Friday, October 24, 2008

Election countdown psyche-out: music defining the times

I don't usually like to get political on this blog, however with the election 11 days away, I can't help myself.

Music and politics do sometimes cross paths...more often than not, actually. There's lots of music out there that is political in nature, but there are only a handful of albums that can be deemed sharply topical enough to apply to the state of the country and the world over the course of this decade.

The music I have listed here is ranked in order of
significance, so if you're interested in picking any of these up I'd work from the top down. A small hint: it's a bit left-leaning.

So here it goes.
  1. Neil Young - Living with War (2005). The quintessential anti-Bush album; Neil Young's primal scream against the administration and its policies. Interestingly enough, Young comes across as more of a single voice in the crowd than some random complaining artist. That being said, Young has plenty to complain about, and he might actually have a point...Living with War involves mainly Iraq, and focuses on various aspects of war and its consequences. It also screams impeachment and the desire to look for a new leader. The most essential album of the times. Living with War is a very relevant and sympathizing with lots of the anger out there in the country.
  2. Green Day - American Idiot (2005). The Gen X version of Living with War, with the punk edge. It's not quite as heady as Young's album, but has its moments. It's actually refreshing to hear Green Day getting more personal and behind societal issues. The album has much more substance to it than just its title track, and it focuses on a wide array of issues Americans are facing today; including war and illegal survellaince...but it's mainly about Iraq.
  3. Roger Waters - Amused to Death (1992). Waters is totally amazing and prophetic...and one might conclude that the guy doesn't really like war. The subject matter of this project from the early 1990s calls out unrest and wars in the Middle East, as it came off the heels of the Gulf War...and Roger does it in a tone of sarcasm as only he knows how. It has a little bit of everything, including a musing on a cheering crowd-filled stadium and the voice of Marv Albert commentating on a sub torpedoing an oil tanker in sports play by play fashion, in addition to a skewering of Andrew Lloyd Weber. The subject matter, which involves war and how power and oil drives it, is as relevant today as it was 15 years ago.
  4. Rush - Snakes & Arrows (2007). Lyrically very heady, but there may be no piece of work out there that's more relevant to the state of the world. This is what you get when you hear an atheist Libertarian Canadian drummer commentating on the state of the world through a falsetto singer. Had Rush been an American band, Peart's lyrics probably wouldn't be as couched in metaphor, as the band is careful about coming across as too specifically topical when it comes to the American-based politics Canadians are affected and understandably frustrated by. However, Snakes & Arrows is as political as the band has ever been since 1984's Grace Under Pressure. The use of lines like "The battle flags are flown at the feet of a God unknown," obviously deliver the point straight home, and there's many more weighty and interesting moments in this project. Snakes & Arrows is a fascinating and mature response to the far-right religious ideology and dogmatic shit sandwich that has been shoved down the throats of many Americans, Canadians, and the like over the last several years. For those who sit down with it and take it all in, Peart's lyrics will have you pondering the subject matter long after the listen.
  5. Dixie Chicks - Taking the Long Way (2006). What can I say...I just couldn't help myself. There's no artist out there who's more relevant to what's been happening this decade than the Dixie Chicks...or more victimized. The subject matter in this album covers the issues they dealt with several years back when they took flack and were banned on many of the country airwaves after criticizing the Bush administration. Much about it involves their response to the I had to throw a personal call out here to these brave women and all the unneccessary crap they put up with. Here's to free speech...Dixie Chicks, this one's for you!
So those are the recommendations...only 11 days until the election! Rock the vote, everyone! Happy voting!

Neil Peart performs at Buddy Rich memorial concert

A few posts back I mentioned Neil performing at the Buddy Rich Memorial Concert in NYC last Sunday...I believe I've found footage of it here...of course when he starts on the cowbells you can hear the Rush fans in the crowd.

I also have included footage of Rich as well, so you can have an idea of how skilled and unbelievable this guy was.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Neil Young clip from Everett show

Here's a quick clip of Neil's Everett show from last night...should give you a good idea. If you can make out a guy 4 rows back center stage in a black skully, that's me.

Neil Young road testing new material?

...or so I'm guessing. Here's a vid from this year's tour, a tune called "Sea Change." He performed this and another new tune called "When Worlds Collide" in Everett last night. The lyric in that song mentioning "money" and "it ain't funny" conjures up that old Kinks tune "Low Budget."

I'm not going to even try to speculate whether or not this new material is to be expected on an upcoming project, considering Young's history of shelving recorded projects and a handful of songs from as far back as the 70s that he performs live but has never released on any album.

