Saturday, July 30, 2011

THE GREATEST ALBUMS OF NO EXPIRATION'S LIFETIME

This is my 2,000th post! It feels like a big deal to me.  I've really enjoyed doing this blog, reading your comments (both here and on the No Expiration Facebook page) and occasionally meeting people who read the blog in person.  Thanks for your support, I'm going to continue doing No Expiration, and maybe add a video element to it at some point. I am in my early 40s, and love music as much as I ever did.

It was difficult to decide what to write about for my 2000th post.  I decided to do a list of the best albums that have come out since I launched this blog in the fall of 2007.  Some of my friends have a laugh over the fact that so many of the artists I listen to are "old" (which is silly and ageist), but in fact there are some newer artists, some who are celebrated by the hipster elite.  In fact, one of these albums topped the Village Voice "Pazz & Jop" album list!

1. The Drive-By Truckers - The Big To-Do was my favorite album of 2010, and also my favorite album of the past few years.  The DBTs is a band I was hardly aware of until a few years ago.  It was basically listening to SiriusXM's Outlaw Country that turned me on to them, and for that, I'm grateful. Once I started hearing a couple of songs, I started buying albums, and then attending concerts.  I'm in: I'm a fan for life. The Big To-Do is one of their best albums.  If my peers ask me about "new" bands to get into, I'll mention the Truckers.  They're not new, but they're new to a lot of people.

2. Bob Dylan - Together Through Life was my favorite album of 2009. It's amazing to me that Dylan still is adding to his unbelievable body of work. He was 68 (I think) when this came out.  How many 68 year olds are still putting out classic LPs? Well, I guess you can't compare anyone to Dylan anyway. The songs on this album were incredible - instead of writing them all on his own (as he usually does), he collaborated with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.  But the secret sauce here is in the musicians he assembled for this record: Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell and Los Lobos multi-instrumentalist David Hildago.

3. Bruce Springsteen - Magic He's as relevant as he ever was, and he drove that point home with this album. By this point, he'd driven away lots of his politically conservative fans, and goes hard at the bu$h administration.  And he did it with some of his best songs ever.  I love "Long Walk Home." The line "The flag flying over the courthouse, certain things are set in stone: who we are, what we'll do and what we won't."  The song has one of Clarence Clemons' last great sax performances.  Actually, the live version is even better than the one on Magic, it has great vocal performances by Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren. On the same album is "Girls In The Summer Clothes" which is pretty self-explanatory. This was around the time that lots of younger acts, from Arcade Fire to Gaslight Anthem, were citing Bruce as a major audience.  For a long time you didn't have young artists referencing Bruce that much, around Magic that started to change.

4. Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals - Lifeline My favorite album of 2007.  It was an album that they recorded in Paris over a (I think) two week period while touring for 2006's Both Sides Of The Gun, but it it totally a different album. The Innocent Criminals were really gelling as a band at this point... so it's weird that this is the last that we've heard of them (Ben has recorded either with Relentless7 or Fistful Of Mercy since then). I really hope we hear more from Ben and The Innocent Criminals in the future (I love R7 and Fistful though).  The album has a laid back but really soulful sound.  It's one of my favorites by Ben (who is one of my favorite artists ever).

5. Cocktail Slippers - Saint Valentine's Day Massacre There are two bands that I won't shut up about when people ask me about good relatively recent bands: The Drive-By Truckers and The Cocktail Slippers. Saint Valentine's Day Massacre is just a classic rock record, it actually blows my mind that more people haven't heard of them.  Little Steven, who produced the album, said it is one of the best albums he has ever worked on.  Think about that for a second.  By the way, I agree with him.  This album would be considered a classic and they would be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame if this came out in the '60s, '70s or '80s.



Friday, July 29, 2011

J. PERIOD'S Q-TIP MIX TAPE: CHECK IT OUT!

I've never been too familiar with the hip-hop mixtape scene. Most mixtapes aren't, strictly speaking, legal. But J. Period is a producer who has done a bunch of mixtapes... I don't know if they are "authorized" per se, but they are "commissioned." His latest mixtape is J. Period/Q-Tip The [Abstract] Best.

It's kind of like an audio documentary/podcast/tribute hybrid with pieces of songs, clips from interviews with Q-Tip as well as artists who he has worked with and influenced. There are new versions of some songs from his career (De La Soul cover "Excursions," Dres from Black Sheep gives his take on "Jazz" and a bunch of remixes that feature Questlove on drums). I found this collection on iTunes, where I also found a Roots mixtape by J. Period.  He occasionally posts other mixtapes at his website, if you love hip-hop, you should check it out. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

TOMORROW ON OUTQ: ALBUM ANNIVERSARIES: ALICIA KEYS, RYAN ADAMS, NIRVANA, MEGADETH, R.E.M.

Tomorrow morning on SiriusXM OutQ's Morning Jolt with Larry Flick, I'm talking about some albums that are being reissued in special anniversary editions.

First off, Alicia Keys' Songs In A Minor, which celebrates its tenth birthday this year. I wrote about this one the other night, I think it's a great LP.  To me, it heralded the arrival of a major artist who is going to be making important music for decades.  People rip on her for lots of things.  I guess the fact that she was a star pretty much the minute the album hit stores (thanks to both Oprah's endorsement and also an undeniable first single, "Fallin'") made her seem like an overnight star. (In fact, when she signed to J Records, it was her third record deal, she'd been signed and dropped twice previously). And, more recently, people have criticized her for more personal things which I won't get into.  I'll say that she seems to try and have a positive effect on the world with her money and fame, and I think she makes great music. I'm glad she's a star, and I always look forward to hearing what she's going to do next.

Also turning ten this year is Ryan Adams' Gold. I wrote about this one recently also. When Elton John released his 2001 album Songs From The West Coast (one of my favorite Elton albums, and one that is totally underrated), he said it was influenced by Ryan (although I think he was specifically referring to 2000's Heartbreaker). He wanted to take his band into the studio and do an album in two weeks. Around this time, Elton and Ryan were supposed to film an episode of CMT's Crossroads in New York City.  I was fortunate enough to get tickets.  Ryan, for some reason, didn't show up, but his band did, as did Elton. Elton started off with a solo piano set, and then Ryan's band joined him for a set of Ryan's songs. It was amazing. I'll always remember Elton's version of "La Cienega Just Smiled" from Gold. Ryan has put out lots of albums since then, but I think this is his finest moment.

Nirvana's Nevermind turns twenty this year. Wow. I remember hearing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time.  I was driving my car on the Meadowbrook Parkway in Long Island while I was in college.  I was listening to WDRE and wondering why they were playing a band that was heavy like Metallica, but of course the singer sounded nothing like Metallica or anyone else. I got Nevermind when it first came out. Obviously it is a classic album.  I loved "Lounge Act," I thought it sounded like The Smithereens (I later read that they were, in fact, an influence). At some point, I found Kurt Cobain a bit too precious and annoying (wearing a "corporate magazines still suck" shirt while doing a corporate magazine cover was cute, but complaining about Pearl Jam bugged me), and I stopped listening to them for a bit. That was dumb of me.  They are one of the greatest bands ever, and Nevermind is an incredible album. There's a deluxe version coming out later this year, but for now, Spin magazine has curated a tribute album called Newermind with The Meat Puppets, The Vaselines, Charles Bradley and Butch Walker, among others.  You can get it for free by liking their Facebook page.

R.E.M. has released a 25th anniversary edition of Life's Rich Pageant.  Having listened to it a bit lately, I've concluded that it is probably their best album (although I also love Automatic For The People). I'm going to do a separate post about this album.  The reissue comes with a second disc of demos and some songs that didn't come out on the album (some were re-recorded years later, others are being released for the first time here). Honestly, the bonuses are cool but kind of academic. But you need to have at least the album proper, if you don't already.

