Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I really love Robert Plant's new album with Alison Krauss, Raising Sand. More importantly, he loves it. How much? Enough to turn down multi-million dollar offers to do stadiums with Led Zeppelin. Now some may think the guy's on crack, and others may resent him for not doing what they want him to do, or just for going in a direction that they don't "get." But do you really want to see a sixty-something year old guy act like he's in his twenties - particularly if that's not where he wants to be?

I thought it was pretty cool when I heard that Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were going to do a gig as "Led Zeppelin" with Jason Bonham on drums. (I wrote about it here.) They seem to be doing it for the right reasons: paying tribute to Ahmet Ertegun, the guy who signed them to Atlantic Records, and to raise funds for The Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund. (Mr .Ertegun's widow, Mica, said this about the Fund: "Ahmet attributed his success to his excellent education, and his ability to recognize innovative artists that touched us all. It was his wish to endow music scholarships that would enable gifted children to reach their highest creative potential. The Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund was founded with that goal.")

Apparently, they originally had been approached about just doing five or six songs, but Plant/Page/Jones decided to do a full on concert. It's a lot of work for those guys to put together an entire set, and then just do it once. Add to that the MILLIONS they are no doubt being offered to tour, and you've really got to give them credit for turning it down. I imagine that credit should go to Robert Plant. As he's said in interviews, he wants to do this show for Ahmet, and also because two of the band's reunion performances (at Live Aid and at Atlantic Records' 40th Anniversary) were god-awful. (The other two - one at Jason Bonham's wedding, and the other at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - were better, but weren't as high profile.)

I'm sure John Paul Jones, dissed when Page and Plant reunited in the '90s, could easily be talked into a tour. Page would probably do it in a second. But Plant follows his muse, and it doesn't lead backwards (although he does nod to the past, and there's nothing wrong with that).

I'm a fan of his solo albums - I listened to The Principal Of Moments and Pictures At Eleven all the time in high school, and Now And Zen was a big album for my freshman year in college. I thought his album of covers, Dreamland, didn't get the attention it deserved, nor did his last record, The Mighty Rearranger. I always did sense that he sort of needed a collaborator of some kind - I think it was his guitarist Robbie Blunt on his first few solo records, more recently, it's been the guys from his band Strange Sensation. On Raising Sand, it's both Alison Krauss and producer T-Bone Burnett, who famously produced the excellent O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, and has also worked with Elvis Costello and the great jazz singer Cassandra Wilson, among others.

Raising Sand is pretty egoless, considering the magnitude of the stars involved: some songs Plant stays in the background, or you can't hear him at all. On others Alison Krauss - who is 36 but has 20 Grammys to her name - plays backup. It's like a band where everyone is comfortable with each other, to the point where they only worry about the song, not thier personal "stamp" on the song.

With all due respect to the almighty Led Zeppelin, I'm happy to watch them on the Led Zeppelin DVD, and on The Song Remains The Same when it's re-released in a few weeks. But I can't wait to see Robert and Alison if they tour. And, with all due respect to Robert Plant: yes, I hope you'll play some Zeppelin songs... albeit ones that make sense in this context. But if it will make you feel better, I'll yell out a request for Alison to sing "Whiskey Lullaby."*

P.S. on another Plant note, give the man props for two lesser-hyped collaborations he's been a part of this year. He does a moving cover of Fats Domino's "Valley Of Tears" with The Soweto Gospel Choir for Goin' Home, the Fats tribute album that raises funds for Katrina victims that I wrote about. It's just Robert, a percussionist and the other singers. On the same album, Robert and The Lil' Band O' Gold (featuring a obscure Cajun guitarist-singer-songwriter named C.C. Adcock who released an awesome self-titled album in 1994 that I gotta write about someday) did "It Keeps Rainin'." It seems like the guy is doing exactly what he wants to these days. Which is exactly what he should be doing.

* "Whiskey Lullaby" was a mainstream country hit that Alison had, it was a duet with Brad Paisley.


A few weeks ago, Ozzy Osbourne did a press conference promoting his upcoming tour, and he mentioned that he would - as far as he knew - be headlining Ozzfest in the summer of 2008; this past summer, he played on just a few of the gigs. He also mentioned wanting to (maybe) finally do a reunion album with Black Sabbath.

I know that the Sabs - Ozzy, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward - have toyed with working together again in the studio. The results have been OK: two studio tracks on the live Reunion album, plus a pretty cool -but quiet - song called "Scary Dreams" that they were playing live for a while. A song called "Who's Fooling Who," on Tony's solo debut featured Ozzy and Bill, and Ozzy and Tony did a collaborative track with The Wu-Tang Clan that was, well, OK.

The reality is, it's hard for a band to come together after decades apart, and come up with material that approaches thier earlier stuff. I don't think that The Stooges achieved it with thier reunion album (although The New York Dolls' reunion album was quite good). It's just really hard to imagine them coming close to their early material. But since they seem to be getting along well ever since they reunited 10(!) years ago, they've toured a lot.

I saw their first reunion tour, which was really a 75% reunion. It was Ozzy, Tony and Geezer with Ozzy's drummer, Mike Bordin (formerly of Faith No More) at the first Ozzfest tour in 1997. It was one of those reunions that no one thought would happen: it almost happened in 1992, after the band played at Ozzy's two "final" gigs, but then plans totally fell apart. But, in 1997, they pulled together for Ozzfest - and it was awesome. I was at the Giants Stadium show, I couldn't believe how great it was. Ozzy actually did a solo set followed by the Sabbath set. I met him backstage after the gig, and he looked pretty "knackered" as the Brits say, but, man, the Sabbath set was incredible. And Mike Bordin did an incredible job.

Two years later, Sabbath did Ozzfest again, this time with Bill, and on this tour, Ozzy didn't do solo sets, so it was a pretty powerful performance. Of course, they've done Ozzfest a few times since then.

