Friday, December 25, 2009

The ultimate edition of Cash at Folsom Prison appears!

Something very, very special appeared under the tree in the last 24 hours...the Legacy Edition of Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison. It had been on my Amazon list since it came out in October 2008.

This is the ultimate edition of Folsom Prison...it has the complete unadulterated, unedited versions of both shows that he did there when he visited the prison in January 1968 -- so you can hear how it played out that day, as if you're a fly on the wall watching the whole thing.


It also contains a bonus DVD with a fascinating 90-minute documentary on everything surrounding the Folsom Prison concerts and what happened in the aftermath of it.

I'm not usually a fan of these sorts of reissued expanded editions of old recordings, but this appears to be an exception to the rule since it appears to be a comprehensive document of his Folsom Prison shows, and the experience is further amplified with the DVD documentary.

I want to perform due diligence and give the discs a thorough listen, and study the documentary before I go into too much detail...so look for a review on this in the near future.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Shucky darns...foiled again! No Vince Neil for us.

Well, my 80s metal-loving buddy dragged me to another one...to the same casino up I-90...this time in freezing rain rather than a torrential downpour.

This time, however, the mission was to see Mr. Vince Neil, the frontman for Motley Crue, touring with his own band.


Uhhh...uhhh...mission failed, sir.

Problem was, the show began at 8:00PM, and an assumption was made that there would be an opening band, and that he wouldn't go onstage for an hour or so -- as basically 9 times out of 10 such a thing typically happens with a rock 'n' roll concert.


We arrived at about 9:15, just as the show was getting out. I thought this shot of Neil is fitting, as he seems to be waving at us from afar with an annoyed expression like, "You missed the friggin' show, you idiots."


Yep, that's us.

Needless to say, my buddy was disappointed...and then insult was further added to injury in a comedy of several ways.


First off, all we could do was just stand there as the show was JUST getting out -- literally inches away from the counter where we would have purchased our tickets -- which also happens to be at the bottlenecked route to and from the entrance to the ballroom where the gig took place. So, as we stood in that choice location, we got to hear from all the attendees shuffling past on how great the show was. Apparently he not only played all the Motley Crue stuff, but did a few covers -- including "Heaven and Hell" by Black Sabbath!

If that wasn't bad enough, several folks shuffling by us took notice of my buddy's Ratt tour shirt showcasing the band's name with "Ratt and Roll" underneath, which he had worn on top of a thermal layer. So, needless to say, the typical pro-80s metal fanatical comments were dropped here and there when they saw the shirt...comments such as......

"Wow, cool dude! Ratt rules!"

"Rock on, man!" (hand showing Dio "devil fingers" sign -- \m/)

\m/ "Hey look, it's Ratt...didn't they play last month?!?!" Editor's note: Yes, they most certainly did...and you can read aaaaaaaaaallllllllllllll about it here.

\m/ "Wooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!" (from very inebriated and flirty rocker chick showing off cleavage and tiny metal skull necklass)

\m/ "Cool dude." (cigarette smoke exhaling in face)

\m/ "Hey man, I thought you were the drummer."

Yep, not kidding...my buddy's long blonde locks -- coupled with his getup -- somehow had a few of the metalheads convinced he was the drummer in the Vince Neil concert (the drummer which, ironically, we were unable to lay our eyes on ourselves to verify the apparent likeness since we missed the goddamn show in the first place). So my buddy had these random rockers coming up to him to give him high fives and so forth...someone may have even tried to have their picture taken with him.

So, despite the dissapointment of missing the show, there was a humorous ending to the whole thing, and we laughed it off...AND as we were driving back toward civilization, I mused on how this was going to be an interesting blog post and in the process realized a new category for live performance had been created -- "live performance (barely missed)."

The category appears due to the fact that as I thought about it this show, believe it or not, wasn't the first one that I had barely missed -- I also ran into a similar, and in some ways more humorous situation with a Dio-led Black Sabbath tour from the early 90s (a story for another day).


So how do we end the night? By nothing other than making our way to a theater in town to catch 2012, the latest CG uber disaster film...laughing through the specter of the world ending two years from now, of course.

I guess anything pales in comparison to barely missing a $15 Vince Neil performance.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The BEST and WORST Holiday Albums EVER

There are a ton of holiday albums out there, with more and more coming out every year...everything from the cool and kid-friendly Burl Ives singing "Frosty the Snow Man" to something obscure and horrific, I'm sure.

That being said, I don't seek out many "new" holiday albums, as I tend to cling to childhood memories or old familiar ways.

But I do have a definite favorite that I throw on...and also one that I loathe beyond words.

So then, let's start with the good stuff first.

The award for "The BEST holiday album of all-time" goes to Merry Axemas: A Guitar Christmas, put out in the 1997 by various rock artists.

This album has some great quality tunes on it, and provides a potpourri of variety; from rocking renditions to acoustic layered compositions. It features some classic guitarists from Jeff Beck and Eric Johnson to Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai.

It also showcases my favorite Canadian son, Alex Lifeson, in a somber and moving acoustic version of "The Little Drummer Boy" that builds in layers to a beautiful spectrum of acoustic guitars. I remember thinking at the time that the song was as interesting of a choice as the way it was played with delicate sensitivity, and couldn't help but notice how it was chosen and arranged on the heels of Neil Peart losing his daughter Selena in a car accident the summer before. All said, the song showcases Lifeson's acoustic guitar work as good -- if not better -- than any Rush project.

Now, let's let the freak show begin...the award for "The Most Annoying Holiday Music EVER" goes to Manheim Steamroller's Christmas Celebration, which came out in the early 1980s (ya think?) and has since been reissued.

This thing is so ridiculously dated it's embarrassing to write about, let alone throw on in the CD changer. It's a bloodbath of synthesizer cheese, to say the least.

I believe the 80s revival of elevator music can be traced back to the release of this album, because all the elevator music lovers went running in screams of horror back to their favorite section after hearing this abonimation of Christmas music.

In particular, "Deck the Halls," the one that was popular on the radio (and still can be heard, unfortunately) is especially annoying. I believe the last time I heard it, cheese bled from my ears...literally.

To add to the annoyance, I have a family member who loves the stuff. Relishes in it. Friggin' bathes in it...so I just tolerate it and enjoy the "fest o' cheddar."

Happy holiday shopping, everyone!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

No-Man live -- after 20 years as a band

I've mentioned before in this blog that the best-kept secret in the rock format today is Steven Wilson out of Britain, and all the incarnations of his artistry in the form of various bands such as Blackfield, Bass Communion, IEM, and as a solo artist...all very different from one another.

Frankly, it's very puzzling how Wilson isn't better known; almost to the effect that the scenario drums up large label conspiracy theories. This argument could be validated by the way Wilson works out of his home studio dubbed "No Man's Land" and purposefully avoids the big labels by conducting as an independent songwriter, arranger, musician, recording engineer, and through many of the other album production roles typically segmented and spread out among various individuals under the guise of a large label.

It appears that about the only thing Wilson doesn't handle is distribution. He's as much of a one-man show in music as you'll ever find. If one considers the variety of talent Wilson brings to the table, there could even be an argument for Rock Hall accolades...but unfortunately he just isn't that well known.


Most who are familiar with Wilson's work know him as the brains behind Porcupine Tree...but few realize that he was in a band called No-Man back when PT was merely an idea. No-Man has evolved over the years as a progressive pop/electronica/rock act, and is a living breathing entity to this day.

The band just released their first live DVD Mixtaped, which can be ordered through the band's independent distributor Burning Shed. The DVD features a second disc with an interesting documentary on the band, and some videos you might recall from late night MTV or VH1 in the mid-90s.

Here's a cut from it. If after some time it gets pulled off the web or something, check out the personal videos from the Savoy Theater by You Tube poster 'lahemi.' It appears this individual personally recorded the whole gig.

Of course Steven Wilson is the lead guitarist fella (wearing glasses) to the left. The singer Tim Bowness, who comes across as a breathy cross between Brian Ferry and Rick Astley, might take a little getting used to -- but he grows on you...as long as you don't get Rickroll'd (or even better, Barackroll'd!!!)


Friday, November 13, 2009

THE STAGE HECKLER: Gin Blossoms' Greatness Goes Beyond the Music

What you see here is the set list from tonight's live performance, courtesy of the Gin Blossoms. I grabbed it at the end of the gig, much to the amazement of 20 onlookers with the "I didn't know you could do that!" look on their face.

