Tag Archives: U2

The Rock And Roll 500

The windowless white van rumbled eastward on Route 90, soon to take a dogleg right and hook up with its brother highway, The Mass Pike. A six-hour trek that normally would clog at one end or another, but on the two interior days of a four-day holiday, traffic was pretty much non-existent. Most people were already where they wanted to be. I was just going back and forth, as usual.

When I was her age, I moved a few times, and always with the help of friends. Someone always had a truck. Everyone would focus on the beer and pizza at the end of the run, and were it not for my abnormal amount of vinyl albums, we could probably have been in and done in a couple of hours. But I forgot what it’s like to live in a major city where public transportation is the norm, where not only do you not have a car, but no one you know does, either. And besides, isn’t this what Dads do?

The rental van was reasonably priced but came with its limitations. No power locks, so each of the five doors had to be constantly checked. No power windows, either – do they really still make hand cranks? And much to my horror, just a radio. No CD player, not even a cassette, and certainly no input for a digital device to be plugged in. Nope, the front end of the trip would be a hollow metal can bouncing down the road (what, you expected soundproofing?) and me alone with my thoughts, unless I could find something decent on the radio. I had given up trying to do that years ago.

But it’s Memorial Day Weekend, so rock stations across the country are broadcasting their own version of the Rock And Roll 500, a countdown of the five hundred greatest rock songs ever made. And although I constantly have to hit the scanner, as signals fade and ebb between markets or on each side of a mountain pass, sooner or later it’s there. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Cream, U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Cars, The Who, The Police, The Ramones…song after song that I know like the back of my hand, whether I like them or not. It’s a bit 60s and 70s heavy, but rightfully so, because that’s when the apex took place.

I remember selling my Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin albums in a used record store, not so much because I needed the money but because radio had played “Free Bird” and “Stairway To Heaven” so often that I couldn’t bear to hear either band again. This egregious life choice was eventually recanted, of course, even though those two particular songs have long worn out their welcome. But the punk ethic of the time was to burn the past, and somehow I got caught up in the moment. I mean, really – I have never disliked the first four Led Zeppelin albums, they are incredible…but there they went across the counter.

It was a mistake I would not repeat; the day my senses came back to me and I repurchased them was also the day I realized that there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. I like what I like, period. I don’t owe you an apology for that just because you disagree.

I thought of that a lot during the six-hour drive as I beat rhythms on the dashboard and heard my voice echo through the empty metal canister (reverb!), singing along as a large part of my childhood was played out for me one track at  a time. I remembered the boxes of 45s that I meticulously catalogued, the first albums I listened to over headphones, juggling prog and pop and glam and blues in college. Even the glee with which Roger and I would pore through the new punk singles arriving at Record Theatre – usually one scooped up by him and one by me, leaving none to be placed in the racks for sale. There was always an insatiable taste for great songs, and there was always the bedrock of what had come before.

I thought of the music I wasn’t hearing on the trip; were there really no J. Geils Band songs, even on the Boston station? And Tom Petty, who quietly went from ignored to elder statesman just by never stopping – would I hear “American Girl“? I already knew that The Dictators, Billy Bremner, Dwight Twilley, John Hiatt, and other lifelong favorites would probably not be heard from, but how was I not hearing a Kinks song?

Heading westward was a different story; the stations seemed less numerous and the song selections started to get downright odd. Even Eli turned to me at one point with her face scrunched up as a Candlebox song came in at number 168. I was incredulous. “The entire Kinks catalogue is better than that song“, I told her, and as “Everything Little Thing She Does is Magic” followed at #167 I imagined Sting sighing, relieved that when the great books were tabulated, someone gave the nod to his fine effort to move ahead – just ahead – of the mighty Candlebox.

Eli and I talked about many things on the way back, and the conversation turned to Lady Gaga. I don’t really care for him/her in the same way that I was never a Madonna fan – I’m much more centered on the music than the spectacle. Eli grew up listening to her own music but also getting the aural second-hand smoke of mine. My rule was and is that the driver picks the music, not the passengers. “I don’t think it’s great music per se“, she said, “but when I feel like dancing in a club it’s really fun and gets everyone going. It’s great for what it is, and I like it for that.” No guilt, just pleasure. A chip off the old block.

The sun had long set and we still had a couple of hours to go when “Going To Califormia” came on the radio, and I let it wash over me. I wasn’t going anywhere but home, but I must have channeled a dozen road trip memories in my mind. Had Eli turned to her left she would wonder why I had a shit-eating grin on my face after the long day, but someday she’ll do that herself. If there’s a better song to hear when you’re in a pensive mood on a long car trip, I can’t think of one right now.

And to think I once sold that album for a dollar. What fools these mortals be.

Led Zeppelin: “Going To California

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #2

It’s not often that a veteran artist belts one out of the park deep into their career; most tend to hit the heights early on and then survive on reputation. Of course there are many who are consistently good over many years (although the musical landscape doesn’t really permit that anymore unless you are bringing in the coin). Tom Petty, U2 and Bruce Springsteen can write their own ticket, but artists less familiar who don’t sell big numbers have a tougher road to hoe.