But earlier this year, Tony and Geezer reunited with Ronnie James Dio (who replaced Ozzy in Sabbath) and Vinny Appice (who replaced Bill), and called themselves Heaven & Hell. I've always thought that it was pretty remarkable that Sabbath, back in the day, were able to evolve and survive the departure of a frontman like Ozzy, and a lot of that should be credited to Dio. Personally, I'm not nearly a huge fan of any of the post-Ozzy Sabbath lineups, but the Dio one was impressive. I always thought that it was kind of a different band, especially as Dio took over as the lyricist as well (Geezer wrote most of the lyrics during the Ozzy era). But I was happy for Tony and Geezer when the Heaven & Hell thing happened: it gives them something to do when Ozzy is out doing his solo thing, and gives them a chance to play some of the music from their past that they don't get to do with Ozzy.

But now, Geezer and Tony are saying that they're going to do a studio album with Heaven & Hell. Good for them, I guess. I kind of wanted to see the original Sabbath one more time: it's hard to imagine it happening again if they do a new Heaven & Hell album, and then promote it with another tour. Ozzy, Tony and Bill will all be 60 next year; Geezer is a year younger. Are they going to do a Black Sabbath tour at age 63?

If the original Black Sabbath never ride again, maybe it's OK. I spoke to Geezer about this a while ago: he said, after doing a few reunion tours, he was happy if that was it (and they've toured a few times since that conversation). He felt that it was important that all four guys were friends again, and they got to tour together again, after all those years apart.

I guess that there's a chance that Sabbath's final appearance may well end up being their (overly late) induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They decided not to perform, just to show up. Of course, Metallica performed for them, which I thought was fitting. If that's the last page in the Sabbath book, it's a good ending for four guys who traveled, as they put it, "A Hard Road." I'm glad they lived to enjoy the spoils of thier work, and to see how many millions of people they influenced, and how many lives they affected.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I remember when U2's The Joshua Tree came out. I was a senior in high school, and there was a real sense that this was a special album. U2 had been an "alternative" or "new wave" band, but on thier Unforgettable Fire album tour, all of the sudden they were headlining multiple nights at arenas, and singing huge anthems about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They met the mainstream in a big way, but strictly on their terms. I don't know if people felt that they were the "last great rock band" (not a description that I agree with, but I've heard it), but you certainly had the sense that this band was only going to get bigger, and that they were here for good. There weren't many new-ish bands making the jump to arenas that point, it just seemed like a big moment in the career of an awesome band. I seem to remember my hometown newspaper doing a two page record review of the album; I'd never seen that kind of fanfare for an album before.

That said, when I heard the first single - "With Or Without You," I wasn't really digging it. But I think I can now chalk that up to my age: I was bummed with the fact that they were coming up with a ballad, it wasn't even uplifting like "Pride (In The Name Of Love)," which was the first song from Unforgettable Fire that I'd heard. At any rate, I soon heard "Bullet The Blue Sky," which was as Hendrixian as The Edge ever got, and so I was happy to get the album the day it came out.

I have never really tired of the album, and it only sounds better and better with each passing year. "Where The Streets Have No Name" is so uplifting. I've heard Edge say that even if the energy at a U2 concert is lagging a bit, that song brings the whole place to their feet. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is another one that I didn't love at the time - now I love that one too.

I really love the lesser-known songs on the album: "Trip Through Your Wires" (which they did on their most recent tour, which was one of the highlights of the show), "Red Hill Mining Town," "One Tree Hill," and especially "Exit," which I think is maybe the most underrated song in the U2 catalog (and I feel that there's a lot of competition for that title). It is SUPER intense. But, unfortunately, on CD it begins with the gospel-ish ending of "One Tree Hill," then a few seconds of silence, before the song begins.

So, I hear that U2 is reissuing the album - surprising news, as U2 seems to kind of shun too much looking back, and they've released three compilations in the past few years. But I'm glad they're doing it, if only to fix "Exit." I have most of U2's b-sides from the era, but on Amazon's tracklisting, there are a few things that I don't recognize: something to look forward to. It looks like it will have two versions of "Silver And Gold" - the band's b-side version, and the version that Bono recorded with Keith Richards and Ron Wood for the Sun City compilation.

Sometimes I feel a bit weird about extended reissues of certain albums and films. I'd argue that The Joshua Tree is absolutely perfect the way it came out, it really was a perfectly realized vision. But, the fact that the extra stuff is on a seperate disc makes it OK for me. I know I'll be picking that one up.


I'm glad that they're going to be releasing a DVD and CD of Live Earth. I thought it was a cool event, it was really well thought out by Al Gore and his team, and, oh yeah, global warming is a real concern, as much as flat-earthers want to deny it.

Of course, there are lots of people who have a problem with rock stars talking about politics. To which I'd point out that the enviornment is not a "political" issue, it's a moral one. And what are you supposed to sing about, if not your enviornment. Do these guys ever complain about The Nuge's political commentary? And does it bug them when country stars play affairs for Bush?

I recently read an interview with Dave Grohl, whose Foo Fighters were one of the highlights of Live Earth. His take on it was basically, his daughter is the most important thing in the world to him, and he's concerned about the world she's going to live in. And he said, "Anybody that has a problem with me playing an event like Live Earth has a problem with me doing something for my daughter... My greatest concern is what happens in the future for my family, and anybody who has a problem with that can fucking say it to my face." The Foo Fighters have worked with Future Forests for a few years anyway.

I thought most of the concert was kind of unremarkable, though: it was like a bunch of samplers for other summer tours. One exception was Alicia Keys joining Keith Urban for "Gimme Shelter." I thought that that was an incredible moment, and I wished there were more moment like that. I'm a big fan of Alicia's - she is one of the few big pop artists today that I think will be around for decades to come. I'm glad that "Gimme Shelter" will be on the DVD, but it's a bummer that it won't be on the CD. Which means people are just going to go to filesharing sites to get it on thier iPods or whatever.


I've never seen The Beatles' movie Help!, so I'm looking forward to the release of the film on DVD.

Of course, the soundtrack, like nearly all of The Beatles' catalog, is classic - it has great songs like "I've Just Seen A Face," "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," "The Night Before" and the title track.