Finally, Megadeth's Peace Sells, which also turns 25.  Unlike the R.E.M. album, I remember this one coming out (I wasn't really aware of R.E.M. yet in 1986).  I knew they were led by a guy who used to be in Metallica, and lots of people were talking about it (I think I also knew that frontman Dave Mustaine was actually credited as a co-writer on a number of early Metallica classics). I listened to this album over and over, just as I did with Metallica. I felt Mustaine had the ability to take metal even further than Metallica did. They seemed to be a bit more political, which I was interested in at the time.  To me, this is one of the best speed metal albums ever. The bonus disc is a poorly recorded live concert from the era.

I know U2 will be releasing a Achtung Baby/Zooropa box set later this year, I can't wait to hear what they put on it (I have most of the b-side and remixes from the era though). I look forward to bringing that one onto a later episode of Larry's show.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

GUITAR WORLD'S 100 GREATEST (MY ADJUSTMENTS) (part 2)

This is part 2 of my "adjustments" to Guitar World's list of 100 Greatest Classic Rock Guitar Songs. Part 1 is here.

26. The Stooges - "1969" I just inserted it here. The Stooges kick the shit out of most bands that "classic rock" radio plays.  I could have chosen lots of Stooges songs, but "1969," leading off their self-titled debut from that same year, was a roaring counterpoint to lots of the hippie Woodstock stuff going on at the time. More people need to check out The Stooges.  I'm glad they finally got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  R.I.P guitarist Ron Asheton.

27. KISS - "Detroit Rock City (live)" I moved this up a few notches, GW had it at 33. And I replaced the studio version with the one from Alive II. "You wanted the best, you GOT the best! The hottest band in the world..."

28. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - "Cinnamon Girl" Neil and the late Danny Whitten were a great team. This song is really simple, but if it was easy, everyone would write songs like this. Incredible riff. GW had this at 31, I bumped it up.

29. Led Zeppelin - "Whole Lotta Love" which shows off Jimmy Page's godly power, not just as a guitarist but as a producer. Moved up from 35.

30. Yes - "Starship Trooper" Well, I may come off as a bit of a snob sometimes, but on the other hand I am a huge Yes fan. I'm glad GW choose this song instead of one of the more obvious ones. From their third LP, but their first with guitarist Steve Howe, The Yes Album. I never get tired of this song.

31. Derek & The Dominoes - "I Looked Away." Of course GW went with "Layla," but "classic rock" radio has kind of driven that one into the ground for me also. It's a great riff, a great anthem (and a great piano song as well as a great guitar song). To me, Derek is Eric Clapton's best period ever. Putting Eric and Duane Allman on the same record, it's still incredible to hear them together. I think "I Looked Away" is one of the most underrated songs in the Clapton cannon.

32. Bill Haley & The Comets - "(We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock" It sounds quaint now, but in 1954, I'm sure it was pretty radical.  And the guitar is tasty as hell, props to Danny Cedrone who played guitar on the track.

33. Iron Maiden - "Iron Maiden" GW had "Run To The Hills" at #37, but I replaced it with this song, because I prefer the Paul Di'Anno era to the Bruce Dickinson era. Iron Maiden is creepy and evil sounding.  At the same time, "Run To The Hills" was the first Maiden song I'd ever heard, and really turned me on to them, so lets call it a tie, OK? I knew Maiden's imagery was very horror-film-like, and I was surprised to hear them do such a political song. Anyway, guitarist Dave Murray rocks on both songs.  On "Iron Maiden," he plays with co-guitarist Dennis Stratton, and on "Run..." with Adrian Smith.

34. The MC5 - "Kick Out The Jams" in the place of "Carry On Wayward Son." It's just a matter of opinion, but I think "classic rock" radio would actually rock more with more Stooges and MC5.

35. Cheap Trick - "Surrender" They always seem a bit underrated. GW had it at 39, I moved it up four spots.

36. Alice Cooper - "School's Out" Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce were a great guitar team, and Alice Cooper was a great BAND. This song is also a bit overdone, but it's timeless (at least as long as there are schools and summer break).

37.  Michael Jackson - "Beat It" I was glad to see GW include this song, even though no rock stations would ever play a Michael Jackson song.  The fact that he used Eddie Van Halen on this song was pretty radical at the time.  Michael often choose cool guitarists to work with, including Steve Stevens and Slash, but this was his best rock moment.  The fact that you couldn't hear this song on rock radio made rock radio, to me, seem old and out of touch (their very limited playlists didn't help either).

38. The New York Dolls - "Personality Crisis" I used this song to replace a Motley Crue song that was included by GW.  I don't like GW, but I respect that Nikki Sixx has always given a lot of credit to the Dolls for their influence, and even gave them the opening slot on their summer tour (which I think is still going on). But the Dolls are another great, underrated band. They deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and they deserve to be on the radio also. Sylvain Sylvain and the late Johnny Thunders: great guitar team.

39. Bob Dylan - "Subterranean Homesick Blues" I'm not sure who the guitar players were on this song, but it's got great playing. Also, it marks one of the most radical artistic departures from a major popular music artist.  Going from folk to rock (or funk) like this... these days, everyone plays electric and acoustic music, but it was a radical idea back then.

40. The Rolling Stones - "Jumpin' Jack Flash" I moved this up from #46. Yes, it's a bit overplayed, but what a classic.  Undeniable riff. Keith Richards and Brian Jones on guitars.

41. AC/DC - "Hells Bells" Obviously "You Shook Me All Night Long" and "Back In Black" are bigger songs from the Back In Black album, but I love how this song opens the album. It's their sendoff to Bon Scott, and the first time we hear his replacement, Brian Johnson. As always, Angus and Malcolm Young are devastating.

42. Dick Dale & The Del-Tones "Miserlou" I moved this up from 50.  It's truly an iconic piece of music, and bless Quentin Tarantino (one of the greatest soundtrack curators) for putting it in Pulp Fiction.

43. Crosby Stills Nash & Young "Carry On" I used this to replace CSN's "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." I think this is better, and, plus, Neil Young is on it (I think: I know all four guys were on every song together on Deja Vu). When you see it live, it's cool to watch Stephen Stills and Neil go back and forth on lead guitars. David Crosby is a good rhythm guitarist, and Graham Nash is just a great musician. It's a great song to open a concert with.

44. The Grateful Dead - "Bertha (live)" I replaced "Truckin'" with this, I don't need to hear "Truckin'" anymore. This live version opens the "Skull Fuck" album, and they opened with this the first time I ever saw them. I'm not always into the hippie/jam band thing, but Jerry Garcia was a cool guitar player.

45. Link Wray & His Wray Men - "Rumble" Another badass instrumental used in Pulp Fiction, but not included on the soundtrack. I moved this up from 62.

46. The Beatles - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" Another great George Harrison composition, and in this one, the Fab Four gets an assist from Eric Clapton. I moved this up from 63.

47. Heart - "Barracuda" Yes, also driven into the ground by radio, but what the hell, it's  great riff.  Nancy Wilson is an underrated guitarist, and in the interest of fairness, it's worth mentioning that Roger Fisher was the other guitarist in the band at this point. I moved this up from 64.

48. Pearl Jam - "Corduroy" GW choose "Evenflow," which is a great (and has a monster riff that I think Stone Gossard came up with), but "Corduroy" is probably my favorite Pearl Jam song. When they play it live, it just raises the entire arena. People don't talk about Mike McCready enough when they talk about the best lead guitarists around today, but he is one of the best.

49. Van Halen - "Hot For Teacher" You just can't deny how huge Van Halen were in their day, and how great they were. I used to sort of "blame"them for hair metal, but I realized that was ridiculous.  This song is one of Eddie Van Halen's coolest moments.

50. The Yardbirds - "Over Under Sideways Down" This is from the Jeff Beck era, which is my favorite.

Monday, July 25, 2011

RYAN ADAMS "GOLD" TEN YEARS ON

Ryan Adams had been around for a while when he released his breakthrough album, Gold, in 2001. In the '90s, he fronted the alt-country band, Whiskeytown, and in 2000, he released his solo debut, Heartbreaker.

