Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Summer of Jerry: Days 5-8

Because of an impromptu camping trip in upstate New York this past weekend, I was unable to post the final installments of The Summer of Jerry.  So without further ado, I will consolidate all of the remaining clips into this last post.  I hope everyone took a moment yesterday to remember Jerry in their own meaningful way. 

Jerry & Bob poking fun at the media:

I've seen this next clip (circa 1978) before and found it especially intriguing.  Jerry & a very-stoned and rambling John Kahn discuss the then fledgling punk/new wave genre, which includes commentary on Elvis Costello, Cheap Trick, etc.   Whoever compiled this montage also included some compelling sound bytes which he/she felt demonstrated the influence of punk/new wave in the Dead's own music:

This next clip actually comes from a small bit that originally aired on AMC called The Movie That Changed My Life.  Here, Jerry candidly discusses the tremendous impact that Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein had on his psyche as a child and his artistic and creative endeavors as an adult.  It is surmised that this film -- which was permanently engraved in Jerry's memory -- influenced much of the well-known skeleton iconography in the Dead's visual repertoire, including the animated sequences in The Grateful Dead Movie:

And lastly, former President Bill Clinton ruminates about Jerry's legacy, his line of neckties, his death, and his ongoing drug problem -- Jerry's that is, not Bill's.  (note the trademark Clinton thumb gesturing at 0:46 when he starts lecturing about the dangers of drug addiction)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Summer of Jerry: Day 4

Those who have been to Bonnaroo are probably familiar with "SuperJam" -- an impromptu jam session starting at midnight which is comprised of different members from different bands (usually the headliners). The catch is that the audience typically doesn't know the lineup of the band until it starts.  Well, in the continuing spirit of my Jerry-themed posts this week, this next clip immediately brought to mind the SuperJam tradition.  Imagine stumbling into the Sweetwater Saloon, Mill Valley, CA on a random April evening only to catch this lineup: Jerry Garcia, Elvis Costello, Sammy Hagar, Commander Cody (a/k/a George Frayne), James Burton (Keith Richards gave his induction speech at the Rock 'n' Roll HOF), Pete Sears (a one-time nominee to replace Brent Mydland), and others.  Too bad the 'Roo didn't exist in the 80's...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Summer of Jerry: Day 3

If only the Food Network existed in the 80's, we would have had a winner.  In this most bizarrely comedic clip, Chef Jerry Garcia demonstrates his culinary skills backstage at a Dead show on 12/31/85.  Jerry not only discusses his favorite hors d'oeuvres, but actually instructs on how to prepare them!  His daily specials include:  "lean" bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and bundt cake wedges.  I repeat:  bundt cake wedges.  The Dead were known for their comedic interviews -- especially those done by Al Franken during the historic 1980 Radio City shows -- but this one takes the cake (pun intended).

And no, you're not imagining things -- amongst those in the clip's intro are Mickey Hart, Ken Kesey, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. comment.

My favorite YouTube comment: 
"Doesn't EVERYONE keep their powdered sugar in a big zip lock bag?"

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Summer of Jerry: Day 2

From left to right:  V. Clements, D. Grisman, J. Garcia, P. Rowan
In yesterday's clip, I alluded to Jerry's underrated yet exceptional talents on the pedal steel and banjo and thought I'd expand on that a bit more today.  In around 1973, Jerry formed Old and In the Way, a bluegrass "supergroup" of sorts, to pay homage to perhaps his first musical passion and the genre that undoubtedly influenced every facet of his diverse career.  The group consisted of Garcia on banjo/vocals, Peter Rowan on guitar/vocals, David Grisman on mandolin/vocals, Vassar Clements on fiddle and John Kahn on bass, all of whom Garcia continued to collaborate with throughout his career.  Up until that time, bluegrass records never achieved much in the way of commercial success, but all that changed in 1975 when the band's eponymous first album was released.  Astonishingly, the album was, and still is, one of the best-selling bluegrass albums of all-time, spending an unheard of 90+ weeks on the U.S. charts (It's true:  I picked up this album a few weeks back and haven't stop listening since).  Unfortunately, little-to-no video footage exists online (at least not that I could find, though the film Grateful Dawg might have some clips), so I'll leave you with an audio clip of the band's rendition of Rowan's "Midnight Moonlight," a tune frequently covered by JGB in later years. I think this song does a stellar job of displaying Jerry's accomplished banjo styling and the band's magnetic allure.

I thought I'd throw in a bonus clip, which is too cool to pass up.  This is brief silent footage of a 21-year-old Garcia (circa 1963) pluckin' away at the banjo.  Most don't realize that the banjo was the first stringed instrument he learned to play.

Monday, August 1, 2011

You Like Me Too Much

Could it be?  Is George Harrison still alive and well? Or is Dylan attempting to revisit his 1975 glory days? Oh,'s just Jackie Greene.  I remember seeing Greene a few years back when he was a fresh-faced young lad touring with Phil & Friends, and I have to say, he's done some serious growing up.  Going from Noel Gallagher-Brit-pop-sheik to Harrison-Dylan- outlaw-period in just under 4 years is no easy task.  And for the record, I so wish I could grow hair like that.

 And just for fun:

The Summer of Jerry

Garcia and Hart w/ NRPS
In order to properly celebrate the legacy of Jerome John "Jerry" Garcia, I thought I'd post 8 different clips over the next 8 days, beginning today, his birthday, and culminating on 8/9, the anniversary of his death.   This first clip, from the film Fillmore:  The Last Days (2009), includes rare live footage of Jerry on pedal steel rehearsing with NRPS.  There is a great quote from Bill Graham (included in the clip) who I think quintessentially sums up Jerry's mythic persona: "Jerry Garcia is the grand-daddy of them all...the big papa bear of what rock music should have been."  And think, that was in 1971; time has certainly proved Graham correct. 

Quick history for those who don't know:  Jerry was a founding member of the New Riders along with David Nelson and John Dawson (and very early on, Robert Hunter on bass and Mickey Hart on drums) with whom he played full-time until around 1971 when his responsibilities with the Dead became foremost priority.  Despite his short-lived career with NRPS, it is Jerry's contribution on pedal steel and banjo that in my view, exemplifies not only his immense instrumental versatility, but even more, confirms his unsung influence on the then pioneering alt-country genre.  

Despite his parting with the band, Jerry continued to play on future NRPS albums and record for scores of other bands, as he was well-known for his skilled session work.  Perhaps his most famous non-Dead contribution was for CSNY, for whom he played the haunting pedal steel part on "Teach Your Children."  After a long hiatus, Jerry broke out the steel when the Dead toured with Dylan in 1987, a photo of which is included below.