But, like a lot of Beatles fans, I was too young to experience them when they were around (they broke up the year I was born). I never get tired of watching footage of them: I have A Hard Day's Night on DVD, as well as The Beatles Anthology. There's just something really cool about seeing them back then: it's like watching Jimi Hendrix - a guy, or group of guys, who you will never actually get to see in real life, but you've seen so many pictures, and of course heard the music... but to see them is just a different thing. It's seems so far removed from today's world, that it almost seems like a cartoon.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

IT'S A SHAME ABOUT RAY (Davies' album not being released in the U.S. yet)

OK, that was a bit of a misleading headline. But it is kind of a bummer that Ray Davies has a new album out (Working Man's Cafe), and we can't get it legally in America. Apparently, in the UK, you got a free copy with this past week's copy of The Sunday Times. Prince did a similar thing over the summer to promote his string of shows at the O2 Dome, but he probably made a decent amount of money from The Times. I imagine Ray likely got a nice check as well. I have no problem with artists - especially veterans who the record labels seem not to know what to do with these days - using new avenues to get thier music to the public.

It's just frustrating to go to the iTunes store, see the album, click on it, and you get a message saying that it isn't available in your territory. Now, it isn't listed on iTunes at all. I'm sure at some point, Ray will make sure the album is available here: for now, you can hear three great songs at his myspace page.

I imagine some people in the record industry are annoyed that the legendary songwriter from The Kinks is "giving away" his music - but his last album, last year's Other People's Lives, came out on a big label, and despite being a great album, didn't make a big impact (unless you listen to Little Steven's Underground Garage - which you should).

Anyway, there's always rumors that Ray will reunite The Kinks with his brother Dave Davies, which would be cool - but I'd be just as happy to see Ray tour on his own, play his solo stuff and whatever Kinks material he feels fits his mood. (I think).


It's almost easy to take Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers for granted. They've been around for more than 30 years now, never broke up, and most of their drama hasn't been too high profile. Their music has always been so solid - they've never really done an embarassingly bad album that they had to "come back" from (although Let Me Up I've Had Enough wasn't great). Even when Tom did "solo" albums, most of the Heartbreakers showed up on it, and he's never toured without them.

The new documentary Runnin' Down A Dream, directed by Peter Bogdanovich is pretty incredible. I know there's a theatrical version, but I decided to spring for the Best Buy exclusive 4 disc set, which includes a 2 DVD version of doc, clocking in at 4 hours. Pretty incredible, there's interviews with Tom and all the Heartbreakers (guitarist Mike Campbell, who also works on Tom's solo records, keyboardist Benmont Tench, original bassist Ron Blair who rejoined a few years back, drummer Steve Ferrone, original drummer Stan Lynch, multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston, and archival interviews with the late bassist Howie Epstein). Plus their producers Jimmy Iovine, Jeff Lynne, Rick Rubin and Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics. Plus their managers, writers (including Bill Flanagan, who I know a little and who seems to be impervious to becomming jaded) and friends and fans of the band like Stevie Nicks, Eddie Vedder , Dave Grohl (who almost joined the band between Nirvana and The Foo Fighters - the film has footage of him performing with them on Saturday Night Live, and the performance is included on the bonus CD) and Johnny Depp.

It covers Tom's early band Mudcrutch, all of the Heartbreakers' struggles (including fighting against being forced to sign to MCA when it purchased thier smaller label ABC) and Tom's battles to prevent MCA from charging $10 for thier next album, Stan and Howie leaving the band, Howie's death (it doesn't go too much into Howie's life, which I think was a classy move), plus the band's relationships with Stevie Nicks, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. It goes a bit into Tom's membership in The Traveling Wilburys (sharing some footage with the doc that came with the recent Wilburys reissue - which I still need to write about!) - although I would have loved to have seen a bit more about that though: the guys in the Heartbreakers I know would have loved to have been involved with some of the Wilburys-affiliated projects that Tom got to participate in. One of the best scenes, though, is Tom in the studio with Roger McGuinn, working on his comeback album, Back From Rio: there's these young-ish A&R guys in the studio trying to force McGuinn into recording this song, which Tom deemed as awful, and he accuses them of profiting from the song. They're like, "No, dude, those days of the music industry are long over." And he says, "Yeah, like payola." It was genius. And it just kind of tells the whole story in a nutshell.

Anyway, the documentary is great, and just makes you love the band more (as opposed to say, Metallica's Some Kind Of Monster, which may be a bit more engrossing, but you leave it disliking drummer Lars Ulrich.) The box, as I mentioned, comes with a CD of rarities and a DVD of thier 30th anniversary concert in Gainsville, Florida.

If you listen to Tom's latest solo album, last year's Highway Companion, you know that the story isn't over. Like Springsteen, the guy still has many songs left in him. And I think the current version of The Heartbreakers - with Ron Blair back in the band, Steve Ferrone on drums and Scott Thurston - is as good as they've ever been since I've been seeing them in concert (my first time seeing them was 1985). They all get along, and there aren't any weak links. I was surprised when Steve Ferrone joined - he's kind of a "session" player who works with the likes of Clapton, and I didn't think that that would fly with Tom. But he seems to be a committed member of the band.

I've heard that, other than working with the Heartbreakers, he's also reunited Mudcrutch, which is pretty amazing. Well, whatever he does next, I'll be the guy buying the record the day it comes out. Keep on keepin' on, Tom.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

HAPPY BELATED 60th ELTON (or, concerts I can't believe I missed, part 1)

When I heard that Elton John was going to do a special 60th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden (his 60th time headlining there, as it happens), I figured it'd be his usual greatest hits show for rich celebs, so I wasn't even going to try to get tickets.


Actually, I was half right: I've been watching the DVD of the event, and yeah, everyone from Ozzy to Clinton (Bill, not George) is visible in the audience. And there was a bizarre moment when Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams came on stage to sing "Happy Birthday" that was a bit too showbiz for me (and more than a bit bizarre, with Williams acting as if the night was about him).

