Tag Archives: Smokey Robinson

Elvis (Costello) Is King

As I walk through
this wicked world
searching for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself
is all hope gone?
Is there only pain and hatred and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside, there’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny about peace love and understanding?

Nick Lowe wrote it, and in the 1970s, to boot. But it’s Elvis’ song. And it should be our goddamned National Anthem.

My friend Bill has seen Elvis Costello live about twenty times over the years. After witnessing his three-hour performance at Rochester’s Jazz Festival (yes, I know…) earlier this month, he proclaimed it the finest show he had ever seen Elvis perform…ever. I do not take comments like that from Bill lightly; he’s not prone to hyperbole.

I missed that show; by the time I was available to get seats there were a few nosebleeders left for $95 (plus Ticketbastard charges), and $250 seemed a bit steep. Fortunately I discovered that two short weeks later he was performing in a beautiful outdoor setting at the Buffalo Harbor…for ten dollars. That’s like time-travel prices, folks! It’s also a magnificent place to see a show; I saw Crowded House there last summer.

There were two openers as the sun set over the water. A game Mark Norris and the Backpeddlers did their best and sported some catchy songs, albeit monitor troubles were likely the cause of some flat vocals. Then Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers came on – great band instrumentally, great concept and even very entertaining on occasion…like when lead singer Shilpa didn’t howl like a banshee impaled on a fiery pole.

With curfew, I knew Elvis now had only two hours, not three. But damned if he didn’t hit the stage en fuegofive straight classics without a breath between them – and wrung every second of time for all it was worth without so much as a momentary lapse of energy. I wish every young band who think they are the shit could watch and learn how to create, sustain and leverage momentum. This was a master class.

The band was phenomenal. Consider that had Bruce Thomas not left the fold for personal reasons, this was the same quartet that changed lives thirty-five years ago. But Davey Faragher – veteran of Cracker, John Hiatt and others – has been the perfect foil for Elvis both musically and vocally for years. And while the other two might not sit atop people’s lists of best drummer and best keyboard player, I cannot think of anyone else manning those chairs better.

Pete Thomas is still a dynamo of hands and feet, as steadily adept and pulsating as he was when The Attractions were at their peak. Unassuming but rock solid, he and Faragher are telepathic.

And Steve Nieve – is that the greatest rock’n’roll name ever? Not only was his mad scientist act on banks of keyboards as good as ever, but I have never seen anyone play a theremin with such impeccable pitch and control.

Elvis is no spring chicken, but someone forgot to tell him. His vocals were superb, whether artfully crooning “Shipbuilding” or spitting out the fast paced venom of “Mystery Dance” and “Radio Radio“. He paced the stage restlessly, played guitar god whenever the Gibsons were strapped around his neck, and damned if he didn’t do a little dancing, too.

The set list tilted heavily to the early years, but some of the obvious crowd-pleasers (“Oliver’s Army”, “No Action“) were skipped in favor of deeper dives like “Green Shirt” and “Clubland“. He even threw in spirited covers of  “Heart Of The City” and “Substitute” pleasing the old guard among us.

He did finally pull out “Alison“, and as couples hugged and swayed and the crowd sang along I couldn’t help wondering if he felt compelled to play it just because it was such a touchstone. But as he headed for the home stretch, the band’s volume ebbed and flowed as he stepped to the microphone and started to weave in other artist’s lyrics as if they were simply bonus verses. Hank Williams. Jimi Hendrix. Smokey Robinson. Not covering the songs, mind you – weaving them into his own melody and chord changes, and each fit like hand in glove. With dignity and subtlety the man was giving a goddamned rock history lesson from the pulpit, and we were renewed in our faith.

And as he wailed about infidelity to draw the song to its conclusion, and thousands of people already on their feet tried to stand even taller in appreciation, he lit off the cherrybomb that has become his signature song, and we were all one explosive beacon in one of rock’s finest moments.

So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony, sweet harmony?

Right here, Elvis. Forever and always.

Elvis Costello

The Buffalo set list will eventually be here.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten From Daryl’s House

Last weekend my friend Bill shot me a link to Daryl Hall and Todd Rundgren performing “Can We Still Be Friends“, and it knocked me out. I’ve seen Rundgren live a few times in the past decade, and he’s been solid, even returning to some serious guitar wanking on the most recent tour. As for Hall, he’s always owned one of the most amazing voices in rock, and like fellow Philadelphian Rundgren, he’s definitely among the names you rattle off when someone wants to list the great white soul singers of our era. Maybe they’re not the energetic spring chickens they used to be, but if I’m this cool when I’m in my sixties, I’ll be thrilled.

I don’t know why I don’t zero in on Live From Daryl’s House more often than I do. You know the drill – famous guy invites famous friends over, they hang out and play each other’s songs. That was the original concept for Unplugged when Jules Shear hosted the show, long before MTV caved in to the major labels and changed it to a launching pad to sell live albums.

So this week I give you Ten From Daryl’s House – maybe after you give a listen you won’t be as much of a stranger anymore, either. I think you’ll flip at how good Guster was, and that last clip with longtime partner John Oates shows why so many of us mourn the loss of T-Bone Wolk, a musician’s musician and a great guy.

(01) – Todd Rundgren: “Expressway To Your Heart

(02) – Guster: “Do You Love Me

(03) – Plain White T’s: “1,2,3,4”

(04) – Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek: “Break On Through

(05) – Smokey Robinson: Tears of a Clown

(06) – Nick Lowe: Cruel To Be Kind

(07) – Company of Thieves: Piece of My Heart

(08) – Parachute: “She Is Love

(09) – KT Tunstall: Something To Talk About

(10) – John Oates:Backstabbers

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Rockin’ Remakes

Hit Factory

Rock music has always drawn upon other influences; one could argue that it’s the perfect intersection between the influences of country, soul and r’n’b. And many of the biggest rock bands have repaid that influence by performing those influential songs on record and in concert. Sometimes those influences were from their peers.

