In 1983 on a cold day in early January, my parents pulled a broken-in LP of Rumours by Fleetwood Mac out of its sleeve and proceeded to get it on. This is how I was conceived or at least it’s the story my mother told me.
This act set the course of musical life (the LP that is, not the sex ... well I guess the sex did, too). I am forever bound to have a deep love for bands that are legitimately talented but are cursed by mainstream appeal. I will now confess that I love Pearl Jam. Call them clique or sell-out, but Eddie Vedder sings better than you and most likely whoever you’re listening to right now. And any guitar solo from their early work would melt the fingers off most players.
Pearl Jam has just released a re-mixed version of their debut album, Ten. Brendan O’Brien took on the task of reconstruction. O’Brien has produced all of Pearl Jam’s albums since Ten along with albums for the Stone Temple Pilots, Korn, Bruce Springsteen, Dan Baird, Bob Dylan, Velvet Revolver, AC/DC and many others.
Pearl Jam was noted for their instrumental take on Grunge music, which some blame for their popularity. They took Grunge to the masses or possibly jumped on board as just before it arrived. But the instruments are the backbone of Ten. Hell, Vedder's audition into the band was adding lyrics to some already-formed songs.
For the uninitiated, the re-mix of Ten isn’t wildly different from the original. But O’Brien has brought the instruments forward, showcasing the complexity and originality of the guitar riffs and the no-speed-limit driving force of the drums.
Vedder was what brought me to Pearl Jam, but this new sound does not mask his influence or identity. It frames it better than before. Before you saw the image of the band rocking out together in a dirty room, trying to break free, like in the first Saw movie. Now you get The Shining with the guitar riffs hacking through a door Vedder sticking his head through and screaming at you.
The re-released edition of Ten comes in four different packages. These range from a double-CD set to a monster $140 library including some vinyl LPs, DVDs, CDs, a cassette and other memorabilia. The marketing is good. It’s too good. $140 would have stocked the band’s shitty apartment with beer, pizza and weed for months in 1991 when the album was released.
For a fan and complete vinyl addict, I went for the double LP set that sells for less than $20. The set includes two 180 gram records (that's heavy for record); one record pressed with the original Ten and one with the Ten Redux. But I would recommend getting the digital download from your favorite online store. It will include the original tracks, the Redux tracks and some solid B-Sides that until now were really hard to come by.
My favorite track on Ten is "Why Go" about a girl in a mental institution. "She's been diagnosed by some stupid fuck, and mommy agrees, yeah," Vedder roars in the first verse. The entire album was forged out of the culture of the early 90's, and I hate to think that we're still stuck there, but the words are current. "Jeremy," with its Basketball Dairies/Pre-Columbine lyrics, was brought up in conversation the other day when I was speaking to a friend about the March 11 school shooting in Germany. In a sad way, the album showed me that very few of the problems of my generation have been solved.
For a Pearl Jam fan, this new release of a classic is perfect. Ten has those character-defining anthems that can reach down and pull the angst-ridden teenager out of the depths and into your passenger seat. But the new Ten is even more immediate, personal and close.
It is like walking down a dark alley after a long day at work. Steve Gossard, Jeff Amant and Mike McCready sneak up behind you and push you to the pavement. They stab their guitar and bass plugs into your spinal column. Dave Krusen starts beating out a rhythm on your bowels. And Eddie leans up to your face and spits into your ear. Lubing you up … for his comfort, not yours. After an hour of feeling them all inside you, Eddie says, “remember that.” It’s a question and a command.
Then you drive home in your Buick and wonder where those flannel shirts went that you had in high school. You throw your tie out the window. You feel like a sell-out and maybe you are, but that still doesn’t make what just happened any less amazing.
I usually shy away from album reviews, but when I opened the FedEx package on my doorstep and found the new Dirty Heads album, complete with promotional rolling papers (presumably to accompany the album), I decided to take a second look because obviously this was intended to take my worries away and make everyone feel great.
In 2008 The Dirty Heads splashed onto the music scene with their debut album Any Port in a Storm; this year, they follow it up with their long-awaited album Cabin by the Sea. Cabin is a true master class that sticks to the So-Cal altrocker vibe for which The Dirty Heads are known. When popping the disc in the dash of the car, the first chord of "Arrival" instantly enthralls you and throws you into the cabin by the sea with a group of friends enjoying life the way it was intended to be. The song that really struck a chord with me was “Spread Too Thin” because I think everyone can relate to being pulled in many directions every day and wanting to just slow down for a minute; Cabin by the Sea allows you to take a break and do just that. Cabin is the perfect summer album, ranging from the summery feel-good Reggae of "Your Love" to the Hip Hop vibe in "Smoke Rings" to the poppy acoustic flow of the title song.