The first single from Gold, "New York, New York," was great on its own. The video was shot, weirdly, with the Twin Towers in the background, days before 9/11. It's hard not to think of those horrible days when I hear that song.  Still, it's a great song.  And the album holds up even without that song. "When The Stars Turn Blue" is a classic (it's been covered by Tim McGraw as well as The Corrs with Bono), but my favorite is "La Cienega Just Smiled." The album sort of set Ryan up for stardom, which he seemed determined to avoid at all costs.  Well, he was successful.

I remember interviewing him a few years after Gold, you could just tell that he absolutely didn't care about being popular, but he cared a lot about his music. In some ways, he reminds me of Prince. He kind of operates on his own terms, releases more music than even his fans know how to deal with.  I think Gold is Ryan's Purple Rain. I don't know if he's released his Sign O The Times yet.

The label that released Gold, Lost Highway Records, is also celebrating its ten year anniversary this year. To celebrate, they have been reissuing some of their important albums on limited edition clear vinyl. Gold is among those and the vinyl reissue has some bonus tracks.

I've been thinking about Amy Winehouse for the past few days; at one point, it seemed like Ryan was on that same kind of dark path.  I'm glad he seems to be doing a bit better these days, it's always interesting to see what he does next. (Right now, for some reason, he's posting covers of Vampire Weekend songs to his website. Next on his list: KISS).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

ALICIA KEYS "SONGS IN A MINOR" 10 YEARS ON

After yesterday's sad news of the death of Amy Winehouse, I'd like to celebrate another young female singer who has successfully survived fame at an early age. Ten years after the release of her stunning debut, Songs In A Minor, Alicia Keys has an impressive body of work that just keeps growing.

She's just released a 10th anniversary edition of her debut, and I have to admit, I'd forgotten how good it was.  The singles ("Fallin'," "A Woman's Worth," her cover of Prince's "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore") are of course amazing, but there are great album tracks on the LP.  I don't know that all contemporary pop artists care about full albums anymore. But Alicia Keys has always had a vision.  When this album came out, she was 19.  She was an exec producer, which is rare for new artists, especially artists of her age. She wrote or co-wrote all the originals.   At that point in her career, she needed to have that kind of control: she'd already been signed by, and dropped by, two record labels.   She was accepted to Columbia University, and dropped out after four weeks.  She knew what she needed to do: she knew she needed to control her career.  She had to focus and the discipline and the wisdom to be able to pull it off. I guess a lot of artists want to do that, but they aren't necessarily capable of doing it. Time has proven Alicia knew what she was doing all along.

So the anniversary edition of Songs In A Minor has the full album. It was definitely a product of Alicia's vision, but she was fortunate enough to have some great contributors: Isaac Hayes did the arrangements and played Rhodes piano on "Rock Wit U" and Brian McKnight produced and played all the instruments on "Goodbye" (but Alicia wrote it).  They're just two of the non-singles that are worth revisiting.

There's a second disc with alternate versions of songs from the album and other rarities.  There's the remix of "A Woman's Worth" (featuring Nas), an early and very funky version of "If I Was Your Woman," a different version of "Fallin'" and a live cover of The Doors' "Light My Fire." Finally, it comes with a DVD with a documentary about the album and some of the music videos. There's a great essay by the writer Alan Light, and also Alicia herself writes about every song on the collection, as well as an essay about the album itself.

Songs In A Minor holds up really well today, as does much of the music she's made since.  Ten years deep, Alicia Keys is still adding to her catalog of excellent songs, and we should be grateful for that.

On a personal note, I'll mention that I interviewed Ms. Keys when I was at VH1, she was one of my favorite interviews.  I figured, if someone that young has to have that much success, I'm glad it's her, she handles it with such grace, and remains a really cool person (I said the same thing about Norah Jones also). I told her I wanted to write the liner notes for her box set and she said "let's do it" or something like that.  Here's hoping she remembers that!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

GOODBYE AMY WINEHOUSE, REST IN PEACE

By now, everyone knows that Amy Winehouse has died. She was a very good singer, and she could have been great. Maybe even a legend. Sadly, it wasn't to be.  We don't know how she died yet, but I'm sure most people suspect some sort of substance abuse.  It's just a shame. She had a great voice, and she knew how to use it. She had lots of charisma, people bought into her, they were emotionally invested in her.

I'd actually heard some songs from her first album, 2003's Frank, because I read British magazines and they were writing about her back then. I thought the album showed promise, and "Fuck Me Pumps" definitely showed that she had more edge and attitude than most other mainstream singers.

A few years later, I heard Ghostface's "You Know I'm No Good" which sampled Amy, which led me to seek out her new album, Back To Black. It was a great album, won a ton of Grammys, sold millions, it made her one of the biggest stars in the world.  Ultimately, though, it didn't get her what she wanted... whatever that was.

I know a lot of media outlets will be writing about Amy because it will lead to pageviews, copies sold, ads sold, whatever. People have been as interested in the spectacle and trainwreck of Amy Winehouse as they are in her music. Maybe more.

She wasn't a legend. Yes, she died at 27 like some other legendary rock stars.  She left one pretty good album and one pretty great one. I think there could have been some classics from her. So, I'm just sorry that we won't hear any more new music from her. That's all.

GUITAR WORLD'S 100 GREATEST (MY ADJUSTMENTS) (part 1)

Guitar World magazine's new issue features their list of the "100 Greatest Classic Rock Guitar Songs."  I think they put together a great list, with some great choices that, sadly, don't get played on what is known on "classic rock" radio, including Bill Haley & The Comets' "Rock Around The Clock, Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock," Prince & The Revolution's "Purple Rain" and the #1 song, Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode."

As I often do, I create my own iPod mix to go along with the feature, with my own adjustments.   In some cases I switched one band's song with another (like with Led Zeppelin: I know "Stairway To Heaven" is, like, the most played song ever on classic rock radio or something, but I'm tired of it and I prefer "The Rain Song").  In other cases, I replaced some bands for others, creating my ideal classic rock lineup.  Not to be a snob, but on my planet, James Brown, The Stooges and The Clash are classic rock, whereas Kansas and Journey are not.  So, here's my list:

1. Chuck Berry - "Johnny B. Goode" Yeah, it's such an obvious choice (I prefer "Brown Eyed Handsome Man"... read the lyrics and replace "eyed" with "skinned" and it's a pretty radical song for the era).  But it's such an important song.  Not just in rock and roll, but in American culture.

2. Led Zeppelin - "The Rain Song" As I mentioned above, GW used "Stairway To Heaven," but, as much as I enjoy J.R.R. Tolkien's lore, which inspired the lyrics, it's sort of an overplayed song. "The Rain Song" resonates with me much more.  "Upon us all a little rain must fall." This song is as much about John Paul Jones' string arrangements as Jimmy Page's guitar though. But still, it's powerful and beautiful.

3. Jimi Hendrix - "I Don't Live Today" replacing "Purple Haze." I love "Haze," but it's another one that "classic rock" radio has driven into the ground.  "I Don't Live Today" is just as rockin', and is from the same album, Are You Experienced?

4. Guns N' Roses - "Sweet Child O' Mine" Overplayed? Hell yeah.  But when this jam came out in '87, you couldn't get enough of it.  Slash's riff was unbelievable, and he and Izzy Stradlin' were just such a great team. "Welcome To The Jungle" also made GW's list, but I kept Guns (and most other bands) to just one song.

5. Metallica - "For Whom The Bell Tolls" replacing "Enter Sandman." I love "Sandman," and I know it's where a lot of people discovered Metallica. I discovered them on a radio show called "Metal Shop," and "For Whom The Bell Tolls" was the song. I've never gotten tired of it. I have always loved James Hetfield's muscular rhythm playing.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

U2's 360 TOUR RETURNS TO NJ

Giants still walk the earth, and I'm not talking about a sports team.  Last night, U2's concert at the New Meadowlands Stadium was one of the best concerts I've ever seen. I've seen lots of U2 shows: I've seen every tour since 1985.  This may well have been the best one.

