upcoming reissue by Operation Ivy. The band featured Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman, who later formed Rancid (another great band in my humble opinion). The record had been on Lookout! Records, a credible indie label... that apparently doesn't always pay it's artists royalties. Green Day 's first two albums were released on that label, but Green Day took them from the catalog when the rights reverted to them... also because of unpaid royalties. You might say, "Well, Green Day, those guys are millionaires - why would they care about royalties from an indie label?" Which is fair. But so is getting paid for the work you've done. In Op Ivy's case, the two non-Rancid guys, Jesse Michaels and Dave Mello, would probably appreciate the money. So, the album is coming out on Tim Armstrong's Hellcat Records, distributed by Epitaph.
It's interesting that indie labels, seen as very credible, have ripped off artists as much as major labels have, and sometimes more. For all the complaining Trent Reznor does about Interscope, I know he hates TVT more, because he felt that they really ripped him off.
Back to music: last year, Jesse Michaels joined Rancid on stage for a few Op Ivy songs - man, it would be cool if they reunited.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
I felt really fortunate to have had the chance to interview Joe Strummer. I was working at VH1, and it was at the time when they were really moving away from music. My boss at the time saw which way the wind was blowing, so to speak, and while he appreciated my passion for music, he was more worried about ratings, and rightfully so.
I remember seeing the listing for Strummer's multi-night stand in Brooklyn in the Village Voice, and thinking "Man, it would be cool to cover that." And then thinking, "No way." So, I was shocked when the boss asked me to cover one of the shows. it was early 2002. I remember before the interview, shooting b-roll of the huge lights that were shining where the Twin Towers used to be. It was a weird time. It was a few months after 9/11, but right across the river from where the attacks happened, there was still a somber vibe in the air.
Anyway, Joe Strummer was one of the few artists who I had to admit I felt a bit intimidated by. You just always got the sense that he didn't suffer fools lightly. But my attitude as an interviewer was, if anyone can do this, I can. Anyway, Joe was really, really cool. Kind of humble in a way. Super passionate about music, not really jaded at all. He loved The Mescaleros. He felt people generally weren't as passionate about music as they used to be: he asked why people weren't rioting over artists like Kylie Minogue, ;e just felt that most "pop" music was so awful. I remember asking him about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - the word was they were going to be on the ballot that year, and of course they were going to get voted in. He kind of scoffed at the idea of performing with them, or even showing up. He didn't want to wear a suit, he felt it was a betrayal of everything he and the band stood for to show up at the Waldorf, of all places, in a tux. I told him that not everyone wears tuxes, and that no one would tell him what to wear (not that I was in any position to tell him what the Rock Hall does and doesn't do - but I'd been to a few induction ceremonies, and not everyone wears suits or tuxes). I also pointed out that Talking Heads reunited for a few songs at their induction, and it sort of served as a nice "last page" in the band's story. Then, he started being like, "Hmmmmm..." But then he got a bit annoyed on the topic of the band: he pointed out that he's been working with his current band for the past couple of years, and the other guys weren't even making music (not totally true: Mick Jones produced The Libertines, but hadn't recorded any of his own music). But none of those guys had called him and asked him to make music with them, which seemed to annoy him.
I remember my camera guy was also a huge Clash fan. We walked out of there dazed and amazed. I felt like Joe Strummer was radiating electricity, and now some of it was on me. I had goosebumps. So, we start shooting the show, which was great. Some of Joe's songs, like "Tony Adams" and "Johnny Appleseed," stood proudly alongside The Clash classics - it's a shame that more people weren't familiar with his solo material, he worked so hard on it, and was rightfully proud of it. But what radio stations would play Joe Strummer's solo material in 2001? That's part of what the Let's Rock Again documentary is about.
The most shocking moment of the night was seeing this guy in the audience. I thouht to myself, "Is that Mick Jones?" I mean, in the audience. Not in some roped off V.I.P. area, he was just walking around. It was him. Not a lot of people seemed to notice. I figured, I should probably try to get a quote out of him. But I made what I felt was a more moral choice. I didn't think the guy wanted a camera in his face, it would certainly blow his cover. I decided against it.
After the show, people did start to notice that it was him and crowded around him. He made a beeline for the backstage door. I felt like, "That's nice, maybe he'll hang out with Joe." I could potentially have ruined that. It turned out that they hung out for a little while. A few months later, Mick joined Joe and the band at a fundraiser concert in England. It was one of Joe Strummer's last performances.
A few weeks later, Joe Strummer passed away unexpectedly. I think by then, he had heard the news that The Clash would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the induction ceremony was still a few weeks away. I'd heard that Joe and Mick wanted to perform, but Paul Simonon didn't want to. The week of the ceremony, I got to interview Mick and Paul. I told Mick my story. He looked at me and nodded slightly. Not being a sentimental seeming guy, I think he apprecitated what I'd done (or didn't do).
I've heard that The Grammys are holding a vote on the best moments in Grammy history. I don't think that you can beat the Joe Strummer tribute. Most Grammy tributes fall short. There's too many people paying tribute, not enough time, it ends up being a medley, etc. But when Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, Elvis Costello and Dave Grohl (with Tony Kanal of No Doubt on bass and Pete Thomas from Elvis' Attractions and Imposters on drums) performed "London Calling"... I just don't think you can beat that one. I've often referred to it as "the best four minutes in TV history," which may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it was pretty damn cool, and a fitting tribute.