Christine Ohlman, a/k/a The Beehive Queen, has survived that tough road for a long time thanks to an unwavering committment to follow her instincts and ignore musical fads and trends. As a walking musical encyclopedia with a ten-star voice and an ability to channel soul and passion through her music, she’s made several great records. But with The Deep End, she stepped up to the plate and crushed that fastball. Crack musicianship, first-rate songwriting, a dazzling array of guest artist collaborators, and – most importantly – the soul of Christine Ohlman fusing it all together.

Video: inside take on The Deep End

I had the great pleasure of seeing the band play two sets this past Summer, and had a brief audience with the Queen afterwards. While that has nothing to do with my feelings about this album – I had already made that clear in April – I was thrilled to find that she was every bit the delightful, witty and appreciative musicologist that I hoped she’d be (bee?). If you’ve been a fan over the years you already know what a great album The Deep End is. But if you are new to Christine and her catalogue…and I suspect many of you are…man, do you have some sweet moments ahead of you.

Listen to clips at Amazon

The Beehive

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New Album!Jetpack On!

Jetpack On! (their punctuation – although I would imagine that anytime a jetpack is involved, there is some sense of urgency) is a three-piece band from Michigan that nicely straddles indie, powerpop and straight-ahead rock and roll. Guitars rock, vocals are solid, and there’s a conscious effort to avoid padding in the arrangements – a welcome change from a lot of young bands seeking to set themselves apart from the pack.

Leadoff cut “Best I Can” is punchy with an infectious chorus, sounding like Snow Patrol asked The Edge to sit in on guitar – and it’s even better than that sounds. There are a myriad of “sounds like” moments here, from the above referenced U2 in “Come On Stack It Up” to such polar opposites as a poppier Buckcherry (“Tease Tease Tease”) and a far more skilled Maroon 5 (“I Know, You Know”, “Here Again”). One could even imagine a mature Billy Idol helming “Another Surpise” and having an FM hit with it; guitarist Ryan Hoger even sounds like he’s getting his Steve Stevens on during the solo.

Hoger and Nick and Vince D’Agostino (bass and drums, respectively) have a clear, crisp sound and songs that for the most part hold up very well with repeat plays. The ten tracks hover between the four and five-minute mark, which is a minute longer than people expect from pop songs, but Jetpack On pulls it off; I never felt like the songs should have ended sooner.

In fact, my two favorite tracks might be the longest. The hypnotic single “Where Do We Go From Here?” gradually builds from a pulse to a fist-pumping rocker, and the closing track “Bring Her Back Home” is just dripping with attitude. I suggest that you check them out and get your Jetpack On!

Jetpack On! at MySpace

Although he sat in on a gig in July, he hadn’t been playing drums with them since 2009, but you can’t think of Little Feat without thinking of its backbone, and one of its founders, Richie Hayward. Diagnosed with liver cancer last year, and sadly (like so many musicians) without sufficient health insurance, he finally succumbed Thursday night.

Beyond the storied and wonderful Feat catalogue, Hayward also played with a laundry list of musicians over the years and will be sorely missed. I hope he and Lowell George are jamming right now in that club on the other side. R.I.P. my friend.

Richie Hayward

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Live: Gaslight Anthem

Not my little secret any longer.

Not my little secret any longer.

Last year I wrote about The Gaslight Anthem and their album The ’59 Sound with unabashed fervor. I placed it in my Top 25 last year with a bullet, because I thought I stumbled across the Missing Link between Bruce Springsteen and The Clash. Here’s what I wrote:

I usually have a bone to pick with any CD that starts with the sound of a needle dropping onto a vinyl record, as if to say “we’re old school rock”. But when you back it up musically, like The Gaslight Anthem does with its Springsteen-from-Dublin approach, all is forgiven. Like The Boss, they’re from Jersey, and this energetic, sing-along, punk-tinged quartet bleeds Bruce’s social observations, wanton loneliness and escapist angst without sounding like a wannabe copycat band. Musically they’re closer to a combination of the rhythmic Edge-like guitar chop of U2 and the sonic political energy of The Clash and…well, early U2.

Having “anthem” as part of their name is appropriate; their literate, lyrical songs resonate with importance and are sold with the passionate vocals of Brian Fallon. I can’t listen to “The Patient Ferris Wheel” or “Meet Me By The River’s Edge” without stifling the reflex to pogo up and down, pumping my fist…not the best combination when driving. Of course, once I noticed that former Flogging Molly guitarist Ted Hutt produced it that explained everything. Hard to believe a band gets this good in two and a half years, but this album is so impressive that I’m grabbing their earlier effort on good faith.

Seeing them live tonight reinforced every thought. 