Hey, it's all part of the Neil Young charm...right?

THE STAGE HECKLER: Neil Young inspires the Everett faithful

Neil Young is a GOD. It's that simple.

I don't think I've ever seen a
performer more passionate about his music than Neil Young...and from all accounts, he bestows to his fans the same guts as a man approaching his mid-60s that he did 40 years ago.

This was my second Neil Young concert. I was four rows back from the stage last nigh
t at Comcast Arena in Everett, Washington....about 20 miles north of Seattle, the newer venue serves as a nice alternative for acts that come through town. I'd say it's a much better option than Key Arena in Seattle, which is traffic nightmare central.

Opening the night was a band
called Everest, which I wasn't familiar with, and Death Cab for Cutie, an interesting alternative band from Seattle with a mosaic that echoes bands like U2 and The Stone Roses...however the singer has a unique style that I'm still getting used to...I'm not saying I don't like him, I'm just getting used to him.

Since my favorite band has a falsetto singer with a high-pitched shrill, I figure I'm the last one on the planet to be intolerant of other singers I might need to adapt to.

So back to Neil.

Unlike last year, when he split the show between acoustic and electric sets (see post on that show here), all songs were part of one set. Electric Neil sandwiched Acoustic Neil in the middle portion of the set.

I love how this guy mixes things up.

There was an indication that electric Neil was going to open up the show when his guitar tech Larry Cragg b
rought Old Black onstage...that's his prized guitar that he's used since the 1960s.

When the show began, he launched into "Love and Only Love," one of the classics from
Ragged Glory, his grungy 1990 project and perhaps the best project to date with Crazy Horse.

He soon brought up one of my personal favorites, "Powderfinger," which originally appeared on 1979's Rust Never Sleeps. He was emotionally involves with his music as he sweat and sneered through many of the vocal passages.

One of the amazing qualities of a live Neil Young performance is how he seamlessly transitions from the beautiful electric sludge of tunes like "Hey Hey, My My," where his extended solos careen through the auditorium with sounds like a dinosaur moaning in pain from a leg the acoustic grace and sentiments of a song like "Old Man."

He seemed to have a bit more energy onstage tonight than a year ago at WAMU Theater in Seattle...where at times he even seemed a bit disoriented onstage.

Not tonight.

The only ones who were disoriented were the audience, left fending for their lives as they took blows to the head from the dungeon of Neil's grungy extended jams.

How can I explain it...Neil Young's sludgy electric brand of rock & roll is the equivalent of a musical axe being swung at your head...and, elated, you can't wait for that blade to chop into your skull...only the blade hasn't been sharpened in awhile, and it has pits and gouges in it just manages to knock off a chunk of your skull...get it? Sure you do.

Okay, we're getting carried away here...what did he play last night?

The set list:

  1. Love and Only Love
  2. Hey Hey, My My
  3. Everybody Knows this is Nowhere
  4. Powderfinger
  5. Spirit Road
  6. Cinnamon Girl (they goofed the opening and started it over...too funny.)
  7. Oh, Lonesome Me
  8. Mother Earth
  9. The Needle and the Damage Done
  10. Unknown Legend
  11. Heart of Gold
  12. Old Man
  13. Get Back to the Country
  14. Just Singing a Song
  15. Sea Change (or is it "See" change?)
  16. When Worlds Collide
  17. Cowgirl in the Sand
  18. Rockin' in the Free World
  19. [encore 1] A Day in the Life (In his effort to make as much racket as possible at the end, he ends up ripping off the guitar strings from Old Black)
  20. [encore 2] The Sultan (instrumental with a big gong being hit by a guy dressed in swami gear...very odd)
You can follow all the set lists from Neil Young's tour at

So that's it...I'm hoping that Neil's next project involves Crazy Horse THAT'S the show I'm waiting to see!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Neil Peart performing at Buddy Rich Memorial Concert

Neil will be the final drummer performing at the Buddy Rich Memorial Concert in New York City Sunday night...information on the event can be found HERE.

The event will be caught on digital stream via the drum channel...I'll look for the link and come back to post it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Amazon list of best rock albums

, Since I put out the jazz list, here's a rock list that I also have.

Here's the rock list: "Start an eclectic rock collection - 35 recommendations!".

