Author's note: Let me preface this article by saying that my position on guns teeters along with current events. The recent struggle between a Cincinnati Police Officer and a misguided teen that resulted in the boy’s death is the perfect example of why gun ownership can never be taken lightly. The fact is guns were built as a tool for killing. That said, I believe that most gun owners understand the power of the gun they hold in their hands and do not take it lightly. People should certainly be allowed to own guns but they must understand each weapon's deadly potential.
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.
Last night at Riverbend, I finished off some personal business for my 12-year-old self. I finally got to see Lita Ford sing “Kiss Me Deadly” live on stage, hear Poison play “Nothing But a Good Time” and catch Def Leppard perform “Pour Some Sugar on Me," live and in person, all on one hot evening by the river.
My parents believed that I was not old enough back in 1987 to make all of these dreams come true, but now my older self is able to make these types of things happen.
Def Leppard has been entertaining international audiences with their strong British sound for the better part of 30 years. They have provided American audiences with Rock anthems that have fired up arenas, like “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Animal.” Over the years they have put out 12 albums, including their latest offering from last year Mirrorball: Live and More. The band is among the upper echelon of Rock acts that found success, continuity and growing support through the eras of fans.
CityBeat caught up with guitarist Phil Collen to discuss the band’s continued success before the Riverbend show last night. We discussed why the band is still able to keep it up after so long and what inspires him personally in his musical voyage.
CityBeat: What do you think the secret to the band’s longevity is? I just read this morning that Van Halen just cancelled the rest of their tour. Why have you guys been able to stay together for so long?
Phil Collen: I think our motivation is very different from Van Halen’s. They broke up a while ago. They actually didn’t get off. We’ve actually experienced super-super highs, diamond albums, multi-platinum sell-out tours and all that with really bad lows, like Steve dying and Rick losing his arm.
I think we have been together more consistently than most families. We leave home for 18 months. I have been in the band for 30 years. It’s just that (it) really makes a difference if you can relate to each other on very much a personal level. You have almost a private little clique, an elite club only you can relate to.
I tell you, we have always been good. We have never gone away. We have never split up. We have never done reunions and I think that is the trick. If you have to do a reunion, I always ask “Why did you split up in the first place?” I think we still have got more to prove. We still have songs to write, great albums to make. It’s a whole new day, a whole new digital age, everything is changing, whole new sets of fans. It never really stops. There is always ambition there, and there is always plenty of stuff to do. If you really want to share your work, that’s one of the first things you do in the first place. You get to express your art, it’s an artistic release and the other thing is you actually share it with other people. We are still doing that.
CB: I know you guys have been talking about writing and wanting to release new music. What is the band's writing process?
PC: It is more difficult than it used to be. I think we have gone through every different variation. We have gone through a time when one person writes the song, one person comes up with an idea and someone finishes it off or someone has an idea or we just play on each other’s songs. That’s what Queen ended up doing.
We have done every different variation of that. The best stuff I think we have done was when Mutt Lange was involved and just the way he approached it. He had a lot more experience than us and just brought a whole bunch of things to the table. Again, it is very different, there are a couple things I am putting together that are almost finished and then I usually play them for someone else in the band and put together an idea for them and we just take it from there. That’s really how it works. It’s not rocket science and every song starts in a different way.
I think the most inspiring song is when you have a title and that’s all you got and the rest kind of writes itself around it. I have another band Man Raze and same deal with that. We actually wrote a couple songs for a movie that was The Showdown, which was about superbikes racing. Once I had the whole story I came up with the idea, “Take on the World” — it was racing and stuff, and the song wrote itself.
So it is very inspiring to start with a title or at least an idea and then you just color in by numbers almost. It can come from a million different places and that is one of the wonderful things about being an artist really.
CB: Do you have any regrets over the years?
PC: There are loads of things that we’d do differently obviously. That is the whole plan. You experience stuff and you don’t make the same mistakes again, hopefully, whether it’s driving, old relationships or whatever. You are always on this learning curve which is a different level than the past.