What can I say? Brian Fallon had the crowd in the palm of his hand the moment he walked on stage. The rest of the night? He juggled them. And I’m not certain if drummer Benny Horowitz had an unlit cigarette or a lollipop in his mouth the entire night, but whether he was channeling James Dean or Kojak didn’t matter. He threw the pulse of the band on his back and carried that weight; all chops and no show-off. Bassist Alex Levine is a massive physical presence, especially next to the comparably diminutive Fallon. His bass thundered all night, but who would dare tell him to lower it one notch? The crowd, fixated on every move, clapped when he clapped and sang when he sang, as if he was the official audience conductor.

I was wondering why guitarist Alex Rosamilia appeared shy by comparison, forgoing the front line to remain a few steps back stage right, at times bent in halfas if bowing to the rhythm. I soon realized that the cacophony of sounds (strings here, accordion there… a horn section?) was emanating from his flavored playing. While Fallon was hammering out the path forward with choppy rhythms, Rosamilia was aural popcorn, splattering a Jason Pollack potpourri of soundscape that made no two songs sound alike.

The Water Street Music Hall was packed, and although the crowd skewed pretty young compared to most, this was a revival meeting from the jump. Sing-alongs, fist-pumping accolades, a well-earned four-song encore and a captive audience that left as sweat-soaked and drained as the band. The Gaslight Anthem earned every penny tonight,  and I suspect they do every night. They ripped through most of the new album – half of which are anthems – along with a couple of cuts each from Senor and the Queen and Sink or Swim. They’re bouncing around the US kicking asses one city at a time – don’t miss them!

And somehow I thought they were still my little secret? Oh, foolish mortal!

gaslight anthem 59 sound

Gaslight Anthem MySpace site

Official website

Listen to clips and buy the album on Amazon.

Who wouldn’t like these guys?

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New Album! Fountains of Wayne

First Rate show in the Second City

First Rate show in the Second City

I often engage in discussions with other writers on a wide array of topics. Among the pedantic exercises that such people joust about are lists – the ten best this, the three things that, ad infinitum. One of the more challenging questions raised has been which bands have come right out of the chute with a string of killer albums, and when does the slack usually begin to show? In other words, a band whose first album was killer, and then the sophomore slump was avoided, and then it kept on for a bit. And we’re talking albums, not a repackaging of singles in a twelve-inch format (sorry, Beatles!), and in truth the conversation was concerned more with post-60s artists (sorry, Neil Young). Sure, the Police and REM and U2 are supremely popular, but did they really strike gold immediately, then consistently? Even Bruce Springsteen has people on both sides of the fence. When the conversation eventually focused on the last 25 years, the field thinned dramatically.

But even when you go back to the dawn of rock, the magic number seems to be three, maybe four albums at best. We all know the adage that an artist has their whole life to write their first album, and…well, it used to be six months to create their second, but now it’s more like three years. Whatever. Many artists has solid runs but after an unspectacular debut. Some never even got to four albums before imploding. Seems like the majority might have gotten a great two and then hit a speed bump, temporary or otherwise.

Everyone has a personal favorite, of course – you won’t talk a card-carrying Nickleback fan out of arguing to the death that their mulleted posers haven’t recorded a wrong note. Ever. Which is why these things are best done in consensus, lest the water of truly worthy get diluted with the emotions of the moment. You know, like the IMDB list of the greatest films of all time, an inordinate amount which have apparently been released in the past twenty years, some as recently as this month. More whatever.

Which brings me to the subjects at hand – Fountains of Wayne. Maybe the most consistent career-opening salvo since Elvis Costello, in my book. Literate, funny, poignant, incredibly catchy and just off the beaten path enough to avoid the mainstream (“Stacy’s Mom” excepted, of course) but real masters of songcraft, harmony and…well, art. Go listen to their albums if you don’t believe me.

They’ve long had a reputation for being slightly more exciting than moist toast in concert, despite the nature of their music, and I have witnessed some clips that attest to nervousness at best and indifference or boredom at worst. But this 2005 live recording, now available on DVD from Shout, really changed my mind. And the bonus recordings!  These stripped down recent studio sessions (as a trio) where they are tracking the songs live – no overdubs – are wonderful. No matter what Robbie Fulks thinks.

Check out my full review in Blurt Online.

FOW wiki.

That killer 1-2-3-4 punch.

They've got a flair.

They've got a flair.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten For Independence

Canada Day, Independence Day, freedom! Have a safe and happy holiday!

fireworks_animated-gif 

Marvin Gaye with his incredibly soulful version of the National Anthem.

Canadian Neil Young ably echoed American sentiment with “Ohio”

Ditto American John Fogerty with “Fortunate Son”

What can a poor boy do? Ask The Rolling Stones.

Hey, baby, it’s the Fourth of July“. The X classic.

John Mellencamp sings his own national anthem, “Pink Houses”

Yes, Independence Day was a bit cheesey. But Bill Pullman rules.

Jimi Hendrix, a former paratrooper, with “Freedom”

U2 with the anthemic “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

And last but not least – my favorite actor of all time, James Cagney. I grew up loving his work, especially gangster flicks like Public Enemy, Angels With Dirty Faces and White Heat, any of which should have brought him the Oscar for Best Actor. He only won one, and it was for his performance as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. No one danced like that before or since, and if you think that’s good, check this out from the same film.

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