The thing about being an Elton fan is this: you sort of have to forget about all the showbiz stuff, the tantrums, the tiaras, some goofy collaborations, and many lame albums and just concentrate on his incredible body of music. And by "incredible body of music," I don't only mean his '70s stuff: his '80s/'90s/'00s repertoire includes some of his greatest songs ("Sad Songs," "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues," "Sacrifice," "The One," "The Last Song," "Believe" and pretty much the entire 2001 album Songs From The West Coast).
I've always been of the mind that, at the end of the day, only the music matters. So, I've looked the other way when it comes to some of Elton's less cool moments. They don't cheapen Tumbleweed Connection.
Anyway, this show was pretty remarkable. The setlist did contain most of the hits that you'd expect, including some that I could do without hearing ("Honky Cat," "Crocodile Rock," "I'm Still Standing"), the first ten songs were a true fan's dream: "Sixty Years On," "Madman Across The Water," "Where To Now St. Peter?," "Hercules," "Ballad Of A Well Known Gun," "Take Me To The Pilot," "High Flying Bird," "Holiday Inn," "Burn Down The Mission" and "Better Off Dead." Wow. Even though they showed crowd shots, it was hard to get a sense of whether or not the audience was digging this, other than a few very enthused fans.
A few years ago, I attended a fan-club only show by David Bowie. He played his Low album in full, followed by his then-new album, Heathen. It was at a pretty small (for Bowie) venue: Roseland. Even though it was fan club members, I didn't feel like it went over very well. A few years earlier, he did his 50th birthday concert at MSG, but had a lot of guests - The Foo Fighters, Robert Smith of The Cure, Lou Reed, Frank Black, Sonic Youth and Billy Corgan. He mixed up hits with lesser-known tracks, and also played most of his upcoming album, Earthling. It was a cool show.
I was glad that Elton avoided the "special guest" thing. And it is interesting that no one really noted all the obscure songs he did, while Bowie's themed concerts were seen as "brave." It's really just because critics absolutely adore Bowie (which I understand, I'm a big fan too), and they've written off Elton (which I also understand, to a certain extent). But I will say that Bowie hasn't released an album that stands up to his past the way Songs From The West Coast did for Elton.
Well done, Reg. And happy birthday.


Brad is usually referred to as a "side-project," but they've been together for 15 years (on and off), so I think it's fair to refer to them as a "band."

The three principals are singer/multi-instrumentalist Shawn Smith (also from Satchel, Pigeonhed, he was at one time a member of The Twilight Singers, and he's done a bunch of solo projects), drummer Regan Hagar (also from Satchel, he also played in Malfunkshun with the late Andrew Wood - who later formed Mother Love Bone) and former Green River/Mother Love Bone guitarist Stone Gossard (also, of course, of Pearl Jam).

They seem to come together whenever the stars align properly, and you never know if they're going to work together again. I'm glad to say that they're going to have a new album out at some point. They recently performed at New York's Highland Ballroom, and they played a bunch of new songs from their upcoming album, which you can hear at their myspace page. They also played some of their older stuff, of course, and, surprisingly, some Malfunkshun songs (Malfunkshun's Kevin Wood - brother of Andrew - was playing guitar with them). And Stone kind of crushed a Woody Guthrie cover, but it was funny. The band was really in town to do a Woody tribute/Huntington's Disease fundraiser (Woody died from that disease, and Stone's mother-in-law suffers from it).

It was great to see them again: it's so cool to see Stone, who I usually see rocking sold out arenas, in a small club. But the thing is, Brad isn't really about Stone, it's about Shawn. Or, maybe it's just about thier great songs: people love "20th Century," "Secret Girl," "The Day Brings," etc., even though they were never "singles" that were "worked to radio."

Here's looking forward to their new album, I hope to be more familiar with the new stuff next time I see them.


When I first heard about this year's VH1 Hip-Hop Honors, I wasn't impressed. I heard they were honoring Snoop Dogg, Missy Elliot and Whodini. Not to be a "hater," in the parlance of the times, but Snoop always seems more like a great character (or guest MC) than a guy who makes classic records. Missy seems to to be a bit too young for this honor (I felt the same way about The Wu-Tang Clan, there's still lots of acts from the '80s who deserve recognition first) and I was never into Whodini.

Then I found out A Tribe Called Quest were also being honored. They're not just one of my favorite hip-hop groups, they're one of my favorite groups, period. I would probably put the MC team of Q-Tip and Phife Dawg against that of any other group. And Ali Shaheed is a great DJ/producer, and a very underrated one. Anyway, the tribute was cool: Common, Lupe Fiasco, Pharell Williams of The Neptunes and Busta Rhymes did a pretty cool performance (Mr. Fiasco messed up the lyrics which led to a, well, fiasco, which you can read about on... well, every hip-hop blog), and Tribe themselves was great.

The honor came at an interesting time: Q-Tip has been on tour, trying to re-ignite his solo career. His solo debut, 1999's Amplified, had a huge hit with "Vivrant Thing," but didn't do that well (maybe because the single came out on a Tribe best of and a Violator management compilation before Amplified was released), and because he seemed a bit, uh, Puffy, which many fans took offense to. The follow-up, the mainly instrumental Kamaal The Abstract (with Tip on keyboards) was shelved by the record label, and so was the next one, Open (although he did release the single, "For The Nasty," with Busta). How many artists do two unreleased albums in a row? Tribe has done some reunion shows in the past few years, and I hope they continue to do them. I was sorry to hear about Phife's problems with diabetes, and I'm glad he seems to be doing well.

I'm looking forward to see what Q-Tip does in the future. He's one of the few guys in hip-hop who I can see really making great albums in his 40s and beyond.


Well, the PJ Harvey show at the Beacon Theater was a few weeks ago, but I've been behind on my writing, and this one took a while to digest. I wasn't sure I wanted to go to the show: tickets went on sale before the album came out, and I'd heard that the album was going to be piano-based and quiet, and I didn't know if I wanted to spend the money.

I am REALLY grateful my friend decided to get a pair of tickets and that she sold me one. It was an incredible show.

When I got PJ's new album, White Chalk, a few days before the show, I was a bit worried to be honest. It is very different for PJ: much quieter, although I wouldn't call it "mellow." It's like radical music from the Victorian era or something. I'm not a musicologist, so that may not be an inaccurate statement, and I may be influenced by her "look" on the album. But the image I keep getting in my mind when I listen to it - and I've been listening to it a lot - is walking in the English countryside (although I've never been to England), finding myself in an centuries-old abandoned house with a ghost. White Chalk is the music that the ghost is singing.