Every time I listen to Cabin by the Sea it takes me away from the daily grind and monotony. There are many collaborations on the album, including with Matisyahu, Del the Funky Homosapien, Rome and Ky-Mani Marley. One of the coolest parts of this album is the accompanying DVD, which takes you behind the scenes of the recording process at Sonic Ranch Studios in Texas.
Cabin by the Sea is a must have for the summer. The album hits the shelves and online outlets tomorrow.
There are concerts that are fun and there are concerts that kick your ass. If you were at the sold-out U.S. Bank Arena Friday night for the opening date of The Black Keys first headlining arena tour, you probably got your ass kicked.
First up, Arctic Monkeys caused a ruckus on the floor. Most (but not all) of the folks in the seats wandered around aimlessly or sat there, watching listlessly. There was certainly uproar in front of the stage, though. But as the English boys played, sang and sassed, the crowd in the arena filled in and loosened up. It helped that their lighting guys strobed the shit out of them, too. The seizure-inducing lights may have been Morse code for “Love Arctic Monkeys. Swoon over our accents.” If so, it worked. By the time Arctic Monkeys closed with “When the Sun Goes Down,” the crowd on the floor had nearly doubled and, at the very least, those in their seats were nodding their heads and smiling. Those boys put on a fun show.
After spending the entire intermission only getting halfway through the beer line, nearly everyone gave up and fled to their seats when The Black Keys began. Not that anyone sat, though — they were all too busy dancing and freaking out. Strictly speaking, The Black Keys may not be from Cincinnati but it’s safe to say we treat them like hometown boys, anyway. Dan Auerbach (singing/guitar) even recalled playing Southgate House a few years ago. Upstairs. In the small room.
From a titanic disco ball that lowered from the rafters (for only one song) to the graphics on the screens behind them, the show was far different from their days playing tiny rooms. With each beginning there was an outburst of recognition. The middles of songs gave way to dancing, flailing and air guitar (or drums) and each ending note was drowned out by thousands of shrieks, whistles and catcalls.
Two things were learned last night. First, if you have any doubt about the amount of noise that one guitar and a set of drums can make, go see The Black Keys. Their albums don’t do justice to the sheer volume Auerbach and Partrick Carney (drums) are capable of producing. Second, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard an entire arena try to whistle.
If you weren’t there, you missed the best kind of Friday night possible. If you were, you’re probably already making plans for the next time The Black Keys come to town.
The Hank Williams family Country music legacy is fairly remarkable when you consider how three generations of men have built up audiences that would likely stand aghast at one another. Hank Williams, Sr., is a founding father of Country and Honky Tonk Music as we know it and, rightfully so, a certified historical figure, institutionally and critically bestowed with all the respect due our revered cultural heroes by the Time-Life crowd.
Two of Cincinnati's finest play much aniticpated homecoming show and exceed expectations
“I’ve been waiting for this for six months,” Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli said to start off the Cincinnati-spawned Rock crew’s first concert in the Queen City since a Sept. 25, 1999, appearance at the same venue. That ’99 show turned out to be the Whigs’ last public concert anywhere before the group’s recent return on a global reunion tour earlier this year.
As the extended band built upon the swarming buzz of opener “Crime Scene (Part One),” a lot of fans in the audience could relate to Dulli’s excitement for a hometown show, something most for years thought would never happen. They’ve been waiting a lot longer than six months (when the show was announced), though. More like 13 years.
The show kicked off a little after 9 p.m. with Cincy favorites Wussy. The foursome is opening several of the shows on the Whigs’ current U.S. run. Though the group had some sound issues (they clanged away to get levels a little before starting, apologizing and telling the audience they hadn’t gotten a soundcheck), many in the crowd got swept away by the rockers’ ragged, emotive and infectious sound. Though the Cincinnati stop on the tour is obviously the show where the audience would be most familiar with Wussy (many fans around me were dancing and shouting every lyric back as co-frontpeople/singers/guitarists Lisa Walker and Chuck Cleaver switched off vocals), it was fascinating to see that moment on people’s faces when you can tell they’ve been lured in — “Hey, these guys are really good.” It bodes well for the band, which will join Heartless Bastards on tour as soon as the Whigs dates end.