Jerry rehearsing with NRPS, Fillmore: The Last Days (2009)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Throwing Stones

There is nothing more entertaining than watching awkward celebrity encounters.  So, I present for your viewing pleasure, one of the most awkward of such encounters I've seen, this time between Mick Jagger and Jerry Garcia.  The quick backstory is that they were all waiting for helicopters to take them to Altamont, which apparently never arrived, so they were forced to wait even longer for a plane.  No words can really describe the degree of awkwardness here, but Mick's reaction at 0:44 pretty much sums it up.  When asked if he knows Jerry, Mick has the most disinterested, smug look on his face which basically tranlates to, "I don't give a fuck about Jerry Garcia, his poncho or his band of hippie weirdos.  Just get me the fuck out of here!!!" 

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Trial

Good morning, Worm, Your Honor! The crown will testify that the prisoner who stands before you, was caught red-handed showing feelings.  Showing feelings -- of an almost human nature. This will not do!

So much for The Happiest Days of Our Lives, Charlie Gilmour, son of Pink Floyd guitarist Sir David Gilmour, was sentenced today to 16 months behind bars for charges of "violent disorder." According to the BBC, Gilmour, 21, was jailed for defacing the Cenotaph, throwing a bin at a car carrying Prince Charles and smashing a window.  He has since apologized for his behaviour. At the sentencing hearing, the Judge had this to say: "Such outrageous and deeply offensive behaviour gives a clear indication of how out of control you were that day. It caused public outrage and understandably so...For a young man of your intelligence and education and background to profess to not know what the Cenotaph represents defies belief. You have shown disrespect to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, to those who fell defending this country."

For the full story, click here.

Day Trippers

In recognition of Paul playing Yankee Stadium tonight (despite my not going), I thought this photo appropriate...and because it's just a f'ing classic shot.  The photo, reportedly from 1975, depicts Paul, Linda and Dave Gilmour, all hanging out, probably at a concert, passin' around the dutchie (see Paul's eyes).  Anyone out there know more details regarding the background of this photo?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Brothers in Arms

No real back story here, but I stumbled upon this clip of legendary guitar greats Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and felt compelled to share it with y'all. The clip contains a medley of two songs:  the 1920's pop standard, "I'll See You in My Dreams" and Lennon's "Imagine," and is absolutely brilliant.  For those unfamiliar with the extent of Knopfler's solo work or with the storied career of The Country Gentleman himself, I think this clip exemplifies not only both guitarists' extraordinary technique and proficiency, but perhaps more importantly, a rare and genuine passion for the instrument and the unique range of sounds it is capable of producing.

Chet Atkins & Mark Knopfler, The Secret Policeman's Ball, 1987:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Karas v. Robertson

Cryptomnesia is a phenomenon that has always fascinated me -- especially as it applies to songwriting.  For those not familiar with the term:

Cryptomnesia occurs when a forgotten memory returns without it being recognised as such by the subject, who believes it is something new and original. It is a memory bias whereby a person may falsely recall generating a thought, an idea, a song, or a joke, not deliberately engaging in plagiarism but rather experiencing a memory as if it were a new inspiration.  Source:  Wikipedia

A guitarist myself, I can't even tell you the number of times I've put together a series of chords only to realize that I've basically just re-written, for example, a Ryan Adams or Elliott Smith tune (which in turn, creates great anxiety that one is physically incapable of writing their own songs without the fear of plagiarizing, which is itself called, the anxiety of influence).  And for the record, I'm in no way claiming to be even in the same stratosphere as Adams or Smith; rather, my point is that certain melodies or riffs stick in your memory more than others, and if you like them enough, your fingers naturally fall into those positions. Anyway. This isn't about me, so back to my original point.   

This phenomenon afflicts not only amateurs, like yours truly, but the big-leaguers as well.  Recall the case of Bright Tunes Music Corp. v. Harrisongs Music, where George Harrison was sued for "borrowing" parts of The Chiffons' "He's So Fine" (written by Ronald Mack) for his own "My Sweet Lord."  As it turned out, Harrison was ordered to pay damages despite the Court's finding that his borrowing was "subconscious."  On Harrison's cryptomnesia, John Lennon had this to say, "He must have known, you know. He's smarter than that. It's irrelevant, actually—only on a monetary level does it matter. He could have changed a couple of bars in that song and nobody could ever have touched him, but he just let it go and paid the price. Maybe he thought God would just sort of let him off."  So much for getting by with a little help from your friends.

Maybe because I have a morbid curiosity with this occurrence, but I think my ear is always on the prowl for other examples in everyday music.  Sexy trait, I know.  So, I present another possibility for debate.  This one involves Robbie Robertson, of The Band, and a one Anton Karas.  Anton who, you ask?  Karas, was a Viennese zither player who achieved international acclaim after composing the theme to Carol Reed's The Third Man, which was later used (and renamed) as the theme to the Orson Welles' radio show, The Lives of Harry Lime.  The song, simply entitled, "The Third Man Theme," is perhaps the most famous song to feature the zither, and barring a major zither comeback, the only famous song to feature this most curious instrument.  In any event, I'm on a recent kick of listening to old time mystery radio shows [insert un-original insult here] and in particular, The Lives of Harry Lime, and I couldn't help but notice that the theme to Harry Lime and the "Theme to The Last Waltz" are strangely similar.  Now this is where it gets really freaky.  As I'm typing this, I'm just seeing that The Band actually covered "The Third Man Theme" on their album Moondog Matinee. I swear on all things holy, I did NOT know this beforehand.  So, my music genius aside, I think I just confirmed my theory, by sheer accident, that Robertson was in fact influenced (consciously or subconsciously) by the "Third Man Theme" when he composed the "Theme to The Last Waltz" (e.g. the arrangement, the phrasing, the picking style, the instrumentation, etc.). But judge for yourself.  And Robertson, if you happen to get sued by some distant relative of the Karas family because of this post, I do apologize in advance (as Levon Helm snickers to himself).
"Theme to The Last Waltz":


"Third Man Theme":


The Band's rendition of "Third Man Theme"

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Other Mick

And who says there can only be one "Mick" in rock 'n' roll?  Despite a career cut far too prematurely after a bout with cancer, guitarist / composer / innovator / producer Mick Ronson contributed more to the rock arena than others could only hope to achieve in a lifetime.  While Ronson is most notably remembered as the lead guitarist from David Bowie's Spiders from Mars/Ziggy Stardust era, his legacy looms much larger.  Here is a short list of some career highlights for which he is owed due credit:

-He had a stint with Mott the Hoople and thereafter, remained a long-time friend/collaborator of Ian Hunter.

-John Mellencamp has credited Ronson with arranging key parts of his mega hit "Jack & Diane," including the "let it rock, let it roll" segment of the song.