For the past twenty years, I've felt that the band have had a hard time aligning their two sides: the rootsy, earnest Joshua Tree guys and the edgier, darker guys who chopped that tree down with Achtung Baby. Put another way: their '80s material didn't always fit into their shows in the '90s, and then in the '00s, post-All That You Can't Leave Behind, it sometimes felt like the '90s material didn't totally make sense in their sets.  On the 360 Tour, everything seems to work. Their gigantic stage is a visual assault with both heart and mind. I saw the earlier part of the tour, and this time the show was even better.

Clearly, Achtung Baby was on the band's collective mind: they are about to release a 20th anniversary edition of that album, and they opened up with four songs in a row from the LP: "Even Better Than The Real Thing," "The Fly," "Mysterious Ways" and "Until The End Of The World." The songs sounded better live than they ever have: they've lost some of their techno sheen, replaced by a roaring garage rock sound. When those songs first came out, they sounded like a real departure from "rock" music, but last night they all sounded like stadium anthems.

Speaking of anthems: from there they went into "I Will Follow," which still sounds so fresh. I've never gotten tired of this song. It struck me that this must be so much fun on "Rock Band," especially on drums. Listen to this song, you'll understand why U2 should have been called The Larry Mullen Band. His playing is so cool, but he doesn't try and call attention to himself.  You notice it if you're paying attention.  Larry and Adam Clayton really held it down last night: Adam sounded more funky and aggressive than ever.  He's probably getting more girls than ever (Bono remarked that he still thinks that being in the band is a "great way to meet girls"). You can hear it in his playing.

It's the end of the tour, and they've dropped a few songs from No Line On The Horizon. But they did play "Get On Your Boots" (which doesn't really work for me, it always struck me as an attempt to repeat the similar but cooler "Vertigo," which they also played), the remix of "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" (also didn't really work, but they segued into "Discotheque," which is a much better dance jam), and "Magnificent," which is a classic.

There were some of the colossal hits: "Pride (In The Name Of Love)," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "One," "With Or Without You" and "Where The Streets Have No Name." All were incredible as always.

On this tour, they've brought back "Walk On," one of my favorites.  They have Amnesty International volunteers on stage with candles in honor of recently freed Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, (read more about her here). Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the audience via video after the song.  It's one of those powerful moments that U2 pull off so well.  Another moment was astronaut Mark Kelly's video intro to "Beautiful Day," where he floated flash cards with the lyrics before the song, and then quoted Bowie: "Tell my wife I love her very much: she knows." How could you not get a lump in your throat! Kelly read some of the lyrics during the song also. He is already home from his space mission, but still, wow. That moment could have overwhelmed the song, but it didn't.  "Beautiful Day" is that rare rock song about, well, beauty... but played with Zeppelin-esque power.  And last night's performance was righteous, as was the performance of its album-mate, "Elevation," which followed.  I know The Edge isn't a typical "guitar hero," his playing is so rocking while also being zen. Like Larry's drumming, you never feel like The Edge is trying to call all the attention to himself.

Some surprising '90s moments: "Miss Sarajevo" and "Zooropa," both of which were excellent. Bono even sang Pavarotti's part of "Sarajevo," and pretty much pulled it off.  He was in amazing vocal form, and of course, was incredible as a frontman (a great moment came when he read a setlist from a U2 show from The Fastlane, 30 years earlier).  Also, "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" from the Batman soundtrack was great, proving that not all of U2's superhero collaborations aren't disasters.  Although the folks at Marvel Comics probably weren't psyched that "Hold Me" made the playlist ("How about 'Rise Above 1?').

The show ended with No Line On The Horizon's "Moment Of Surrender." My opinion: it holds up with the band's best songs.  Check it out if you haven't.  It's a soul music classic.

And that's the way the show was supposed to end. But Bono says "One more!" And so it was that they launched into "Out Of Control." A song I've always loved and have never seen them perform in the 26 years I've been attending U2 concerts. It's amazing that they are still surprising me after all that time, both with old classics and with their ability to continuously add to their catalog, already bursting at the seam with an embarrassment of riches.

(a few other notes: the show was opened by Interpol, a very Joy Division sounding band, who are no match for Muse, who opened last time. The top photo here was taken by my lovely wife, and the second photo is by my dear friend Ashmi, follow her on Twitter.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

TOMORROW ON THE MORNING JOLT: BUDDY HOLLY, BILLIE HOLIDAY

Tomorrow morning on The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick on SiriusXM OutQ, I'll be talking about two incredible artists, Buddy Holly and Billie Holiday. They both were hugely influential, and are the subjects of new tribute albums.  I just wrote about Buddy Holly's, called Rave On Buddy Holly.  I hope this turns on new fans to his music.  I think he is timeless.  To me, he's an outsider  -- he's not a stud, jock or obvious cool guy like an Elvis, but he's not angst ridden over it. Not over-artsy, not over-angry.  He just doesn't fit in, doesn't care, and wants to have a great time.

By the way, if you're looking to get some music by Buddy himself, you should check out the 2 CD set Gold that Universal Music put out a few years ago, it has lots of the great songs.  You can also find the new digital album, Raving On, which includes Buddy's versions of all the songs on the tribute album. More tribute albums should be accompanied by collections of original versions of songs included on the tribute.

I wrote about the new Billie Holiday tribute a few days ago. It has some cool artists covering her songs, as well as the lovely Angela Bassett reading excerpts from Lady Sings The Blues, Billie's autobiography.  I've really been enjoying Shelby Lynne and Esperanza Spalding's contributions to that album.  I wish there were some bigger names - Billie Holiday should be celebrated by the hugest singers in the world, in my opinion.

Will anyone ever do Buddy songs better than Buddy or Billie songs better than Billie?  It's not likely. But I think it is cool that big name artists give credit to their influences, and keep their songbooks alive. I may be a bit of an optimist, but I do believe that these kind of tribute albums can turn on younger ears, minds and hearts to great artists, and if that happens, then tribute albums are worth doing.

RAVE ON BUDDY HOLLY

I know that a lot of people hate the idea of tribute albums.  I don't.  In the pre-downloading age, I bought tons of them, even if there was just one artist I liked on the album. I really like the idea of artists paying tribute to other artists, I always have. It's hard to overstate Buddy Holly's importance.  He was there at the beginning of rock and roll.  He influenced The Beatles. The Rolling Stones covered him on their first album. I remember watching Bob Dylan talk about a Buddy Holly concert when he was accepting his Grammys in 1997.

I think it's important to our culture to keep reintroducing this kind of classic music to younger generations (or "demographics").  Rave On Buddy Holly does a good job at putting together a great list of diverse artists.   Do any of them improve on the original songs?  No, of course not. But there are lots of great versions of these classics, and if Rave On turns some new people on to Buddy Holly's music, then mission accomplished.

I think my favorite songs on the album are Paul McCartney's "It's So Easy," Karen Elson's "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" and Cee-Lo Green's "You're So Square (Baby I Don't Care)." Sir Paul sounds like he  is harnessing the excitement that he felt when first hearing Buddy's music as a kid. It's actually kind of shocking hearing him rock out so hard!  No Expiration readers know that I really like Karen Elson, and I love her take on "Crying, Waiting, Hoping."  It's hard not to imagine that she was thinking about her soon-to-be-ex-husband (who produced the track and plays drums on it) when she was singing this.  Even still, it's a bit more upbeat than her most of the stuff on her excellent debut album The Ghost Who Walks. Cee-Lo Green? He just sells it so well.

There's a lot of other great moments: The Detroit Cobras (props to the producers for including them) on "Heartbeat," The Black Keys' "Dearest," Justin Townes Earle's "Maybe Baby," My Morning Jacket's "True Love Ways," She & Him's "Oh Boy!" and even Kid Rock's "Well All Right." It's not all good.  The singer from The Strokes and Modest Mouse both do pretty boring takes on Buddy classics.