Grabbing the set list is the ultimate souvenir in many ways. It's hand-crafted by the band for just that show (printed from a computer, but you know what I mean), and typically reveals quirks or things they were considering playing that they didn't, such as the "Cajun Song" that you see on the list...and if you're lucky, and it was on the ground, you might get the guitarist's shoe print on it...or someone's spit. Or worse.

I'm always amazed how many other attendees don't think to ask, as tonight I was the only one inquiring to a roadie about it. He nodded, knelt down in front of where guitarist Jesse Valenzuela had been playing on stage right, removed the tape, and handed it over. No problem. I think that's the fourth set list I've been part of grabbing...there was Live in 1994, Matthew Sweet in 1996, Ratt a couple weeks ago, and now the Gin Blossoms.

Now let's talk about the band.

They might be touring the casino circuit these days, and they might be leaning heavily on material from their signature album, 1992's New Miserable Experience, for their live set...but this band from Tempe, Arizona -- now going on 20 years strong -- are survivors.

The sound of the Gin Blossoms is timeless in some ways, but also heavily rooted in the Tempe bar scene of the late 1980s & early 90s around the Arizona State campus. I should know, as I was attending ASU during those exact years that the Blossoms flourished from bars like Long Wong's, which has sadly since been demolished as Mill Avenue literally erased any sign of its history block after block (when Tempe whored out what remained of its soul to development interests in the late 90s -- Long Wong's...Bandersnatch...Cannery Row...the list goes on -- but that's a long story for another day). They'd also play local frat houses until they turned into a worldwide touring act. I had the pleasure of seeing them perform at several parties back in the day.

Seeing them live tonight conjured up many of the influences from back in the day that one might overlook, but are rather obvious if you know their music. The Stones and R.E.M. seemed to be the most obvious...the interplay between the two guitarists, Jesse Valenzuela and Scotty Johnson, echoed elements of the duo of Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood. Lead singer Robin Wilson seemed to have a mic & stage style in the likeness of Michael Stype. He handed his tambourine to someone in the audience to play along, and sang into someone's cell phone on a couple of occasions. It was amazing how much he sounded like Elton John when they played "Rocket Man" in the encore.

The Blossoms are one of those bands born to play live. They shine and thrive in the live setting, and very much have a live sound even in their studio recordings.

In their early days, there were years of hiccups, false starts, and the difficulty of getting known beyond the Tempe scene. Between the long frustration of trying to get on with a major record label, losing their co-founder /guitarist /main songwriter Nicky Hopkins to alcohol and eventually a suicide in 1993 (as the melancholy lyrics and feel of Experience reveals much of his illness), and after surviving a breakup in the late 90s, these guys appear to be back and stronger than ever. A new album is due out in 2010.

The most impressive thing about this band, however, is their character and heroism...which comes from an incident that occurred in 1994. Every August, when students start the fall semester at ASU, a popular activity is to raft down the Salt River. Unfortunately there can be lots of accidents on the river, and to/from the river, caused by drinking or recklessness. That fall, a female student was severely injured in a motorcycle accident enroute to the river and didn't have medical insurance...so while she lay recovering in a local hospital, the band got together to put on a benefit concert at Long Wong's bar in Tempe. The result was thousands of dollars raised through donations to help pay for the girl's medical bills...and remember, this is 1994...interesting context to current times.

If that isn't the mark of greatness, I don't know what is. The music of the Gin Blossoms is timeless and a personal sentiment, as they are part of the soundtrack to some incredible and memorable college years...but I believe it's that single act of thoughtfulness and heroism that defines them.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

FROM THE VAULT -- Neil Young & Pearl Jam Rockin' the Free World

With Neil Young just celebrating his 64th birthday, here's a little ditty of him with Pearl Jam. I'd guess this took place in the mid-90s, around the time of Young's Mirror Ball collaboration with Vedder & Co.

Remember to put the music machine at the top of the page on pause...and as a prize for doing so, you get to witness some instrument destruction at the end of the video.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

THE STAGE HECKLER: Falling Victim to a Ruse to See...Ratt? Yep!


I got dragged to it, I swear!

Yep, I ate my 80s hair metal on Halloween night with Ratt...at the Snoqualmie Casino up I-90. A casino for Ratt, huh? How appropriate.


I really shouldn't complain, as I did get to see them for free...as my buddy needed someone to go with and covered the $30 ticket...but here I am.

Still complaining about it.

It actually ended up being three of us, as a third fella (a former co-worker of my buddy's) suddenly showed up and drove to it in a torrential downpour...I guess he was the backup plan in case I couldn't get talked into going, but I didn't put much thought into it until the day after when I was recalling the series of events.

Ratt is one of my buddy's favorite bands...but you must know something's out of place with the appeal of your band when you have to:

  1. Use trickery and deception to get your friend to go to it with you.
  2. Have a backup person to fall into the ruse if your first person fails to fall for it or bails on you.
  3. Pay for both friends to attend the gig you designed the ruse around.

Anyway.

I'm not a bubble gum rocker, but the show was pretty good...at least they seemed like they'd rehearsed a bit and they weren't out of tune. It was of course Stephen Pearcy and the original guitarist, whose name doesn't come to mind. K.K. Downing? No, that's Judas Priest...Robbie Robertson? No, that's The Band (wow, I'm really out of it)...I guess I could look it up right now, here on the computer, but I'm too lazy to right now. Pathetic, huh?

So I'm trying to think who I listen to regularly who comes the closest to this band...hmm...Kiss maybe? And I'm not a super big fan of them either. Maybe Aerosmith? Not a big fan either.

I guess I don't really listen regularly to anything remotely close to Ratt. Oh well.

I tried to keep an open mind...yet here I am, apologetically putting up a post about the damn thing, as if I've been a bad doggie who pooped in the corner of the living room, and I'm expecting to get swatted at any moment.

They played all their "classics," if you want to call 80s bubble gum rock "classic." They went through their whole Out of the Cellar album from the early 80s with hits like "Round and Round" and "Come On Feel the Noise." Kidding! That's Quiet Riot...I was just seeing if you were paying attention.

There was lots of leather there, but unfortunately no screaming girls on the shoulders of their boyfriends showing off their shaking breasts to the band...no panties thrown onstage, either. Oh well...but Pearcy did seem to be bragging about how he's had his share of women over the years, and thought that he saw some out in the audience...or some with kids, whom he also seemed to take responsibility for.

Uh, can you say ick? ...and why would you brag about that when you're a burnout 80s rocker in your 50s, is that all you have to hold onto in the way of amusement? Your slutty rocker seed being sent spawning into random countless netherregions? God, I hope not.

That was pretty much the highlight of the evening...besides the man who won the women's sexiest Halloween costume contest, and the drunk girl at the beer line who seemed to be hitting on me...uh, no thanks rocker Betty. What else was a highlight...oh, the fact that I couldn't stop recalling the first time I heard a Ratt tune on the radio in 1984, and thought for the longest time it was a Judas Priest song. Goes to show you how much I know.

Trust me...I'll be sticking mainly to what I know on this blog...but just wanted to chime in with this random complaint about 80s hair metal live in 2009. I realize I'm probably coming across as a metal uppity.

Guilty as charged.

I will bathe, swim, and be drunk in my sea of 80s metal snobbery...because usually I find this 3 minute cheesefest 80s metal singles crap to be cheaper than the stank of Hello Kitty girl's perfume you find in the young women's section of Macy's. On most days I'd rather bloodlet my ears with leaches...don't believe me? Watch me do it.

Every now and then, however, I'll tolerate it...and consider even slightly indulging in it for one night...but only for a good friend, and only after a few beers...BUT then don't bug me with it until the NEXT TIME it's the 80s...as in the 2080s.

But, you ask, "Won't you be dead by then?"

God I hope so...my point exactly.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Alex on the Rick Mercer Report

Oh, look out...it's Big Al up to the usual silly antics. This is actually one of his better TV moments, which he doesn't get alot of.

Al's the "founder" of Rush? Uh huh, sure, I knew that. He's also an ace at messing up his own song on Guitar Hero. Funny stuff.