-Ronson has collaborated with Van Morrison, Elton John, Roger Daltrey, Chrissie Hynde, Morrisey and...most importantly:

-Ronson had the honor of serving as a distinguished member of Bob Dylan's ROLLING THUNDER REVUE BAND -- which in my mind, and I'm sure most Dylan devotees would agree -- was the single greatest era of Dylan's storied career.  Need I say more?

So hats off to Mick Ronson: guitar extraordinaire, rock visionary and all-around, well-respected bloke.  

*Ronson's birthday was a few days ago -- May 26th -- and he would have been 65.

Here is Ronson's last major live performance:  "All The Young Dudes" with Bowie, Hunter, Brian May, at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert held on April 20, 1992.  Ronson would pass away one year later.

An older clip of Ronson and David Bowie performing "Starman"


Saturday, April 30, 2011

Frank Turner Live From the Knitting Factory

Last night, Frank Turner brought his solo acoustic folk/punk show to the sold out Red Palace in the Atlas District of Washington, DC.  He welcomed hometown singer-songwriter Justin Jones to open the show, who's own brand of  folk music leans more towards Americana than Turner's punk stylings.

I've been following Turner's career for a few years now, first posting about him on this blog in May of 2007.  He's reached a significant level of success around the world, but has yet to gain a large following here in the States, but I expect that to change pretty soon.  He played a cafe tent at 2010's Bonnaroo festival and last came through this area as the opener for Social Distortion in Baltimore.  In his home country in England, he's made it as far as the main stage at the Reading and Leeds festivals, opened for Green Day at Wembley Stadium, and received two nominations at the NME Awards for Best Solo Artist (alongside Paul Weller, Florence And The Machine, Laura Marling and Kanye West) and Best Band Blog or Twitter.  Frank resonates with so many people, and has gained so many incredibly devout fans around the globe, due to his passionate, honest, 'working man', and often times biographical lyrics that are the antithesis of the current pop landscape of manufactured beats and hired songwriters.  Frank's website says that he's due to come back through the States in the fall after his new album is released globally this summer.  He's playing the New Jersey edition of the Bamboozle festival tonight.

Frank played the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on Thursday night and fortunately for us, the venue recorded the live stream and has made the entire 100-minute show available for us to present to you.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Alt-Country Pioneers: Jayhawks / Uncle Tupelo

Not quite country; not quite rock n' roll.  A little bit folk; a little bit outlaw.  Alt-country as a genre is difficult to define, but you probably know it when you hear it.  Even though veteran artists like Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt, and Willie Nelson could now be thrown into this bucket, you wouldn't have given them that label before the early 90's, because it didn't exist.  It was around that time  that "Alternative Country" was born because of the recent crop of music that was rooted in traditional country but had no real similarities to the modern country sound coming out of Nashville.

I'd like to post a couple songs here that nod to two bands that don't get enough press these days for helping to establish the alt country movement.  Before Ryan Adams and before the Drive-By Truckers, there was The Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo.  The Jayhawks released their first album on a major label, Hollywood Town Hall, in 1992.  As a matter of music history crossing paths, it was one of the band's two front men, Gary Louris, who was instrumental in getting Uncle Tupelo signed to their first major label deal, with Sire Records, also in 1992.  Uncle Tupelo, as is now well known, was fronted throughout its short, tumultuous seven-year lifespan (only two of them after signing to a major) by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and Son Volt's Jay Farrar.  The Jayhawks continued to record and tour until 2003 when they went on an extended hiatus.  In the last few years, they've reunited for a few one-off shows and there are rumors that they will record their first album in eight years some time before the end of 2011.

The Jayhawks
'Crowded in the Wings'
Hollywood Town Hall

Uncle Tupelo
'Screen Door'
No Depression

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Introducing: Farewell Milwaukee

Farewell Milwaukee are a five-piece band from Minnesota that focuses on roots/americana-inspired music who released their debut album, Autumn Rest Easy, in 2009.  I learned of the group last year through a track from that record called Way Out, which I would consider to be one my favorite songs of 2010.  I first discovered that song and this band on Pandora.  It's gotten plenty of spins on my iPhone during my commutes to and from work on the DC Metro.  The group fits very well into the same category of young bands like Dawes, Avett Brothers, and Trampled By Turtles who embrace acoustic instrumentation and vocal harmonies with a strong focus on lyrics and songwriting.  At this point, they seem to rarely play outside of their home state, but I'm expecting that to change soon.  Hopefully this new record pushes them into the national spotlight (and some dates on the east coast).

Their new album When It Sinks In will be released in three weeks, and I'm very much looking forward to hearing it.  They have posted a video of one of the new tunes on YouTube and I'm hoping you'll take a listen. Given that the clip was just recorded informally in a living room, the fact that they sound this good proves just how talented they are:

Farewell Milwaukee
Come Back Home To Me

Also, here's a clip that includes portions of my introduction to the band, their song titled Way Out:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Led Zeppelin: Tangerine (Live), 5/24/75

I was going to post a video of Robert Plant and his current touring band, Band of Joy, playing their rootsy, countrified take on the Zep classic 'Tangerine'....but really, why would I do that when I can post Led F-ing Zeppelin playing the same, from May '75.  Enjoy:

Bonus Content:

Plant has been closing his recent shows with the Band Of Joy with a cover of Dylan's 'A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall'. The performance features harmonies from his stellar backing band, including Darrell Scott (featured here on the pedal steel), who's album I bought a few months ago. I'm really digging this:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Austin's New Blues

Two artists that I've been listening to quite a bit lately, that I want to share with you, both emerged in recent years from the extremely competitive and very crowded Austin, TX music scene.

The first is Gary Clark Jr, who is an incredibly talented guitarist and singer who's music is rooted in the blues, but also finds its way into straight up rock n' roll. He's only 27 years old, but he's been well known in the local Austin scene for quite a while. In 2001, when when he was just 17, the mayor of Austin declared May 13th of that year to be Gary Clark Jr. Day. That should give you some indication of just how talented he was before his eighteenth birthday. Also, around that time, Clark caught the attention of local promoter Clifford Antone, who was the man that cultivated the careers of Stevie Ray and Jimmy Vaughn.

I came to know Gary Clark Jr only recently after purchasing the DVD of Eric Clapton's 2010 Crossroads Festival a couple months ago.  After watching Clark's performance, I was really amazed at the talent and youth of this guy who I'd never even heard of before.  He played so well that day that he was signed to Warner Brothers as a result and he's currently working on his major label debut for them. His name caught my eye again just a few days ago when I saw that he was listed as the final name on the lineup of the Chicago tourstop of Dave Matthews Band's 4-city Caravan tour.  That makes him yet another Mr. Irrelevant that I will be championing.  Hopefully he's not relegated to a time slot and stage where he won't be heard by anyone.

