Wednesday, December 12, 2007

ISSUES FOR IDIOTS -- Rolling Stone "top 50 songs over 7 minutes long" is yet another joke

Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the Top 50 songs over 7 minutes long was put out in the last week... and it doesn't contain any Rush.

Big surprise there.

My guess is that if they ran a list of the
Top 50 songs by a Canadian progressive rock trio that Rush wouldn't be on that list either.

Hey, it all makes sense to me...

Rolling Stone, the magazine that's turned the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame into a brown-nosing circus driven by Jan "Oscar Meyer" Wener's ego -- and decided to turn its back on anything in rock remotely viewed as "progish" -- now seems to be now breaking off its jaw to spite its face... as it doesn't have any nose or ears left... if the credibility of Rolling Stone could sink any deeper... but does that really surprise any of us?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Zeppelin reunion concert... at last!!!

So it finally happened... waaaaay overdue...

Led Zeppelin, one of the greatest rock acts of all time, and arguably the most influential rock band of all time next to the Beatles, finally gave their hungry fans what they'd been waiting for years to see... no, it's more like
decades... a bona-fide live concert that showcased material from all their albums.

It took place yesterday in London, at the O2... with Jason Bonham, the son of the late John Bonham, on drums.

The Zep didn't put out a
single poor album, and they never had a bad song... not one... so they could seemingly whip out ANYTHING and play it live... well, not just "anything," if we want to avoid some scary visuals of seldom-seen cragginess... now we're getting really icky!

So here's their set list from last night:
  1. Good Times Bad Times
  2. Ramble On
  3. Black Dog
  4. In My Time of Dying
  5. For Your Life
  6. Trampled Underfoot
  7. Nobody's Fault but Mine
  8. No Quarter
  9. Since I've Been Loving You
  10. Dazed and Confused
  11. Stairway to Heaven
  12. The Song Remains the Same
  13. Misty Mountain Hop
  14. Kashmir
  1. Whole Lotta Love
  2. Rock and Roll
Very cool... but nothing from In Through the Out Door, huh? I would have liked to have seen them play "Achilles Last Stand" from Presence, or maybe something random from Physical Graffiti, such as "In the Light," "Down by the Seaside," or "The Wanton Song."

If they decide to tour, perhaps they'll consider touring without an opening act, which would free them up to expand the set list and bring in some more obscure numbers... or maybe they'll let the audience call out songs and design the set list themselves... right? Isn't that how it's supposed to work?

Let's hope they follow up on this and tour the States... What a dream that would be! S

Monday, December 10, 2007

John Zorn/Earshot situation, final chapter

It's been resolved...

Earshot Jazz mailed me a refund for the botched John Zorn performance from last month. There is justice in this world.

Because of their fairness and the way they handled the matter, they're more likely than ever to get me to buy in on a season's pass sometime in the future at future Earshot Jazz festivals.

I support their efforts, even though that might be a laughable statement considering that I just got my money back from them... and the director's still a condescending prick, but whatever, I'm not worried about him. I understand that not everyone can be a good communicator and that he's simply "caught up in the art of it all."

Here's the jazz festival's website:
Earshot Jazz :: Seattle, Washington. Lots of interesting information, and they get many decent acts. S

Friday, December 7, 2007

THE STAGE HECKLER: Van Halen's guitar wizardry defies description

I saw Van Halen the other night -- my 3rd concert seeing them, and my first seeing them with their original frontman David Lee Roth.

Also to boot was Eddie's son, Wolfgang Van Halen, replacing the always-in-the-past efficient bass and backing vocalist Michael Anthony... and he did okay for a teenager thrust onto the stage
with his father and uncle, drummer Alex Van Halen.

Despite having cut their hair (therefore doing away with the classic big hair 80s look), DLR and EVH put on a great performance... there were still roundhouse kicks coming occasionally from DLR -- but you could feel everyone in the audience cringing -- hoping nobody onstage was going to "take it too far" and
pull a groin muscle... yikes!

Alex put on a nice mini-drum clinic... and it was obvious he's been watching some of Neil Peart's instructional videos, which is okay... everyone needs to get a few tips from the best...

...but it was Eddie who stole the show. I don't think I can find the words to describe what I was hearing from his guitar... otherworldly? Etheral? I don't even know where to begin...

EVH was all over the map with all his effects, methods, and gear... I've never seen so many foot pedals and gizmos for one guitarist onstage before.

He'd noodle into a bluesy number from Women and Children First, then rock to the pop sentiments of "Dance the Night Away." Then he'd dive into what I've always described as the "dinosaur wreaking
havoc" industrial sounds of "The Cradle will Rock," and then the intense jamming of "Mean Street," the first track off Fair Warning (which my buddy and I agreed is Van Halen's best work).

There were some surprises, such as "Little Guitars" from the band's fifth album Diver Down (1982), and "Little Dreamer" off the eponymous first album
Van Halen (1978), along with "Ice Cream Man" from the same album, featuring DLR on acoustic guitar... holding and playing it Johnny Cash style almost.

The Wolfgang element was a nice touch. All three of the other band members would check in with him regularly, as if to check up on him and offer encouragement... at one point Eddie grabbed his son by the lock of his hair and placed a long fatherly kiss on his face... you could tell throughout the night that EVH was REALLY amped and very very happy to be performing...

I'm sure there was the added kick and rush of performing with his son and only child onstage... I'd imagine it gave a whole new meaning to performing live for him -- now it's a family affair... and Wolfgang's presence will make the other band members behave a little more, I'd imagine.

I was a little skeptical going into the show, but the guitar heroics alone were worth every penny spent.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

THE REVIEW CORNER -- Chrome, Smoke & BBQ: The ZZ Top Box. 2003 issue, Warner Brothers.

This was a boxed set I'd been eying for a few years now, and I finally picked it up today with some birthday cash.

I even found the limited edition box (designed to mock a Texas roadhouse shack), as you can see here... very cool, corrugated iron Tejas style, with a "menu" booklet inside and little figures of the band you can cut out to create a sort of mini-model scene on your work desktop... it conjures up a memory of models on my old HO train track set, where I built urban landscapes around the train track -- just to wipe everything out with a train calamity... you know, boy stuff.