FYI, The Orbit Room (a Toronto bar Alex co-owns), which I visited a couple years ago, is TINY...like really, really narrow...just worth mentioning, as that doesn't really translate on the video.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Top 10 All-time List of Rock Concept Projects

With Porcupine Tree's latest concept album offering The Incident, the idea came to mind about the strongest and most influential concept albums of all-time...and I like lists...and I don't list things that often, so if I do I:
  1. Had better be interested in the subject matter (check), and
  2. Had better know something about the subject matter (check too, although I can always learn more).
That being said, I'm hoping I have something to contribute here, and that it might start some discussion.

Here's the list, in countdown format.


#10. ~ Fear of a Blank Planet by Porcupine Tree (2007).

Totally effective in its subject matter, PT originator and songwriting mastermind Steven Wilson grabs the listener by the throat and doesn't let go.

The project tackles a societal issue that has risen into the forefront in recent years, but flies under the radar in many respects -- very serious matters
effecting every household in America with children, and the Western World for that matter -- to what extent we medicate our children.

Wilson's take on the subject weave to and fro throughout a bleak urban landscape, creating the imagery of doped up child-zombies walking around with nothing to do, no hope, and no future. After having it on for awhile, if you really listen to the lyrics, the story will put you into the mind of a doped up child and you'll forget who you're listening to.

The whole project is amazing...from the thematically shocking in-your-face opening of the title track, to the beautiful melancholia of "My Ashes," to the winding journey of "Anithetize," every song holds up on its own, yet they all weave together perfectly. "Sentimental" is the strongest track on the album, and while the guitar work might echo something from David Gilmour on The Wall for many, it doesn't lack originality. The album's closer, "Sleep Together," gives the whole experience of Fear of a Blank Planet the necessary dramatic finish.

If you're a parent or guardian dealing with medicating your child during critical years of development (and we're talking about more than aspirin), this piece of art will probably conjure up more questions than answers...but sometimes answering those hard questions can lead to a better result. I believe that's part of what Wilson's up to here...a wake-up call.

In retrospect -- after listening to this project repeatedly over the last two years -- Wilson's story and themes on this album end up suggesting a symptom of a much larger and serious issue, which should immediately come to mind for those of us who have read books such as The Geography of Nowhere by
James Howard Kunstler. However, Wilson and Porcupine Tree hint at that too, as the album's title suggests.

While they're not mainstream or very well known, this band and Wilson's focused artistic vision -- with the exception of probably Radiohead -- are pushing the rock format in new directions in the early part of this century while reprocessing and giving a refreshing twist to musical ideas originally spawned by the likes of Pink Floyd (soundscapes), Rush (tight jamming), Kraftwerk (innovative synth layers), and the 2nd wave of the 60s British invasion.

It's really too bad they're not more popular and commercially successful, as they're catalog is full of unique and amazing gems...and despite being limited in scope, they actually LOSE money when they tour...plus Wilson has hinted at wrapping things up soon to focus on other projects such as Blackfield and No-Man, and wants to get into more of the production end. It would be very, very sad and a tremendous loss to music to see these guys go away.


#9.
~ "Cygnus X-1" and "Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres"
from A Farewell to Kings (1977) and Hemispheres (1978) by Rush.

Okay...I know this looks strange, try to follow the logic
here. After their 1976 magnum opus 2112 (see #6 on this list), Rush decided to do what I don't believe any other band has managed to pull off: a concept piece that spans two successive albums.

Hence, the mention of two albums...it's more about the Cygnus suite than anything else, and if you were to listen to the two albums in succession on your MP3 (in a most exquisite Rush
marathon of 20+ albums, like I do sometimes - not kidding), you'll notice they're linked since Kings ends with "Cygnus Part 1" and Hemispheres starts with "Part 2" (um, excuse me, that would be "BOOK II")

...and who in the hell refers to an 18 minute album side as a "book?" If nothing else, Rush gets
on the list with this project for creativity and placing a totally interesting and original spin on how to tinker with the album format.

It's also worth mentioning that they would later do a "Fear Trilogy" over the span of three successive albums from 1981-84 -- in reverse order.



#8. ~ Quadrophenia by The Who.

Arguably the band's last great effort, then the creative juices suddenly seemed to stop flowing, as a listen to this album's follow-up Who By Numbers might reveal.


Another interesting take on British society, this project bleeds more gritty reality and less in the way of bubbly fiction, opposed to Tommy. It's commentary on what many Americans like myself interpret as a bizarre landscape of 1950s James Dean-ish street gang fighting is both obscure and fascinating all at once, which I believe adds to its appeal...probably due in part to a lack of understanding of Brit streetgang history in the 20th Century.

The Mods and Rockers are having it out on the English coastline! Say that again? Uh, I guess you had to be there.

Sonically, this album is also really strong in its mixing and studio wizardry...that sound of a
crashing ocean at the beginning, with the solo trumpet and rainfall. The hints of tunes to come...then the band explodes into an all-out jam. Fucking awesome stuff.

In terms of playing, the band's in top form and Daltry's voice has never sounded edgier or better. Another high point about this album to note, in addition to the strong storyline; Entwistle's bass acrobatics are a total brainmelter. He's all over place in this recording. Easily his stongest Who album in terms of showcasing his talents on mastering the bass...which he did in his classic pose near Moon's drumkit with an expressionless face while his hands moved everywhere liked a blurred Bugs Bunny cartoon.

It's too bad we never had the chance to experience Townsend's Lifehouse project in its full
entirety (rejected by the rest of the band, and what eventually became 1971's Who's Next); based on what that project manifested into, for all we know it very well could have been the best concept piece ever by The Who, putting Quadrophenia and Tommy to bed (hardy har har, pun intended). The indicators are there in the form of "Baba O'Rielly," "Bargain," "Behind Blue Eyes," and "Won't Get Fooled Again." I guess we'll never really know.

#7. ~
Operation: Mindcrime by Queensryche (1988).

The most ambitious concept effort of the 1980s by any rock band, during a time when it was anything but cool to put one out. At this time hair metal was the deal, with a
never-ending assault of 3-4 minute cheeseball singles to go with it. The 70s during this time were being dissed, and up to this point concept pieces were relegated to only a mere handful of classic bands. By the late 80s, it all seemed like a bygone era, and not the cool thing to do anymore.

This album by Queensryche is what made it "okay" for bands to dive back into the concept
project, as it was essentially the first successful project since The Wall from Pink Floyd (see #5 on this list) in 1979...if there were other concept projects put out in that 10 year period, I can't think of any -- and either they weren't successful, or taken seriously.

Not only did Queensryche reopen a door to a room that appeared to have been forbidden and
locked shut, they packaged it in the form of an edgy, raw, and downright shocking political manifesto.

Coming out of the heels of the Reagan Era and it's trickle down policies, this project embraces much of the frustration felt by the mid to left politicos as the 80s approached its end.


#6. ~
2112 by Rush (1976)

I once read somewhere that this album had a big influence on Marilyn Manson, and that it scared him to death. It scared Marilyn Manson.

He must have been
talking about it from a conceptual standpoint. Drummer Neil Peart takes the readings of the controversial Ayn Rand, from books such as The Fountainhead and Anthem (from which the band's record label is named)...subject matter which has been interpreted and accused of touching on fascism, among other things. Moreover, an odd author like Rand isn't typically the sort of influence you hear rock bands citing.

However with Rand's influence on Rush, you need to look deeper. What Peart, and ultimately the rest of the band adopt from Rand's writings lean more towards her artistic manifesto.

It's that element that ultimately gives shape to the story in the title track of "2112;" a sci-fi tale about a futuristic society where individualism has been decimated in the complete interest of "the average" -- that is, until the character in the song discovers an old guitar hidden behind a
waterfall, and...well, you know...all hell breaks loose with "the priests." Yep, priests are involved.

I hate it when that happens. Seriously now.


It's also Rand's artistic manifesto that gives shape to the bands drive to succeed on their own terms, as they have discussed in numerous interviews over the years.

2112 was the band's mid-70s breakthrough, and at the time they recorded it, EVERYTHING was on the line...their record deal hung in the balance due to the lack of commercial success from their previous work, Caress of Steel. Very few believed they would find success; even folks close to the band doubted it and suggested they fall back on the conventional ways of rock. Ironically, it was the artistic approach to Caress, their development as songwriters on it (notably with the piece "The Fountain of Lamneth"), and it's LACK of success that actually set up their success for 2112. Despite the commercial failure, they hadn't failed as artists.

