Monday, April 30, 2012


What a cool show. Two really underrated bands, both boasting some of the greatest songs of the '80s. Most importantly, they were glad to be there, and they audience was really glad to have them.

I got to the theater after The English Beat started playing, and I walked in during their excellent cover of The Staples Singers' "I'll Take You There." I think that singer/guitarist Dave Wakeling is the only original member in the group, but he looked overjoyed - truly - to be there, and the band played the songs with the perfect amount of toughness and love. The last two songs were absolute classics:  General Public's "Tenderness" (Wakeling formed GP after the English Beat broke up) and "Save It For Later," a song that both Pete Townshend and Pearl Jam have covered.  What could have been rote readings of "I Love The '80s" songs was actually a near transcendent performance.

I don't know much about the inner workings of Squeeze, or why they ever broke up.  But principal members Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook seemed to really enjoy playing together. And, like Dave Wakeling, seemed really happy to be there. They played every song from their amazing "best-of," Singles: 45's and Under with no sense of resentment.  They played a lot of other songs also, but I can't think of one hit that they didn't play (except maybe "853-5937") and they seemed to have a great time doing it. One thing that struck me was how many great songs this band has. Another thing was what a good vocal combo Difford and Tillbrook are: Chris' high, clear voice is amazing, but when it's anchored by Glenn's deeper voice, it's such a great sound.  Finally, I never knew what a badass guitarist Difford was, and he seemed to be having such a great time playing guitar.

I went by myself and just had a blast.  I know there are cynics out there who will throw snark at a tour like this, but who cares what they say?  If you love these songs, if you love well-constructed pop music, go see either of these bands.

As a footnote, I'll add that Bergen Performing Arts Center is a great place to see a show.  It sounds great, and it's easy to get to, but get there early, parking is a big difficult.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Photo by Maria Ives
I've been a bit behind on my blogging, but I couldn't NOT review the Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band show that I recently saw. Actually, I did review it for my day job -- but I wanted to give my more personal account.

I went to the show a bit apprehensive.  I've reviewed lots of Bruce shows at my blog, and they've pretty much always been glowing.  One of the things that I respect about Bruce is that he always makes it matter. Unlike so many of his peers,  he doesn't simply glide on his greatest hits, and he still has something to say. His new albums (generally) feel important. I also always have gotten the sense that he will know when to call it a day.   After Clarence Clemons passed away, I thought that it might be time to retire The E Street Band. I was really surprised to find out that he was bringing them out on tour, and even more so when I found out that Wrecking Ball isn't an E Street Band album.  But I think Clarence's passing - and Danny Federici's - reminded Bruce that time is passing, and a five year break between tours might be too long of a break to return from.

Still, I wasn't sure if this would be one tour too many. How long can this band - most of whom are over 60 years old - continue to be the best band in the land?

Well, it turns out that they can hold on to their collective crowns a bit longer. They kicked ass, and Bruce has lost none of his power.  And - importantly - Wrecking Ball is great, and it goes over well in concert.

As I mentioned in my CBS piece, all eyes were on Jake Clemons, nephew of Clarence, and one of two sax players in the newly installed horn section. He did great, playing iconic solos on "Badlands," "Promised Land," "Out In The Street" and "Dancing In The Dark."

The emotional center of the show, for me, was "My City Of Ruins." The song was originally written for Asbury Park, but Bruce played it, famously, at the post-9/11 telethon, and at that point it became about 9/11. But now, it's more personal. During the song, he takes a "band roll call," introducing everyone in the group, and noting the absence of Clarence and Danny. When he said, "If you're here, and we're here, they're here," there may have been some dry eyes in the house, but my eyes weren't among them.  I could only think of my boss and dear friend Allyson, who took me to two Bruce shows over the past few years. I did feel like she was there.

The setlist was great - it didn't feel like a retro show, they played a lot of Wrecking Ball, and although they skipped Working On A Dream (fine with me), Magic and Devils & Dust, they also played four songs from the now-classic Rising album. Because it's not a greatest hits revue, that gives the hits that they play - "Born To Run," "Badlands," "Thunder Road" - even more power. And it was cool to hear real rarities like "So Young and In Love" and "Seaside Bar Song."