She was really smart about the show, which she performed without any other musicians. She mixed in a good amount of her older material, and switched between piano and guitar and even autoharp (on a very interesting version of "Down By The Water"). Plus, she used some pretty vintage synths and drum machines, which gave it a bizarre semi-modern twist. The crowd was, for the most part, pretty amazing. Very vocally supportive of her (although one moron kept yelling out at her). Much more enthusiasm than you'd expect from the hipster NYC crowd. And it actually had an effect on the show: she seemed genuinely moved by the support and the enthusiasm of the audience. I guess lots of artists dream of being able to do something really different and have their audience go for the ride with them. PJ Harvey seems to have the perfect audience for that. It was a great show (albeit with some slow parts, mainly "Nina" and "Grow, Grow, Grow.")

I'll write more about the album, White Chalk, another time: I'm still digesting it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Anyone who has attended a Bruce Springsteen concert has heard him yell out the semi-rhetorical question, “Is there anybody ALIVE out there?” Maybe during “Raise Your Hand,” maybe during “Light Of Day.” At the first of two (official) Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band concerts at New Jersey’s Continental Airlines Arena shows, he yelled it out before kicking the band into their opening number, “Radio Nowhere.” Bruce and the band played another great show, but the crowd wasn’t as energetic as you’d expect a Jersey crowd to be. I mean, it was the E Street Band's first New Jersey show since the Vote For Change tour. Bruce even commented that Philadelphia was louder.

As opposed to the rehearsal gig that I attended a week and a half before, where we had tickets in “the pit,” this time we were in the upper level, almost the last row, behind the stage. It actually didn’t matter much, because the band was so great: they played a somewhat similar set to the rehearsal (with “No Surrender” replacing “The Ties That Bind” and “Brilliant Disguise” replacing Patti’s “Town Without Heartbreak”) so it was kind of like watching a DVD from an alternate angle: in our case it was like an aerial view. Despite the crowd’s energy lag, it was a great show. I wish I was going to the Garden next week, but I’m looking forward to more E Street shows in the summer of 2008.


A few weeks ago, there was a rumor that Ringo Starr would be on the ballot for this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction class (it didn't happen though). With all due respect to the man, I don’t think that he would get my vote (if I was a voter), as much of a fan as I am. I think people love him, and The Beatles, so much that they figure, “Well, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison are all in for their solo careers, why not Ringo?” That’s not a great argument for someone to be voted into the Hall of Fame. A few years ago, George Harrison was inducted. I think that he deserved it, based only on his solo debut, All Things Must Pass. But it was interesting that, at the ceremony, they performed two of George’s songs – The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and The Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care.” Neither of which came from a George solo album, which was ostensibly what he was being inducted for.

Back to Ringo: I think he could be inducted in the “sideman” category, for playing drums on other people’s albums – mainly John's and George’s. He’s a very solid and underrated drummer. I just don’t think his solo career is Hall of Fame caliber.

That said, his new compilation, Photograph: The Very Best Of Ringo Starr has some great moments. It has his early classics like the title track and what I consider to be his greatest solo moment, “It Don’t Come Easy.” His early solo stuff basically relied on his charm and charisma, and the contributions of his friends (John, George, Paul, Elton John, Stephen Stills, etc.) who were all at the peak of their powers. His earliest stuff was great, and as he descended further into substance abuse, predictably, the music got worse. Then, in the early ‘90s, after getting clean and touring for the first time as a solo artist (with his very retro-leaning “All-Starr Bands”) he starting making pretty good records, starting with 1993’s Time Takes Time. This collection includes album from pretty much all of his albums, including one of my favorite Ringo songs, a sweet tribute to George, called “Never Without You,” featuring a guitar solo by Eric Clapton – or as Ringo refers to him in the liner notes, “It’s by that guy who does ‘Layla,’ what’s his name?”

I’ve never seen a Ringo show with the All-Starrs, but I did see a rare non-All-Starr gig at the late Bottom Line in NYC once. It was actually the first time Ringo had ever performed at a club in the U.S. His band included Joe Walsh, Free/Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke and some of the guys who work on his solo albums but who never tour. It was great. I wish he’d do more of that.

So, I'm giving the drummer - one of the most underrated drummers ever - some credit. He deserves it. But I just don't think I'd vote for him to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, especially while The Stooges, Metallica, Tom Waits, Emmylou Harris, Warren Zevon, Alice Cooper, KISS, Motorhead, The New York Dolls, The Replacements, Bad Brains, Sonic Youth, Husker Du and X all aren't in yet (to name a few).


There’s a school of thought that says that the only good music that Pink Floyd did was with their original singer/guitarist/songwriter Syd Barrett. That lineup of the band, which also included bassist/vocalist Roger Waters, keyboardist/vocalist Rick Wright and drummer Nick Mason, only released one album – the classic Piper At The Gates Of Dawn – and a few singles. Eventually, they hired guitarist/singer David Gilmour to tour with them, because Syd became unable to function on stage, and eventually, they just pushed Syd out of the band.

Should they have changed their name? Tough call: it’s like, was Fleetwood Mac really Fleetwood Mac once Peter Green left? Well, a lot of Fleetwood Mac fans may not know who Peter Green is. And a lot of Pink Floyd fans may not really know Syd. Classic rock radio plays an awful lot of Floyd, but nothing earlier than Dark Side Of The Moon. Indeed, I considered myself a Floyd fan for a long time and didn’t know who he was.

The first I’d heard of the Syd-era songs was on the Works compilation. It was just a totally different Floyd than the one I knew. Then, a few years later, on Roger Waters’ Radio KAOS tour, he played the video for “Arnold Layne” in the middle of the show. It intrigued me, and I went back and learned a bit more about Syd Barrett. A lot of artists like to act crazy/mad/weird, but Syd Barrett was the real deal, and turned this madness into some really cool music for a short while, before he lost it.

I’ve read the story about Syd showing up at the studio when Pink Floyd was recording the Wish You Were Here album – much of which is about Syd. Ironically, they didn’t recognize him at first, even though the band members were involved in producing Syd’s solo recordings. But after that, his family asked the band members to stay out of Syd’s life. They made sure he received his royalties, so he must have been OK financially. I’d read that his sister said that he painted a lot. He would paint something and then destroy it. That’s a pretty pure expression of art, in a way. I wonder if he was happy. Most people assume that because he withdrew from public life, he was miserable. But I wonder if he wasn’t doing exactly what he wanted to in the last years/decades of his life. Of course, I don’t have any real insight to his mental issues. Probably more celebs should try this kind of complete withdrawal from public life.