But even the songs I don't like may serve a purpose.  If popular artists like the singer from The Strokes or Modest Mouse can attract some new people to the amazing and timeless music of Buddy Holly, then well done.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

HORRIBLE BOSSES - GREAT FILM SCORE

The new film, Horrible Bosses, has a bit of a ridiculous premise - three guys with bosses of varying degrees of horribleness, decide to team up and kill said bosses - but it's very funny, in a Hangover kind of way. But I'm writing about it because of the cool approach they took to scoring the film.  Composer Christopher Lennertz put together a really cool group of musicians to play on the score, including Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Stefan Lessard of The Dave Matthews Band and Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark. (Lessard and McCready are pictured here from a totally different event, I think Lessard originally posted this photo to Dave Matthews' website).  Anyway, the score is available on iTunes, and you can buy separate tracks, as there are some different musicians on different tracks (also appearing on the album is frequent Jane's Addiction bassist Chris Chaney, and a drummer named Matt Chamberlin, who has played for lots of people, including Tori Amos and Stone Gossard). You can watch a cool video about the making of film score here.

YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: NEIL YOUNG TRIBUTE DVD

This was released a few weeks ago, without too much hype, but you need to know about it: A Musicares Tribute To Neil Young.

Shot January 29, 2010 at the NARAS 2010 Musicares Person Of The Year event, the show featured some pretty incredible artists paying tribute to Neil.  Some of the highlights included Norah Jones' "Tell Me Why," Ben Harper's "Ohio," Wilco's "Broken Arrow," James Taylor's "Heart Of Gold" (I think he actually sang backing vocals on the original version) and John Mellencamp's "Down By The River." Also a sort of supergroup: Elton John, Leon Russell, Sheryl Crow and Neko Case doing "Helpless." I think it was the first time Elton and Leon performed together.

Also on the bill: John Fogerty, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Dave Matthews, Dierks Bentley, Booker T. Jones, Josh Groban (!), Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, Crosby Stills & Nash. I think The Red Hot Chili Peppers performed for the first time with new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer ("A Man Needs A Maid") but it's not on the DVD.   Neil was there also, he just sort of gave a thank you speech (if you've seen his speeches at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, you know what his speeches are like), he didn't perform at all.

The event, and the DVD, raises money for NARAS' MusiCares, which "offers a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need," including "financial medical and personal emergencies." Learn more about MusiCares here.  

THE MORALS OF METAL

Last night I made my return to The Busted Halo Show on SiriusXM's The Catholic Channel.  It was "Mellow" Matt's one year anniversary as the show's Board Operator, so I was invited to bring some of Matt's favorite music, heavy metal.  No problem.  Except that I had to have some kind of theme, beyond "Matt likes this music." A year and a half ago, I talked about Black Sabbath on Busted Halo, and I felt that went over well.  But I didn't want to repeat myself. 

Here's the thing about (some) heavy metal music.  It has a sense of consciousness, just like folk music, and a sense of outrage just like punk rock, but doesn't get much credit for either.  When I was a kid, though, I didn't really know much about punk rock and folk wasn't really appealing to me.  But there did seem to be a moral code to at least some records by Iron Maiden, Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth. That struck a chord with me back then, and it still does today. I don't mind songs about cars and girls, but I also enjoy and appreciate when a lyric goes deeper. That's what was going through my mind over the past week when I was deciding what songs to use.

So the theme I came up with was war, and the effects of war on the people forced to fight.  When I first talked about Sabbath on Busted Halo, I used "War Pigs," which decried the fact that wealthy people decide that we need to go to war, but it's generally the poor who have to actually go and fight.

This time, I decided to use another Sabbath song, "Hand Of Doom," which, like "War Pigs," is on the 1970 album Paranoid. I've always interpreted the song about guys who came back from Vietnam and the damage they brought with them.  "Hand of doom" is code for heroin; some soldiers either got hooked on smack while in Vietnam, others started using when they got home.  The song doesn't glorify or moralize anything.  Because of Tony Iommi's fearsome guitar playing, you get the message that "hand of doom" is scary and not something you want to mess with. When people accuse Sabbath of being Satanists, I suggest they listen to this song.  Geezer Butler (who wrote the lyrics) wasn't trying to tell you want to think, just presenting a reality, and Ozzy Osbourne sounding as haunted as he ever would, delivered the song perfectly. To me, there's a great sense of moral outrage in this song.  How could we send people to fight for our country, and let them linger as empty shells when they come back, poisoned by heroin?

Next, I used Metallica's "Disposable Heroes" from one of the hugest albums of my high school years, 1986's Master Of Puppets. Metallica are taken for granted a bit now, as they are one of the biggest bands in the world, but back then they were very radical and underground.  This album was about the different things that control people's lives, mainly drugs and war. "Disposable Heroes" was about soldiers, and it struck me that at the time the album came out, America hadn't officially been involved in any wars, and hadn't been for quite a few years. As opposed to now, when you hear stories about soldiers from the various wars in the Middle East having problems re-acclimating to "normal" life. Metallica frontman and lyricist James Hetfield must have known some Vietnam vets, and made his own observations based on what he saw.  I'd love to ask him about this song.  In the lyrics, Hetfield doesn't have to point out that he cares about what these people were going through: the fact that he sings with such rage tells you all you need to know.  It's a subject that Springsteen has sung about, Hetfield and Metallica reaches a different audience. Maybe this song gave some people some ideas about the consequences of war. 

Finally, I used Alice In Chains' "Rooster," which Jerry Cantrell wrote about his father, a Vietnam vet, and all he went through when he returned home after the war.  The lines that resonate are "the bullets scream to me from somewhere" and also "they spit on me in my homeland." Jerry doesn't take a stance on war, but he shows from his first hand experience, what the after-effects are on people returning from war. It's a pretty heavy song.

When I was a kid, I felt that adults proclaimed heavy metal to be a depraved and angry form of music with no redeeming social value.  That was part of the appeal! But if you paid attention to the lyrics as I did (and I was not alone there), there was a lot you could get out of lyrics to songs like Iron Maiden's "Run To The Hills," Anthrax's "Indians" and Megadeth's "Peace Sells." (I'll probably write about those three songs in a later post.) I love the fact that these bands were able to get across ideas without slamming you over the head (lyrically, at least). While getting you to bang your head.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A PERFECT CIRCLE AT NYC'S HAMMERSTEIN BALLROOM: A BIT "PASSIVE"

I was surprised when I saw that A Perfect Circle was touring.  I thought they sort of put the band to rest, mainly because Maynard James Keenan seems more concerned with his winery and his newer group Puscifer, and Tool is still together. But I was glad - I love their debut, 2000's Mer de Noms.

Unfortunately, tonight they didn't play much from that album, concentrating mostly on their third and latest album, 2004's Emotive. That was their album of covers of songs that were inspired by war and peace.  It's actually a cool album with some bold interpretations of some iconic songs, but they don't really take off live.  Oddly enough, they played all the covers on the album, EXCEPT for my two favorites: Devo's "Freedom Of Choice" and Fear's "Let's Have A War." Which left their toy-piano version of Crucifix's "Annihilation," John Lennon's "Imagine," Nick Lowe's "Peace Love and Understanding" (sung by the band's leader, Billy Howerdell), Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," Black Flag's "Gimme Gimme Gimme," Depeche Mode's "People Are People" (much better than the version APC did on the album),  the traditional "When The Levee Breaks" (popularized by Led Zeppelin) and Joni Mitchell's "Fiddle and the Drum." The two best songs on the album, though, were originals, and they both rocked live. "Passive" was supposedly meant for the Tapeworm sideproject (which was to include Trent Reznor, a co-writer on the song), and is one of APC's best moments. And "Counting Bodies Like Sheep To The Rhythm Of The War Drums," a sort of sequel to "Pet" from APC's second album Thirteenth Step. Since they'd never toured for Emotive, this was the first time I'd heard them live and they were amazing.