The band collectively understanding the difference between those two factors was essential to how they approached this project.

So now what do they do? They say f**k it. If we're going to go down, we're going
down with the guns ablaze. Against pressure from their label, they write a 20+ minute piece with seven movements and place it as the first track of the album (side 1 at the time of vinyl issues).

It proves successful...and the band never looked back. The body of work Rush has put out
since, and their insistence to tour off every single album to present it -- an effort now spanning nearly 40 years -- speaks for itself...and another project of new material is due out in 2010.

On 2112, you can hear them playing on it with a furious edge. If the band sounds like they're playing pissed off, it's because they are. Don't screw with these well-mannered Canadian gents, you'll unleash the beast.

In my opinion, 2112 isn't just an album, it's a way of life...for the band, and for it's dedicated fan base. 2112 is a lifestyle and a creed. It's about having a backbone in the face of adversity, sticking up for yourself or what you believe in, and not compromising your principles -- in much the way the band was feeling a
t the time they recorded this. It's about putting your fist in the air and telling THE MAN where to stick it! (Something I personally enjoy doing on a repeated basis in a variety of ways, both creative and stupid.)

If you're ever angry after a tough day at the office, put this on and F'N CRANK IT!!! You'll feel much better.


*Special note: the live version of "2112" on the live album Different Stages is also amazing and worth checking out...and it's the only time the band ever performed it live in its entirety...this time in 1996-97.

#5. ~ The Wall by Pink Floyd (1979)

The last classic work by this band, but unfortunately it's also the project that tore the Waters-era Floyd apart -- and as a result deprived a whole generation of Pink Floyd fans of seeing a Waters-era Floyd perform live -- until a selec
t few saw the band come together for one magical night in 2005 (see my post about this event).

The Wall is an undisputed masterpiece on several levels...while of course there's the MOVIE of The Wall, the LIVE PERFORMANCE of The Wall (probably the most interesting component -- and least known), and now PLAYS of The Wall performed around the world (mainly in schools, with Waters' exclusive permission, of course), this of course is speaking to the original ALBUM of the same work.


The album, a sonic tour de force, spans nearly every identifiable form of music and seems to throw every conceivable piece of ear candy at the listeners. There's some great tunes on this project that turned into staple Floyd classics that can be heard on the radio today; notably "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2," "Comfortably Numb," and "Run Like Hell." While every track is memorable and has a role in the larger work of the album, other highlights include the beauty of the under-your-skin emotive "Mother," the horror of WWII German buzz bombs and innocence lost in "Goodbye Blue Sky," the freefalling horndog-on-the-town element of "Young Lust," the hopeless sorrow of "Hey You," arguably Waters' best-ever singing performance (if not his most interesting in terms of dynamic effect) in "Nobody Home," and the originality of the scary/humorous/poking-at-authority's ass of "The Trial." I think the kitchen sink is somewhere in there too.

However, look closer at those song titles...what sort of mood do they convey?

What they suggest are merely the tip of a massive iceberg of a downer...and that's actually intended as a compliment rather than a diss...but a compliment with a HUGE warning label.

This project lends itself to that classic Floyd motif -- in a most in-your-face manner, unlike the graceful and interpretable Dark Side of the Moon (see the end of this listing). With all its incredible sonic attributes, textured features, and hooks, The Wall won't leave you smiling and feeling positive...frankly, it will probably leave you depressed and confused -- if not wondering "how you can have any pudding if you don't eat your meat."

...but, as I
suggest in other parts of this post, that's the beauty of a true and raw artistic statement. It makes you feel something, good or bad...but isn't that part of what's involved with living a meaningful life anyway?

I'd say that's part of what Roger Waters was thinking when he wrote this. Not all of this project is autobiographical -- as there's some Syd Barrett and other reflections on the world of rock stardom thrown in -- however I think it's obvious that the guy obviously had some things to work through, notably the fact that he lost his father in WW2.

I'd imagine part of his therapy was to put it out there. It manifested in this project, and on its successor, The Final Cut. The Wall (notably the movie), along with other fantastically inventive and outside-the-box projects, morphs into the area where Pink Floyd is heavily misunderstood as a druggie band...and barring Syd Barrett's issues with LSD in late 60s, they're NOT a druggie band. The Wall is about Waters baring his soul to the world, and I admire the man for his bravery. I wish other musicians could be as real and creative at expression as he is.

The faint of heart or those damaged by horrible childhood experiences should be warned...The Wall will either be your therapy or drive you insane...but either way, you're probably doing yourself a favor and can find help -- for the sake of you and everyone around
you. All being said, The Wall commands a close and meaningful study. There's nothing else like it out there.

#4.
~ Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles (1967)


The seed for the concept album was planted here...and while Sgt. Pepper isn't whole-heartedly a concept album, many of the ideas that led to projects by other bands down the road would point back to this.

This CD just recently got better, being released this year in its remastered version! You can also get it as part of a comprehensive Beatles box set.

Of course, there's no denying the opening track, which is reprised at the end with "A Day in the Life," one of the all-time greatest rock tunes ever.


An interesting back-story to Sgt. Pepper is how the Beatles received their influence from The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album (didn't make this list - however it might make a Top 20 list). It goes to show how our most inspiring and influential musicians, and artists in general, definitely don't live in a vacuum.

#3. ~ Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes (1973)

First thing, I'll admit that I'm more of a Trevor Rabin-era Yes fan (i.e. projects such as 90125, Big Generator, and Talk), and have had a tough time absorbing the more obscure portions of their earlier catalog from the 70s. However, that doesn't make me lose any less respect for their art.

Still, this is rock at its proggiest, in a fashion that might make the boldest listener's head explode...or if you're not on drugs, it might drive you to use them...or to throw the next mini-moog synthesizer you see ceremoniously off the top of a skyscraper just to prove a point.


Seriously...I've had enough conversations with hardcore Yes fans to know the significance of this album, Tales from Topographic Oceans, which stands out in a long line of Yes concept projects. This is the concept album not just taken to a whole new level, but into the realm of otherworldly. While the spiritual level of the album, and Jon Anderson's shtick, is in a motif that I personally don't quite grasp, that doesn't make it any less effective and meaningful. It commands our respect and praise.

There's deep, deep stuff going on here. Hardcore Yes fans "get it" the way I "get it" with 2112 by Rush...so, in the interest of all due respect to Yes fans, I will defer to one of them.

An Amazon reviewer writes:

"Tales" is a deeply philosophical album that is not for the meditative faint of heart. While much music is created to be toe-tapping and easy to sing to, "Tales" is in that genre usually called progressive rock, in a sub-genre that requires intense analysis to understand. The result is an album that is inaccessible and incomprehensible to a casual listener. In order to understand this music you must read the lyrics and listen, and listen, and then listen some more. Even then you might fail to gain a glimmer of Yes' intent.
"Tales from Topographic Oceans" would have to qualify as one of the most if not the most deeply complicated rock music ever created. Again, if you are a casual listener the complexity of the music can be frustrating or boring. However, if you consider that classical music is often complex, and to be understood requires extended focused listening, it should be of little surprise that Yes took that complexity for its own in the development of this music, creating a symphony in four movements.
Whoa! Enough said, I already have a headache and I haven't even put the thing on yet. Seriously, I look forward to sitting down with this project one day, when I have the time and patience to give it the required due diligence to explore it further.

I gave it the high ranking because of its artistic boldness and depth unlike any other concept album, and how it serves the diehard Yes fan in spades...and while I've given it a few listens and walked away wondering and not totally getting it, that's MY issue. I can still appreciate the boldness of the statement and the uncompromising artistry.

#2.
~ Tommy by The Who (1969)


The ranking is high because of the originality...Tommy is THE original rock opera.

With this project, The Who gave birth to the first bona-fide concept piece.

Tommy is structured as the perfect double album, with an interesting story line...and like The Wall, it formed into a movie, live performance, and has made it to the stage -- and in the case of the latter, I had the opportunity to see one of those live stage performances -- and loved it.

I highly recommend seeing any rock album performed as a play, it gives the original work a wonderfully fresh twist.

#1. ~ The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd (1973).