So now I can harken back to my childhood and pair my ZZ Top action figures with my old eagle-eye G.I. Joe... there's even a little cactus and picnic bench included with the figures, for some real life ZZ Top scenarios. Great, it's so good that I now know how these guys live their day to day lives... that's soooooo important...

Then there's a flipbook showing the band twirling their guitars and doing that thing with their hands, like they did in the video of "Legs" back in the day... you know, the one with the flashy red car, remember?

Oh, and there's music in the box set too, I almost forgot. 4 CDs spanning the band's time with Warner Brothers...

However, I must admit that I did pick up the roadhouse shack box set partially with a purpose in mind---in that being the alphabetizing freak that I am, I can now place this nicely on the far right side of my alphabetized box sets on the shelf as a sort of "ZZ Top bookend." So I'm a happy camper... if there's room on the shelf I may even set up the action figures, along with my Rush and Dwight Schrute bobbleheads---a sort of "trio-off" if you will...


For those who know ZZ Top through their 70s pre-long beard period, or through MTV and the flashy red car videos of the 1980s, this box will cover the whole spectrum for you and showcases the growth of this bluesy Texas trio.

Here's a review of the box set from the All-Music Guide. Since I hit a bit of a wall, not being very familiar with their early material, I'll let them take it from here.

Prior to 2003's Chrome, Smoke & BBQ, ZZ Top's catalog was crying out for a comprehensive retrospective.

Not that the band hadn't been anthologized before: they had two hits collections, with notably different track listings, and in 1987's
Six Pack, they even had a makeshift box set, but all three of these were hampered by limited focus and haphazard execution.

Chrome, Smoke & BBQ addresses both of these concerns by focusing on the trio's 20 years at Warner -- from 1970's ZZ Top's First
Album to 1990's Recycler -- picking the best 70 or so songs from these ten albums and spreading them over the course of a lavish four-disc, 80-track box set.

This is the first logical approach to ZZ Top's career yet, and while it isn't a perfect collection, it comes tantalizingly close to that ideal. The primary problem is that by the time the fourth disc rolls around, the collection has lost considerable momentum -- and that's without even touching any material from the forgettable albums the band waxed for RCA in the '90s.

With its robotic beats and flattened production,
Recycler pointed the way toward those RCA records, yet it did have some excellent songs -- "Give It Up," "My Head's in Mississippi," and "Doubleback" -- that harked back to the group's strengths, something that would have been more apparent if these songs appeared at the end of disc three, after the Afterburner material.

Instead, they're stranded on the fourth disc, along with four other songs from
Recycler, for a grand total of seven of ten songs from that album, to which are added six "Medium Rare" tracks -- the obligatory obscurities that are included on each box set, this time being a pretty cool Spanish version of "Francene," an OK live take on "Cheap Sunglasses" from a 1980 promo single, and four 12" remixes, none of which are very good. This disc is required listening only for diehards.

Fortunately, the other three discs are damn near perfect, containing six to seven songs from each of their albums except their debut (nearly all of those records had a mere ten tracks, making this a very generous sampling) along with three tracks from guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons' first band, the Moving Sidewalks, and a single, "Miller's Farm"/"Salt Lick," from the "embryonic" ZZ Top, before bassist Dusty Hill or drummer Frank Beard joined forces with Gibbons.

All the hits and classic rock radio staples are here, of course, along with a wealth of album tracks that illustrate that even if the band didn't have much range -- whether the production was raw and greasy as it was on "La Grange" or clean and sleek, like the Police playing
the Rolling Stones, as on "Pearl Necklace," they rarely strayed from either fast blues boogie or slow blues -- they did have strong songwriting chops, witnessed by such buried treasures as the raucous "Brown Sugar" and "Just Got Paid," the monster groove of "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide," the sweet "Leila," the crawling "Blue Jean Blues," and the unspeakable sleaze of the oozing "Mexican Blackbird" and smirking "I Got the Six." All this and more (including a radio commercial for Deguello) spread out over three addictive discs that truly do condense ZZ Top's records to their very best.

It would be nice to have the good
Recycler songs sandwiched onto the third disc and top the set off at three discs -- it would have been a nice symmetry, with one disc for each band member -- but it's easy enough to ignore the last disc and revel in how good the rest of the set is. Basically, Chrome, Smoke & BBQ is all the ZZ Top you'd ever need. [Chrome, Smoke & BBQ was released in two editions, both containing a terrific book, filled with great photos -- including early shots of Gibbons in the Moving Sidewalks, without the beard -- testimonials by the likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Ann Richards, and of all people, David Lynch (who immortally proclaims "ZZ Top = the fast track to cool"), an excellent history by Tom Vickers, and track-by-track notes by Gibbons, Hill, and Beard, as told to Bob Merlis.

The limited edition is quite fancy in its own right, encased in a mock roadhouse shack and containing a booklet shaped as a menu, a sheet of ZZ Top paper dolls (no perforations, however; this is for display purposes only), and a flipbook that finds the trio doing their signature twirling guitars and hand gestures. It's a little elaborate, but it's fun, particularly because the four discs are in jewel cases and can be transported while this sits on the set, next to the other impractical, oversized box sets, such as that
Charley Patton box designed as a fake album of 78s, in your collection.]
~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide

Sunday, November 18, 2007

On my birthday, my happy place is with music.

Ah, it's November 18. Today, for my 39th birthday, the listing started with Quadrophenia by The Who, then moved onto their Live at Albert Hall DVD from 2001.

Then I spent some time downtown with KJ and explored antique furniture stores, and took a trip into the Smith Tower, where we were able to eavesdrop on a Seahawks game below. I picked up an interesting poster of Seattle in the late 19th Century; a bird's eye view of the city and Elliot Bay before it filled in the harbor to form what today exists as the "Sodo District."

After getting home this evening, I watched a documentary on the making of The Band's second eponymous album, and moved onto portions of The Last Waltz DVD by the same band.

Being the stubborn Scorpio that I am, I go in streaks and musical binges; so my day's ending with The Band, as I noodle around their catalog on the iPod. After considering them, I'm sure I'll helicopter into some bluegrass or country.

Off to listen to some tunes and read a bit, ciao! S

Saturday, November 17, 2007

THE STAGE HECKLER: Neil Young still proving he's one of a kind

I've stalled my reporting on the Neil Young concert I saw last month, primarily because I was so blown away by the guy that I needed some time to digest the whole experience of seeing him live.