Here's a few things that should never go on an album with the words "very best of" in the title:
1. If a song features Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend and Bono, and it's still awful, it doesn't belong on a "best of." Sorry, "Joy" should never have made the cut.
2. Some unreleased songs should stay unreleased. Others fit on rarities collections. The remix of the previously unreleased "Charmed Life" certainly falls into one of those two categories.
3. Mick Jagger's "Let's Work" does not belong on any "best of" collection. I've been trying to forget about that one ever since I heard it. It's been nearly two decades, it still makes me wince.
OK, I'm being a bit too snarky. Someone told me that I gotta do it on occasion, or I lose my blog union card.
But really, a few clunkers aside, The Very Best Of Mick Jagger has some incredble moments. There's a few tracks from his 1993 Rick Rubin-produced album, Wandering Spirit , an album that I love (and the only solo Mick album I would really recommend owning). Mick's duet with the late, great Peter Tosh on "(You Got To Walk And) Don't Look Back" (a Tempations cover) is worth the price of admission. Ditto for 1970's "Memo From Turner," which he actually co-wrote with Keith Richards: the song was from the film Performance, which Mick starred in. A collaboration with L.A. blues band The Red Devils from the Wandering Spirit sessions, a cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Checkin' Up On My Baby" makes a great argument for releasing all of the Jagger/Red Devils sessions. The real gem, of course, is 1973's "Too Many Cooks (Spoil The Soup)," was produced by John Lennon and featured ex-Cream guy Jack Bruce on bass.
Like Paul McCartney, Mick ends up looking like the second coolest guy in his band, partially he actually has decent business sense (often seen as "uncool" in rock and roll), and partially because of his naff solo albums (which is his own fault). With a few really bad missteps, this compilation makes a great case that Mick can create cool music without the Stones.
And like Sir Paul, I doubt that Mick loses much sleep over this anyway. But if you're reading this, Mick, sorry to be snarky at your expense. But I don't want to lose my licence to blog. And don't worry, I'm working on a post about the new Rolling Stones DVD box set. Which will be totally positive.
I wrote about the first single, "Don't You Wish It Was True," before the album came out, but now that I've lived with the album, I can certainly say that the whole thing is great. "Creedence Song" is a great statement, saying that he has finally made peace with his past. "River Is Wide" is different than anything he's ever done, it's a gorgeous song. "Long Dark Night" and "I Can't Take It No More" are great protest songs in the vein of "Fortunate Son" and "Deja Vu (All Over Again)." Some people feel that rock stars should "shut up and sing," to quote The Dixie Chicks. Personally, Fogerty's protest songs make me even more proud to be a fan. (Plus, John has a fairly conservative fan base: I really think he's putting himself out there by criticizing the president in a song.) "Broken Down Cowboy" is great too. The only one I don't dig is "Summer Of Love": we know, the summer of love was great. Thing is, I thought John wasn't into the whole hippie scene anyway. I think that stuff is best left to Crosby, Stills & Nash.
There's been a bit of noise on the web about clear channel not playing certain new records, notably Bruce Springsteen's Magic as well as Revival, and the insinuation has been that it's politically motivated, as clear channel is a very pro-bush conservative company. I think the truth of the matter is a bit different: it's not politically motivated, it's cut-and-dried ageism. Bruce is 58, Fogerty I think is 62, cc doesn't think that anyone wants to hear their new music. I think it's just more of a dumb/timid-radio mentality thing than an evil republican thing.
Anyway, last night I got to see opening night of Fogerty's tour at NY's Hammerstein Ballroom. Pretty amazing. It started off a bit weird. Doors were supposed to be at 7:30, they didn't let people in until almost 9, even though you could hear John and the band rocking from outside. Apparently it was a last rehearsal/show for friends and family. That was weird. Then, before he went on, they played a bunch of Fogerty songs on the PA. You don't usually hear that. Then, John entered the stage via a hydraulic lift from below, on a background that created the effect of his album cover: John's silouette against an orange sky. He doesn't usually do that kind of production thing. The beginning of the show was a bit rough for me: the floor of the Hammerstein Ballroom is awful if you're not tall, and they totally oversold tickets. If you're on the floor, you really can't see, and if you move back by the bar, the ceiling is lower, so it messes up the sound. it was a few songs before my friend and I found a spot where we could see and hear.
Anyway, it was a great show. John's band, anchored by the awesome drummer Kenny Aaronoff, did the material proud - and then some. John sounded amazing, and played some songs that I'd never seen him do, including "Bootleg" and one of my favorites, "Ramble Tamble." I was surprised that, before "Creedence Song," he talked a bit about the band - he famously hates his former bandmates, and couldn't even make peace with his brother Tom (CCR's other guitarist) on his deathbed. But last night, he discussed how, these days, he only thinks about the good times. That's a big change for him. He is such a talented musician, and seems to be a great guy (I've had really cool experiences interviewing him), it's good to see him leave his anger in the past. Maybe he's also realized that bush is worse than all the ex-bandmates in the world combined. I'm glad he's moved on to a positive space in his life. Anyway, I highly recommend the album, and if you're a fan, you should definitely see this tour.
Funny moment from the show: watching Paul Schaeffer (in a private balcony box) playing air guitar to one of the songs).