Hands down, IMO, it's the best rock album of all time, and therefore also the best concept album. Pure bliss and perfection; both compositional, sonically, and in the band's playing. The album cover evokes the feel and vibe of the album in its power, mystery, and simplicity.

Less is more.

See? Just when you read that, didn't the idea of that just mushroom out into lots of things? Sure it did. Shut up.


Dark Side of the Moon is a graceful, timeless, and perfect ride wrapped in the power and mystery of the whole Floyd thing. If the definition of the "power of music" was in the dictionary, this album cover would be next to it.

I see this album as a bold statement about modern life. It has a mellow vibe, offers variety, and unlike The Wall is more accessible and interpretive. However some are generally turned off by the often dark motif of Pink Floyd, and this project has it's share through Water's songwriting...but isn't that the beauty of art? Sometimes sad or dark music revealing the pain of real life can be healing -- and can be the most beautiful. It rejuvenates our soul.

Any idiot can write songs about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. This is the rock format at its deepest and most artistic. Even if you don't really like anything about Pink Floyd, this is the exception to that rule...and while it's Floyd, it's really not...there's Divine Intervention at work here. This album has the power to resonate with you forever and change your outlook on life.

Simply put, nothing touches it...nothing. I can't say that anything else in the rock genre even comes close -- Dark Side is in a higher league on its own. 'Nuff said...again, less is more.

If you don't know, just listen to the damn thing! Seriously, if you haven't heard it before, then find a killer stereo system and set aside some time...light a candle and turn down the lights...it's a moment you'll never forget.

If you're not a rock person -- and could only own one rock project in your lifetime -- this is it.


So that's a wrap!

As a final note here...it's about time that I post something meaningful up here...sorry for how I've been putting off posting something decent on this site for awhile.


I believe this blog space is more meaningful when I put something together that involves a deeper level of thought, and that requires some time and insight...so when time is short with other things, the beefier postings can fall off. Blame it on life stuff I guess.

I realize there are only 10 works mentioned here, with no honorable mentions to boot either...so I apologize if something glaring and obvious was left off! Part of it could be due to bands I'm not a big fan of -- the Genesis and ELP camps come to mind, for example...and there's lots of new stuff out there I might not be aware of. So please chime in and leave a comment on who should be added, as I'd consider expanding this to a Top 20 or Top 25 list...but you need to bring forth a compelling reason!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pissed...no, ENRAGED. Another favorite band flies under the radar.

Good morning, bitch central here.

Porcupine Tree passed through Seattle on 9/15. It's more than a month later, AND I'M JUST HEARING ABOUT IT NOW...and that's only happening because I happened to walk by a record store last week, where I saw this promo poster in the window saying: "PORCUPINE TREE ~ THE INCIDENT."

...so I thought: "Oh. P.T. must have a new one out. Strange that I was on the Burning Shed website two months ago and didn't hear anything about a new album."

I have a question for all of you...the world, whatever. How is it that two bands, that I've never seen before, simply fly under the radar when they come through town, and I HEAR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT IT?

Hey, don't mind me and my angst over this...P.T.'s only in my Top 5 of favorite rock bands, along names in the likes of Neil Young, Pink Floyd, and Rush...so yes. In my mind, this was like missing Pink Floyd on tour and not hearing about it.

It's not like I'm a casual fan either...I RUN A FRIGGIN MUSIC BLOG, for Christ's sake. I also make it a point to pick up a copy of the Seattle Weekly at least once a month, but can't always peter through their detailed music pages. It's information overload, and I don't like getting the newsprint on my fingers.

If it's not a major band, they're probably really limited on having a P.R. budget...so how does a person who's running their own business and being a caretaker to aging parents keep on top of it without driving themselves nuts? Even if you go to a band's website, something can change two months later and suddenly "poof" they've come and gone. Steven Wilson in particular is hard to keep up with, as the guy seems like he has literally a dozen projects going on at once. I can sit here on the P.T. website and stare at the "alerts" list, but what good is the goddam thing going to do me now, besides alerting me to stops on a tour that I've already missed? No thanks.

This is the second time this has happened to me this year...this happened before with The Church last spring.

Did anyone out there catch Porcupine Tree on their latest U.S. leg? How did you hear about it? Did anyone actually show up and attend the shows? I'm dying to know how you found out about it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The insane CD I could never dump...now put in a new light

Being the traditional classic rock fella that I am, along with my tendencies to noodle into obscure bands and albums of original work, "IT" still ended up in my collection.

A pop album...but not just ANY pop album...
...a music soundtack! What? Really? A soundtrack of various songs throw together by different artists?

Nooooooooooooo............really?


...but...it wasn't JUST ANY soundtrack either!!!


It was DIRTY DANCING!

!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

That was my EXACT thought when I couldn't recall how it had ended up in my collection in the late 80s...and NOOOOOOO, I refuse to speculate on what that was about...or what inspired me to pick it up.

Needless to say, by the early 90s I was horrified that I owned it and was ready to get rid of it. Friends and roommates who took the time to whittle through my modest CD collection at the time would point and laugh at me...the sort of thing where you emerge from the bathroom, and they're there waiting for you with baited breath as they hold it in their hand---demanding an explanation---and it better be a damn good one!

Yup, I knew I deserved it all...all of the pointing and laughing...but it kept on going and getting more and more amplified.


So I finally tried, in earnest, to dump the thing...I just didn't expect it to be an impossible task.

Living in Tempe, Arizona at the time, there were record stores all around the ASU campus who sold used music. I tried all of them. Whenever I brought it in, it was usually with a couple other CDs I was selling...but it would get rejected EVERY TIME.

It came to the point where I'd try to put it by different staff on various shifts, but I think the word got out...soon enough I found myself running into: "Oh, that again. No man. No can do."

So now I had to think. Ah ha! The next step involved the pawn shops, which were in abundance in the city of Mesa just a few miles east of Tempe. Granted, I'd only get a buck for it, but I was determined to get something for it.

It was becoming a mission.

But, no...the friggin pawn shops wouldn't take it either...not even for $1...NOT EVEN FOR FREE!!! Apparently they not only didn't have any use for it, they didn't even want to handle it. Period.

So conspiracy theories started to pop into my head...perhaps they had Jennifer Grey envy and didn't like Patrick Swayze? Who knows. The whole thing was starting to border on the insane.

I was beyond perplexed.

So...to my ongoing and repeated shock and surprise of several years, getting rid of Dirty Dancing presented a bit of an issue, you might say. It was the thorn in my side...and, as I mentioned before, my buddies thought the dilemma was the most amusing thing they'd ever heard of.

Now my friends were following me around town pointing and laughing...along with a traveling circus of late 80s mulletheads, men dressed in modern dance outfits, and Swayze look-alikes.

Hey, just another normal day in my life.

So I had to think up something new...and I decided to play what I considered to be a little strategy, coupled with "a little karma trick." I decided to go out and purchase the More Dirty Dancing soundtrack which I---ironically---purchased from a discount rack in a used record store in Tempe, Arizona.

I don't believe I actually ever played the damn thing.

Here was my brainiac strategy: I was hoping that if I paired it with the first Dirty Dancing CD, I could sell them back to a used record store or pawn shop as a pair.

Well, as you can guess, it didn't happen...and as a result, I STILL own them to this day. They've became such a fable; such a point of lore and personal history now, that I can't part with them...that's just the way it is. Some things you simply aren't meant to fight.

The weight of my history with this movie soundtrack was brought to bear with the passing of Patrick Swayze this last week. Sadly, he died before the age of 60 from pancreatic cancer. It's interesting how something so annoying and embarrassing can turn into something beautiful and meaningful, even if it took over 20 years to evolve as such.

...but isn't that life, in many ways? R.I.P. Mr. Swayze. You had guts wearing that mullet and those outfits...and you weren't a bad dancer...or singer, as one of the songs on my two Dirty Dancing soundtracks reveals.

So I guess it's time to buy the remastered Dirty Dancing box set now? Where do I place my bid? I'll pay top dollar, baby!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The T.O.E.C.F.U.E. Project

A new project has been borne.

It's dubbed the TOECFUE Project...an acronym standing for "Tricked Out Entertainment Center Featuring Used Equipment."

The idea came the other day as I was perusing through a second hand store in Idaho, and ran into a piece of stereo equipment that I would have paid $150 for 10 years ago...but now it's available for a mere $20!