I'd been waiting years for a chance to see Neil Young perform live, and since he's one of my top 3 artists, it was especially exciting to see him for the very first time... like I felt as if I was being christened for the first time with something new that I didn't know before... almost like going to my first concert, Rush, back in 1984... close, but not quite the same.

To add, none of us knew what he was going to play that night. I had a notion that we were going to get the split set (acoustic followed by electric) based on his latest CD Chrome Dreams II (which was actually released on the day of the show, but I got it in the mail a few days early as a result of my ticket purchase that night), but Neil tends to do whatever he wants, so we knew nothing going into it... which was how I preferred it. I'd been spoiled with set lists from my other favorite bands before, due mainly to my stupid curiosity.

This time, I wanted to be surprised... and I was, pleasantly.

Here's the set list from the evening:

Acoustic set

  1. From Hank to Hendrix
  2. Ambulance Blues
  3. Sad Movies
  4. A Man Needs a Maid
  5. No One Seems to Know
  6. Harvest
  7. After the Gold Rush
  8. Mellow My Mind
  9. Love Art Blues
  10. Love is a Rose
  11. Heart of Gold

Electric set

  1. The Loner
  2. Everybody Knows this is Nowhere
  3. Dirty Old Man
  4. Spirit Road
  5. Bad Fog of Loneliness
  6. Winterlong
  7. Oh, Lonesome Me
  8. The Believer
  9. No Hidden Path
  1. Cinnamon Girl
  2. Like a Hurricane
There were some things that went on at this concert that I've never heard nor seen before.

Just prior to the beginning of the acoustic set, the usher came around to the audience in our section, barking out orders that apparently came from the artist himself, Mr. Young. The requests involved the following, assuming I'm not garbling things a bit:

  1. Please do not use any flash photography, as it disrupts the performer's concentration.
  2. Please refrain from getting up from your seat to use the restroom.
  3. Please refrain from shouting and talking during the performances.
The set lists he chose were especially interesting, in that he played songs from projects that he never released on any of his albums; with "Sad Movies" and "Love Art Blues" being the two culprits... now that's a very artsy fartsy thing to do.

Sure, the guy's aged a bit... and got lost and indecisive on the stage a couple of times... but he still rocks the house and leaves it all out on the stage.

He played a flawless acoustic set, part of which he seemed to be winging. Some research of set lists from other shows reveals that he mixes it up a bit from night to night, which explains some of his indecisiveness on stage... like when he paused to choose a guitar... then picked one up... then set it down... then took a drink of water... then got up to go over to the piano on the far right of the stage, where he sat for a few seconds doing nothing... (Shhh---there's an ar-teest on stage thinking...) Then he got up to go all the way across the stage to the other piano... only to break into "Everybody Knows this is Nowhere"... finally! Yeaaaa!

It was more charming and amusing than anything else. I saw it simply as an artist at work. It was nice to finally witness a performance where the artist was willing to to take a few risks. It was like watching a painter developing their work in progress.

After the intermission, Neil came onstage with an assortment of musicians from his prior bands; Crazy Horse (the drummer) and the Stray Gators (the latter band having accompanied him on his most commercially famous album of the 1970s, Harvest)... so the electric set was suited to play anything from any previous album in his massive cannon.

During most of the songs in the electric set, a roadie would come out onstage to place large paintings on an easel with the name of the song to be played printed on them. For me, the paintings were spoilers. The timing of the sign placement was often a bit off, to the effect that it would go up just before the song began... so I found myself covering my right eye so I couldn't see the sign, as I wanted to be surprised by the music and enjoyed the exercise of recognizing what tune he was playing.

Security seemed to be rather tight that night, but during the electric set, when "Spirit Road" began, some folks in the front got up from their seats to dance. Since security didn't to anything about it, the masses poured onto the floor to occupy the space between the front row and in the aisles. A reserved seats show essentially turned within seconds into one of general admission... so much for that $500 front row seat on eBay (the fella up front, not me).

Electric Neil was impressive too. I can't get enough of the distorted crunch of his harder songs. We were treated to a 20 minute extended freak-out version of "No Hidden Path" from the new album, in which Young WENT OFF noodling around with feedback from his guitar as he crunched and chopped his way through his classically unique soloing style.

We were then treated to a couple classics in the encore; heavy versions of "Cinnamon Girl" and "Like a Hurricane."

I would liked to have heard more, but that would involve a week long Neil Young festival of four hours sets---and we still wouldn't get through the man's catalog. I was happy with the mixed set of this evening.

My group walked out of the venue very impressed, and we all agreed that it was unlike anything we'd ever seen before.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Missin' The Ox

When his untimely death occurred in Las Vegas in 2002, just prior to The Who's opening night of their tour that year, the band not only lost one of their founding members in John Entwistle, they lost the greatest rock bass player of all time.

I can say that while his passing that night in Las Vegas was beyond unfortunate, it seems that he went out like a rock star. I'll let you research that further to find out what I mean.

Entwistle was also commonly referred to as "The Ox" and "Thunderfingers." He more than lived up to the imagery of the latter nickname.

I was watching the 2001 live concert DVD of The Who the other night, Live at Albert Hall, and forgot how incredible this guy was on four strings. He made it look effortless, and used multiple techniques on the instrument over the course of a single song. Stemming from the mid-1960s, he single-handedly changed the way the bass guitar was played in rock music. His style could be so smooth, like a knife through butter---and then he'd get percussive to accompany Keith Moon's drumming or assist Pete Townsend's guitar playing. He floated seamlessly between the Who's rhythm and lead sections.

Anyone who picks up a bass guitar is influenced by him, and forever walks in his shadow. He's simply unreachable---and that's not even a slight exaggeration. He was that good.

From my own listening experience with the albums of The Who, the best moments
of THE OX that stand out occur on 1973's Quadrophenia. There are moments on that album where the bass guitar is taken to other worlds---with the song "The Real Me" being the best example that comes to mind. "The Punk Meets the Godfather," another highlight with its pops and fills, defies logic---but he also gives the bass personality, as it reacts to the storyline of the music. The percussive fills and lead he does in the middle bridge section to "Sister Disco" (from Who Are You) during Townsend's vocal part sends shivers up my spine. That song as a whole is a bass run that's totally creative and one-of-a-kind.