When classic rock was starting to explode in the 60’s, Motown was right there with them on the charts. People often forget to list Smokey Robinson and Holland-Dozier-Holland in the same breath as Brian Wilson, Lennon-McCartney, Paul Simon, Ray Davies, Jagger-Richard and other dominant songwriters. What an amazing amount of creative genius sharing the spotlight in the same short period of time.

So today I’d like to offer Ten Rockin’ Remakes of soul classics from some of my favorite rock bands. Proof positive that great music knows no color.

The Faces:   “I’m Losing You” – even hotter live than on record.

Humble Pie:   “I Don’t Need No Doctor” – Steve Marriott is The Man.

The Rolling Stones:   “Just My Imagination” – from a 2007 live show.

Mitch Ryder:   “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?” – great Jimmy Ruffin tune.

Jeff Beck:   “People Get Ready” – when you say “Beck” I think of him first.

The J. Geils Band:   “Where Did Our Love Go?”  – from the 2009 reunion.

Herman Brood:   “My Girl” – Almost unrecognizable in this re-arrangement.

Credence Clearwater Revival:   “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” – I guess you’d classify this as swamp soul!

David Bowie:   “Knock On Wood” – from the underrated David Live album

The Band:   “Baby Don’t You Do It” – Marvin Gaye cover from The Last Waltz

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Birthdays

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been thirty years since Bon Scott died. For a man who used to mark time based upon how long ago the Kennedy Assassination occurred, imagine how old I felt this morning when I realized that AC/DC has had a new singer for three decades.

So let’s accentuate the positive, shall we? I don’t know what it is about Memorial Day that causes such a spike in famous conceptions – maybe the exuberance of getting out of school – but February 19th has given us a boatload of charismatic, talented artists over the years. Here are ten people born today who bring me great joy, chronologically by birth year:

Louis Calhern, 1895 – You might not recognize his name if you aren’t a film buff, but Calhern was a solid and versatile actor that kept popping up in some of my favorite movies, from James Cagney flicks to Marx Brothers romps (Duck Soup) to classic film noir like his sleazy lawyer crime boss in The Asphalt Jungle.

Lee Marvin, 1924 – A tough guy’s tough guy and one of the best actors of his time. Far too many great movies to list – my favorite remains the lesser rated version of The Killers – but unforgettable in The Dirty Dozen, Cat Ballou and The Professionals as well as hundreds of TV appearances, including his own classic police series M Squad.

* The finale of The Killers – including the greatest last line ever.

John Frankenheimer, 1930 – One of my favorite film makers and one of the best action movie directors (Grand Prix, Ronin) who got his start filming over a hundred live television dramas. Some of his classics include The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman of Alcatraz and the political thriller Seven Days in May.

Sam Myers, 1936 – Sam grew up in Chicago and sat in with the cream of the blues legends from Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James; he was an incredible drummer and harp player and vocalist. Perhaps better known more recently as a key member of Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets, one of the best live blues bands around. Sam passed away in 2006.

* Video: Sam Myers

Smokey Robinson, 1940 – The word genius gets passed around far too freely, but Smokey Robinson is a genius. Equally adept as a songwriter and as a sweet soul singer, he helped put Motown (and several of its groups) on the map in the 60’s, and his catalogue of great music is simply staggering. Check out his entry at the All Music Guide where the list of covers of his material is forty-six pages long.

Lou Christie, 1943 – Christie’s trademark was singing the verses in his normal voice and then rocketing to a powerful falsetto voice for the dramatic chorus, and although “Two Faces Have I” was the first hit, it was “Lightning Strikes” that jumped out of that transistor radio for me. He only had  two more hits ( “Rhapsody in the Rain” and “I’m Gonna Make You Mine”) but he remains a favorite of mine to this day.

Tony Iommi, 1948 – Hearing the first Black Sabbath album upon its release was a revelation, and Iommi’s signature guitar sound was the key ingredient in that mix;  some credit him with inventing heavy metal guitar. I was never a big fan of the post-Ozzy group (or Ozzy post-Sabbath, for that matter) but the first four albums were incredible.

Mark Andes, 1948 – Not a household name by any stretch, but any music fan knows Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne and Firefall and Heart; not a bad track record for a wandering bass player. Most recently a member of Ian McLagan’s Bump Band, his first solo album was released last year.

* Listen to “Run Run Run” by Jo Jo Gunne

Ray Winstone, 1957 – For his own generation, a combination of the aforementioned James Cagney and Lee Marvin. Long revered by his homeland, roles in Sexy Beast and The Departed might be more familiar, plus he steals Mel Gibson‘s new film out from under him.

Benicio del Toro, 1967 – Quietly building an incredible resume of performances – although maybe not that quietly based on the award hardware he’s racked up. First saw him as Kevin Spacey‘s assistant in Swimming With Sharks, and he’s made great choices including Traffic, Sin City and The Pledge. Hell, he’s going to play Moe Howard in the upcoming Three Stooges movie! But I’ll always think of him as marble-mouthed Fred Fenster in that perfect film The Usual Suspects. (Check out this amazing Fenster montage someone put up at YouTube).

No slight to Seal, Jon Fishman, Justine Bateman, Jeff Daniels, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Merle Oberon, Carson McCullers or even Copernicus, but ten is ten.

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