Short on its trademark hilarious banner (a theme for the night, though in Wussy’s case, it was difficult to hear much of anything the members said between songs), Wussy busted through a great set that touched on all four of their studio album releases to date. Like the albums, that created a great “calling card” of a set for potential new fans, as Wussy moved from more emotionally moving, slow swaying songs (like opener “Waiting Room” from last year’s excellent Strawberry and the transcendent “Muscle Cars” from 2009’s self-titled effort) to its often humorous (though still often just as passionate) and punkish upbeat tunes like the uber-catchy “Happiness Bleeds” and the relentless, wired “Pulverized” (another Strawberry track).
The core quartet was rounded out by John Erhardt, a former bandmate of Cleaver’s in The Ass Ponys who added some tasty shading with his pedal steel guitar (unfortunately, his contributions were probably effected most by the weak sound, which often made him inaudible in the mix). Whigs bassist John Curley sat in on a song, putting a jolt into the crowd and leading bassist/multi-instrumentalist Mark Messerly to joke that, while everyone should be excited about the Whigs reuniting, they were now going to be treated to a “Staggering Statistics reunion” (Curley played in that local band with Wussy drummer Joe Klug; SS singer/guitarist Austin Brown was not present, so it was really a 2/3 reunion-ish).
Between sets, the anticipation of Whigs’ fans that could be seen on social media sites since the show was first announced six months ago was becoming palpable. The lights went down, the crowd erupted and The Afghan Whigs took the stage (adorned with a simple red backdrop, reminiscent of the one at the old Southgate House, and a shimmering disco ball) to kick off an hour-and-a-half-plus show that showed that this was far from the same band that performed at Bogart’s 13 years ago.
The Whigs have always been an amazing live band, but the current incarnation was a different kind of amazing — tight, focused and seemingly thrilled to be playing with each other again. Exemplifying the band’s decision to return for a full tour and do things smarter were the mere physiques of Curley and Dulli, who seemed to have recognized the unhealthy trappings of touring and preemptively hit the gym hard so they were ready for them. The always rail-thin original guitarist Rick McCollum was his usual enigmatic self, knocking out his brilliant, snaking leads while practically hidden on the far left of the stage. Though fairly subdued, occasionally McCollum stepped out of the shadows, doing his Jimmy Page-influenced stutter-step stage moves.
The Afghan Whigs were literally a different band than 13 years ago as well. Longtime associate Doug Falsetti was back on percussion and back-up vocals, but there were plenty of new faces — guitarist Dave Rosser and drummer Cully Symington (members of Dulli’s Twilight Singers) plus Rick Nelson, who played cello, violin and keys.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Whigs that broke up in 1999 and the one that played last night was focus. I personally missed the funny, sometimes baiting banter for which Dulli’s infamous, but it made the show more powerful and fluid just sticking to the songs. The Afghan Whigs proved themselves one of the best live Rock & Roll bands on the planet right now with a no-BS set that hit upon songs from their entire career.
That was another “new thing” — the band’s last Bogart’s show featured no material from the Whigs’ first two SubPop albums (save standard finale “Miles Iz Dead” from Congregation). Last night, the band did “Miles” as the finale again, but also did ferocious versions of Congregation’s “I’m Her Slave” and “Conjure Me” and even “Retarded,” the fiery lead-off track from the 1990 SubPop debut, Up In It.
Instead of the swaggering “gentleman” teasing the crowd and making jokingly arrogant statements between songs, Dulli came off like a master frontman, taking off his guitar for the old R&B cover of “See and Don’t See” and roaming through the crowd, dancing frequently and, most importantly, hitting every note. Dulli has reportedly quit smoking and it has done wonders for his voice. In the past, he’d sometimes gasp for air doing a song like “Conjure Me” or nearly choke on some of the more throatier howls; last night, all cylinders were clicking and he hit all the right notes, including the “Yeah!” yells of “Retarded” (one of the best screams in Rock & Roll), which he's now nailing probably better than he has since the group recorded the song.