Granted, it's a Sony dual cassette deck, and nobody uses cassette players anymore...but it fits into an idea of a grandiose entertainment center concept that I've had for quite some time...here's the details.

The TOECFUE Project lends itself to both hi-fi and classic lo-fi equipment. Here's what's on the list:
  1. HDTV (min. 40")
  2. stereo receiver (acquired via donation)
  3. Blu-ray player
  4. DVD /DVD-A /SACD player
  5. CD carousel or bundle changer
  6. dual cassette deck (acquired via purchase...1990s Sony TC-W411...cost = $20)
  7. direct drive turntable
  8. 8-track player (acquired via donation...1976 Lloyd's)
  9. 5.1 surround sound system
  10. traditional front speaker system (acquired via donation...early 90s)
Total cost toward the budget so far: $20

In addition to the list, there's some criteria to this project that will make it both interesting, challenging, and requiring some patience:
  1. Work with a budget of $500.
  2. Gifts and donated hand-me-downs (fully operating...please?) are graciously accepted.
  3. Acquire all items on aforementioned equipment list.
  4. Find a way for the components to operate carbon-neutral.
  5. There are no time constraints.

It's assumed that most of the acquired components will be used equipment...and that being said, it's expected that some (hopefully a small percentage) of the equipment picked up at second-hand stores or yard sales will possibly need fixing, won't always work as expected, or operate at all.

In terms of the green element of trying to make the equipment operate carbon-neutral, I guess you can look at such a challenge along the lines of Neil Young's LincVolt Project, where he's trying to convert a 1959 Lincoln Continental into a vehicle from using less than 10 MPG to over 100 MPG...except, of course, this is stereo equipment.

So that's it...the million dollar question being whether or not I can attain the equipment under a $500 budget. Should be interesting to see!


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thoughts on Michael Jackson's memorial: You can't fake genuineness

Wow, what an emotional day.

You can't fake genuineness. That's what came to mind today as I was watching events unfold at pop icon Micheal Jackson's memorial service in the L.A. Staples Center.

More on that later in this post.

I have to admit that my R&B/Motown leanings fall on only a handful of artists; Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder (of whom I own no albums...yet), and...and...well, there you go...and of those artists, I've only experienced certain albums and shapshots of their careers at best. I have some Smokey Robinson and James Brown explorations in my sights.

I dropped in on the Michael Jackson thing in the early 80s right after Off the Wall came out (his first post-Jackson 5 solo album, a disco-influenced pop extravaganza that appeared under the tree Christmas 1979), and followed his career through the Thriller album along with everyone else at the time, as it's the greatest-selling music project of all time with over 100 million units sold...

...but then I took off through high school with completely different forms of music and immersed myself in bands like Rush, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and the Rolling Stones.

In college and over time, I was exposed to many other forms of music...and eventually started circling around to Motown again in the late 90s...then I dove heavily into jazz in 2003, where I realized the reach of Quincy Jones' talent as a songwriter and producer.

Then, a couple years ago as I was passing through a magazine shop in an airport, and my eyes fell on a CD rack displaying the two Michael Jackson albums I was familiar with; this time in a reissued and remastered special edition CD, and I decided to pick them up...and I was beautifully reunited with my 10-year old music self. What a treat that was rediscovering that music again.

In these special issue CDs, Quincy Jones interviews were peppered throughout extra tracks on those projects...and having slightly more interest in CD liner notes in my late 30s than I did as a pre-teen, I learned some stories behind the recordings.

While the events of his personal life brought up questions, and while his changing appearance seemed like something along the likes of what's witnessed on Halloween, Michael Jackson's talent and influence can't be ignored.

As a child star with the Jackson 5, he had the voice, the dance moves, and the stage presence at an incredibly young age. He then morphed into an adult performer and blew everyone away as a creative innovator. He was a songwriter and performed his own material with incredible flair. He broke racial barriers. He set the world of MTV on its ear with the "Thriller" video. He invented the moonwalk. He co-wrote "We Are the World," the first philanthropic project of it's kind.

How he transformed pop culture as we know it cannot be denied.

While his personal life came across as slightly bizarre (politely speaking), the man didn't have to die on June 25. It's not like he was going downhill like Elvis...HE WAS REHEARSING FOR AN UPCOMING TOUR THE NIGHT BEFORE HIS DEATH. We'll learn more about those details in the coming weeks.

Today's memorial events were very emotional, and many performers gave their tearful tributes to him through words and song. Some of them barely kept it together, and some of them didn't.


Jackson's influence was cited and obvious in the memorial performances we saw today...his influence is all around us. Through it all, all these tributes were genuine and from the heart. Today helped to humanize the Michael Jackson mystery.

You can't fake that. You can't fake genuineness.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Bubba's Bar 'n' Grill...GRAND OPENING!

It's finally here! Get out your kitchen utensils!

Bubba's Bar 'n' Grill, from Neil Peart's personal website, will impress and astound you with a variety of menu items...along with some rather amusing anecdotes to go along with the culinary stuff.

For Rush fans, just make sure you give some attention to the ads on the perimeter of the menu when you first go to the link...you may notice some colorful characters there from your readings and concert viewings of yore.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

FILLER FOR AUDIOPHILES -- Blu-ray.com is your site

I actually spend lots of time at Blu-ray.com, and I don't even own a Blu-ray player yet.

That probably sounds silly, but my first purchase of one is probably not that far off (with new formats and technologies, I typically like to wait for a couple generations of players to cycle through before diving in).


I do tons of research in advance of such an investment, and of course that means the media too.

I really like the reviews of Blu-ray discs on this site...after all, it's the top-of-the-line format out there right now, with the high def craze that's going on and everyone upgrading their equipment.


I go here to review music discs, and have found every review I've read so far to be really helpful. They get into a high degree of technical jargon without losing you, and focus on both the video and audio portions.

This site is also a cataloger of sorts, helpfully indicating what's actually available out there in the Blu-ray format. Since we're less than 2 years removed from the format war with HD DVD, it's going to take time to get through older movies and videos...I'm guessing part of it will involve how high the demand is...otherwise there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.

For example, The Band The Last Waltz from 1978 has been out on Blu-ray for over a year now, but none of the Star Wars movies are available, so forget logic.

In the case of my personal amusement; when I went there and couldn't find Pink Floyd
Pulse on Blu-ray (a concert from 1994 that I wasn't expecting to find on the format, but I thought I'd check anyway), I was treated to a review of David Gilmour Remember that Night instead, and found it had some features and extras that are more appealing to me anyway, such as ancient Floyd bits. There was another excellent review of Rush Snakes & Arrows Live at the site.

I'm scoping all this stuff out in anticipation of picking up a few titles to augment the collection.


It's not just music, there's reviews of movies as well...and anything else, for that matter, that's out on our most recent and illustrious media format, Blu-ray.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Paying attention when you're busy

I've been completely and utterly out of the loop on the live acts coming to town this year. Life's priorities have taken over...like, for example, starting a new business.

I'm starting to feel the effects of what the demands of time and treasure have brought to bear on other parts of my life, especially music...especially LIVE music.

Just the other day, I found out that Phish will be playing the Gorge for two straight days this coming August 7 & 8...and the shows have been sold out...uh, since March. That's right. It took approximately THREE MONTHS after tickets went on sale for my finding out that the band has plans to come through town...and I thought I was keeping up on them. Crap.

It's amazing how sidetracked one can get with other things.

I'm missing the smaller acts coming through town too...earlier today, I opened up the weekly freebee, the Seattle Weekly, which I usually pickup over lunch at Taco del Mar...only to find out that an Australian band I like called The Church, who seldom ever pass though Seattle (let alone tour), played last night at a small venue in downtown Seattle called the Triple Door.

My first reaction was: You're kidding me, right?

Ouch...that one hurt. I would have LOVED to see that band...and it probably wasn't very expensive, either.


This is a sign that I need to stop what I'm doing every now and then, and pay more attention to stay in tune with one of the things I still love to do: see my favorite bands play live.

Hour long Rush interview with CBC's Radio Q

CBC Radio Q just posted this to You Tube...for fans of the band out there, there's some really fascinating and insightful stuff to chew on here. Highlights involve perspectives on Ayn Rand's influence on the band, Ged and Alex recalling how they first met, and a fascinating analysis of the song "Subdivisions."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

It's the "Synth Kitty!" Applause! Encore!