Anyway, there’s a new deluxe reissue of Piper At The Gates Of Dawn out, it actually includes everything Floyd did while Syd was in the band. It also includes a replica of some of Syd’s original artwork circa 1965, which is interesting and a little scary. I would recommend this to any Pink Floyd fan, particularly those who aren’t as familiar with the Syd Barrett era. It’s practically a different band from the one that recorded Dark Side, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall (four of my favorite albums) but it is interesting to hear what the band was like in the early days. But more than that, the music really stands up. Even if Pink Floyd never made another album after Syd, this music would ensure their place in music history.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


(This picture wasn't taken at the show that I saw, I got it from Lucinda's web site).

Not every show can be great. But I was hoping that this one would be. Lucinda Williams was doing a five night stand in New York: each night, she would play one of her classic albums in its entirety. I had tickets for the night she was featuring my favorite of her albums, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. I was online the second tickets went on sale, and got 6th row center (for about $65 each, a fair deal I reasoned).

I’ve seen Lucinda several times, both headlining and opening for The Allman Brothers Band, Neil Young & Crazy Horse and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. When she opened, she was often playing to crowds that included at least 50% classic rock radio people, and I always felt that she won many of them over. Her headlining gigs have always been very warm affairs: not flawless, but her fans love her so much, it's OK. And although she gets a lot of attention in the media, there’s a sense of being in on something that the general public doesn’t know about (or isn’t tasteful enough to appreciate). It’s the same deal with Steve Earle.

I remember one Lucinda gig really vividly: it was at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey – one of the best venues I’ve ever been to. Apparently, Lucinda felt the same way, and said so. She actually claimed it was the best concert she ever played (Elvis Costello, sitting in the front row, joined her for “Drunken Angel”).

Town Hall was way different. The first set was all Car Wheels – but they played it kind of tentatively. I thought they would really “own” the performance, and that it would have a been a great celebration of the album that exposed her to a wider audience. It really didn’t happen. The best parts were when Steve Earle joined her on stage – he co-produced some of the album, and played acoustic guitar on some tracks. So he played on a bunch of songs, and his presence seemed to raise her game. But she kept motioning to her sound guy, and she just didn’t look happy. It was an unremarkable set.

After the intermission, she returned… and played one song. Then she and her band left the stage so some kid Fionn Regan could perform a song. It was OK. Then they returned, but soon, Lucinda left and was replaced by Jesse Malin. I don’t get his appeal: Joey Ramone loved him, Bruce Springsteen is a fan, Billy Joe Armstrong from Green Day signed him to his label. I just don’t think he is so extraordinary. But I digress: Jesse comes on stage, and talks about being turned on to Steve Earle because Steve opened for The Replacements, and that he got into Lucinda through a duet she did with Steve. He then did a really rocking tune – the band seemed to enjoy letting loose. Then he did a solo acoustic thing which sounded a bit goofy.

Later in the show, Lucinda left the stage again, this time for Steve Earle to do one solo acoustic song. Someone calls out “Ellis Unit One” – a not-super well known song from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. So, he played it, and it was incredibly moving. What was striking was that, he commanded the stage so fully, and that he played a song that he probably hadn’t rehearsed. Whereas Lucinda was reading from a lyric book all night and really never commanded the stage at all. At one point, during “Words,” she yelled at the soundguy for the mix being inappropriate for an “intimate” song. Later, after screwing up one of her best new songs, “Unsuffer Me,” she asked if the venue was built on an Indian burial ground. Town Hall is actually one of the best sounding venues in New York City.

I won’t go on: I will always love Lucinda’s songwriting, she truly is one of the greats. I don’t like writing negative stuff, when there’s so much negativity out there (especially on music blogs). I’ll probably go see her again in the future, but I think I need a break from her for now.


(photo from Backstreets)

In an earlier post, I complained about not getting to go to Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s Asbury Park rehearsal shows because they sold out too quickly. Ditto for his rehearsal at Continental Airlines Arena. Until a friend of mine came through at the last minute. Sweet!

The event really showed how much Springsteen and his organization treats the fans really well, and how hard they work to thwart the scalpers. Tickets went on sale on Wednesday for a Friday show, you could only buy two tickets, you could only get them over the phone, and you needed your credit card and matching ID to get into the show. That all meant that you had to get to the arena early, and there was a lot of waiting… something few (if any) Bruce fans would complain about. The show sold out in like ten minutes, because they only sold a fraction of the arena. But, as is always the case at Bruce’s shows, tons of fans showed up at the venue ticketless, hoping for a “drop” – Springsteen’s management usually holds a few hundred (or even one or two thousand) tickets until the day of the show to thwart the scalpers. I believe they probably sold tickets to most or all of the people on the “drop” line. So, everyone who was willing to put some work into going (as opposed to just money) were able to see a really special show. (I’d also read that they opened the doors at the Asbury Park rehearsals – not to let anyone else in, but so that people who didn’t get in could at least hear the shows. By the way, the $100 per ticket for all the rehearsals went to local New Jersey charities).

The floor was split into two sections – “the pit” was closer to the stage, and the rest of the floor was behind that, but the whole floor was general admission (which is what they’re doing on the tour, apparently; Backstreets has more info about the general admission policy). Some people had lower level seats, and the upper level was curtained off. Before the show, the people in the lower level were permitted to go to the second section of the floor if they wanted to. Really mellow vibe – the only rule seemed to be that they didn’t want people taking pictures. We were lucky enough to be in the pit, which was crowded but not packed, and gave the vibe of seeing Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band in a high school gym. It was really cool – I hope to get “pit” seats when he returns in summer ’08.

My friend who hooked me up with my ticket suggested that I mention the celebrity sightings that we caught while we were there. Artie Lange from The Howard Stern Show asked us if he was on the right line when we were outside, and the dude who plays “Paulie Walnuts” on The Sopranos showed up with a little entourage.