Please take a few minutes and check out the phenomenal performance of Gary Clark Jr (with Doyle Bramhall II) playing Jimmy Reed's 'Bright Lights, Big City' at the 2010 Crossroads Festival in Chicago. During the song, he repeatedly sings the lyric "You're gonna know my name by the end of the night" and I'm sure its no coincidence that this was the song and the line he chose to sing to the huge stadium crowd at Toyota Park who certainly did not know who he was before showing up.  He starts to really rip it up around the 3:40 minute mark, but let the slow build take its course.

The second act that I want to bring to your attention also came to mind recently because I saw that they were just added to a summer festival lineup. The band is Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears who only a few days ago were listed in the latest round of artist additions to this June's Bonnaroo in TN. [Note: They're also playing Coachella this coming weekend]. The Honeybears are an 8-piece band that mixes blues, soul, and rock n' roll to form a sound that can at times lean towards the Black Keys, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, or all three at the same time.  On March 15th, just a few weeks ago, they released their second full length album for Lost Highway Records, titled 'Scandalous', which in its first week reached #1 on Billboard's Blues album chart.  They also just played two sold out shows at NYC's Bowery  Ballroom where their set featured a cover of Howlin Wolf's "Evil".  I spent all of last Thursday and Friday listening to their new album. Check out their Sly Stone-sounding song from that new disc called 'You Been Lyin'.

Also, check out the band's official video for their 2009 song Sugarfoot, which sounds incredibly similar to the horn-driven groove that Trey has been cultivating with his Trey Anastasio Band over the last decade.  With Lewis's James Brown-esque delivery in front of the horns, he takes this group where Trey just isn't able to take TAB despite his best intentions.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Guy Clark: A Dylan Favorite

In April 2009, prior to the release of his latest album, Together Through Life, Bob Dylan sat down with rock critic and MTV producer Bill Flanagan for a rare interview. I'd like to share here two of Dylan's responses that I found the most fascinating. They both deal with his opinions on other musical acts that are his contemporaries. With Dylan so infrequently being quoted, they provide an interesting insight to how aware he is of the greater music scene, which breaks a misconception that he's lived his life out of tune with mainstream culture.

BF: A lot of the acts from your generation seem to be trading on nostalgia. They play the same songs the same way for the last 30 years. Why haven't you ever done that?

BD: I couldn't if I tried. Those guys you are talking about all had conspicuous hits. They started out anti-establishment and now they are in charge of the world. Celebratory songs. Music for the grand dinner party. Mainstream stuff that played into the culture on a pervasive level. My stuff is different from those guys. It's more desperate. Daltrey, Townshend, McCartney, the Beach Boys, Elton, Billy Joel. They made perfect records, so they have to play them perfectly ... exactly the way people remember them. My records were never perfect. So there is no point in trying to duplicate them. Anyway, I'm no mainstream artist.

BF: Who are some of your favorite songwriters?

BD: Buffett I guess. Lightfoot. Warren Zevon. Randy [Newman]. John Prine. Guy Clark. Those kinds of writers.


The one artist on this list that you might be the least familiar with is Guy Clark. Clark is a songwriter's songwriter from Texas, inspiring Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, and as we've now learned Bob Dylan himself. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004 and at age 69 is still touring and playing live.

I encourage you to spend some time checking out Guy Clark's catalog.  If my word isn't good enough, take it from Dylan:

Guy Clark
Dublin Blues

Guy Clark
Hemingway's Whiskey

The Weight

I don't think I've ever heard a bad rendition of The Band's 'The Weight'.  Honestly. I've heard dozens of them and we've posted quite a few of them on this site.  There is something magical about the rotating vocals on the verses, the sing-along chorus, and the basic chord structure that makes it so much fun to play.

This version isn't just good, its great.  It comes from the Elvis Costello-hosted music/interview show Spectacle.  This episode aired in December 2009 and it features host Elvis Costello and his band The Imposters, Levon Helm, Richard Thompson, Ray LaMontagne, Allen Toussaint, Nick Lowe, and Larry Campbell.  This was recorded for the same episode that also included a take on the Dead's Tennessee Jed, which we posted a few weeks ago.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Richard Ashcroft: Bowery Ballroom, New York, 3/23/11

There is no point in being an apologist.  As they say, "honesty is the best policy," so I'm just going to come out and say it:  last night's R.A. show just wasn't that good.  Ashcroft, who I've seen perform with The Verve back in 2008 at the WaMu Theater (MSG), is undoubtedly a charismatic guy.  His vocals are sonic and gritty.  He has a loyal following of fans who often deify him as one of the true greats -- not to mention he practically invented the look and style of the modern Brit-rocker. However, his songwriting ability as of late is quite frankly, deplorable.  So bad, that at times, I was actually embarrassed for him. Performing before a sold-out crowd of 500+ at New York's historic Bowery Ballroom, there were regrettably less than a handful of moments that I felt justified Ashcroft's otherwise divine reputation.  

For starters, the music, particularly the lyrics to his new material, is amateur at best.  Singing trite songs about America, life, and repetitively asking (in his latest release) "Are you Ready?" just simply isn't gonna cut it, not in this city at least.   At times, the vocals were uncomfortably loud and muddled (which was a major complaint of the aforementioned '08 Verve show) and the synth sounded more like looped back-tracking than a live instrument. On the plus side, his band was stellar.  Equipped with a Questlove-type drummer and part-rasta, part-Prince influenced guitarist, I think these guys deserve much of the credit for carrying an otherwise lackluster performance by Ashcroft.  Sure, there were a few good moments, like Ashcroft on acoustic for "Sonnet" or the band's decent rendition of "Lucky Man," but overall, I'm afraid this show will be filed in the back-catalog of forgettable concerts I've seen in my lifetime.  

Note to Ashcroft:  next time you make it back to NYC, do everyone a favor and belt-out some acoustic Verve favorites like we know you can. At the end of the day, that's what the people wanna hear.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Simpsons and Delilah

The Simpsons are no strangers to good music. Over the years, we've seen cameos by The Rolling Stones, The White Stripes, Phish, R.E.M, and RHCP, not to mention music clips from hundreds of bands. Don't ask how I spotted this (okay, so I happened to have paused a Simpsons' rerun on DVR and glanced at the screen in the process), but in Episode No. 88, Bart's Inner Child, Homer comes across an ad for a free trampoline. Check the ad right below the trampoline ad...