The more upbeat material from the Whigs’ swan song, 1965, got the crowd moving even more intensely as the Whigs grooved hard on their distinctive funkiness. And tracks from Gentlemen and Black Love were received like the classics they are, from the ominous “Fountain and Fairfax” and the whip-snap of “Gentleman” to the woozy teetering of “When We Two Parted” (which was given a bigger, sharper reworking), a hard and heavy “My Enemy” and a soaring “Faded,” one of the best “ballads” of the ’90s during which the group paid tribute to one of the best ballads of the ’80s, “Purple Rain.”
The Whigs have always quoted from other songs during their sets (kind of like how a Jazz saxophonist will sneak in various melodies while playing) and last night was no exception. Dulli inserted a touch of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” into “66” (a holdover from their final touring days) and also worked up a snippet of The Emotions’ Disco classic “Best of My Love” as an intro. And during their most recent new song, a great cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lovecrimes,” Dulli (playing keys) segued into “Wicked Games” by Canadian R&B newcomer The Weeknd.
Early on in the set, Dulli thanked Wussy for opening up and remarked on how Cincinnati has always produced a ton of great bands. “Always has, always will,” he added. Those words carry a lot of weight coming from a Cincinnati music icon.
I came away from the show with one thought — “This can’t be it.” Yes, the group is returning for another Bogart’s show on New Year’s Eve, but The Afghan Whigs are better than they’ve ever been right now and, judging from various interviews, all three members are enjoying the experience immensely — why stop now? If they can get through this tour with those good vibes still peaking, why wouldn’t they make a new album and keep it going?
UPDATE: Here's is the full setlist from the Bogart's show Oct. 25 (from setlist.fm):
1. Crime Scene, Part One 2. I'm Her Slave 3. Uptown Again 4. What Jail is Like 5. Conjure Me 6. When We Two Parted/Over My Dead Body (Drake cover) 7. Gentlemen 8. Crazy 9. Best of My Love /66 (The Emotions cover) 10. My Enemy 11. Retarded 12. See and Don't See (Marie "Queenie" Lyons cover) 13. Lovecrimes /Wicked Games (Frank Ocean cover) 14. Going to Town 15. Who Do You Love?/Fountain and Fairfax (Bo Diddley cover) 16. Faded Encore: 17. Miles Iz Ded 18. Into the Floor
Walk the Moon was one of my personal highlights from the recent MidPoint Music Festival, where the band played a high-energy set wonderfully showcasing its dance-friendly beats, New Wave jubilance and Art Pop creativity. As solid as the foursome is live, I was still a bit stunned by how advanced, imaginative and proficient Walk the Moon comes across on its enchanting debut album, i want! i want!, which is to be released Saturday in conjunction with a multimedia event at The Mockbee.
Reviews of new and recent recordings by Kevin Hearn, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, the Dex Romweber Duo, Shonen Knife and others
Well, we’ve taken down the free SPCA fluffy kitty/puppy day planner from the kitchen door and put up the free World Wildlife Fund animal kingdom mother/cub book of days and that can only mean one thing: We didn’t wait until late February to switch to the new year’s calendar, which is typically par for our course. And with the new year comes a change for I Shall Be Released; my weekly review column (or semi-weekly, depending on schedule and level of brainlock), normally found as a web-exclusive feature, has been moved to the spiffy Daily Beat music blog, where you will find it from this day forward. I’m not sure why I was upgraded to first class, but I’m sure everyone now expects me to be punctual and timely to line up with the whole “Daily” theme of the thing. Fly me, Mandy, keep the gin and tonics coming, and I’ll see what I can do to live up to my new seat designation in the better section.
As for today’s post, much like the tail end of last year, the newer stuff is up here, the older catch-up reviews are down there and it’s all good under the hood. January looks light enough to accommodate my outstanding 2011 reviewage while I sample what the new year is bringing. And based on the release sheets and the stuff showing up in my mailbox already, 2012 is shaping up to be another great year for music. And in case no one’s pointed it out yet, we’ve got exactly 100 years before we can make Rush jokes similar to the crop of George Orwell zingers that went around in 1984. Well, someone can make Rush jokes; those of us in the here and now will all be dust in the wind (let the Kansas jokes commence). Read on, literate music fans, and happy new year!
Sixteenth Cincinnati Entertainment Awards was another epic celebration of local music
On Sunday night, hundreds of local musicians — as well as the many of the fans who love them — had Covington's Madison Theater packed to capacity to celebrate the 16th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.