The show itself was predictably incredible. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band don’t go out on tour as a nostalgia thing, they still play as if they have something to prove. Maybe it’s just that they are as great and as relevant as they were three decades ago. I saw their tour for The Rising seven times over two years, and it was amazing to see that people were reacting to his new songs as if they were classics. That album, of course, addressed 9/11 and the post 9/11 world with incredible eloquence and grace. But still, the older rock audience tends to be a bit lazy when it comes to listening to anything new, so it was incredible to see thousands of people in a stadium rocking to “Lonesome Day” and “The Rising” and really being affected by "You're Missing" and “Empty Sky.”

Happily, Magic isn’t tied to a shared tragedy. But I wonder if people will absorb/appreciate/respect the album in the same way they did The Rising. When Bruce isn’t working with the E Street Band, as on his last two albums/tours, he was able to be a bit more ambitious with his shows. But The E Street Band attracts more of the “classic rock” audience raised on, and continuously fed, “rock blocks” and “twofer Tuesdays": many of them pretty much just want the hits.

But everyone at the rehearsal was a die-hard, and probably had heard the album, even though it hadn’t been released on CD or mp3 (it had come out on LP at the last minute, to make it eligible for this year’s Grammy® Awards. You gotta love that kind of shrewd buisness sense).

They opened with the album’s first track/first single, “Radio Nowhere,” which is an intense song, and was even better live. “Living In The Future,” which sounds a bit like “Tenth Avenue Freezeout,” can be a huge hit I think, and it was great live. Bruce and Patti did a duet on one of her new songs, “Town Without Heartbreak,” which was great –it’s the first time I’ve seen her do one of her songs on stage with him, other than a few lines of “Rumble Doll.”

My highlights: “Candy’s Room,” “Night,” and especially the new and rocking version of one of my favorite songs from Nebraska, “Reason To Believe.” it sounded like Tom Petty's "Saving Grace," which sounds like ZZ Top's "La Grange" which sounds like any number of John Lee Hooker songs... it was a great reading of the song. They also did the rarely performed “Thundercrack,” which was a nice nod to the die-hards. Bruce mentioned that neither Max Weinberg nor Roy Bittan had joined the band yet when they last performed the song live.

Well, I’m going to one of Bruce’s regular shows at the arena next week, albeit with seats behind the stage in the upper level. I can’t wait.


I’m not sure whom the above quote could belong to, other than Steve Earle. I caught his show at New York City’s Town Hall the day after he released his great new album, Washington Square Serenade.

It would be tempting to say that the show was, or could have been, his “Dylan at Newport” moment, because he had a DJ on stage with him. “Earle Goes Electronic!” Washington Square Serenade is very beat- and loop-heavy, but in a semi-subtle way.

When some artists make this kind of move, it’s almost like a marketing thing: you can almost hear the record label folks saying, “It’ll expose (him/her/them) to a whole new audience!”

In Steve Earle’s case, he recently moved from Nashville to New York City. His longtime band, The Dukes, did not move with him. Steve worked on his new album with John King of The Dust Brothers (the guys who worked on The Beastie BoysPaul’s Boutique and Beck’s Odelay), who knows a thing or two about using beats and samples. So, the album was more a result of his life situation than “How do I appeal to the rave crowd?”

There seem to be two other big influences on the album: his new wife, singer/songwriter Allison Moorer. So, this album is less political than the last two (that said, the first single is “City Of Immigrants,” and in the liner notes he mentions “P.S. Fuck Lou Dobbs!”). He’s also profoundly influenced by the history of Washington Square and the village, and folk music in general. I think he may have a future folk classic (how many of those are being written these days?) with “Steve’s Hammer (For Pete).” I’m guessing “Pete” is Pete Seeger.

Anyway, the show was incredible. It was mainly Steve, solo and acoustic, with Allison joining him occasionally (she also opened th show, and he joined her on stage as well), and a DJ also joined him a few times.

But really, all the DJ did was activate drum loops (he only did cutting and scratching on “Satellite Radio,” and even there he didn’t do much). So, it wasn’t really so radical. I think most of Steve Earle’s fans are open minded enough to be OK with it: I don’t think anyone got too bent out of shape about the loops. But really, he didn’t need a DJ – he could have trigged any of that stuff with a footpedal. Mostly the DJ would just start the beat, and then end it at the end of the song.

Anyway, the thing about Steve Earle is that he has such a commanding presence on stage, even with just a guitar, he’s incredible. His songs are really powerful, and as a songwriter I put him in Springsteen’s league: he really is such a great narrator. To me, it’s just one of the injustices of contemporary music that he isn’t headlining arenas.

So, did anyone yell “Judas!” as one fan famously did to Bob Dylan at one of The Bard’s first rock shows (hear it yourself on The Bootleg Series Vol. 4)? No, but surely some folks in the audience wished Steve was playing with the Dukes, or just wasn’t using a DJ.

It wasn’t his “Dylan at Newport” moment. I think it might be his “Human Touch” moment. As Bruce Springsteen did when he recorded the Human Touch and Lucky Town albums, Steve has just moved his home base; like Springsteen during that period, Steve is happily in a relationship, is still disenchanted with the state of things, and is also trying something new artistically (which many fans no doubt hope will pass in a year or two). By the way, when Bruce reunited with the E Street Band in 1999, it was really exciting – because they hadn’t played together in some time.

I saw Bruce Springsteen’s tour for the Human Touch and Lucky Town albums three times and loved each show. I actually thought the shows were better than the one E Street show I’d seen on the Tunnel Of Love tour. I knew The E Street Band were a better band than the guys he was using, but at the same time, it was fun to see Bruce doing something different, and he was clearly enjoying it, which made it more enjoyable than Tunnel Of Love, which to me seemed like a forced show . I actually love a lot of the songs from Bruce's early '90s era.

So, here’s hoping for the eventual Dukes reunion. But for now, I’m enjoying where Steve is at today.