Judging by the setlists and reports on Backstreets, the shows have gotten even better... so I'm glad I have tickets to see the band two more times in the fall when they play Metlife Stadium.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Kara Pain, or as I call her, K-POW, is a former colleague from my days at SiriusXM. I knew her first as a member of the Liquid Metal team, and although she's a badass metal gal, it turns out that she's a lot more than that. She moved from NY to Seattle, where she's done stand-up comedy, improv, and she's also been heard on the FM airwaves.  If this was the '80s or '90s and she was doing this guest post for a 'zine instead of a blog, I'd advise you to keep this issue, as it would be a collectors item once she "hits it big." A couple of years ago, she was telling me about an debate she had with a well known music critic over The Beastie Boys.  So I asked her to use that as the starting point for her guest post, about why they deserve to be Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.  Take it away, K-POW... 

"Here's a little story, I got to tell..." 

I have a friend who is “in the biz.” I’m not saying this to sound cool; it actually has something to do with this blog post, so chill out.  The reason it’s important is because this friend’s career is based on subjectively judging music, it pays his bills. Anyway, said friend and I were discussing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one day and I mentioned how funny it was that the Beastie Boys were snubbed in 2011. Well, imagine my surprise when Friend disagrees, vehemently!

As he is a professional music critic, I battled as best I could against his musical knowledge to defend my point (which was a lot like fighting Uma Thurman in Kill Bill). I threw Platinum Record sales and Grammy wins at him, and while I wasn’t brought to slaughter, I was beaten and bruised. I couldn’t quite convince him of why The Beastie Boys deserved to be honored. The discussion has still plagued me, even as the B-Boys were inducted this year. I don’t really have to prove it to him or anyone else, but I just can’t let it go. Why did the idea spark so much passion in me? Why did this band deserve honor for contributing to the landscape of music and culture?

On April 12, 2012 the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held its annual induction ceremony. You know the deal: 25 years (or more) after the release of their first record artists are eligible to be voted in based on the influence they’ve had on music. It’s kind of the Super Bowl ring of the music industry.  The whole induction thing started in 1983, and the nominating committee and voting body consists of a group of “rock experts” who vote on particular artists and how they were, or are. influencing the music scene. I put said experts into quotations, because come on…I think I’M a rock expert. 

Included among this year inductees are artists my parents listened to, the Small Faces, Freddie King, The Miracles. This year the Hall has also included Guns N Roses, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Beastie Boys. These bands can’t be over the 25 year mark, can they? They can!

The Beastie Boys started out as punk rockers. In 1982 the band released Polly Wog Stew.  A decent thrash punk record that sounded like, well, everything else that was already on the scene. The band, including Michael Diamond on vocals, Adam Yauch on bass, drummer Kate Schellenbauch, and guitarist John Berry (before Adam Horovitz joined) were doing what they thought they should to make it. You’re white, so make Punk Rock Music. After the exit of John and Kate the boys began to play around with the idea of rhyming over beats and samples and the truth of who they were, who they ARE, began to emerge.

In 1984, the Beastie Boys’ current lineup released a quirky fun track honoring an ice cream cake, Carvel’s Cookie Puss.  It was basically a phony phone call over a hip-hop track.  After friend and NYU student Tim Sommer handed over that track to another NYU student, Rick Rubin, who also just happened to be head of Def Jam records, the Boys were ready to emerge. Rick became their DJ and produced their debut album.

By 1988 the Beastie Boys became a mainstay of MTV. Licensed to Ill had already hit Number 1 on the Billboard 100, and was the first rap album to do so. They had managed to sneak into the Top 40 club and throw an all out hip-hop party. They weren’t gonna sleep and they would fight for the right to be there. Okay, I’m over-using lyrics to make my point here, but in the dawning of our multi-media culture, three white boys form Brooklyn were helping to change its face.

As I researched this article I found an underlying thread that seemed to follow the Beastie Boys story. When I YouTubed “Cookie Puss,” I read some of the comments and it surprised me that most of the conversation revolved around the color of the Beastie Boys skin.

I think The Beastie Boys just don’t worry about their skin color. Like many other people, they LOVE Hip-Hop and they wanted to honor it with their own style. They weren’t trying to be cool, or act like something they’re not. It was real, and that’s why it worked.

Racism exists, no doubt, and if you pretend its untrue then you’re only lying to yourself. However, I do think that the Beastie Boys have helped us to erase some of those lines, and assist in ushering in a generation that accepts differences far more readily. I mean, we’re the generation that helped finally elect the first black president. I know I’m probably pissing some people off by saying this, and I’m not crediting the Beastie Boys with all civil progression, OR with President Obama's election into office, definitely not. What I am saying is that they made their contribution, they made an impact. Where would we be, as a society, without habitual line crossers Jimi Hendrix, Duke Ellington, Elvis…you get what I’m saying? 