It was another love fest, as the music, laughs, camaraderie and drinks flowed throughout the tight three-hour ceremony/party CityBeat founded over a decade and a half ago as a means of honoring Greater Cincinnati's music makers (and, originally, local theater artists and productions).
Though it has lessened over the years as more people have grown to understand the CEAs better, there is still plenty of griping about the awards every year. The vast majority of complaints are about who gets nominated. It's understandable in light of the talent that is overlooked annually. Having so many talented and deserving artists in our city making quality music is a good problem to have. But if every worthy musical act in the Tri-State area were to be nominated for a CEA each year, the categories would include dozens of nominees and the show itself would have to be a sleepover affair. You think the Oscars are too long? Sit through one 16-hour CEA show and you'll be begging for a witty Billy Crystal musical number.
Like every year, the sport of CEA bashing is quickly forgotten once inside the venue for the ceremony. The awards celebration is the one time of the year where fellow musicians from every genre — some friends already, some friends-to-be, others perhaps only known via social media messages — gather in one place. There doesn't seem to be a ton of competitive spite within our music scene and the musicians I've talked and worked with, for the most part, are always pretty down to earth. (As if on cue, the griping returned right after the show — a comment on Sunday night's blog post featuring the winners of this year's awards deemed the whole program an embarrassment. Sixteen years of my life, wasted! Oh, anonymous trolls, where would you be without the internet?)
The CEAs can't help but become a communal love fest. (Yes, the drinking probably helps this quite a bit, as well.) In general, there seems to be a lot of internal support amongst local musicians, and it feels like external support and appreciation (outside of jerky, anonymous comments) is on an upswing. The CEAs are always a great reflection of that community spirit.
Ben Davis of Indie Pop duo Bad Veins kicked off the CEAs with his trademark taped accompaniment, but without bandmate, drummer Sebastien Schultz. Davis' performance was still compelling, capped off by that timeless ode to magic and mystery, The Muppets' chestnut, "Rainbow Connection." The singer/multi-instrumentalist set the tone (and the bar) for the night's performances, which included plenty of revelations and some fun, novel surprises.
Those unexpected moments are always the performance highlights of any awards show and this year's CEA lineup and production provided loads of highlights. Local Boogie Woogie torchbearer Ricky Nye rumbled through a great set of rollicking Blues, building up to a cool collaborative climax as Blake Taylor and Jonathan Reynolds of fellow CEA "Blues" category nominees 46 Long joined the pianist/singer. Nye and 46 Long had been embroiled in a mock online feud leading up to the show. Music heals! (Nye ended up winning the category.)
International Punk sensations The Dopamines gave the show a jolt with their explosive performance, launching into Guided By Voices' "A Salty Salute," but only after bassist Jon Weiner managed to insult nerds and "old fucks" in his introduction (they're "Punk," he reminded everyone later). From there, the trio launched into a mini-set of their own adrenalized anthems with fiery swagger. Fans were made.
The same can be said for singer Jess Lamb, the soulful vocalist who wowed the crowd with a few hypnotic songs, joined by her guitarist and bassist (who doubled on throbbing kick-drum). The sparse set-up belied the soaring sounds conjured, guided by Lamb's remarkable voice. Lamb was nominated for a CEA in the R&B/Funk/Soul category, a testament to her unique sound, which comes closer to resembling Florence and the Machine than, say, Usher. We may need to create an "Alternative/Soul/Rock" category to accommodate Lamb next year.
The Hip Hop/Rock band Gold Shoes are also keen hybridizers, and their CEA performance was a great display of the group's unique spin on Hip Hop fusion. The band provides a dynamic backdrop that's spiced with elements of Funk, Rock, Pop, Jazz and beyond. But the group isn't just providing a playground for frontman Buggs Tha Rocka to unleash his tight, captivating flow. The group writes melodic songs with strong, unique chorus hooks. Their CEA performance was a clinic on how to combine Hip Hop with other types of music without sounding like a cheap Pop grab (" … featuring Adam Lavine!"), Gym Class Heroes or, God help us all, Limp Bizkit.
The Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation, which provided a great experience for VIP ticket buyers in the balcony, reminded everyone of the Queen City's place in shaping popular music with a segment presented by the group's president, musician Marvin Hawkins. After talking a bit about the organization's plans to continue honoring the area's rich musical past in 2013 (expect a lot of King Records-related events in honor of the locally-based groundbreaking label's 70th anniversary), Hawkins joined a host of local Roots musicians for a spin through a pair of songs from the recent collection, The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, a project spearhead by Bob Dylan that involved writing songs from a cache of unearthed lyrics written by the American music icon. The all-star band assembled — including Magnolia Mountain's Mark Utley and Renee Frye, David Rhodes Brown and Sylvia Mitchell — expertly played songs they had recorded at the Music Heritage Foundation's downtown headquarters, in the same space once occupied by Herzog studios, the site where Williams recorded "Lovesick Blues" and other classics.
The CEA show itself ran smoothly and first-time host Ted Clark proved to be a great fit for the show. Clark's deadpan, sardonic humor — familiar to those who flock to his "live talk shows" at MOTR Pub — was reminiscent of Zach Galifianakis and sometimes he had great lines that were maybe to subtle for the CEA's "party atmosphere." But from those of us paying attention — bravo, Mr. Clark.
There was an array of entertaining acceptance styles from the winners, ranging from choked-up and sincere to pumped-up and enthusiastic to more matter-of-fact. Wussy had a huge night, taking home the Album of the Year (for Strawberry) and Artist of the Year CEAs, capped by some funny lines while accepting. Drummer Joe Klug joked that, for anyone doubting they deserved the Artist award, Wussy "played Little Rock, Ark., four times in the past year."
The award presenters — a collection of local music supporters and personalities, mostly from radio and press outlets, as well as sponsor reps — did a great job hammering home the "support local music" message of the CEAs' mission. But presenter and CityBeat Arts and Culture Editor Jac Kern provided one of the funniest bits in CEA history with her tribute to Beyonce — via a soon-cut-off lip-synced performance of the National Anthem.
Culture Queer capped off the show (or warmed up the after party?) with a set that captured the fun of the night, rocking out a trio of quirky, animated Electro Indie Art Pop gems with their trademark film backdrop. The sprightly CEA trophy hostesses came out for some dancing on finale "Born Again," their funky get-ups matching CQ's twitchy, offbeat anthem — and the jubilant, colorful energy of the entire night — perfectly.
Click here to see who won what and here for some photos from the event. The CEAs were filmed this year and will be airing on local cable soon. Keep an eye on this blog for dates and times.
Local singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist S.R. Woodward is not your average clean-cut, guitar-strumming, doe-eyed heartthrob. No, this guy is far too weird for that racket. Combining slightly-flat-yet-charming harmonies sung in a baritone warble with peppy, synthesized musical backing tracks, he’s a troubadour of minimalist ditties that lie somewhere between cheeky and heartfelt.
Rock legends perform Rock Opera in full at KFC "Yum!" Center Saturday night
For a couple of decades, I've resisted going to concerts by legendary Rock bands and icons I've loved who keep touring without much in the way of new material. I'd rather remember The Rolling Stones via video footage of their ’60 and early ’70s peak. I'd rather see The Who when there was an element of chaos and danger, when Keith Moon might pass out and have to be replaced by an eager fan pulled from the audience at the last minute. I'd rather remember The Beatles circa their post-touring years, via footage from their post-"Fab Four" days, working on arty videos and even artier music.
I've seen a lot of footage from The Rolling Stones live in the past nearly 30 years ago and it really set this resistant tone for me. Even back on the tours behind Tattoo You, the Stones largely just seemed to be chugging along for the cash. The most infuriating thing to me has always been their double-speed rendition of classics like "Satisfaction," as if they're just trying to get them out of the way. (To their credit, they seem to be fond of dragging out some "deeper cuts" at more recent shows, which adds at least a little freshness to their stale cavalcade of hits.)
It has to be a bit of a dilemma for some aging legends. The majority of fans want just the hits; they're the ones who complain of Facebook that a certain show was "OK, but they didn't play ___________! So it sucked." The Rolling Stones have a little bit of new material every few years that they'll drop into the set to keep things interesting for the members (or they'll dig out those deeper cuts). Paul McCartney does a total crowd-pleaser concert, basically performing the same exact stage show for seemingly 20 years and running through those classic Beatles/Wings tunes that are guaranteed to bring any house down. McCartney seems more a "give the people what they want" showman, and his performance is note perfect and flawless. I've always respected British Punkish-Pop-turned-Classical-Pop singer/songwriter Joe Jackson for the way he found to keep things interesting — never play every song the same way on every tour. His great live album, Live 1980/86, featuring four concerts from different eras is a brilliant example of this — there are four totally different versions of "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" It's interesting to the players and the die-hard fans. (Casual fans would rather hear the version on the original recording without variation).