Funny thing, the Dead were still alive and touring back then.  Now if only there was a Dick's Picks for Capitol City, 1993...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Trampled By Turtles Returning to DelFest

The WeightStaff will not be making their 8th appearance at Bonnaroo this June. I'm not willing to say that we'll never return there, but this year's lineup was not enough to get us back to the farm for another go. I don't regret any of the pilgrimages we've made to Manchester over the last decade, but each year the walks between stages got a little further, the wait times between bands got a little longer, the sun got a little hotter, and I kept getting older. The smaller, more manageable festivals seem much more attractive to me now and this year we are considering a trip to Western Maryland for the fourth annual DelFest. In my old age (full disclosure: 32), I am getting more and more into bluegrass and roots music, as I feel it represents the purity of music, with nothing but instrumentation and amplification, and none of the technical gimmickry that plagues so much of modern music. Don't get me wrong, I'm far from opposed to beats, samples, and synthesizers but there is something about being out in the mountains of Cumberland, MD, breathing in the fresh air and enjoying to some pickin' and grinnin' that I find really enticing.

One of the bands that I'm looking forward to seeing live for the first time is Trampled By Turtles. They are a young group of musicians from Duluth, MN that are keeping the traditions of Americana/Bluegrass music alive while bringing in some sensibilities of rock n' roll music. They fit very nicely in the same category as the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons. It may be only a matter of time before TxT find similar success.

Wait So Long


DelFest takes place at the Allegheny County Fairgrounds on May 26-29.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Super Group Saturday: Black Country Communion

Tonight, we bring the first ever (and let's be honest, the last ever) installment of Super Group Saturday. It features a band called Black Country Communion. Despite your initial suspicions, this supergroup does not include Clint Black or Darius Rucker. It actually features hard/prog/blues rock heroes Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham, Derek Sherinian, and Joe Bonamassa. The band is named for the industrial West Midlands region to the north of Birmingham in the UK. So who are this band of merry men and why do they deserve to be called a Supergroup?

Black Country Communion is:

Glenn Hughes - Bassist/Vocalist for Deep Purple from 1973 - 1976 [The only years where Roger Glover did not play bass for DP; Fronted Black Sabbath in 1986. Served as frontman for Sabbath side-project Heaven and Hell after Dio's death.

Jason Bonham - Drummer and son of legendary Zep drummer John Bonham; Performed as drummer for Jimmy Page, Foreigner, Paul Rodgers.

Derek Sherinian - Keyboardist for Dream Theater from 1994 - 1998, incl. Change of Seasons album. He has toured with Alice Cooper, Billy Idol, Yngwie Malmsteen, Kiss, and Alice In Chains.

Joe Bonamassa - American blues/rock guitarist; Played with Buddy Guy, Foreigner, Robert Cray, Stephen Stills, Joe Cocker, Gregg Allman, Steve Winwood, Paul Jones, Ted Nugent, Warren Haynes, Eric Clapton, and Derek Trucks.  Opened for BB King at age 12.

The track featured here is from their 2010 debut album.  Its called "Sista Jane". The chorus sounds interestingly familiar to Jefferson Starship's 1979 hit "Jane", which was featured in the opening sequence to Wet Hot American Summer:

Black Country Communion
Sista Jane

For comparison purposes, here is Jefferson Starship's Jane:

Dawes - My Girl to Me

The WeightStaff is very excited at the news of Robbie Robertson selecting Dawes to be his backing band on a few select dates this year. The California rockers, at the Rock n' Roll Hotel in DC, put on probably my favorite concert of last year. It was certainly the one that most exceeded my expectations. Selecting Dawes was a very interesting choice, given that Robertson could have his pick of almost any working musicians. Robbie is pushing 68-years old and each of the members of Dawes are in their early 20s, even younger then The Band when they played Woodstock 42 years ago. This is just going to make Robbie look even older than he already is. But I think the guys in Dawes will bring an energy that a band of studio musicians could never create. Dawes are still on their way up in the world and they know that this is both another opportunity for them to get their name out there and a chance to work with one of their heroes.

If you're not yet familiar with Dawes, check out this video of 'Still My Girl to Me' that they recorded for the FUSE TV network just two weeks ago.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ryan Adams Returns to Touring

Ryan Adams will end his self-imposed touring hiatus by going out on a 12-date solo tour in Europe this June.  All of the dates have him at traditional venues, with no festival dates included.  This is a great sign for those of us holding out hope that he would hit the stage sometime soon.  Hopefully he announces some Stateside shows rather than returning back into hibernation.

June 10 Stockholm, Sweden—Cirkus
June 11 Oslo, Norway—Folketeatret
June 13 Malmö, Sweden—The Consert House
June 14 Copenhagen, Denmark Koncerhauset
June 16 Lisbon, Portugal—Aula Magna
June 17 Porto, Portugal Teatro—Sa Da Bandeira
June 20 London, UK—Barbican
June 22 Brighton, UK—Dome
June 23 Manchester, UK—Bridgewater Hall
June 25 Glasgow, UK—Academy
June 26 Oxford, UK—Oxford New Theatre
June 28 Amsterdam, Holland—Concertgebouw

I'm not sure when this clip was filmed, but its definitely from the early 2000s, closer to when Gold was released.  Its from the time before Ryan entered his Grateful Dead period where he replaced folksy Americana for Psychedelia and got himself a rock n' roll band.  I really liked that Cold Roses-era (as does Phil Lesh who continues to cover material from that record), but I'm ready to see him go back to the Neil Young/Heart of Gold-style that he so perfectly plays in this video.  

Ryan Adams (Solo)
Oh My Sweet Carolina 

Call Me On Your Way Back Home

Sunday, March 13, 2011

RIP Owsley 'Bear' Stanley

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Owsley "Bear" Stanley, a 1960s counterculture figure who flooded the flower power scene with LSD and was an early benefactor of the Grateful Dead, died in a car crash in his adopted home country of Australia on Sunday, his family said. He was believed to be 76.

A statement released by [Sam] Cutler on behalf of Stanley's family said the car crash occurred near his home in far north Queensland. He is survived by his wife Sheila, four children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

While the music played you worked by candlelight
Those San Francisco nights
You were the best in town
Just by chance you crossed the diamond with the pearl
You turned it on the world
That's when you turned the world around 

Reaction from Phil posted to

Fare thee well, Bear

I received a text in the middle of last night that Bear Stanley has died in a car accident in Australia. Bear, for me, was a true kindred spirit; when we first met, it was as if I had met a long-lost brother from another lifetime. I am heartbroken and devastated at his passing.

He was a friend, a brother, an inspiration, and our patron at the very beginning of our creative lives. We owe him more than what can be counted or added up- his was a mind that refused to accept limits, and he reinforced in us that striving for the infinite, the refusal to accept the status quo, that has informed so much of our work.

He never gave up his quest for pushing the limits of whatever he was working on. We had just been discussing his concept of point-source sound reinforcement in relation to a new project of mine, and his vision incorporated the latest developments in technology and perceptual research.

My heart goes out to his family, for whom he had such love and pride- his wife Sheilah, his children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren- who have lost their patriarch.