I grew up in a super eclectic area of New York and had friends of all shapes and sizes, and they were my friends because they were cool and fun, and that was all. We would sit on our stoops (front porches for those of you not from NY) and listen to music. Connecting through styles and tastes via lyrics and melodies. Beautiful.

Later on, The Boys grew up from fighting for their right to party, and communicated different messages.  Their music matured, and they matured as people.  In 1996 they organized the Tibetan Freedom Concert, bringing attention to the plight of Tibetans living in a country now occupied by China. They headlined four of these concerts over four years, and Adam Yauch was a tireless advocate for the Tibetan people. They put on the New Yorkers Against Violence Event, raising money for victims of 9/11. Also, they’ve actively participated in Habitat for Humanity, the ASPCA and the Lunchbox Fund which helps provide food for hungry school children. I’d say they are actively doing their part as being decent humans.  Top that off with phat rhymes and skills to pay the bills?!  Holla!

While they DO fool around, and sing about what seems like the immature babbling of a generation known for its excess, they said a lot to the younger ears behind them, who were listening and absorbing the cultural world around them.

“The true key is a trust in self
For when I trust myself, I fear no one else
I took control of my life, just as anyone can
I want everyone to see it's in the palm of your hand
The past is gone, the future yet unborn
But right here and now is where it all goes on.” – The Update

So I’ll ask the question again as I did in the beginning, only this time I’m going to answer it. Why do the Beastie Boys deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?  Because they remind us to be true to ourselves, to ignore the boundaries people create to feel safe, to Fight for our Right. Isn’t that what Rock music is all about? Makes me think how exciting it'll be in another couple of years, when Rage against the Machine is inducted. Just a thought.

“I once was lost but now I'm found
The music washes over and you're one with the sound” - Shadrach 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

LEVON HELM 1940 - 2012

I was really sad to hear of the passing of Levon Helm today.  Longtime readers of No Expiration know I'm a huge fan, and not just because of what he did as a member of The Band.

Yes, The Band was one of the best groups of the late '60s and early '70s, and they were partially responsible for getting psychedelia under control.  Clapton has famously said that when he saw them, he wanted to leave Cream: his next project, Blind Faith, was a lot more Band-like than the sprawling, "far out" Cream had been. The Grateful Dead did a down-homey pair of song oriented albums (without long jams) after hearing The Band. George Harrison was influenced by them, and so was Steve Winwood.  When you watch The Last Waltz, the guest list tells the story: you've got Muddy Waters, Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Emmylou Harris, Clapton, The Staple Singers, Dr. John and their old boss Bob Dylan. That's a wide range to cover, but everything they played, they played with authority. Levon was one of three singers (along with bassist Rick Danko and pianist Richard Manuel), and he sounded great on his own, or singing with his bandmates. He was unflashy, but really funky, drummer. He also played mandolin.

The reason why I'm such a big fan isn't (just) what he did with The Band. I thought the two LPs that he recorded in the '00s - 2007's Dirt Farmer and 2009's Electric Dirt - were incredible.  And a friend of mine took me to see Helm and his band at The Beacon Theater a few years ago:  I was truly, truly, blown away.  Lots of artists in their 50s and 60s just coast on their past glories. The only artist I could compare Levon to is The Allman Brothers Band. To me, they sound like they are playing old music, but they don't sound like old men. When I hear them play, the music is alive, living and breathing, as vital as anything else you would hear today.  I named Levon one of No Expiration's Best Artists of The '00s, and Electric Dirt was one of my favorite LPs of 2009.

I'm so glad I got to see Levon perform with his band, and I'm sorry I never made it up to Woodstock to see a Midnight Ramble.  But the vitality of the music he played in his final decade is so inspiring to me. It changes the perception of getting old. He made amazing music, and played incredible shows, while pushing 70.   Forget about music for a second: it actually changes the way I see the big seven-oh (and I'm decades away from it).

But of course, you can't forget the music.  If you're finding my post and wondering what to check out, I'd start with The Band's debut, 1968's Music From Big Pink, and the second one, 1969's The Band. Then check out his last two studio albums.  For live albums, go with The Band's The Last Waltz, and his own Ramble At The Ryman. You'll be glad you did.

Mr. Helm, thank you for the music. Keep keepin' the beat. You're bound for glory, sir.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Today I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum for the first time in years... I have to say that, although I've been there a couple of times, it always takes my breath away.