However, to really understand all the elements that Entwistle imposed on his bass, you need to go beyond the albums and check out the live performances. That's where the man REALLY shines. There are many out on DVD (just make sure it's from a Who performance before his death in June 2002).

I was fortunate enough to see Entwistle preform with The Who in 1989, and witnessed the greatest rock performance of my lifetime. I saw a legendary band and a legendary bass player in the flesh... only Keith Moon was missing in action. I can only imagine the band with him. Wow.

Nobody ever played the bass like Entwistle before him, and for anyone to try in the future means they'd merely be a copycat... but the man's style simply can't be replicated. Furthermore, his absence in music these days simply reveals how much of a lack of instrumental prowess there currently seems to be in the music scene. Other bass warhorses such as Chris Squire, Geddy Lee, Flea, and Les Claypool are still around---but it's sad that I can basically name the great living bass players on only one hand.

"Thuderfingers" and his unique style went beyond the technical thing, however. He gave his bass personality. He made the instrument sing for us.

It was just a random thought for the night, but John Entwistle, also known as "Thunderfingers" and "The Ox," is sorely missed. When I think of great rock musicians and people who simply mastered their instrument, he's usually one of the first who comes to mind. S

John Zorn/Earshot Jazz situation, Pt. 3

To follow this story from its origin, I'd advise you to scroll down to the initial post (with a similar title) and work your way upward. Thanks!

It's been over a week now, and no response from Earshot Jazz. Could they really be blowing me off and dismissing me as a crazed John Zorn fan? Is it true?

Huh. Next time I bring this up, I'm hoping I'll actually have something to report---but I figured no response was worth a quick mention (sorta). S

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Update: John Zorn/Earshot Jazz situation

To follow this story from its origin, I'd advise you to scroll down to the initial post (with a similar title) and work your way upward. Thanks!

Earlier today, after calling the Moore Theater and chatting with a manager, I was told---by the second person from the theater---that I needed to take my issue up with the Earshot Jazz Festival, despite the fact that I purchased my John Zorn ticket at the Moore Theater box office.

So, I've decided for right now that I'm simply going to put the conspiracy theories dancing around my head on hold for a minute and simply follow the advice of the manager, assuming that everyone is working in good faith and that I'm not being tossed around the brick oven like pizza dough.

That being said, I fired off an email to the events coordinator at Earshot Jazz.

Here's what I wrote:

What I am bringing to your attention today is something I have not done before, in my attendance of over 100 concerts and performances in my lifetime.
I purchased a ticket for John Zorn at the Moore Theater on 11/4, this last Sunday. I purchased the ticket at the Moore Theater box office in advance and paid $34 for it. I understood that there was an “outside-the-box jazz performance” to be expected, as I own many of his works, and that is how I will describe what I actually saw that night. That’s fine, no problem, I figured you’re running a jazz festival. I did expect, and would reason, one of the performers to actually be John Zorn… since his name was printed on the ticket.
When I attended the performance, John Zorn did not perform, so I guess that essentially makes the performers I was watching… a surrogate band, I guess? Since John Zorn was not in attendance onstage?
Now I have an issue.
In the lobby, I presented my concerns to the manager, along with 2-3 others in the lobby who were also confused the same way I was, and feeling like they’re wallets were taken advantage of. They were asking the managers how they could get a refund, but I wasn’t at that point yet. I was just trying to understand what was happening and if John Zorn was going to be performing. The manager of the Moore Theater, I believe an Asian woman in her late 20s, mentioned that others in attendance were asking the same question and expressing confusion. She was also confused and didn’t have any answers.
The manager then saw who she believed to be an official from Earshot Jazz, and flagged him down; who I recall as a tall and thin gray-haired gentleman. When she expressed the concerns being brought up, I piped in as well to try to understand what was happening with the performance. I got some story about “literature” explaining what John Zorn’s intentions were with the performance or something to that effect. Three days later, in writing this, I’m still unclear about what “literature” the man was referring to (assuming he was not talking about the print on the ticket I purchased), and I was basically asked “why I was the only one in the lobby clueless and asking these questions while 800 folks in the theater were watching the show.” Since the gentleman was being abrasive and defensive with me, and talking down his nose to me as if I was a moron, I had to walk away from the conversation before I lost my temper.
My response to that comment now would be:
  1. I was not the only person in the lobby who was confused, asking questions, or trying to determine if a request for a refund was in order.
  2. I cannot speak for the attendees in the theater and what their level of confusion might be, but I did witness several shouts of disapproval of the performance – including but not limited to shouted questions about “where John Zorn was.” That being said, I would like to reiterate that I am not taking issue with the quality of the performance itself that was happening onstage.
Look. I might not take issue with this if I paid $10. I could let that go… but I paid $34 for this performance – where, in all fairness, I reasoned that I should be seeing John Zorn perform. If a performer’s name is on the ticket, I expect to see said performer. If I buy a ticket for Jason Moran, I expect to see Jason Moran. If I buy a ticket for Ornette Coleman, I expect to see Ornette Coleman. I saw Andrew Hill perform last year (and his name was printed on the ticket), and he still made it to the performance despite playing in pain and struggling to remain alive with cancer. The guy was totally sick, yet he still performed his entire show.
You are running a jazz festival, so help me understand this. What am I missing?
I am asking for a refund of my ticket price, which after more thought I find to be a reasonable request. I look forward to a response from you and finding a way to feel better about this – through a refund of my $34.
Thank you for taking the time to read my concerns, and thank you in advance for responding. Other than this “unfortunate event,” I have attended many other Earshot Jazz performances and have had no issues. I hope to attend more next year and in the future.
I'll let you know what kind of a response I get---this might be VERY interesting---I hope you're all on the edge of your seats waiting with baited breath for an update on Earshot's response.
Ooooooh, I can't wait, can you? S

Sunday, November 4, 2007

THE STAGE HECKLER: Fleeced by John Zorn & Earshot Jazz

Actually, tonight is a night where i literally WANTED to heckle the do I begin with this one.

Let's see. I've seen over 100 concerts in my lifetime; nearly, if not all of them, being rock, jazz or bluegrass---and through all that I've seem lots of things.