A mind like Bear’s appears very rarely, and it’s been my privilege and honor to have known and loved two such minds- Jerry and Bear. I always laugh when I think about what Jerry once said about Bear: There’s nothing wrong with Bear that several billion fewer brain cells wouldn't fix.

I am eternally grateful for all of the gifts that Bear brought to the scene and to the music.
Fare you well; I love you more than words can tell.

- Phil 

Grateful Dead

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Darkness Comes to Light

English hard rockers The Darkness, who reached international prominence in the early 2000s, look set to reform with their original lineup, featuring singer and cat suit-wearer Justin Hawkins.  The group won three BRIT Awards in 2004 in response to their debut album Permission to Land, with the band that year taking home awards for Best Group, Best Rock Group and Best Album.  The record charted in 16 countries, reaching the Top 10 in 4 of them including Sweden and New Zealand.  The Darkness broke up in 2006 following Hawkins' entry into rehab for alcohol and cocaine abuse.  The band have not officially announced their reformation, but an official Facebook page and a new website have cropped up recently.

While The Darkness at first glance appeared to be merely caricatures of British hard rock bands from decades earlier, if you looked past the cartoon-like aesthetic, you would have found some incredibly well- crafted and well-produced rock songs.  If you're not familiar with the band or just haven't listened to them in a while, take a listen to a couple of my favorite tracks of theirs which were in heavy rotation on my first iPod back in 2003:

Love Is Only A Feeling

Growing on Me

UPDATE: Cap'n Ain't Goin' Nowhere

Children's cereal mascots everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief this morning.  On the heels of last night's unexpected news story that Cap'n Crunch would be forced into retirement by PepsiCo, the Cap'n took to his Twitter account this morning to squash the rumors of his demise.  From the man himself:

@realcapncrunch ."I'm hearing the rumors. I would never retire. I love being a captain too much!"

Well there you have it, Horatio Magellan Crunch gets to keep his job after all.  The WeightStaff was unable to to reach Cereal Mascot Union Chief Sonny the Cocoa Bird for comment.

Click here to follow the Cap'n on Twitter.

RIP Cap'n Crunch

Reportedly, PepsiCo is retiring the image of Cap'n Crunch in order to no longer come across as marketing the highly sugary cereal directly to children.  Out of respect for the good Cap'n, I bring you:

Ride Captain Ride
The Blues Image

Monday, March 7, 2011

Guests of Honor

Okay. So I'm kinda bored and apparently into making lists lately.  No, none of these facts will get you hot chicks -- or anywhere in life for that matter -- but you just might score that 5 seconds of fame you were hoping for at that next apartment soiree... 

So, without further ado, the winners of the Top 10 Greatest Celebrity Guest Appearances on Rock/Pop Tracks are (in no particular order):

1) Eric Clapton on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (G. Harrison)
2) Duane Allman on "Layla" (E. Clapton)
3) Paul McCartney on "Atlantis" (Donovan)
4) Mick Jagger on "You're So Vain" (C. Simon)
5) Jerry Garcia on "Teach Your Children" (CSNY)
6) John Lennon on "Fame" (D. Bowie)
7) David Bowie on "All The Young Dudes" (Mott the Hoople version, written of course, by D. Bowie)
8) Jimmy Page on "With a Little Help From My Friends (J. Cocker version)
9) Billy Preston on "Don't Let Me Down/Get Back" (The Beatles)
10) Eddie Van Halen on "Beat It" (M. Jackson)

I know there are others, any other A-listers you can think of?

"All The Young Dudes" - Ian Hunter w/ David Bowie, Mick Ronson,

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sounds Like: The Acorn

The Acorn are an indie band hailing from Ottawa, Canada that have been releasing albums since 2004.  I became aware of them over the summer and I don't specifically remember how.  I do remember though that after the first time I heard their song 'Flood Pt. 1' off of their 2007 concept album Glory Hope Mountain that I went on to listen to the song another five times straight.  It's just that good.

I've put a bit of thought into how I'd describe the song to someone who hadn't yet heard it and the best I could come up with was: David Byrne fronting Arcade Fire covering Paul Simon's Rhythm of the Saints.  If you find that at all intriguing, I urge you to listen to it.  Let us know who you think it sounds like.

The Acorn
The Flood, Pt. 1

Do you know what's great about an awesome song with Part 1 in the title?  That's right...there's always a Part 2.  And this follow-up track couldn't be more different stylistically than the first, but its no less impressive.  The Flood Pt. 2 is harder for me to classify, but it's something closer to Band of Horses covering a McCartney ballad with backup vocals from CSN.

The Flood Pt. 2

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Phil Collins Says 'That's All' ...Again

I read tonight on that Phil Collins is retiring from the music business.  Isn't this like the third time that he's made a similar announcement?  I remember a while back reading that he'd never play drums again due to some progressively debilitating condition.  He then went on to record an album of Motown covers on which he played...the drums.  I also remember before that, with Genesis on tour in late 2007,  Collins stated that it would be the band's last tour.  So here we are again with another announcement from the drummer-turned-singer alluding to another chapter closing in his music career.

An article from London's The Telegraph from March 3rd wraps this story up quite nicely in saying:
Is Phil Collins really calling it quits? His interview with FHM certainly sounds very final, but we have heard this before. Collins first announced his retirement at an awards ceremony in April 2008, which came as a bit of surprise to everyone, since most people there seemed to think he had retired already. 
He sounds even more gloomy than usual in the FHM interview, but I am sceptical about whether this threatened retirement will be any more final than his last. Frankly, an interview with a glossy men’s magazine that was presumably carried out a couple of months ago seems a strange way for a superstar to bow out from the world stage. Besides, in today’s veteran-oriented musical landscape, surely the only point of announcing retirement is to facilitate a comeback?

Read the full article here

Check out this performance from Genesis' 1987's Invisible Touch tour of 'That's All' at London's famed Wembley Stadium in front of an impossibly huge crowd.  I really love this tune...for real.  If there is one thing that the post-Gabriel Genesis could do, its write a fantastic pop song.