This has to be the coolest cat EVER!!! It looks like a tabby, so I guess that's no surprise, lol!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rush: A great interview every time

The release of Retrospective 3 has generated much interest in the Rush camp lately.

The band is a major plot point to the recent movie
I Love You Man. It seems like the band is in one of it's "hip periods" with the general public, something that doesn't happen often.

Like, uh, ever...except for perhaps the period from 1980-82, over the succession of the releases
Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures, Exit...Stage Left, and Signals.

It should dissipate soon, I can hear Rush fans hoping...and it would be nice if it was before the next tour, so I can get front row seats for under $500, lol.


After listening in on interviews by the band over the last 25 years, I'm amazed very time Ged, Alex, and Neil ~ individually, collectively, or in some combination thereof ~ present a fascinating interview for the listener.

It seems that each member brings in a different spin and insight of the band, and has something fresh to present.
Maybe that's why they're interviewed so much.

Not only is the band Rush fascinating, but what its members have to say is of great interest...and I'm sure I'm not biased.


Here's yet another great interview from
In the Studio with Redbeard, on the 35th Anniversary of the debut album...with more interesting insights.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Dark Side of Pink Floyd


From
March 22, 2009

The dark side of Pink Floyd

It’s rock music’s most complicated saga, involving ego wars, madness and death. Robert Sandall explains why nothing — not even $250m — can put the pieces of Pink Floyd together again


Pink Floyd fans are an optimistic lot. A year ago the band’s blogging followers were talking up a putative tour in 2009 that would reunite the so-called “classic” 1970s line-up — the one responsible for their 40m-selling magnum opus The Dark Side of the Moon — for their first proper concert since 1980.
To a large extent, this represented the triumph of hope over experience. Of the many attempts to get the four members of Pink Floyd back on stage together, only Bob Geldof’s had come off. After the fractious foursome re-convened for an historic 18-minute slot at Live 8 in 2005, the world’s largest concert promoters, Live Nation, offered them a record $250m — pure profit, net of all production expenses, which the promoters would cover separately — to tour North America. This figure valued Pink Floyd as a bigger live draw than the Rolling Stones, and was more than twice what Live Nation shelled out to sign Madonna to an inclusive concert-and-albums deal in 2007.
True to form, the Floyd declined, mainly at the behest of David Gilmour. The band’s guitarist, who compared their Live 8 performance to “sleeping with your ex-wife”, was planning his most ambitious solo tour yet, to run from 2006 until the end of 2008. Prominent in Gilmour’s band was the Floyd’s keyboard player, Rick Wright, whose ejection from the group in 1979 led to years of discord in which the three remaining squabbled over who owned the band’s name.
It was Wright’s rehabilitation as Gilmour’s new buddy —coupled with the conciliatory noises emanating from drummer, Nick Mason, and the previously hostile bassist, Roger Waters — that helped to raise hopes of a 2009 Floyd tour. Once Gilmour’s solo tour had wrapped at Gdansk in November 2008, the feeling among the Floyd faithful was that the long-awaited reunion might be back on the cards.
Sadly, it wasn’t. Rick Wright died of cancer last September, a tragic loss which, like the death of Pink Floyd’s prime mover, Syd Barrett, in 2006, inspired an avalanche of obituaries unusual for the passing of a pop musician. It also brought to light aspects of the shifting alliances that have characterised the career of Pink Floyd, one of rock’s most complicated soaps.
Tellingly, none of his bandmates seemed to have known how ill Wright was, a fact that confirms how the members of Pink Floyd have long kept each other at a distance socially. Waters, who now lives mainly in the Hamptons, New York, hadn’t spoken to Wright all year. A fortnight before Wright’s death, Gilmour received a message that his keyboard player would not be able to take part in an upcoming TV broadcast for Jools Holland’s Later. When I spoke to Mason in Islington, the day before Wright died, he had no inkling of what was unfolding in the organist’s Kensington home. Mason was talking about “the faint possibility” of a Floyd reunion. “My bags are packed,” he said.
The public tributes the other three paid to Wright after his death revealed as much about their view of the group as they did about him. Waters, the former self-appointed leader who kicked Wright out of the band in 1979, said his “thoughts were with his family”. Conventional enough, but the family Waters named was the one Wright broke up when he divorced his first wife in 1982, shortly before Waters himself left the group. The subtext made it clear that Waters was hankering for the Floyd’s heyday in the 1970s and early ’80s. This was the period when he effectively ran the group — a situation flagged on the last record he made with them, The Final Cut, subtitle A Requiem for the Post War Dream, by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd. Twenty-five years on, and following a so-so solo career during which he often resorted to billing himself as “the creative genius behind Pink Floyd”, Waters clearly wanted his old band back. After expressing gratitude “for the opportunity that Live 8 afforded me to engage with him [Wright] and David and Nick that one last time”, Waters’ farewell to Wright ended: “I wish there had been more.”
Mason’s tribute told another story. He praised Wright as “the underrated one”, adding that his swirling, layered keyboards were the band’s true hallmark sound, which “tended to get forgotten among the welter of guitar solos”. This less-than-flattering reference to the Floyd’s guitarist was in keeping with Mason’s recent memoir, Inside Out, a book whose jaunty and disrespectful tone greatly annoyed the serious-minded Gilmour and disrupted an alliance dating back to 1985, when Mason and Gilmour fought Waters for the right to carry on as a duo after he walked out and tried to prevent them from using the name Pink Floyd.
At that point they could have reinstated Rick Wright, but chose not to. Although they recalled him to play in their squad of backing musicians and to co-write some songs — “because I thought it would make us stronger legally and musically”, Gilmour once said — Wright’s days as a full band member were over. To the end he remained, in effect, a paid employee of Pink Floyd. Notwithstanding Wright’s technical status, nobody could doubt the sincerity of the tribute Gilmour posted on his website. Of the three, it was the most personal and heartfelt. “No-one can rep
lace Richard Wright. He was my musical partner and my friend. He was such a lovely, gentle, genuine man.” This was followed with a belated apology for having deprived this lovely character of his membership of the band he loyally served for over 40 years: “In the welter of arguments about who or what was Pink Floyd, Rick’s enormous input was frequently forgotten.”
Like most issues relating to the band, the “forgetting” of Rick Wright’s contribution boils down to a personality clash. Sensitive, fragile and, according to the Floyd’s first manager, Peter Jenner, “dithery”, Wright was ill-equipped for the ego wars that came to dominate Pink Floyd after the departure of Syd Barrett in 1968. A self-taught multi-instrumentalist who grew up in thrall to classical music and modern jazz — “I never liked R&B very much,” he said — Wright was the one most in tune with Barrett’s maverick, improvising talent.