The Who has done greatest hits runs and has only released a handful of new recordings in the past 30 years. But they have enough ambitious, grand projects in their impeccable discography that they can pull out, they're capable of doing special shows like the one on their current tour which finds the surviving members (and friends) performing the Quadrophenia album in full.
The Who's sporadic tours of late have often had some special "hook" that, presumably, keeps things interesting for the members who have played "My Generation" approximately 4 billion times. Townshend often makes some comment after a tour that it might be the last. He doesn't seem interested in the greatest hits revue. At Louisville's concert and sports palace, the KFC Yum! Center, The Who — well, original living members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, plus a cast of backing musicians that included Ringo Starr's overachieving bad-ass drummer son Zak Starkey on the skins and Pete's brother Simon Townshend becoming more of a presence on guitar and occasional vocals — played Quadrophenia in full (as they've done with Tommy) and I couldn't help but think that the artistic challenge of performing the group's second notable Rock Opera in full was enough to get Townshend to sign on. And enough to keep The Who on the road.
The Quadorphenia performance was excellent. The band played through without talking or really pausing for a breath, playing the double album from start to finish. This seemed to cause some uneasiness for some in attendance who didn't get the memo about the Quadrophenia-heavy performance and seemed just ready to hear "Teenage Wasteland" and "Squeeze Box." But the crowd, en masse, eventually warmed to the presentation, particularly the "hits" like "5:15," "The Real Me" and a jaw-dropping performance of "Love Reign O'er Me," the story-cycle's emotional climax and finale.
Part of making the medicine go down smoother was the barrage of video clips and photographs of, well, everything. There was plenty of old Who footage and lots of clips of late members Keith Moon and John Entwistle, plus some interesting visual effects involving rain and ocean waves during interludes (like on the album, but visualized). They also included a pair of lengthy montages from the entire history of Western Civilization since WWII. We were treated to images of the Berlin Wall falling, Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan and other U.S. presidents, war footage. It was a history class presented quick-cut style.
While these video gimmicks were attention-grabbing — everyone likes to watch historical/pop cultural montages — it didn't make much sense in the context of the story. I mean, I suppose EVERY contemporary story told has SOME connection to the entire history of the modern world. But the band was playing a thematic piece of work that told a real, actual story. Why not advance that story? It's a good one, weaving a tale about a common 1960s young man trying to find his way in the world and eventually becoming disillusioned and losing his mind. Maybe they wanted the words to do the talking … in which case, the footage (while visually compelling) was pointless wallpaper.
But most importantly, the band played the album well. It was in essentially the same arrangement as the original album, but with a few interesting added elements. The group's tribute to Keith Moon on "Bell Boy" — during which Moon's vocal part was stitched in seamlessly, with him floundering about in concert with his headphones and sticks to grab the mic and sing (via video) — was touching (and also not spoiler-alerted during the group's performance of it during the Sandy Hook benefit concert). The vocals were laid in over top of the band, so they were basically doing the Elvis-via-film "concerts" where "he" plays with his old bandmates. But it was touching (Daltrey gazed at his old friend lovingly) and an emotional high point of the show.
As was the tribute to the group's stunning bassist John Entwistle. The band gave The Ox a "solo" mid-song and it was disorienting in its brilliance, as Entwistle performed a spine-tingling barrage of bass acrobatics — of course with his trademark deadpan stare making it looking even more effortless. The footage was shot on cameras at an old show placed at the head of his bass and in front of him. Watching his fingers move across the frets was like watching a ballet of finger-work. Greatest Rock & Roll bassist of all time — no contest.
I developed a new appreciation for how hard Roger Daltrey works singing a two-hour plus concert. Unlike Entwistle, he made it look hard … but it was valiant and he hit almost ever note. A few lines would be "jazzily" redirected to avoid a few of the harder notes … but he nailed most of the important ones. By the time they got to love "Reign o'er Me," one of Rock's best, more underrated vocal performances ever, I had to tip my hat. You can tell he's doing everything he can to keep that voice in the best shape possible — there was a warning posted on the screens before the show announcing Roger's allergies, which, it said, would have a detrimental effect on his singing (the notice playfully suggested sticking to brownies). He had some sort of humidifier looking device behind him pumping steam the whole show and, though he played it off like a pro, he seemed a little lost when his in-ear monitors broke down twice during the performance. During the second-to-last song, "Won't Get Fooled Again," Daltrey stopped singing at one point and the band seemed thrown, but quickly recovered. Roger didn't look happy but he eventually came back to better spirits.