The list:
  1. Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon
  2. Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
  3. Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
  4. Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced?
  5. Rush - Moving Pictures
  6. Dire Straits - Communique
  7. Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
  8. Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers
  9. The Doors (eponymous)
  10. Led Zeppelin - IV
  11. The Who - Who's Next
  12. Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde
  13. Santana - Abraxas
  14. Carole King - Tapestry
  15. U2 - The Joshua Tree
  16. Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection
  17. Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run
  18. Lou Reed - Transformer
  19. Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head
  20. Peter Frampton - Frampton Comes Alive!
  21. Grateful Dead - Without a Net
  22. Van Halen (eponymous)
  23. Nirvana - Nevermind
  24. Eagles - Hotel California
  25. Ritchie Valens
  26. R.E.M. - Lifes Rich Pageant
  27. Joni Mitchell - Blue
  28. Elvis - Elvis Presley
  29. Elvis Costello - Trust
  30. The Police - Zenyatta Mandatta
  31. Neil Young - Harvest
  32. Radiohead - OK Computer
  33. The Cars (eponymous)
  34. 10,000 Maniacs - In My Tribe
  35. Queensryche - Empire
That's it for the Amazon lists.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Kaoss Pad...again!

I posted last month about this device, and showcased Radiohead's use of it in a live setting.

However now I found a video of what appears to be an older model in use, and it should be a bit more informative of the various mechanics and how it's used. It's essentially a demonstration you'd get in a music store if someone was trying to sell it to you.

Sorry if I'm killing this subject, but I find this gadget to be totally fascinating. This seems to reveal and give context to what we've heard on the radio at times from artists over the last 5-10 years.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Neil Peart honoured

It's always satisfying to see one of your favorite musicians HONOURED (in the true English spelling sense)...especially when they're essentially part of a nonmainstream band that doesn't get much recognition outside of their home country.

A team of St. Catherine, Ontario artists
recently unveiled a project where they created a series of double-sided banners featuring famous St. Cathariners and hung them up at various locations downtown.

One of these banners is our favorite St. Catheriner, Neil Peart. You can check out a picture of Neil's banner, which is hanging outside police headquarters, at this link.

For those who don't know, St. Catharines, Ontario is about five minutes down the highway, west of the Canadian side of Niagra Falls.

Thanks to for the heads up.

Congratulations, Neil! Cool stuff!

Johnny Cash as...the Elvis impersonator


Here's something you don't see every day...Johnny Cash doing an Elvis impersonation. It's worth a chuckle.

For those of you who don't know, Cash and Elvis knew one another through Sun Records, who I believe was the first record label they signed to (at least it was for Cash, and I'm assuming Elvis as well).

The two of them toured together in the anything in this video I can only interpret as friendly ribbing. I believe Elvis returned the favor and did Cash impersonations on stage as well, although I haven't found footage of that yet...have fun with this and share it.


Friday, October 10, 2008

The guts and magic of Andrew Hill

Every October in Seattle, the Earshot Jazz Festival rears its head. It's the largest festival of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.

I usually catch two or three acts every year, depending on who's coming through. There have been some magical moments (in the case of acts like Jason Moran, Matthew Shipp and Bobby Hutcherson), and one questionable one too (if you look through posts from last fall, you can read about the John Zorn fiasco).

The most memorable event came during the 2006 festival, when
pianist Andrew Hill came through town. The album covers shown throughout this post are his most recommended works.

At the Showbox in Seattle, we arrived early and grabbed a seat at the front of the stage...I wasn't going to sit in the back to watch my favorite jazz artist. On stage right (performer's perspective) sat a large Steinway piano, and a drumset adorned
the middle of the stage.

A face soon peaked out from the behind the stage left curtain.
Andrew Hill emerged, walking very, very slowly. It was obvious that something was off, but it was hard to place what was happening with him.

The drummer and bass player came out after Hill found his seat at the piano. For nearly 45 minutes, the band went through a set of new and old material, the latest of which came from an album released earlier that same year, Time Lines. Between every song, he would announce the titles, although he was very difficult to hear since he was speaking in a low whisper. The thanked the audience for being there.

Hill was in top form throughout the set...the ethereal sounds emerging from his fingers emitted a sort of magic...sounds audible on his records, which I'd collected over the last few years to my CD collection, but not quite the same as in the flesh.

While the set seemed a bit short, it was definitely not short on quality. One of the things I love about Hill's music is the way he can fly into a protracted off-the-wall jam session, but then bring thing
s down into a light groove that bounces across the stage like a feather. His style is full of complexity and mystery.