The show had a few isolated moments like that, but it never really took off.  There were too many slow songs, and not enough from Mer de Noms. Still, the great parts were great: Billy Howerdell is a great guitarist, and of course Maynard is a great presence.  It's hard to call him a "frontman," as he stayed behind the band with no spotlight aimed on him throughout the show. The rest of the band included former Smashing Pumpkins/current Tinted Windows guitarist James Iha, who played on the Thirteenth Step tour, and I think on one of the songs on Emotive. Matt McJunkins (who plays in Billy's other band Ashes Divide, and also Puscifer) played bass, and I'm not sure who was on drums, I'm pretty sure it isn't Josh Freese (who I think is currently with Weezer). But to the band's credit, everyone played like they owned the songs, it wasn't like hired guns at all. I heard that they were doing shows last year where they would play a full album - I'd love to see them do Mer de Noms. Anyway, pretty good show, if you're going to see them (they're playing New York's Beacon Theater later this week), you might want to make sure you dig the songs on Thirteenth Step and Emotive.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

THE "DISCO SUCKS" MOVEMENT

The other day, I happened upon an article on a radio trade site, where a fairly well-known radio consultant talked about being a part of a "rock" station that orchestrated a big "disco sucks" night at Chicago's Comiskey Park in the summer of 1979.  It was a stunt that turned into a sort of cultural moment, drawing more people to a White Sox game than anyone could have reasonably expected. The White Sox were having a bad season, and weren't selling huge amounts of tickets, but this game sold out.

Here's the context: a DJ who got fired from a local station that went from rock to disco was hired by a different rock station, 'The Loop." He was leading the fight against the perceived threat of disco. Was disco really a threat?  Or was it the people who listened to disco?

The idea for this stunt was that you could get into the game for a dollar if you brought disco records that would be destroyed during the radio station's event, to be held between the two games of a double header.  The record burning got out of control, people rushed onto the field, and the second game was cancelled. It was a well-publicized event, and was seen as the beginning of the end of the disco era.

I can appreciate people being sick of an all-encompassing trend, as disco certainly was at that point in time.  And I can appreciate the "tribe-building" of uniting fans by rallying them against something else.  And I can admire being able to conceive of and actually pull off a cultural event.  But....

In the article I cited above, the radio consultant says "It was all very military in strategy, as disco was looked upon as the enemy, and Loop was the army that would liberate Chicago from this menace. Rock listeners viewed this with the same fervor as Europeans looked at the liberation of their countries by the American GIs in WW2. Some viewed this as a 'book burning,' but c'mon! It was radio theater at its best. It was all tongue-in-cheek. "

I'll first point out the obvious: annoying music is annoying.  I'm pretty passionate about music, but come on, you can't really compare the "oppressiveness" of having to hear music you don't enjoy to having your country invaded by Nazi Germany. That's an irritating overreaction, but I guess some people in the media are prone to overstatement and paint in broad strokes. That's a pretty broad stroke though., I'd be curious to ask  England's post-war babies - like the members of classic rockers like The Beatles or Black Sabbath - what they think about that analogy.

But writing off the "book burning" vibe of the whole thing, and saying it was "radio theater" is a bit disingenuous to me. I don't think that people showing up *only* because they didn't like the music. You can deny it, but there was a hell of a lot of racism and homophobia fueling the anti-disco sentiment, no one working in media during that era could have been blind to that.  To harness intolerance to promote a radio (or TV "news") outlet... who would do that (cough)?

Let me put it another way: if there had been a huge event where non-white people, or gay people, were destroying records by say, Supertramp and Styx (probably staples of "rock" radio in 1979), how would *that* have gone over?

I don't have a lot of disco records.  But I love the Chic and Bee Gees music of that era. Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" is one of the sexiest records ever. And, more to the point, it holds up at least as well as whatever Foreigner or Doobie Brothers records "rock" radio stations were championing at the time. But a big part of rock and roll is rebellion and upsetting your parents. I think "I Feel Love" had more of that spirit than most Foreigner songs. I'm not trying to rip on anyone here too much.

A lot of rock fans decided they hated Rod Stewart because his "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" was seen as a "sell-out" to disco, but other artists had much cooler disco influenced songs, like The Rolling Stones ("Miss You"), Queen ("Another One Bites The Dust") and Paul McCartney ("Coming Up").

A funny thing to point out about the disco era is this: Chic, arguably the most influential disco group (as a band and as producers, they had their hands in many disco hits of the day), started out as a rock band... but they couldn't get a record deal. As the story goes, the labels didn't feel they could sell a band with all African American members to a rock audience. So Chic changed their style.  In a weird way, if that story is true, the same racism behind the "disco sucks" thing is what led to the creation of a good amount of disco music. It is a funny thing that a form of music that came almost totally from African-American influences, has so few black artists on its playlist. That's true even to this day. Other than Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and maybe War, there are very few people heard on rock radio who aren't white.  To me, if you're playing Journey and The Eagles but not James Brown or Otis Redding, you're not really rocking.

A final thought: I wonder how some of the artists played on "rock" radio felt about the record burning thing.  Bruce Springsteen's reaction to the inherent and not-subtle racism of the "disco sucks" nonsense?  He wrote "Protection" for Donna Summer.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A TRIBUTE TO BILLIE HOLIDAY

This album hasn't gotten too much hype - I actually just noticed A Tribute To Billie Holiday on iTunes last week. I'm not an expert on her or her era of music.  But I do have lots of her music, and I think her singing was so beautiful, while also being sad.  I think she's one of the greatest singers of all time.  Sinatra was supposedly influenced by her, and I know he sang a lot of the same songs.  I like Billie better.

I downloaded three of the songs.  Shelby Lynne, who is seriously underrated, does "You Changed," and it's excellent. I also checked out Esperanza Spalding's "I'll Look Around" which I love.  I was intrigued by the idea of Babyface singing "Strange Fruit."  While Babyface participated in the "Vote For Change" tour some years ago, he generally hasn't been the most political artist, so I thought this was a very unusual choice for him.  It's cool that he tried it, but I don't think it really works.  No disrespect, it was an interesting choice and a tough song to take on.

Those are the songs that I checked out, and two out of three ain't bad, as the man says.  Boz Scaggs and Deborah Cox are other singers on the album.  I haven't heard their songs yet.  I know a lot of people "hate" on tribute albums. I like the idea of them, and I often enjoy the final results.  My favorite thing about them is the idea that they may lead people to check out the original artist and if some new music fans get turned on to Lady Day because of this collection, then mission accomplished.  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

COOL BAND ALERT: THE MAKE OUT

I don't usually write about bands who only have a few songs out, but The Make Out stopped me in my tracks.  I heard their song "I Don't Want Anybody That Wants Me" on The Underground Garage, and I loved it. It was actually one of the "Coolest Songs In The World." They have an EP out, How To, and they've opened for The New York Dolls.  One of the guys in the group was (or is) in the band Junior Senior, and some pretty big blogs are into them, including My Old Kentucky Blog. Anyway, this is a band I'm definitely going to bring to Larry Flick's show, and I'll be keeping an eye out for what they do next!

COMMON AND NAS TEAM UP FOR "GHETTO DREAMS"

This is a pretty exciting team up. I wonder how many times Common and Nas have teamed up on record: it seems like they should have worked together before now.  "Ghetto Dreams" is from Common's next album, The Dreamer, The Believer. According to MTV, it will be on Warner Brothers Records (I guess he's left Kanye West's G.O.O.D. label?) and the whole album was produced by No ID.

Nas got his start as a solo artist, but he's done well working with other artists (as part of the hip-hop supergroup The Firm and on his duo project with Damien Marley).  But a Common/Nas duo project would be pretty amazing, and after hearing this track, I hope they do more together.

YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: MICK JAGGER AND RAPHAEL SAADIQ

I happened upon this by accident when I was looking to see if Mick Jagger's new group Super Heavy had any songs on iTunes. It's Mick's cover of Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love," backed by Raphael Saadiq and his band, at this year's Grammy Awards. It was one of the highlights of the show, in my opinion. I didn't realize that the performance was released on iTunes, so I figured I'd share the news.

By the way, Mick's group Super Heavy also features Indian composer and pop star A.R. Rahman (famous in the U.S. for scoring Slumdog Millionaire), Joss Stone, Damien Marley and Dave Stewart. I think they're using Marley's backing band on the album.   I'm definitely looking forward to hearing more of this. But it would have been cool if Mick and Raphael worked together after the Grammys.  Raphael's Stone Rollin' is a one of the best albums of the year.

P.S. I got the image from this blog.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

SOUNDGARDEN IN NEWARK - BETTER THAN EVER!

First off, I have to thank Jeff Garden for reaching out and offering to let me use his photos.  Follow him on Twitter. Jeff captured some really cool pictures.

About two months ago, I asked "Do You Really Want To See Soundgarden Live?" It was a review of their recently released Live On I-9 collection, made up of recordings from their final tour. I saw them twice during that era - both times on the Lollapalooza tour. Their album, Down On The Upside, was my favorite LP of the year.  But seeing them live was a total disappointment and Metallica smoked them both times. I didn't know it at the time, but Soundgarden was hurtling swiftly towards breaking up. A few years earlier, I saw them on the Superunknown tour at the Armory in New York City, which was one of the worst gigs I'd ever seen. Of course, I'd seen some good shows too - notably when they opened for Neil Young and, before that, when they opened for Voivod.

In recent years, I've seen drummer Matt Cameron with Pearl Jam, and he's always tremendous (as he always was with Soundgarden).  I've also seen Chris Cornell, both with Audioslave and on solo tours. Those shows were better than most of the Soundgarden shows I'd seen. More importantly, Chris' voice held up incredibly well at those shows, which was sometimes a problem during the Soundgarden days (you can hear it on Live On I-9).  But that's all in the past: it was his recent solo acoustic show that convinced me that I had to see Soundgarden on this reunion tour.

It may be blasphemous, but I'll say it.  I think Soundgarden is a better live band now than in the '90s.  Everyone seems pretty clean, and also, I think the guys in the band appreciate their position now, where in the '90s, there seemed to be a bit of embarrassment involved in being part of a huge band. Ben Shepherd in particular seemed to hate playing in front of large audiences (which is odd, as he joined the band after Louder Than Love, when they were already on a major label).

The concert in Newark, at the Prudential Center, was incredible.  Chris sounded great.  Guitarist Kim Thayil is still an evil genius: he is the scariest sounding guitarist this side of Tony Iommi. Matt was amazing of course. And Ben didn't seem to mind playing to a huge crowd, his bass playing was enthused and menacing.   The setlist was almost all from 1989's Louder Than Love, 1991's Badmotorfinger and 1994's Superunknown. They played one song from their 1988 SST album Ultramega OK ("Beyond The Wheel," I would have loved to hear "All Your Lies"), nothing from their SubPop era, and only two songs from their final album, 1996's Down On The Upside.

They opened with a song I was really hoping to hear: Badmotorfinger's "Searching With My Good Eye Closed." It was a great way to start, it is one of their best, even though it never was a radio hit.  Not that they ignored the hits: they went right into "Spoonman" (they also played "My Wave," "Outshined," "Rusty Cage," "Burden In My Hand," "Black Hole Sun," "Fell On Black Days" and "Blow Up The Outside World").  But they eschewed some of their more well known songs for lesser known ones, which was a nice touch (although I was bummed that they didn't play "Let Me Drown," one of my favorites). They did pulverizing versions of some of their heaviest songs, like "Hands All Over," "Superunknown," "Room A Thousand Years Wide" and their most underrated tune, "Slaves and Bulldozers." But the thing that Chris' solo tour spotlighted is that he's also a great ballad singer, and that was happening in full effect with  "The Day I Tried To Live," "Burden," "4th of July," "Black Days" and "Like Suicide," they were all incredibly soulful.

They also played "Black Rain," their "new" song from last year's career spanning collection Telephantasm, (a song I thought was kind of eh, it's an outtake from Badmotorfinger, and deserved to be an outtake). Chris mentioned that they are working on a new album, and at this point, I'm really looking forward to hearing it.  Although I haven't loved too many of Chris' songs on his post-Audioslave solo albums, I thought part of the problem was that he didn't have a Kim Thayil with him, calling him on it when he's writing beneath his abilities.  Meanwhile, Matt has developed as a songwriter with Pearl Jam (writing or co-writing "Evacuation," "You Are," "Unemployable" and "The Fixer").  Kim has been in semi-retirement, I'm sure he has some great riffs built up after all these years.  You always have to manage your expectations, but I am definitely optimistic about one of my favorite bands ever re-activating. I hope to see and hear more of Soundgarden in 2012!

(P.S. I got there too late to see the openers, Coheed & Cambria, but if you saw them, please tell me how they were in the comments).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

TOMORROW ON THE MORNING JOLT: QUEENS

It's only a theme in the loosest sense, but tomorrow on The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick, I'm talking about The Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin (albeit from an era before she was really bestowed with that crown) and Queen, the legendary rock band.

Aretha has a new box set, Take A Look, which collects most of the music she recorded for Columbia Records, an under appreciated era, at least in comparison to what she later did at Atlantic Records.  I wrote about the box set here. And Queen is in the midst of reissuing their catalog in deluxe editions with bonus tracks.  I'm concentrating on their first five albums, even though the next five just came out.  I've never been a huge Queen fan, so I'm really discovering the full albums.  I wrote about the first five here
I have to say, it's always fun digging deeper with artists who you may take for granted. 

REVISITING QUEEN

I've always been kind of a "greatest hits" fan with Queen. When I was younger, I think I was cool with taping my favorite songs off of my friends' LPs. Years later, after the tragic death of Freddie Mercury, I remember being pretty amazed at the diversity of talent that paid tribute to him, and the band, at the big tribute concert: Metallica, Guns N Roses, George Michael, Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant, Tony Iommi, David Bowie, Elton John, Seal, Lisa Stansfield, it really was pretty amazing. How many other concerts boast performances by Metallica and George Michael?

I remember reading that W. Axl Rose cited Queen II as one of his favorite albums ever. I checked it out and didn't recognize any of the songs.  I wasn't that deep of a Queen fan.

But now, with the deluxe reissues of their early catalog on Hollywood (I got complimentary review copies, by the way), I'm really discovering what I'd been missing.  Especially Queen II!

One thing I didn't realize about Queen was how influenced they were by Zeppelin in their early days; they also seem to really have been influenced by the British progressive rock of the era.  I'm not saying they were a knock-off of those bands: between Freddie Mercury's incredible vocals, Brian May's really distinctive guitar sound, and the grand arrangements, they had their own thing going from the get-go.  On 1973's Queen and 1974's Queen II, they were practically a black light poster band.  Most people only know Queen's lead track, "Keep Yourself Alive." There's really cool music on both of these albums. But after Queen II, it seems like the band made a decision to move on. Which was just as well, the band had so much ground to cover, and four great writers.

1974's Sheer Heart Attack is one of their best albums.  It has the proto-speed metal "Stone Cold Crazy" (famously covered by Metallica years later).  At the same time, it has one of their greatest pop moments, "Killer Queen," and a tribute to Jim Croce, "Bring Back That Leroy Brown." I guess the thing about a singer with Freddie Mercury's confidence and swagger: he thought he could sing any style, and he was usually right. The rest of the band were so great, they were also able to cross genres.  It's interesting, though: Brian May never sounds like anyone else.