* Oh yeah, the “commie hillbilly” thing. Someone at the show kept yelling out for “Hardcore Troubadour” – which is not just the title of a great Steve song, but also the name of his new SIRIUS Radio show on the excellent channel Outlaw Country (produced, like Underground Garage, by Little Steven). Anyway, at some point, this lady yells out, “Steve, if you don’t play ‘Hardcore Troubadour,’ I won’t get laid tonight!” To which he replied, “Hey, I’m just a commie hillbilly, I’m not that powerful.” But he did play the song in the encore anyway.


A friend of mine who is a jazz and classical musician used to work on Broadway musicals, and he told me this story. When Cats first hit Broadway, the show used the most cutting edge synthesizer sounds of the day; it was considered pretty hip, at least by Broadway standards. Broadway shows, he explained, rarely change anything about the production once the show opens. But seven or eight years in, the decision was made to update the synth tones, because they sounded so dated. You can probably figure out where this is going.

I attended Genesis’ recent Madison Square Garden concert with this same friend (a mutual friend hooked us up with a pair of tickets). My musician friend has rarely attended arena concerts – but after the show, he said that he felt that maybe Genesis might consider doing taking a cue from Cats. I thought it was an interesting comment: on one hand, Genesis, like most “prog rock” bands, aren’t big on changing the arrangements when they play their classics. Given the beatdowns that these bands have received for years from music critics, you can’t blame them for being a bit obstinate.

On the other hand, few prog rock bands – or any bands, period – have been able to evolve the way Genesis did through the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s. I don’t love everything the band has ever done, but I do respect the fact that, at a certain point, the guys said, "Well, maybe every song doesn’t need to be an epic." As adults, they addressed stuff that adults think about – relationships and the state of the world. Although always accused of being pretentious, they never made any pretensions of hipness, and I always respected that.

They have an interesting problem in concert: that they have at least four audiences to cater to: the people who love the Peter Gabriel-era prog stuff (and the longer pieces they’ve done with Phil Collins singing), the fans of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s rock radio stuff, the ‘80s MTV fans and the folks who like the adult contemporary stuff. I think they hit all the bases during the show.

Phil Collins isn’t just a great drummer, he’s also a great frontman, which is good because bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford and keyboardist Tony Banks have very little stage presence, and Rutherford is a very laid back player. The show wasn't like a religious experience, but I had a great time and I’m glad I went. They played most of my favorite songs from Phil’s era (notably the creepy “Mama,” the epic “Home By The Sea,” “Turn It On Again” “Throwing It All Away” – which I didn’t “get” until years after it came out, I think you need to have a certain amount of maturity to "get" some of these songs – “Follow You Follow Me” and a really rocking and fun version of “I Can’t Dance”) and Peter’s (“Firth of Fifth” and “The Carpet Crawlers”). The “Drum Duet” between Phil and their touring drummer Chester Thompson was pretty awesome, it reminded me of Stomp more than anything. I should also mention that touring bassist/guitarist Daryl Steurmer played some pretty great leads.

I bet Phil would have been down with making some changes to update their sound, but Mike and especially Tony are probably way too stubborn for that. And this tour isn't about proving how contemporary they are: I think it was about... well, money of course, but also I think Phil missed the guys. It was a nice way to say goodbye, because I don’t think that they are going to record more music or even tour much anymore. But when they did their last tour in 1992, no one really knew it was going to be their last. So it was a fine, if belated, goodbye. Anyway, here’s hoping they do it one more time – but with Peter Gabriel and guitarist Steve Hackett.

Monday, October 1, 2007


I'm not one of those contrarians who hates the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In fact, I like the fact that artists are honored for an enduring body of work. I even like the museum, I've been there a few times, including opening weekend.

And of course, any list of the "greatest/most influencial/most important" artists of all time is subjective.

That said, if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is about influence and not sales, I don't see how The Stooges haven't gotten in yet. But this year, they aren't even on the ballot. What the frak?

It would be one thing if the Hall didn't recognize punk rock: but The Ramones, The Clash and The Sex Pistols are all in. Without The Stooges, those bands wouldn't exist, probably neither would two of last year's inductees, R.E.M. and Patti Smith. Who else wouldn't exist without The Stooges? Let's see, off the top of my head: The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction and Nirvana? Oh yeah, and David Bowie.

There are some other artists that I'd like to see get in: Tom Waits, Warren Zevon, Bill Withers, Emmylou Harris, The Faces, The Cure, and The New York Dolls, among them. There are a few whose influence I don't think you can dispute, like KISS and Alice Cooper. But the fact that The Stooges aren't in is nothing short of an embarassment.

So, this year's ballot includes John Mellencamp. I'm a fan: I don't think that he changed the world musically, but he's written a pretty incredible catalog of songs, and he was a big force in bringing activism back to music in the '80s with his classic Scarecrow album and the co-founding of Farm Aid. I hope he is finally inducted (although I think he - along with many other inductees like R.E.M., Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders to name a few) would agree that The Stooges deserve to be in first.

The Beastie Boys also made the ballot: it's been 25 years since they released their hardcore punk debut, Pollywog Stew. I don't think that you can dispute that they belong in the Hall of Fame. I'm sure they'll get in.

I'm not one of those people who hates disco, I think that whole "disco sucks" thing was just racist classic rock radio. I like Chic, and wouldn't mind them in the Hall, but I think there are lots of other artists who should be in first. I like some of Donna Summers' records, but she wouldn't get my vote. Madonna isn't rock and roll - except in attitude. I don't mind her, but I wouldn't vote for her, either. I was happy that Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five got in last year, and I'm happy to see Afrika Bambaata on the ballot. I thought Run-D.M.C. would be on the ballot, but I guess they'll be on next year. The Dave Clark Five is on the ballot - get ready to find Little Steven on the campaign path, he's been saying that they should get in for years. The sad thing is, if you're curious why (as I am) it's difficult to find out what the big deal is about them, as their music is out of print.

One omission I am surprised about is Metallica, who are eligible this year. I thought that they were a lock. But then, the Hall of Fame/the Rolling Stone establishment has never been big supporters of heavy metal: it took forever for the almighty Black Sabbath to be inducted. That was another one that they should have been embarassed about. But Metallica have plenty of time.

It's just too bad about The Stooges. Hopefully The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will come to their senses at one point. I actually spoke to Iggy Pop about this a few years ago. He said that he would like the recognition. And he deserves it.