Now I know that that sounds a bit corny.  But I was standing near a guitar played by Muddy Waters.  And near guitars played by Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley.  It's pretty amazing when you think about the effect that the fingers that played those strings had on the future of music.

At the same time, I saw guitars from Tim Armstrong of Rancid, Slash and Zakk Wylde.  The museum absolutely treats rock and roll as a living, breathing thing and I think that that's so important.  It's not just a wax museum.  It's a museum about the music, not just the inductees.

There was a lot to love about the museum. I really dug the exhibit about protests against rock and roll. It's great to remember how scary the music was to the establishment at one point.

There was a cool exhibit with props from Pink Floyd's Wall tour.  Amazing to have The Teacher looking down at you.  The scope of that album still blows me away, but standing next to the pieces from that tour's stage really fosters your appreciation of what an ambitious project it was - a concept album, movie and stage show, conceived all at the same time.   The big exhibit of the moment focuses on The Grateful Dead, but I only checked it out a bit.

Another theater had a film... I wasn't really sure what it was about, but it had interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Bono and Pete Townshend, among others. I've seen footage from these exact interviews before, but it's always fun to watch those guys wax about rock music. But there's one part where Townshend talks about his friends dying: Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon.  "They may be your fucking icons, but they're MY fucking friends!" And another part where he talks about how guys like Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain and Ice-T will keep doing what he does, even if he stops.

I went into one theater and they were playing a film showing the Rock Hall's 25th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden from a few years ago.  I could just watch that at home, of course.  But watching Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band performing "Born To Run" (with Billy Joel) on a huge screen was cool.  And I got chills watching Clarence Clemons playing that sax solo. 

Other screens had highlights from past induction ceremonies:  Alicia Keys' amazing speech about Prince, Prince owning Clapton's solo during the all-star jam on George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," the Cream reunion, the Talking Heads reunion, John Fogerty making his speech with his former bandmates standing coldly near him, and then performing afterwards with Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson. They've had some great moments. 

I'm writing this as I'm sitting in the press room waiting for this year's ceremony to start.  This time, the inductees aren't only artists who I had to play "catch up" with once I discovered them (although I *have* played "catch up" with The Faces), but some that I've been with since their early albums: Guns N Roses, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Beastie Boys. I'm looking forward to seeing some of those great moments tonight. 

The first time I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum was actually opening weekend.  My then-girlfriend/now-wife suggested going on a road trip to Cleveland for opening weekend (a big concert marking the opening boasted Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band doing their first show together in a long time, John Mellencamp, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, James Brown, Johnny Cash, Iggy Pop, Chuck Berry, John Fogerty and The Allman Brothers Band, among others). I had managed expectations about how cool the museum would be: I was picturing a Madame Tussaud's type deal. I was really happy when I saw it: they really do a great job of keeping the history and telling the story.  I'm glad that that is still the case today.  I couldn't give a higher recommendation for the museum: you really need to go.  I had a great time there today, and I can't wait to come back.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Irish traditionalists The Chieftains are known for their collaborations: most of their recent albums feature them collaborating with other artists.  Personally, I was turned on to them via their 1995 LP The Long Black Veil, which saw them working with the members of The Rolling Stones as well as Sting, Sinead O'Connor, Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler and Tom Jones.  I'd heard that their new album, Voice Of Ages, was going to be an album of tracks with "indie rock" artists, which didn't sound like a good idea to me. But it's not an accurate description of the album.

Yes, Bon Iver, The Decemberists and The Low Anthem appear on the album. (I really like The Decemberists' track, a cover of Dylan's "When The Ship Comes In.")  But it also includes some great artists, notably The Pistol Annies (Miranda Lambert's posse), The Civil Wars and Imelda May.

Most of the pairings work really well and connect the dots to show fans of the younger artists that traditional Irish music has influenced folk and country music.   And that's really what The Chieftains albums do best: use artists with different (and usually larger) fanbases to expose the beauty and power of traditional Irish music to a larger audience.

It's interesting that this album came out at the same time as The Hunger Games soundtrack, and both were produced by T-Bone Burnett (or as I sometimes call him, "Him Again"). And a number of the artists - including Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Civil Wars, The Decemberists, The Low Anthem, The Pistol Annies, The Punch Brothers and The Secret Sisters appear on both. I actually made an iPod mix combining songs from both. The albums are not interchangeable, but they work together as companion pieces: The Hunger Games has more of an Appalachian feel, while The Chieftains album is more Irish (obviously). But it does demonstrate the similarities of the music of American and Ireland and the timelessness of the music as well.