I've seen plenty of equipment failures and things go wrong in the middle of performances. I witnessed Alex Lifeson (guitarist of Rush) run into serious equipment connection/distortion issues, and perform through 2 songs without delaying the show---while noodling with his equipment rack onstage when the tech couldn't figure out what was wrong---and successfully fix the problem. You probably had to be there, but it was beyond amazing---the guy's a total magician, what can I say.

I've also seen bad behavior at concerts; I saw Axle Rose make audiences wait for him while he stalled a show until 1AM in the morning---to the effect that we were watching the sunrise when we got home after the show. I've seen performers get hammered onstage drinking booze, as was the case with Van Halen one time. I've also seen miracles; like the time when Andrew Hill, a jazz pianist fighting cancer and struggling to stay alive, perform and finish his set---all done with professionalism and dignity when he probably should have been resting in bed. After that show he passed less than 6 months later.

I've never, however, purchased a ticket for a concert in which the performer never showed---until tonight. Not only did this guy not show, but he put a surrogate band onstage to fill his absence.

The only time I ever heard of that happening was in the second half of The Wall by Pink Floyd, and in that instance it was obviously intended to be tongue in cheek.

Granted, the performance of what I did see (which I can only describe as a bombastic exorcism being performed live onstage) was mildly interesting, then annoying after 20 minutes. ...but that's okay... as long as it's coming from the person who I came to see---the person whose name is printed on the ticket. If the ticket says "John Zorn" in print, then I reason that John Zorn should appear, most likely playing the saxophone he's known for.

Is that not reasonable? Am I nuts? Was I born yesterday?

According to the head of the Earshot Jazz Festival, I WAS born yesterday.

So after 30 minutes I did something I've never done at a concert event before, in 25 years of attending live shows. I went to find a manager to complain. Assuming I didn't have all the facts, I began by simply asking if the performer printed on the ticket was going to perform. After some discussion the manager mentioned that others had asked the same thing, and it seemed like she was as confused as I was.

Then she caught the "head official" of Earshot Jazz happening to walk by in the lobby, and flagged him down. This is where it got REALLY interesting.

She explained what was happening to him, and then I eventually piped in. It turns out that while John Zorn was "present" for the performance, and while the performance was something he "wrote," he isn't going to be performing in the actual performance. Furthermore, it was explained to me that there was "information in the literature" that explained that. So I held up my ticket and asked: "Do you mean THIS literature?"

So after trying to figure out what literature we were talking about, I tried to shift the conversation to reason with the guy. When I tried to state that I should be seeing John Zorn perform if he's on the ticket, he gave me this line: "Well, there's 800 in the auditorium who seem to know what's going on, and you're the only one out here who doesn't."

I responded with: "Uh, no, I'm not the only one tonight who's confused by this. If I'm so clueless, then maybe you can help me understand what's happening. I look at a ticket that says John Zorn, then I walk into an auditorium---and no John Zorn. what am I failing to understand?"

After more bullshit about fine print in programs and the Earshot website, I gave up on the guy and walked away, and out of the venue... only to run into two more guys who were just as confused as I was.

So there we stood, each of us Just having been fleeced $34. More on this unfortunate situation in the next couple of days. S

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Career-spanning documentary on Rush currently in the works

When I attended RushCon7 in Toronto last September, I bumped into this friendly fella in the elevator who was carrying a bunch of filming equipment. When I asked him what he was up to, he went into some details on what he and his crew were doing.

As it turns out, I was speaking with Sam Dunn, who was filming the various events throughout the convention. I later saw him walking around the floor of the Air Canada Centre, on the evening of the last show on the band's North American leg of the
Snakes & Arrows tour. There were video cameras and other photography equipment that could be seen during the performance that evening.

They picked the PERFECT show to get footage of, as the boys were absolutely ON FIRE that night. It may have been the best performance I'd seen---and I'm a veteran of 19 Rush concerts spanning from 1984 to present. It was obvious that gigging at home gave the band---well, a rush (pun intended).

Anyway, digressing again. This documentary project, which has the blessing of the band, is REALLY exciting to hear about---as there has never really been a bona-fide documentary spanning the history of the band. After picking up the recently released 4-hour documentary Running Down a Dream, which focused on the career of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers---if
this is anything like that, fans of Rush are in for a hell of a treat.

Here's text from an article that appeared in Canoe magazine in late October, just a few days ago:

Boutique Toronto distributor Grindstone Media is hoping to have a hit on its hands with Rush: The Documentary. The $1.5 million feature doc about the famed rock band is produced and directed by Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn -- the creative team behind 2005's Metal: A Headbanger's Journey -- and executive produced by Grindstone president Paul Zimic.
McFadyen -- currently in Helsinki, Finland with Rush's Snakes and Arrows tour -- finds it ironic that despite the band's influence on groups as diverse as The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica, that this will be the first in-depth look at its history and influence.
"Most Canadians are aware of Rush, but I don't think that the degree of their success or influence on the international music scene is recognized or respected. We're talking about a group that is ranked fifth in the world for most consecutive gold and platinum albums, behind groups like The Beatles and the Stones," he says.
The doc will include new interviews with some of rock's biggest names -- including members of Metallica, Nirvana and Iron Maiden -- plus never-before-seen footage shot by singer Geddy Lee himself, which Grindstone hopes will attract Canadian broadcasters.
Rush's previous two concert DVDs moved more than 500,000 units in North America and, at press time, McFadyen and Dunn had multiple offers on the table for international distribution.
"Scot and Sam are a proven team. They just added a Gemini award to their many wins for Metal and judging by the strong international audience response to their debut film, I think Rush will find eager audiences," says Zimic.
Grindstone recently signed a multi-picture deal with L.A.-based Lonely Seal Releasing, and handles Canadian TV deals for titles including Pauly Shore is Dead and Tideland.
"As a small Canadian distributor you have to find unique films that will appeal to our diverse audiences and for different reasons. Distribution is all about finding the right fit," comments Zimic.
Oh man, now I'm frothing at the mouth. We'll look forward to the release date of that, which I'm assuming is at merely a working title mode --- Rush: The Documentary. S

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Legendary Showman "Mr. G" aged gracefully, laughing with dignity... and passed on Halloween, of course.