After Andrew Hill left the stage and the performance ended, little did I know that at approximately 70 years young he was dying of lung cancer and playing through shortness of breath and unimaginable suffering.

He died in 2007, less than six months after the performance I attended.
Once again, I had been blessed with the opportunity to see a legend live right before their passing. I'd had the same opportunity in 1994 when I saw the Grateful Dead right before Jerry Garcia passed away the following year...except Garcia wasn't suffering from a terminal illness.

What Hill pulled off was nothing short of miraculous. That guy had indescribable determination, along with tons and tons of guts...forget tha
t the performance was as close to perfection as one could have it...anyone listening that night who didn't know about Hill's cancer or couldn't see how he was struggling to get across the stage would have thought that he was perfectly fine. What a stud.

That's the stuff of legend...and that's exactly what Andrew Hill is.

Here's a biographical overview from

Andrew Hill was a great and even groundbreaking composer and pianist, yet the relatively circumscribed scale of his innovations might have originally caused him to get lost in the shuffle of the '60s free jazz revolution.

While many of his contemporaries were totally jettisoning the rhythmic and
harmonic techniques of bop and hard bop, Hill worked to extend their possibilities; his was a revolution from within. Much of the most compelling '60s jazz was nearly aleatoric; Hill, on the other hand, exhibited a determined command of his materials, however abstract they might sometimes be.

His composed melodies were labyrinthine, and rhythmically and harmo
nically complex tunes like "New Monastery" from his Point of Departure album exhibit a sophistication born of mastery, not chance or contingency. As a pianist, Hill had a flowing melodicism and an elastic sense of time. Like his composing, Hill's playing had an ever-present air of spontaneity and was almost completely devoid of cliché.

He began playing the piano at about the age of 13. As a youngster in Chicago, Hill was encouraged by pianist Earl Hines. Jazz composer Bill Russo also took an interest, and introduced Hill to the renowned classical composer Paul Hindemith, with whom Hill studied from 1950-1952.

While in his teens, he gigged with prominent jazz musicians passing through the Midwest, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker among them. In 1955, he recorded So in Love with the Sound of Andrew Hill for the Warwick label. He moved to New York in 1961 to work with singer Dinah Washington. After a brief foray to Los Angeles with Rahsaan Roland Kirk's band in 1962, Hill moved back to New York, where he began his recording career in earnest.

He made several records for Blue Note from 1963-1969, both as leader and sideman. Hill's Blue Note work featured some of the best and brightest post-bop musicians of the day, including Eric Dolphy, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Tony Williams, and Freddie Hubbard.

Like many jazz musicians, Hill eventually turned to academia to make a living. He received his doctorate from Colgate University and served as the school's composer in residence from 1970-1972. Hill relocated to the West Coast, teaching in public schools and prisons in California. He eventually landed a teaching position at Portland State University, where he established the school's Summer Jazz Intensive.

In addition to his teaching, Hill continued to perform and record in the '70s and '80s, making records for the Arista-Freedom and Black Saint/Soul Note labels. In 1989 and 1990, Hill recorded twice more for Blue Note, Eternal Spirit and But Not Farewell.

Hill moved back to the New York area in the '90s; a series of performances and new recordings helped place him back in the jazz spotlight. Hill formed a new Point of Departure Sextet for the Knitting Factory's 1998 Texaco Jazz Festival. The band included saxophonists Marty Ehrlich and Greg Tardy, trumpeter Ron Horton, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Billy Drummond. The band went on to play New York club engagements to much acclaim.

In 2000, Palmetto Records released
Dusk, which was named the best album of 2001 by Down Beat and Jazz Times magazines. It was followed by A Beautiful Day in 2002, Passing Ships in 2003, and Black Fire in 2004, as well as a solid series of Blue Note reissues of his '60s work that included bonus tracks and new liner notes. His 2006 album, Time Lines, reunited him with both trumpeter Charles Tolliver and the Blue Note label. Hill also participated in a 17-piece big band, and a January 2002 engagement at New York's Birdland was filmed and recorded by Palmetto for future broadcast.

After battling lung cancer for many years, Hill succumbed to the disease on April 20, 2007, leaving behind a stunning legacy of work.

~ Chris Kelsey, All Music Guide

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Link to Phish Tucson concert from 1999

Gordon flashin' (and fishin') his stuff on the bass
There seems to be lots of stuff stirring in the land of Phish...

The sites been a-jumpin' like Phish outta water (ahem, bad joke, I know) since I posted earlier this week on the Tucson show I experienced nine years ago, oblivious to knowing anything about the band (see story here).