1975's A Night At The Opera was, at the time, the most expensive record ever recorded.  The centerpiece, of course, was "Bohemian Rhapsody."  Again, it was a very diverse album, featuring "I'm In Love With My Car" (written and sung by drummer Roger Taylor), and one of their biggest hits, "You're My Best Friend" (written by bassist John Deacon). "'39" was an acoustic classic written and sung by Brian May. George Michael cited that as his favorite Queen song. There aren't that many bands who have four members capable of writing huge, classic, hits.  Yeah, The Beatles, but Ringo didn't really write songs on his own.

Finally, 1976's A Day At The Races, which also covers lots of ground, from Brian's hard rock classic "Tie Your Mother Down" to Freddie's gospel "Somebody To Love."

More recently, Queen has reissued their next five albums: 1977's News Of The World, 1978's Jazz, 1980's The Game and Flash Gordon, and 1982's Hot Space. I'll get to those eventually.  Right now, I'm catching up with the first five!

ARETHA FRANKLIN - THE COLUMBIA YEARS - THE ARGUMENT

Aretha Franklin's Columbia Recordings get a weird rap. You have rock critics who have dismissed her years with the label as a mere prelude to her Atlantic era, where she became "The Queen Of Soul." The thinking goes, on Columbia she was more of a product of a record label, and she became an artist (or artiste) with Atlantic.

And then, there's people who are mostly unaware of her time with Columbia, and may only know of Aretha from her Atlantic debut, 1967's I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You.

Sony Legacy's lavish new box set, Take A Look: Aretha Franklin Complete On Columbia presents a compelling argument to the former and schools the latter. (I should mention that I got the box set for free, but with no strings attached:  I decided to review it because I think it's an interesting release.)

First off, I'll say that I do agree with the prevailing opinion that Aretha's Atlantic recordings mark not only the highlight of her career, but one of the peaks of soul music, and even popular music.  I'm not suggesting that her Columbia records approach the stratosphere where I Never Loved A Man... and Lady Soul, and some of the other records of that era live. The Columbia Recordings aren't quite the Aretha you know and love, but it offers glimpses of her.  And anyway, the younger Aretha can still smoke most other singers.  Whether or not you like her choice of material, or the arrangements, that's another story. These recordings aren't as bluesy, they're more of Aretha the gospel singer doing jazz, and she also seems influenced by the music of the era's Broadway musicals and Hollywood scores.  There's big string sections, the material is more Dinah Washington than Otis Redding. Put another way, Columbia's sessions are very New York, and were done in the early '60s.  Atlantic's are more southern, more Memphis, and were in the mid-to-late '60s. Aretha was no label's toy: but the time and place was reflected in her various recordings.

The box set contains all of her albums for Columbia, as well as some compilations of singles and other recordings for the label. Some of the music of the era is a bit too string-section-y for me. But I really enjoyed some of it.  Her debut Columbia album, 1961's Aretha, has her first recording for the label, "Today I Sing The Blues," which is one of my favorites from this era. It's a bit stripped down in comparison to her early stuff. At the same time, the album has great versions of "Over The Rainbow" and "It Ain't Necessarily So." Even as a teenager, she could sing blues, jazz standards and pop.

To a lesser extent, I enjoyed the follow-up, 1962's The Electrifying Aretha Franklin, particularly her version of "That Lucky Old Son." 1964's Unforgettable: A Tribute To Dinah Washington has some really lovely, but lush, performances.  You may think that Aretha should only be rocking the Apollo, but she also wants to dazzle the supper clubs, and you really get that on this album.  The title track is great, but she does show another side on Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart."

Later in 1964, she released Runnin' Out Of Fools, which gave a bit more of a glimpse of what she'd be doing a few years later on Atlantic, with renditions of popular songs of the day like "Walk On By," "Mockingbird," "Every Little Bit Hurts," "The Shoop Shoop Song" and "My Guy." The box set also has a collection of singles that weren't on albums, A Bit Of Soul.

If you love box sets, and you love to actually learn from them, this box set is a great one. On the other hand, if you're on a budget, you can explore Aretha's Columbia era with Sony Legacy's 2002 The Queen In Waiting 2 CD set. But if you've got the money and the time, there's lots of jewels here, many of which deserve spots on the Queen's crown.

Monday, July 4, 2011

MY FAVORITE JULY 4TH SONG - BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN "AMERICAN LAND"

(this image is from Wikipedia commons, anyone is allowed to use it, so I'm using it!)

It's hard to write about America and do a good job at it.  Obviously, it's easier to rebel about things that you don't like than it is to celebrate America, and that's often the rub with art. Rebelling is easier than celebrating. But I think that July 4 is a good time to be thankful to live in the U.S.A., without getting too flag-wavvy about it.

In recent years, there's been a few attempts at writing what could be referred to as "The Great American Song." U2 wrote "The Hands That Built America" for Martin Scorsese's 2002 film Gangs Of New York. Good song, but not a great one.  Bruce Springsteen took a few whacks at it: "This Hard Land" from his 1995 Greatest Hits album felt like an attempt, as did "Land Of Hope And Dreams" which he started playing on the 1999 reunion tour with The E Street Band. The latter stayed in Bruce's setlists for a long time, but I didn't feel the song was as good as he seemed to think it was.

During Bruce's tour with The Seeger Sessions Band for the 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, he started playing a new song "American Land."  I felt he nailed it. Bono has talked about how America isn't just a place, it's an idea. I don't think the idea of America has ever been better expressed in a rock song than in "American Land." He romanticizes the idea from the perspective of immigrants ("There's diamonds in the sidewalk the's gutters lined in song/Dear I hear that beer flows through the faucets all night long/ There's treasure for the taking, for any hard working man /Who will make his home in the American Land?") in a way that can make all of us proud that we do call this place home.  It also points out that a fair immigration policy is one of the things that made us great. At the same time, he expresses some of his core values: the plight of blue collar workers ("They died building the railroads worked to bones and skin/They died in the fields and factories names scattered in the wind/They died to get here a hundred years ago they're still dyin now/The hands that built the country were always trying to keep down").  And also the fact that everyone deserves a shot, no matter their race or color ("The McNicholas, the Posalski's, the Smiths, Zerillis, too/The Blacks, the Irish, Italians, the Germans and the Jews /Come across the water a thousand miles from home/With nothin in their bellies but the fire down below").

That's why I choose the above photo for this post.  No matter what you think of The President, when Bruce was growing up, or even when *I* was growing up (I'm much younger than Bruce), the idea of an African American president seemed unlikely to say the least.  The fact that Bruce worked so hard for President Obama - who campaigned on a platform of hope and change, some of which has arguably been fulfilled - makes this photo really powerful.

Bruce has nothing to prove anymore. The fact that he still works so hard to fulfill what he sees is his responsibility to himself, his audience, and his country, is inspiring.  Like any other great artist, sometimes his reach exceeds his grasp, but on "American Land" he hit a grand slam.  It's not just a classic that stands up next to his catalog, it also stands next to Woody Gurthrie's.

("American Land" was the only song from The Seeger Sessions that Bruce played with The E Street Band, and you can see their version - played in Hyde Park, in England, here. )

Sunday, July 3, 2011

NEIL YOUNG AND DAVE GROHL "COLLABORATE"

Without much fanfare, a new version of Neil Young's "Sign Of Love" from last year's Le Noise has been released as a single on iTunes. It's a slightly different take of song, with Dave Grohl on drums.  If you have the album or are familiar with it, you'll recall that there's no drums on the album - it is a true solo album, it's all Neil on vocals, guitar and keyboards, with producer Daniel Lanois and his guys adding some effects.  I liked the concept of the album (although I wish some of the songs were stronger), but Dave Grohl's drums add some muscle to the song.

This is the second re-imagining of a Le Noise track: right after the album came out, Pearl Jam covered "Walk With Me" at the Bridge School Benefit, with Neil joining them on guitar and vocals.  It sounded cool as a band song.   There are lots of bootleg videos you can see one here. It reminds me of how cool it is when Neil and Pearl Jam play together. I hope that one of these days, they do a U.S. tour together.