Robert Goulet, a.k.a. "Mr. G," a nickname he embraced, passed this morning in Los Angeles at the tender young age of 73.

Goulet suffered from a rare form of pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive and fatal condition. He was being treated at Cedars- Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and was awaiting a lung transplant.

Some of you may recall his ads for Emerald Nuts earlier this year, which were pretty damn funny (thanks for the reminder, Thelonius Jay!). I own a CD by Robert Goulet... and I'm damn proud of it. Sure, some of it's cheesy, but the guy makes me laugh. I absolutely love the guy for his humor. You have to respect someone who isn't afraid to laugh at themselves. ...and his voice was pretty good too...

Mr. G won a Theatre World Award for young performers for his Broadway debut as Sir Lancelot in
Camelot, the 1960 Lerner and Loewe musical that also starred Richard Burton and Julie Andrews. The role propelled him to popularity in nightclubs and on television, where he became a regular guest during the heyday of variety talk shows, though he never achieved another breakthrough success on par with Camelot.
His later stage appearances included Carousel, The Pajama Game, South Pacific and, on Broadway in 2005, La Cage Aux Folles. He won a Tony Award for best actor in a Broadway musical for The Happy Time in 1968.
Goulet starred in television specials and appeared in series including Fantasy Island, Cannon and Mission: Impossible.
His movie credits included Honeymoon Hotel (1964), Atlantic City (1980) and Beetlejuice (1988), and who could ever forget his role in Naked Gun 2 1/2 (1990). He also voiced the role of Wheezy the Penguin in Toy Story 2 (1999).

Goulet won a Grammy Award for best new artist of 1962. He also became a spokesman for the American Cancer Society after surviving prostate cancer, which was diagnosed in 1993.
In a 2006 poem on his Web site, Goulet mused on the thrill of first experiences: "I'll probably never be that young and green again, and I miss it.''
Robert Gerard Goulet was born Nov. 26, 1933, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the only son of French-Canadians Joseph and Jeannette Goulet. At age 11, Goulet won the approval of his father, a guard at a textile mill, by singing "Lead Kindly Light'' during a church function, according to his official biography. As he lay dying just weeks later, the elder Goulet told his son: "God gave you a voice. You must sing.''
So then a legendary showman was born...
At 16, Goulet made his professional debut with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. He worked two years as a radio announcer, then won a singing scholarship to the Royal Conservatory of Music at the University of Toronto.

He appeared on stage, radio and television in Canada and hosted a weekly variety show, General Electric's Showtime, for CBC-TV.
In Camelot, which opened on Broadway in December 1960, Goulet's big number was the ballad "If Ever I Would Leave You.'' Reviewer Howard Taubman wrote in The New York Times that Lancelot as a character was "a pompous bore'' but that Goulet sung and played the character "splendidly.''
The show catapulted Goulet, in his late 20s, to be a regular on top American television talk shows, as well as the variety program the "Ed Sullivan Show,'' where his handsome looks were as welcome as his rich voice.
He presented a humble front. "I wish I were a tenor or a bass,'' he said in a 1962 interview with the Times. "I'm a lousy middle-range baritone. It's much more thrilling to sing the very high or the very low notes.''
Regarding the National Anthem; Goulet received some notoriety in 1965 when he flubbed the words to the "Star Spangled Banner'' at the heavyweight fight between Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) in Lewiston, Maine. He always felt he got a bum rap.
"I sang one word wrong,'' Goulet told the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times in 2001. "I sang, 'Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early night' . . . instead of 'light.' One word is all I messed up, and everyone built it up from that time on into something else entirely.''
ESPN introduced Goulet to a new generation in the 1990s by featuring him in retro, humorous advertisements for its college basketball schedule. Goulet also lent his name and voice to a 1993 episode of The Simpsons, showing up to support the casino that young Bart builds in his tree house.
In 2005, Goulet returned to Broadway as a fill-in co-star in a revival of La Cage Aux Folles, playing half of the gay couple at the center of the script. The show gave Goulet, then 71, a chance to show off his lasting skills as a balladeer.
Goulet and Vera Novak, his manager, married in 1982 and shared a 7,000-square-foot house in Las Vegas next to a close friend, the entertainer Wayne Newton.
Goulet had a daughter, Nikki, with his first wife, Louise Longmore, and two sons -- Christopher and Michael -- with his second wife, the actress Carol Lawrence. In a 1990 book, Lawrence said their 12-year marriage ended in 1975 because Goulet was an alcoholic who abused her and their children. Goulet denied ever being "a run-down-in-the-gutter alcoholic'' and said he never missed a performance (most of this information provided by the AP).
Goulet's most memorable performance, however, is a fictional one that occurred on New Year's Day 2002 at the breakfast buffet in Las Vegas' Excalibur. That morning Thelonius Jay (TJ), MH and I mused at the idea of Goulet performing at one of the buffets in Vegas---where he would interrupt himself in the middle of songs to recommend certain food items to buffeters as they stood in line loading up their plates. The musings were revisited between TJ and I, much to the horror of KJ & Sam, on a day trip coming back from Mt. St. Helens in 2004 over Memorial Day weekend.
Thank you, Mr. G, for the years of entertainment and amusement. You will be missed! I'm sure you're laughing your way through the pearly gates, poking fun at yourself. S

Friday, October 19, 2007

FILLER FOR AUDIOPHILES -- Van Halen's remasters are a sound lover's dream. 2000 reissues, Warner Brothers.

I take my music seriously. What can I say. If you couple that with the fact that I'm an audiophile with the completest mentality, that pretty much means that I've fallen prey to the music industry's moneymaking machine.

By looking at my collection, I'm sure I've probably spent tens of thousands of dollars over the
years on putting it together. Between all the rock, jazz, country, bluegrass, classical, opera, boxed sets, reissues, multiple issues and special editions, it's an expensive habit. ...oh yeah, I forgot about my Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler comedy collection. That's not to mention my interest in collecting rare vinyl that's starting to give me new ideas that could potentially spider into a whole new facet of collecting music.

God help me.

I've always fully admitted, with great pride, that my big vice in life is music. What can I
say; IT IS my life. Most of my memories revolve around music. I can tell you where I heard a specific song 20 years ago, what I was doing, and who I was with at the time. My brain is just wired that way.