That said, someone named Joe was thoughtful enough to leave a comment with a link for the Tucson concert:
Phish at Pima County Fairgrounds, Tucson. I'm not sure about the sound quality, as I haven't heard it yet...I was going to try to download it this weekend.

From what I can tell, there are no other known recordings out there of this show...and judging from what I've seen on several of their other live recordings, it looks like an unusual set list.

Does anyone out there have any photos from this show?

Monday, October 6, 2008

THE STAGE HECKLER: Phish 2009 tour plans conjure up a brainmelter

The majesty, mastery, magic, and confusion of a Phish concert
For those of you who haven't heard, Phish are planning some shows in 2009...YES!!! This is BIG BIG NEWS, since they've been disbanded for most of this decade.

I only see plans for 3 shows in Hampton, Virginia during March so far...hopefully more will pop up!

This news, of course, reminds me of the last and only time I saw this band...about 10 years ago, when I lived in Tucson, I found myself at a Phish concert on the Pima County Fairgrounds.

It might be helpful to understand where I was coming from going into that show.

For those of you who are familiar with Phish and their shtick, you might be very amused by this:
before that day in 1999, I had never heard a Phish song before in my entire life...NOT KIDDING.

It's the only concert experience I can think of where I went into the show knowing NOTHING about what the band sounded like.

However here's what I DID know:

  1. They were from Vermont.
  2. They were a jam band that echoed elements of the Grateful Dead.
  3. They had a loyal fan following, which comprised a subculture similar to that of Deadheads.
  4. More Deadheads drifted into the Phish camp since Jerry Garcia's passing in 1995.
  5. They built that following on live performance and toured ceaselessly.
  6. Some (if not all) of their song titles were bizarre and made absolutely no sense (to me) that didn't help to give the slightest clue on what to expect...other than something "outside the box," let's say.
  7. They had 4 members and I heard they had traded instruments once onstage.
So that was it...needless to say, the experience made my head spin...right off. Literally. Their musicianship, coupled with their silliness, both mystified and left me utterly confused.

It also made me a fan for life.

Since then I've been looking for a live recording of that show, which I've yet to's the set list from that night:

Tuesday, September 21, 1999
Pima County Fairgrounds, Tucson, AZ

  • Reba
  • Bold as Love

The set list information is courtesy of the Mockingbird Foundation.

So tickets are on sale right now through the Phish website. Hopefully they'll do a west coast swing next year...stay tuned for more information as it comes out. I'll try to stay on top of this one.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

FROM THE VAULT -- Unreleased Rush tunes caught live

Some in the diehard Rush camp have probably heard of the song "Garden Road," which was never released on any of their albums.

It was part of their live set from the early 70s, before they released their eponymous debut album. Such curios from a band that doesn't release B-sides and outtake tracks --- bent on presenting their work polished and rehearsed --- tends to become more myth than reality. Nevertheless, I decided to see what was out there recently.

Interestingly enough, this wasn't very hard to find. Here's a live recording of the tune (don't mind the bizarre graphic), and for Rush at the time it's not too shabby. Listening carefully to it reveals some killer wah-wah pedal work from Alex. I love it when he puts that thing to effective use.

When the song finishes, hunt on the scroll bar for another unreleased Rush rarity, "Fancy Dancer," also containing the same cheeseball graphic.

Friday, October 3, 2008

FROM THE VAULT -- Tom Petty's amusing side

To play the song, pause the music in the left column and press play on the music gadget below.

As I was putting together an online playlist sometime back, I bumped into this song by Tome Petty called "Girl on LSD." I'd never heard of it before, and I've been a fan of this guy for decades.

Some brief research reveals that this song appeared as a B-side to his single for "You Don't Know How it Feels." Long out of print for over 10 years, this rare CD single (shown above) appears on 1994's Wildflowers...however "Girl on LSD" can't be found anywhere else...
here's more on it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"Far Cry" from upcoming live Rush package

Ohhhhhh, this looks tasty! VH1 Classic's all day Rush marathon yesterday (cleverly coined Rush Shashana, in celebration of the Jewish holiday) showed a teaser from the soon to be released live Rush multi-disc set, Snakes & Arrows Live. I've seen that it will be out in stores on Nov. 18, although Amazon lists the Blu-ray release date as Nov. any rate, it will be available on both DVD and Blu-ray and will feature the usual goodies. When you play this, remember to hit the tiny pause button on the jukebox in the margin.