Yeah, you know, not really — (I don't have any) regrets, not even slightly. I love where I am right now and that is the happiest person in the world. I am having a great time. It’s really cool. None at all really.
CB: What is your craziest fan story over the years?
PC: There have been a bunch of crazy fan stories. I have always found the weirdest ones are when people get my face tattooed on their body. I remember the first time this happened years ago, this Italian girl said, “I’m going to get you tattooed on me.” I said, “No, no, no, no, have you told your parents?” And she said, “No, but they’ll be OK.” She got this tattoo done and over the years we have now seen this millions of times, you know, people show their tattoos of our likeness or face on their arm or back or wherever it is. I always try to discourage it because it is a tattoo. I have one tattoo and it is my wife’s name and she has my name tattooed on her and that’s it. I was 52 when I got that.
CB: When you've written songs in the past over the years, did you guys know when you had a hit on your hands?
PC: Some of them, but other songs you think you have a hit and they disappear. You can never really tell. It depends on the environment of the moment. Back then it would be radio. Right now, everything is about celebrity and fame and TV. It is a different one to judge. It is about getting out there. If you get something in a movie, it has more of a chance than something played on the radio. It has changed a lot. The more the music business has turned more into an industry than art, it becomes more difficult to predict (which songs will catch on).
CB: What is the best guitar solo of all time?
PC: I couldn’t put it down for one. There are a few — and it is obviously my opinion — that (have) really inspired me. A few by David Bowie. There are a few Hendrix ones — “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix. There is a great guitar solo on a song “Midnight at the Oasis” by Maria Muldaur, a song from the ’70s (that) took me ages to figure out, then I realized there were more than one guitar doing it. There are millions of them that really inspire. I could go on all day but (there's) not one in any particular — all of those.
CB: Any current music you are listening to that you find inspiring?
PC: Yeah, my favorite artist is Skrillex. I am really into dance and Techno music, love it, Dubstep especially. I just think what Skrillex is doing sounds like Heavy Metal without guitars and Hip Hop without words. That’s what I get out of it. It is just very different. It is very pure. I love it.
(I listen to) just different things; I listen to everything. I listen to Jazz or Blues, Hip Hop, Metal, Rock, whatever Pop song, right across the board. It’s all amazing and stuff to draw on really.
A couple of weeks ago, I finally got to check out the muched-buzzed about band The Tillers, nominated for a Cincinnati Entertainment Award in the Folk/Americana category. Playing in the Southgate House's "lounge" room, the trio (playing stand-up bass, guitar, banjo and more) huddled around a single, vintage-looking, multi-directional mic and delivered their sweet, accomplished spin on traditional Folk, Country, Gospel and Blues.
Mesmerizing local singer/songwriter Kim Taylor – who performed recently at the CMJ Music Festival in New York City — has a new five-song EP called The Greatest Story …, which is available now for about four bucks if you download it on her Web site. (In fact, all of Kim’s music is only available digitally as of now; CDs are only being sold at shows, while a vinyl version of her I Feel Like a Fading Light is due out in December.) The set will hit the iTunes store in the near future.
I'm reviewing another show for next week's issue of CityBeat, but on a few nights ago I saw the final rehearsal of New Edgecliff Theatre's staging of Peter Shaffer's Equus. This is one you'll want to catch, and since this is the opening weekend, now's the time to do so — once this is reviewed by others and the buzz gets going, it will be hard to get tickets for the tiny Columbia Performance Center (3900 Eastern Ave., Columbia-Tusculum).
After months of planning and judging and selecting and scheduling and designing and implementing, the big night has arrived at last. The first night of MidPoint 2009. You can almost smell the impending disaster in the air.
Well, perhaps disaster is a bit strong. It’s been a long time — well, a couple of years anyway — since MidPoint has been baptized by a significant rainfall, and right out of the chute last night’s precipitation claimed its first victim for me. As much as I wanted to see The Elms, I wasn’t prepared to walk up to Grammer’s in the pouring rain and then watch them while outside soaking wet. I hear the tent is nice and, as it turned out, I probably would have been better off to take the wet walk.