Bonus Content:  
Two year's earlier, at the same venue, Phil Collins played a daytime set with Sting at the infamous Live Aid charity concert in London.  He was the only performer to play at both the British event and at the simultaneous Philadelphia event by flying between the two cities on the Concord.  His Wembley performance included a solo take on 'Against All Odds' with Collins seated at the grand piano.  He does a beautiful job on the tune, except for one moment (at 1:09 in the video) that you'll have to see in context to truly appreciate.  Phil is visibly disappointed with himself for the misstep he makes in front of 72,000 in person and far more in the international audience watching at home.  If I know Phil Collins like I think I know Phil Collins, he still wakes up in a cold sweat wishing he could have that note back.  If the WeightStaff put together their Top 10 favorite flubs of all time, this would easily be in the top three.  We've gotten some great laughs out of this one over the years!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Youth Gone Wild

On the prior post (OMG! It's ELO), a reader left a comment pointing out how Jeff Lynne was only 27 y.o. when he wrote ELO's classic hit, "Showdown."  Impressive as that is, it got me thinking about other artists who wrote (or co-wrote) mega-classics all before the age of 30.  Here are a few that come to mind:

Steve Winwood (21) - "Can't Find My Way Home"
Robby Krieger (20) - "Light My Fire"
George Harrison (26) - "Something"
Bob Dylan (21) - "Don't Think Twice It's Alright"
Eric Clapton (25) - "Layla" (w/ Jim Gordon)
Paul McCartney (22) - "Yesterday"
Billy Joel (28) - "Just the Way You Are"
Jimmy Page (26)/Robert Plant (22) - "Stairway to Heaven"
Donald Fagen (24)/Walter Becker (22) - "Reelin' in the Years"
Neil Young (24) - "Cowgirl in the Sand"
Robbie Robertson (26) - "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"

I hope you are all now as depressed as I am after putting your lives in perspective.

Here is a great clip of Steely Dan performing their hit "Reelin' in the Years" from The Midnight Special (1973).  

Editor's note:  Part of the reason I chose this clip in particular is because of the individual introducing the band.  This is why I love the 70's! 

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Yes, they are the band whose tune you're tapping your foot to, but haven't the faintest clue who wrote it.  Whether or not you're man enough to admit it, it's hard to argue that Electric Light Orchestra, or simply ELO, wasn't one of the great pop-rock bands of all-time.  With 27 Top 40 hit singles in both the UK and the U.S.,  ELO holds the record for having the most Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 hits of any band in U.S. chart history (without ever having a number one single).  Black Eyed-who??  Yet, for reasons unknown to this author, ELO's legacy has failed to be taken seriously except for a niche of audiophiles, music dorks and "superfans" (I guess the spaceship theme didn't help the cause).  Hell, most people born after 1980 probably have never even heard of the band, let alone their prodigious front man, Jeff Lynne.  Lynne, who was sporting the beard, bushy hair, and aviators well before the popularity of the "L" train, single-handedly composed and arranged every one of ELO's infinite catalog of hits.  It's no wonder that he was sought out by Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr to work on their respective solo releases at one time or another.  In fact, Lynne was instrumental in helping to arrange and record both "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" for the Beatles' Anthology.  Take that George Martin!

But back to ELO.  I think it's time they seriously considered re-forming and re-touring.  If history has taught us anything, bands go through waves of popularity and if you don't exploit those waves at the right times, you run the risk of falling into the much-dreaded void of rock obscurity.  Take for example, Kiss and Eagles, both of whom famously reunited in the mid-90's and hit it big.  Listening to much of their material as of late, I think ELO has a chance at redemption; a chance to reclaim the respect they once enjoyed.  Why you ask?  Because, first and foremost, their songs are "poppy" as hell.  But more importantly, I think they exude that certain degree of kitsch that would undoubtedly appeal to the younger gens.

But despite their endless incarnations and offshoots, the surviving members of ELO have failed to tour since the early '80's.   The closest we got to a "reunion" tour (in reality, Lynne was the only true member) was in 2001; however, the illness/passing of his close friend George Harrison caused a much distressed Lynne to cancel the tour indefinitely.  So, here we are, roughly 10 years later, and I'm rallying the troops for a comeback.   Why not try a limited schedule and test the market?  Radio City perhaps?  Strike that -- do it right: bring out the full orchestra and play Carnegie Hall.  If Trey can do it, I'd be damned if they couldn't either!

Jeff Lynne fact #47:  He co-wrote the Tom Petty mega-hit, "Into the Great Wide Open."

ELO, "Showdown" Rockpalast (1974)

Friday, February 25, 2011


Happy birthday to George Harrison who would have been 68-years-old today.  Those who regularly (or occasionally) read The Weight might recall that Harrison has been the subject of much reverence as of late.  Everything from, "favorite Beatle" to "coolest Beatle" to "best hair in the Beatles," etc. etc. But corny checklists aside, I think all would be in agreement that George was all-in-all, just a good bloke.  And put aside his music for a minute.  George was a philanthropist -- his Concert for Bangladesh, despite its shortcomings, was one of the first "super-group" benefit concerts tied to an international cause.   He was an avid gardener, a race-car enthusiast, and survivor of knife attacks.  He was a devoted husband to Olivia and father to his twin-like son, Dhani.  He was an accomplished ukulele player and lover of Monty Python.  He was "betrayed" by his good friend Eric Clapton, yet was man enough to remain on the best of terms with him and Pattie Boyd in the years that ensued. In his later years, he bravely fought numerous battles with cancer, from which of course, he ultimately succumbed.  Like his old friend John, he died much too young.  

I think back to the 80's and 90's when I was much younger and recall having only a vague awareness of  who George was.  I knew, like everyone else, that he was the "lead" guitarist of the Beatles and singer of that still catchy pop-tune, "Got My Mind Set On You."   I distinctly remember watching him perform with The Traveling Wilburys in music videos for "Handle with Care" and "End of the Line," but was more interested in Roy Orbison who had recently died around that time.  I'm embarrassed to admit that I had never even heard of All Things Must Pass until college, and really only started seriously listening to it within the last ten years.  Now, it is probably my favorite album, next to Dark Side of the Moon.  After re-watching Anthology this past month, I saw a different side of George -- a more calloused, more cynical, and maybe even a more embittered George.  I truly believe in his later years, he resented much of his Beatles legacy; that he refused to be perceived as "larger than life," unlike his Beatle compatriots (you know you are), but just a lucky guy from Liverpool, who "used" the Beatles as a means to an end.   But what is evident, is that George adored his friends and family, his undying spirituality and the times when he could bask under the sun and play old tin pan alley tunes on the uke. Or maybe, George was acting, using his sharp wit, which he shared in common with his good friend Eric Idle, as a way of "humanizing" the Beatles and at the same time, humbling himself and his illustrious achievements.  After all, he was the "shy" Beatle.

Happy birthday, L'Angelo Misterioso.