Finding he had little in common with his Regent Street Polytechnic bandmates, Mason and Waters, Wright bonded with Barrett; and once the Floyd’s psychedelic poster boy began to lose his mind to LSD, Wright stuck by him. While the rest of the group plotted to remove their increasingly unreliable leader from the touring band — swiftly replacing him with his Cambridge college-mate, David Gilmour — Wright moved into a flat with Barrett in Richmond to try to hold him together. When he would disappear in the evening to play gigs, leaving the addled Barrett behind staring at the wall, Wright would tell him he was popping out to buy cigarettes. “It was awful,” he later said of this deception.
Believing Barrett and Wright to be the more musically gifted half of a disintegrating group, Pink Floyd’s management contemplated forming a breakaway band to rescue Barrett from his demons. But it never happened. Wright, who said he “would have left with him like a shot if I had thought Syd could do it”, stayed on with Pink Floyd where, like new recruit Gilmour, he came under fire from the band’s emerging bossy-boots ideologue, Roger Waters.
Jenner ascribes this to simple jealousy: “Rick was Roger’s real rival. He was better looking and he had a better voice.” Having lost his musical foil, and his friend, Wright became progressively isolated. He made a decisive contribution to the 1973 breakthrough album, The Dark Side of the Moon, whose subtle balancing of soft and loud passages owed much, Wright believed, to his “being brought up on classical music, in which the symphonies have huge dynamics”. But he argued with Waters over the subject of their next album, 1975’s extended elegy for Syd Barrett, Wish You Were Here, taking issue with Waters’ preoccupation with madness “something I didn’t feel so strongly about”. He was spooked by an incident at the end of the Abbey Road recording sessions when Barrett turned up, unrecognisably overweight, brandishing a toothbrush and demanding to play guitar on the track Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
Wright’s natural diffidence made the acclaim that accompanied the Floyd’s meteoric ascent after Dark Side — soon to become the biggest-selling album of the 1970s — difficult for him to deal with. His bandmates didn’t help. Persistently ragged for his alleged stinginess — “Rick wasn’t really a skinflint,” Mason admitted later, “we just decided to turn him into the Jack Benny of the group” — Wright found touring an increasingly lonely experience. To counter the stress, he took up ocean sailing, a hobby that put even more distance between him and his fellow Floyders.
By the late 1970s Wright was in trouble. His marriage was on the rocks, and, having written classics such as The Great Gig in the Sky, he now had writer’s block. Word within the Floyd camp had it that Wright’s failure to come up with any new material was not helped by his increasing consumption of cocaine — a habit frowned upon by a group that, unlike the rest of planet rock at the time, steered clear of all drugs.
Things came to a head in 1979 while recording The Wall at the Super Bear studio in the south of France. The band’s recent loss of £2m with the investment company Norton Warburg had left them heavily in debt and forced them into tax exile. It also put pressure on their next recording sessions, a tense situation made worse by a growing feud between Waters — who had devised the album’s storyline and written most of the songs — and Gilmour, who complained that Waters’ music was “incredibly naff”. Wright sided with Gilmour, who asked him to help improve it. Wright, however, failed to deliver. “We’d all go home at night,” Gilmour recalled, “and we’d say to Rick, ‘Do what you like, here are these tracks, write something, play a solo, put something down. You’ve got all evening, every evening, to do it.’ But he wasn’t capable of playing anything.”
Wright blamed the overbearing personality of Waters: “He was making it impossible for me to do anything.” Others blamed the drugs. With a deadline looming, Waters summoned Wright to LA where the band had relocated, to finish his keyboard parts. When Wright refused to interrupt his sailing holiday around the Greek islands, Waters called a band meeting at which he demanded his dismissal. At first Wright refused to leave, but after Waters threatened to walk out, binning the unfinished album, he panicked. “That meant there would be no money to pay off our huge debts. I was terrified. I had two kids to support. So I agreed to go.”
Wright later regretted the decision. “It was Roger’s bluff. But I really didn’t want to work with this guy any more.”
Wright’s dismissal marked the end of Pink Floyd as a mutual creative force — for the next five years they were the Roger Waters band — and the beginning of a struggle for control of the brand. As the individual members have long since discovered in their less successful solo careers, there is a commercial magic in the name Pink Floyd that transcends the performers it describes. This is partly down to the faceless nature of their son et lumière presentation. The vast light show, the visual stunts such as the inflatable pig, and the sound effects — clanking cash registers and all — tend to take precedence over the musicians on stage. As Mason puts it, “We’re lucky in that we don’t have to promote a Bono or a Mick Jagger.”
But names can be tricky to manage too. In his typically self-deprecating fashion, Mason said recently of the sacking of their organist: “Dave and I decided to gang up with the school bully rather than fight for truth and justice.” But slack as they might have been in resisting the expulsion of Wright, when in 1985 Mason and Gilmour fought Waters in the High Court for the right to call themselves Pink Floyd, record an album and set out on a four-year tour (the longest of their career to date), they won. And so it came to pass that the only people currently entitled to use the name Pink Floyd are David Gilmour and Nick Mason, when both are together on stage or in the studio. Aside from Live 8, the last time that happened was in 1995, on the tour for what is, and may well remain, the final Pink Floyd album, The Division Bell. When Gilmour toured his recent solo album, On an Island, it was noted that he didn’t invite Mason to play drums. The simmering row over the drummer’s memoir wasn’t the half of it. With Mason present, Gilmour would have reconstituted the legal entity known as Pink Floyd.
The tenacity with which the members of Pink Floyd have remained at loggerheads is remarkable. At its heart lies the fraught relationship between Waters and Gilmour, two men who are often called “arrogant” and “obstinate”. Creatively, this conflict has been summarised by Mason as “a tension between Roger’s wanting to make a show, and Dave’s desire to make music” — a reference to the fact that Waters is stronger on album “concepts” while Gilmour is the more talented singer and technician.
Its roots, however, go back to their shared upbringing in Cambridge. As teenagers, Gilmour and Waters were on nodding terms, but their connection was forged after both, separately, became friends of a magnetic boho character, Roger “Syd” Barrett. Gilmour and Barrett spent a summer busking in France. Waters, two years older, attended the same grammar school as Barrett and sought him out after they both moved to London to study. It was apparent in the first incarnation of Pink Floyd that Waters hero-worshipped Barrett, the band’s leader and main songwriter. According to Peter Jenner, “Syd was the only person Roger Waters has ever really liked and looked up to.” At a Barrett tribute concert held after his death at the Barbican in 2006,
Waters made the surprise announcement: “Without Syd I’d probably have been a property developer or something.”
Though Gilmour’s Cambridge background made him the obvious choice to replace Barrett — and he soon became a key player in repositioning Pink Floyd as a mainstream, rather than an “underground” act — Waters often treated him like a junior. “It’s that old playground thing,” Gilmour once said. “If you’re a couple of years younger, that’s the way you stay.” Others have speculated that Gilmour’s teenage friendship with Barrett and his family made Waters jealous. Surveying 40 years of internecine wrangling, the juvenile nature of much of it is what strikes Mason: “If any of our children behaved in the way we have to each other, we would be very cross with them.”
As things stand, their lives barely cross, personally or professionally. Mason recently got back on speaking terms with his old pal from Regent Street Poly, Roger Waters, for whom he has occasionally played drums on his solo shows. But none of them needs to set foot on a stage again. The most recent Sunday Times Rich List estimates that Waters, Gilmour and Mason have fortunes of £95m, £85m and £55m respectively. Former band member Wright didn’t feature on the list, but with houses in Kensington and the south of France and a large yacht in the Bahamas, he was clearly surviving comfortably on the royalty cheques from Pink Floyd’s glory years in the 1970s.
In fact, money is about the only thing this contentious combo haven’t argued about. Waters never went to war over it during his legal moves to stymie Mason and Gilmour. Whatever arrangement they came to with Wright, he never uttered a word of complaint about his treatment financially. In a gesture that helped to earn him a CBE in 2003, Gilmour donated the £3.6m he got from the sale of his London home in Little Venice — which was bought by Earl Spencer — to a charity for the homeless. “I don’t need that money, I have more than enough,” he commented, grandly.
Their lifestyles are — by the standards of most 60-something squillionaire rock stars — impeccably haut bourgeois. They each own tasteful country piles. Mason’s Wiltshire pad previously belonged to Camilla Parker Bowles. Gilmour’s farm in West Sussex is one of the most substantial spreads in what is informally known as “the rockbroker belt” — near Keith Richards’s infamous old haunt of Redlands. Waters’ main residence is in one of America’s toniest addresses, the Hamptons on Long Island.
The yachtsman Rick Wright wasn’t the only Floyder to favour posh pastimes. Mason loves collecting and racing vintage sports cars — his Ferrari GTO is his pride and joy — and most days he runs a company, Ten Tenths, that rents them out to film-makers. Waters spends much of his spare time over here shooting pheasant in the Welsh borders and deerstalking in Scotland. Gilmour is often seen out and about at London book launches with his wife, the former Sunday Times journalist Polly Samson.
The chances that these wealthy musicians of leisure will join forces again under the Pink Floyd banner seem remote for three reasons. First they are, as Mason says, demonstrably unbribable. “Bob Geldof and a good cause could make it happen whereas $250m couldn’t.” Then there are the musical differences, which were glimpsed in the rehearsals for Live 8. “At this point, to get Roger and David to play each other’s songs,” says Mason, “is unspeakably difficult.”
Finally, and decisively, there is the implacable hostility of David Gilmour to a plan that now enjoys the full support of Roger Waters. Having spent years denigrating the contributions of his old bandmates, Waters is now a born-again team player. “David doesn’t get how important the symbiosis between us was,” he commented recently.
A close associate of Gilmour’s takes a different view. “David has spent half his life fighting over Pink Floyd. Nothing will ever make him go back there.”