The issues of remastered old CDs have come up in conversations I've had with friends over the years, again and again. In my experience, remastered CDs (which started to surface around 1992) bring out much more punch and clarity to the recording. Some people I know claim they can't hear any difference; I tell them their deaf. However, to be fair, there are remastered CDs out there that simply don't cut the mustard. For whatever reason.

The best remastered CDs I've heard so far come from Warner Bros. records. Specifically the Dire Straits catalog from 1978-1991 and the Van Halen catalog from 1978-1983 really stands out. The clarity and detail seem to jump off the disc.

The Van Halen ones in particular are absolutely amazing. I'm hearing things I never heard before with the older CD issues, and obviously with the vinyl or cassette versions (I was more of a vinyl guy before CDs came out, the cassettes were garbage IMO). I started by picking up my personal favorite by them Fair Warning (shown here, pleasant mugging scenes and all), and then after hearing that I went back to get the five others: Van Halen, Van Halen II, Women and Children First (shown at top of post), Diver Down, and 1984 (actually released in 1983).

All the VH remasters so far are only from the David Lee Roth era, and obviously that's where they should be starting. Maybe we'll get the Sammy ones reissued at a later time, but I think most fans are happy with their first 6 projects. ...oh and that other one with Gary Cherone---I'm sure we'll be on the edge of our seats waiting for THAT.

These are the CDs meant for waking up the neighbors---if you turn up the sound, it'll knock your door off its hinges.

...but first put on a set of good headphones and hear the top-notch sound quality!

For starters, Eddie Van Halen's guitar wizardry is absolutely SCREAMING off the disc and blasting
me into the 4th dimension. Secondly, the analog recording limitations are revealed; I'm hearing recording defects, lots of guitar hiss, and an occasional click in the tape (where it was probably spliced), which is more charming than anything else---not a bad thing at all. I think it makes the recording more interesting.

Next; if you rip the remasters to an iPod (using a rip rate of 192 kbps, which should completely ditto the full sound spectrum) and put them on shuffle, it gives the impression of a live VH performance and showcases how diversified the band actually is, which I never really picked up on before. The bluesy licks from Women and Children First seem to be sticking out most, since that was the one VH album that I seemed to blow off in the past. Listening to a little John Lee Hooker helped to open that one up a bit. I like the drunken bluesy departure the band takes on WaCF.

If you haven't gone down the remastered avenue yet, and like Van Halen, they're a good place to start.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Def Leppard shows how rock & roll can simply be fun... did you say FUN?!?!

Umm, and can you say 80s???

Yes, sometimes we're all in the mood for a sexist, metal-tinged cheesefest with "Bringin' on the Heartbreak," "Photograph," "Animal," "Armageddon It," "Pour Some Sugar on Me," or "Let's Get Rocked!"

I'll let you take it from there... beyond that, you're out of my realm of assistance. If you put on a headband and those 80s leather tights, you're on your own... and if you can, grow a mullet, throw on a torn Union Jack t-shirt, pump your fist in
the air, and start performing your Joe Elliott impression... we'll love you man, but you'll also see us running screaming in the other direction...

I'm back in 8th grade and it's 1983... ahh, the cheesy side of rock in the 80s, before big hair really hit MTV.

You know, like how it used to be okay to have album covers with buildings set ablaze from collisions or fired missiles. For obvious reasons now that's simply not cool anymore---but DO note the classic album cover shown here.

Let's see... explosions on display... this must be a rock band composed of males... from the 1980s...

Have I failed to mention it's the 80s? "Come on man, it's the 80s!"

I used to enjoy Def Leppard on my headphones as I was snow skiing in the early 1980s at Snoqualmie Pass. For some reason they were one of the skiers' favorites. I'm so glad that I stayed with some other bands in the long run, but
Pyromania was a big partner on the ski hill for quite a while.

I had my fun & cheesy "Def Leppard moment," and you all will too, I promise... if you haven't already... maybe even in the 80s... S

Sunday, October 14, 2007

THE REVIEW CORNER -- The Band: A Musical History box set is the "dark horse" cornerstone to any rock collection. 2005 issue, Capitol Records.

I recently picked up this 5 CD /1 DVD career-spanning set from the local library, and I have to say I'm definitely impressed. I plan on owning it for myself someday.

Until recently, this rock "band" was mostly a mystery to me---sorta like the shadowy figures of THE BAND depicted on the cover of this handsome box set (the hardcover "music book" that you see here to the left). Over 100 pages of stories, rare photos, and anecdotes are included along with the 6 discs nestled nicely in pages at the rear... gives it an old family photo album sort of feel.

Gracing us with perhaps the simplest name in rock history, THE BAND even predated the Beatles in an early incarnation known at The Hawks. Comprising of Canadians and Americans, the changed and final name you know them by today came from the time that they backed Dylan on his tours in the mid-60s. At that time Dylan was billed as "Dylan and the band," so afterwards the name stuck.

They didn't last long, disbanding in 1976 due to internal conflicts over songwriting credits; Robbie Robertson (lead guitarist) I guess decided to take all the credit. From what I can gather, it seems like an unfair maneuver of an egomaniac; as many of the other members were stated as having contributed to the music if not the overall songwriting process. This fact is only proven in the DVD, which shows the band at a pink house in Woodstock, New York (not the actual music festival) "woodshedding" to craft their sound. Hence, the name of their debut album, which we'll get to in a second...

Listening to their sound, one can tell that more than just Robertson contributed to it. It's one of those situations in which they were definitely greater than the sum of their parts.

...and for what it's worth, these guys are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were one of its first inductees, going in in 1994.

These guys are very rootsy, salt-of-the-earth and unpolished---which acutally is very refreshing. They're like a can of soup, as I hear lots of elements fused together when I put these guys on. I hear a hodge-podge of the blues, rockabilly, country, folk, gospel, soul, funk, southern roots, psychadelia, a little jazz, and I even heard some ragtime piano somewhere in there. They also sport 3 singers; my personal favorite being the bass player Rick Danko, who died just before the turn of the new millennium in December 1999. I also totally dig their keyboard /organ player Garth Hudson---if you get your hands on the box set, check out "The Genetic Method" (live) on CD 4---noodling on that funky Lowrey Organ. Ohhhh yeahhh.