"It's being here now that's important. There's no past and there's no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can't relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don't know if there is one."  -- George Harrison

"End of the Line," The Traveling Wilburys

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Defending the Dead

There is an unwritten rule amongst Deadheads that true aficionados of the band must only listen to the live albums.  This makes sense in theory since after all, the Dead were at their core, a live band.  Even the band themselves had reservations about spending too much time in the studio and probably only did so in order to honor "corporate obligations" and to help bankroll their endless tours.  And while I, too, am guilty for subscribing to this "dead-code" of sorts, the myth that these albums lack the improvisation, the spontaneity, or even the soul that helped shaped their touring legacy, is unfair at best.  In fact, the Dead’s studio catalog is quite impressive, and taken as a whole, is a rather breathtaking series of accomplishments.  In response to those who snub the studio recordings as flat or emotionless, I think this is an ignorant statement.  I challenge you to listen to American Beauty or Wake of the Flood in their entirety and not feel moved by the pristine musicianship and ethereal vocal harmonies. Nor is there any merit to the claim that these albums are devoid of improvisation.   Listen to "Help->Slip->Franklin's" from Blues for Allah, which is the epitome of modern jazz improvisation; or "Weather Report Suite" from Wake of the Flood, an instrumental masterpiece few mainstream rock bands could pull off.  Indeed, I'd venture to guess that each session varied considerably in terms of the solos, the riffs and the grooves and that no two takes sounded the same -- as opposed to say, the repetitive perfection sought by bands like U2, Metallica, or Sting, for example. Really, the only things missing from these albums are the band’s notorious lyric flubs, bum notes, and intensive, space-out jam sessions, which admittedly are some of the great moments of the live Dead experience.  So despite only owning a handful of their  studio material (as opposed to nearly 75+ live recordings), I refuse to be a hater.  I proudly stand behind the Dead's studio albums and think they deserve greater recognition as being some of the archetypal examples of modern jazz, folk/blues and improvisational rock.

Some of my favorite album standouts include:

"Attics of my Life" - American Beauty
"Stella Blue" - Wake of the Flood
"Ship of Fools" - Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel
"Help->Slip->Franklin’s" - Blues for Allah
"Terrapin Part One" - Terrapin Station

Judge for yourself.

"Stella Blue" - Wake of the Flood (includes backing vocals not typically heard live)

 "Ship of Fools" - Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel

"Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo" -Wake of the Flood (great fiddle part that I don't believe was ever played live)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Flashbacks: The Monkees

On August 6, 1987 my parents took my brother and I to our first rock concert.  It featured 'Weird Al' Yankovic as the opening act for The Monkees and it took place at Merriweather Post Pavillion in Columbia, MD, about 25 minutes from where we grew up in Baltimore.  We sat in the very last row of the pavilion and passed binoculars between us to help us see what was happening on the stage, which seemed like miles away.  I'm pretty sure they decided to take the two of us to this particular concert because we really enjoyed watching reruns of the Monkees' 60s television show, which were being replayed regularly on VH1 at the time.  We also had vinyl albums of both acts,Weird Al and the Monkees, that we used to play on our brown and orange Fischer Price record player.  I don't remember much about the Monkees performance from that night, but for whatever reason I remember Weird Al performing both 'Addicted to Spuds' and 'Like a Surgeon'.  Maybe that's because I was only 8 years old and seeing Al with his long curly hair, costume changes, and cartoon-like songs was a bit more my speed.  There's no doubt that this experience had a significant impact on me.  I didn't get really serious about seeing live music until my friends and I were able to drive a good number of years later, but attending concerts has been my number one hobby for what is now around half of my life and that night was my introduction to it.  I'll always consider Merriweather to be my home venue and I've seen some of my absolute favorite concerts there over the years.  A few that come to mind are Tom Petty on the Wildflowers tour in August 1995, the Allman Brothers Band/God Street Wine in July 1996, and Phish in August 1998.

The reason I am writing and reminiscing about my first concert is that the Monkees today announced that they are going out for yet another tour, this one celebrating their 45th anniversary.  The show I saw in '87 came one year after their 20th anniversary as a band.  The only dates that have been announced for these 2011 shows are in the UK.

Just as was true at Merriweather 24 years ago when I saw them in concert, Mike Nesmith will not be joining his former bandmates Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz, and Davey Jones on stage.  A year before I saw them, in 1986, Nesmith sat in with them for a two song encore, which was the first time he played live with the group since 1969, nearly twenty years earlier.  The only other appearances that Nesmith has made with the Monkees in concert are another one-off performance in Los Angeles in 1989, where he sat in for the last 11 songs of the show and a one-month UK tour in March 1997.

I have no idea whether the Monkees, or three-fourths of them at least, will sound any good in concert now that they are in their mid to late 60s, but I do know that they had some great pop songs written for and by them and that their records played a large part in my early years of listening to music.  It's been quite a while since I've spent any time with their songs, but doing just that tonight has brought back some great memories.

Bonus Fact:  In 1967, the Monkees outsold the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined.

Last Train to Clarksville

(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Classic Albums: Joshua Tree

I'm ending my Sunday night by watching an episode of Classic Albums on Netflix Instant dedicated to U2's Joshua Tree.  One of my favorite components of this documentary, as with all of the records that have received the Classic Albums treatment, is watching the artist/producer sitting at the mixing desk bringing up and down different elements of the multi-track recordings.  There are a few instances where they let us listen in on pieces of the recordings that never made it into the actual final album track, like a string section on 'Where The Streets Have No Name'.  In this episode, much of the time is spent with Joshua Tree producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, the unsung heroes and architects of much of U2s sound over the years, talking about the process of painstakingly building and layering the songs in the studio. One of the recurring themes that is discussed about this album from 1985 is how different it was from what was popular at the time.  The band eschewed the drum machines and synthesizers that so many other groups were using in those days.

The hour long documentary almost exclusively discusses Side One of the Joshua Tree, and what an amazing set of five songs that is.  The full tracklist, if you didn't already know it is:

Side One
1. "Where the Streets Have No Name"  
2. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
3. "With or Without You"
4. "Bullet the Blue Sky"
5. "Running to Stand Still"

Side two
1. "Red Hill Mining Town"
2. "In God's Country"
3. "Trip Through Your Wires"
4. "One Tree Hill"
5. "Exit"
6. "Mothers of the Disappeared"

While it would be easy to feature here any one of hugely famous Side One tracks, instead I'm going to post the first two tracks on Side Two.  Both of these songs are on my list of favorite U2 songs, on any album.

Red Hill Mining Town
This is the official video filmed by U2 for Red Hill Mining Town, the song that was supposed to be the second single off of the album.  The band was not happy with how the video turned out (it wasn't released until the 20th anniversary Super Deluxe Box of the Joshua Tree in 2007).  'Where the Streets Have No Name' was released instead.  Red Hill Mining Town has still never been played live.  

In God's Country
Recorded live on 7/4/1987 in Paris, France, four months after Joshua Tree was released. 

With Bono now recovered from back surgery and rehabilitation, U2 have restarted another leg of their 360 Tour with two shows in South Africa over the last week (2/13 and 2/18).  The tour moves on to South America for seven shows in March.  The band will then return to North America for 25 shows beginning in Mexico City on 5/11/11.