Pete Townshend has long been my ultimate Rock & Roll hero — he embodied Rock & Roll to me growing up and I've never grown tired of his songwriting. Pete has a rep for being a grump, but he was downright jolly in Louisville, windmills flying regularly. He joked towards the end about how he could now "jump up and land at the same time," promising to go nuts and act like he was 16 again for the next tune. He never quite managed lift-off — a trademark of his old days, when he'd tuck his knees and jump a good five feet straight up, landing on a big chord or final note. He's technically a senior citizen – the fact that he could roam around the stage and show some intensity is impressive enough. (And, as the man who has written Tommy and "Substitute" and "A Quick One," I'd give him a total pass if he'd decided to play laying down on a bed in the center of the stage.)
After the group finished Quadrophenia, they didn't even leave the stage. Pete, like an orchestra conductor might, spoke to the audience about their performance and introduced the great back-up players (which included a horn section and a pair of keyboard wizards). The group then ran through a stream of hits that, at least in terms of intensity, fed into my old fears that seeing my idols past-prime might replace a good memory with bad ones. The versions of "Who Are You," "Pinball Wizard," "Baba O'Reilly" and "Won't Get Fooled Again," weren't "bad," but, miraculously, had a couple of sloppy moments. I actually liked that — I'd stay home and listen to the albums if I wanted perfection — but it seemed like the band was ready to go back to the hotel. The power chords more often than not lacked the "power" element. They just weren't stepping into it — they were lightly breezing through.
The full band left and Roger and Pete did one of their few newer songs, an acoustic number about growing older, friendship, tea … and theatre (apparently), called "Tea & Theatre." As on the Hurricane Sandy benefit show, it seemed an odd closer, though it was sweet. These two old friends who have hated each other at times over the years seem at peace with The Who's legacy and their own partnership.
Townshend announced that Roger had arranged the whole Quadrophenia performance, which immediately made me believe Daltrey brought the idea to Townshend, knowing he'd have a better chance presenting something his old mate would find challenging if he wanted to go on a "Who tour" again. Daltrey could've staged it himself, but I envision him going to Pete and saying, "I do this one my own, I'm doing casinos and theaters; you come with and it's a lucrative arena tour."
Like all bands with longevity, The Who have found a dynamic that seems to work. It's something every enduring band has to come to peace with – from The Stones to The Black Crowes to Pearl Jam, all bands that seem to have realized they need each other to do their job most effectively (and profitably). Once they find that peace, they seem much happier. The Crowes have split or taken long breaks numerous times, but they know their future is like Keith and Mick's — they need to tour together because that's what their fans (and customers) desire. And Pearl Jam fairly early on seemed to come to an understanding that their place is on the road and together. They seem happy these days and you rarely hear them complain about "fame" anymore (as Mr. Vedder had been known to do at one time). They even play songs they've played millions of times — like "Alive" and "Even Flow" and "Jeremy" and "Black" — with passion, fire and smiles on their faces. They have inherited a bit of "Uncle Paul's" crowd-pleaser genes.
All of these artists seem in a good place in terms of tending to their legacy, finding what works best for them. The Who seemed that way as well Saturday night in Louisville, but I left wondering "What's next?" Might this really be a farewell tour. They've been doing them since the early ’80s, but if Pete and Roger don't come up with an approach that satisfies their artistic/performance needs, I wouldn't be shocked to hear that they've decided to call it quits after this round of travel.
While my personal concerns about seeing some of my favorite artists before they are no longer able to perform have been both confirmed and assuaged at shows by The Who and McCartney, I'm still happy I've seen those artists play in my lifetime. I've now decided to look at it like those fans who wanted to see early musical icons like Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf or Charles Mingus or any legendary player play one more time before he or she passed away — I'm sure they might not have been spellbinding, but I'm also sure it gave great joy to those fans who saw them.
And I've also realized that there's nothing wrong with indulging your nostalgic instincts in these situations. There's room in most of our minds for multiple memories about the same people. I will remember Pete and Roger killing it on The Smothers Brothers show and I can remember them keeping the spirit live almost 50 years later in Louisville … and neither memory has to cancel the other out.