Check out their site The Band, or just check them out at your local library if you're curious. If you go for individual albums, the big 3 by them would be their first album Music from Big Pink (with the famous abstract album cover painted by Bob Dylan, pictured to the left), their eponymous second album The Band, and the album showcasing their final live performance in 1976, The Last Waltz (available in both 2 CD versions and a 4 CD deluxe edition set)... and of course the career-spanning box set shown at the top of this post, which makes for a handsome "music book" if you will on your shelf. All their old albums have been digitally remastered for optimal sound quality. The latter live classic has guest performances by several folks including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Neil Young.

THE BAND were more popular with journalists and fellow musicians than the general public. Their talent, virtuosity, and the multi-instrumental abilities of the individual members cannot be denied.

However, unless someone had an older sibling to dial them in, it's understandable how anyone
born after the mid-1960s would fail to have this rock group on their radar. I consider myself quite a music buff, and an armchair historian to boot---and it basically took me until now to check these guys out. I'm puzzled as to why they never made much more of an impression; I'm guessing much of it had to do with their short successful run, their grassroots sound, and the fact that they're mainly resigned to the 1960 and 1970s.

You probably know the song "The Weight" from the radio---but that's about all you'll hear these days of THE BAND on the airwaves---at least in my experience... Maybe "Stage Fright," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Don't Do it," or "Life is a Carnival"---but I can't conjure up a radio memory of those latter songs.

They're definitely a throwback. They wouldn't really appeal to a youngster growing up in the 70s as much as more in-your-face bands like Kiss, Aerosmith, or David Bowie. You have to dig a little deeper to discover these guys---plus in my opinion their name throws off many folks today and puts them in the position of getting dismissed more than they should.

When you first hear them, they may remind many of you of a Saturday Night Live house band---probably because they played in the mid-70s on the show---and I'm guessing the show modeled their house band after THE BAND, something that continues to this day (or at least they still attempt to, in a cheesier and more bastardized fashion).

That is in no way a dig to THE BAND, as they were true originals.

Anyone who likes "southern rock" should definitely take to these guys... I hear where Skynyrd got some ideas, and I hear some Phish... and newer bands like My Morning Jacket... but they're sound goes way beyond that.

Don't make the same mistake I made by dismissing them and waiting to check them out---they're worth your time. Put something by them on your holiday wish list.

I give A Musical History by The Band 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mama Cass: Let's put the urban legend to rest.

Cass Elliot, known to most as "Mama" Cass---the big voice of the folk/rock band The Mamas & the Papas, died on July 29. 1974 in London, UK on an evening following a performance at the London Palladium. She was 32 at the time.

Urban legend suggests that Cass died choking on a ham sandwich. I'm sure it was easy to perpetuate the story due to her obese nature.

First, let's have some respect for the dead and leave the poor lady alone. Second, let's lay out the facts.

The urban legend started when police were heard commenting, soon
after finding her body, that a partially eaten ham sandwich was found in the room. However, the coroner's report found no evidence of choking, nor food, in her trachea. The cause of death was determined to be heart failure as she was sleeping. The coroner's report ruled out the possibility that any choking had occurred. So there it is.

I'm not trying to be humorless, nor am I holier than thou; as I'm guilty of having laughed about the "Killer Ham Sandwich" theory when I first heard of it... but what seemed funny at first seemed to change as I got more familiar with the music of Mama Cass and her contribution to The Mamas & the Papas---and music in general. In terms of the musicians and singers she influenced, there are too many to name.

Crosby, Stills and Nash dedicated their greatest hits album to her when it was released in 2005.

The world was stripped of a great singer who died at a very young age. She was 3 years younger than even jazz bebop legend Charlie Parker, whose drug escapades and self-destructive course are well documented. Mama Cass had the unfortunate curse of being overweight, with a heart that apparently couldn't take it.

She slipped into her dreams on her final night after two straight
nights of standing ovations in London. While she died very young, that's not a bad way to go. S

Ashes to ashes all fall down - the Dead's "Throwing Stones" defines the state of our World

It's almost scary how accurate the lyrics to the Grateful Dead song "Throwing Stones" are, in terms of defining where we're at today:

Picture a bright blue ball just spinning, spinning free
Dizzy with eternity.
Paint it with a skin of sky, brush in some clouds and sea
Call it home for you and me.

A peaceful place or so it looks from space

A closer look reveals the human race.
Full of hope, full of grace, is the human face;
But afraid, we may lay our home to waste.

There's a fear down here we can't forget, hasn't got a name just yet

Always awake, always around singing ashes to ashes all fall down.

Now watch as the ball revolves and the nighttime calls

And again the hunt begins and again the bloodwind calls
By and by again, the morning sun will rise
But the darkness never goes from some mens eyes.

It strolls the sidewalks and it rolls the streets

Stalking turf, dividing up meat.
Nightmare spook, piece of heat, you and me, you and me.

Click, flashblade in ghetto night. rudies looking for a fight.

Rat cat alley roll them bones. need that cash to feed that jones
And the politicians throwing stones
Singing ashes, ashes all fall down.

Commissars and pin-striped bosses role the dice

Any way they fall guess who gets to pay the price.
Money green or proletarian gray, selling guns instead of food today.

So the kids they dance, they shake their bones

While the politicians throwing stones
Singing ashes, ashes all fall down.

Heartless powers try to tell us what to think

If the spirits sleeping, then the flesh is ink.
History's page, it is thusly carved in stone
The futures here, we are it, we are on our own.

If the game is lost then were all the same

No one left to place or take the blame.
We will leave this place an empty stone
Or this shinning ball of blue we can call our home

So the kids they dance, they shake their bones

While the politicians are throwing stones
Singing ashes, ashes all fall down.

Shipping powders back and forth

Singing black goes south while white comes north
And the whole world full of petty wars
Singing I got mine and you got yours.

And the current fashions set the pace.

Lose your step, fall out of grace.
And the radical he rant and rage, singing someone got to turn the page
And the rich man in his summer home,
Singing just leave well enough alone
But his pants are down, his covers blown
And the politicians are throwing stones
So the kids they dance they shake their bones
Cause its all too clear were on our own

Picture a bright blue ball just spinning, spinning free

Its dizzying, the possibilities. ashes, ashes all fall down.

So there it is, since it speaks for itself, I'll end it here. S