It’s funny that The Fray are called what they’re called, because they hardly ever leave any loose threads or ragged edges — whether on their perfectly-produced, radio-friendly songs or live in concert. The piano rock band is so harmless and clean-cut that they probably couldn’t hurt a fly if their lives depended on it.
It’s no surprise, then, that their concert at PNC Pavilion Monday night, opened by Richard Swift and alt-rock band Jack’s Mannequin, felt like a quintessentially American outdoor summer party: laid-back, pleasant and totally innocuous.
Heart introduced a fresh, rebellious sound in the early 1970s when a particular voice was truly needed. That timeless voice belonged to singer Ann Wilson. In a time when the female frontwoman was just gaining steam, Heart found their identity in theirs. To this day Wilson embodies the band’s sound and message. She helped make it possible for generations of others to find their voice in Rock & Roll.
The band's legacy was celebrated on a grand scale this year when Ann, her sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson, and the rest of the Heart family were inducted into the 2013 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the likes of fellow legendary groups Rush and Public Enemy.
CityBeat had the privilege of speaking with the legendary vocalist in advance of Heart's performance Saturday at Riverbend Music Center. Audiences can anticipate hearing classics like “Barracuda” and "Crazy on You," as well as fresh music off of the 2012 album Fanatic, which nicely continues the Heart legacy. Don’t miss the finale with Jason Bonham (opening the show with his Led Zeppelin tribute) joining them on stage.
CityBeat: What was the highlight of your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction this year?
Ann Wilson: The highlight of my (RRHOF) induction this year was standing beside Nancy at the podium. That was a feeling of great pride I will never forget.
CB: What is the most number of days you have gone without playing music?
AW: I have gone months sometimes without playing a guitar, but never a day goes by where I don't sing.
CB: What does your ideal day look like these days?
AW: Sleep in late, have a great pilates/yoga workout, hang out with my kids and their kids, cook dinner, meditate, sleep with my dog nearby.
CB: If you could trade places with someone for a month who would it be and why?
AW: I guess I couldn't do that. I don't envy anyone else that much!
CB: You have seen music recording formats change from vinyl and 8-track to cassette, CD and MP3 through the years. Do you feel like music sounds better or worse with the use of technology?
AW: Music definitely sounds worse to my ears because of digital technology. There is a hard, brittle sound to it. Analog music sounded warmer and deeper, though maybe not as " perfect." Auto-Tune makes me crazy because it removes all individuality from a person's voice. Everyone ends up sounding anonymous. The imperfections are where the soul is, I say leave them in. Leave in the humanity.
CB: How did the latest tour come about with Jason Bonham? Any favorite tour stories from the current tour?
AW: Many people saw the Kennedy Center Honors show on TV or YouTube and loved the tribute to Led Zeppelin. The management was listening and everyone agreed it would be a beautiful idea. We've only done two weeks so far, and it's been amazing. No train wrecks yet!
CB: Do you journal or take photos over the years with special tour memories. How do you document your stories and memories?
AW: We record every night and have photographers on sight. Occasionally I will blog, but I am usually pretty wound up after a show. Maybe this will be the year I take up a journal. A person can't count on their memory forever!!
CB: Does it ever get tough being on the road with family? How have you handled it for so many years?
AW: Yes, the road is rough. Traveling and performing together takes a lot out of you and sometimes things do get emotional. We are lucky to have each other for support. I don't know how I would have made it all these years without Nancy's love, strength and sense of humor!
CB: Are you working on new music while on the road?
AW: My head is full of new songs at the moment.
CB: What can fans looks forward to when the tour hits Cincinnati?
AW: The show in Cincinnati will open with Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience, Next will be the heart show, after which there will be a finale consisting of about 30 minutes of Zeppelin songs with Jason Bonham and (Bonham's guitarist) Tony Catania joining in.