Tag Archives: United States

Ian Axel On Tour

(Note: I did not write this, Press Release Courtesy of the Musebox)

Emerging singer-songwriters Ian Axel, Allie Moss, and Bess Rogers have landed in your town, with a 20-city late summer tour that spans the East and West coasts.  All three have had a past year many would describe as out-of-this-world, with their songs being featured in television shows like CW’s One Tree Hill, ABC’s Brothers & Sisters, and MTV’s I Used to Be Fat.

Ian Axel began his career when his typical 20-something job working at a Manhattan Apple Store suddenly became not-so-typical as his bosses caught wind of his musical talents.  They flew him around the country to perform at dozens of stores around the United States, and included his songs on the playlists of hundreds of their stores worldwide.  Ian officially “touched down” in 2011 when he released his debut full-length, This Is the New Year.  The title track received over 1 million YouTube views, he performed on the nationally syndicated Rachael Ray Show and on La Blogothéque’s world-renown Take Away Shows, and his songs were featured on TV shows such as “One Tree Hill,” and as the theme to the MTV documentary series I Used to Be Fat.

However, it’s Ian’s live show that shoots him to new frontiers.  He has an energy that recalls the intimacy, energy and excitement of performers like Regina Spektor, Elton John and Randy Newman.  NPR described him as “a voice that possesses the sweetness of youth, the stubbornness of a teenager and the swagger of a rock star.”  He is capable of captivating an audience as only the greatest performers do, an appeal that has not gone unnoticed, leading to opening gigs for Ingrid Michaelson, Evan Dando and, most recently, for Glee star Matthew Morrison’s at the 2500-capacity Beacon Theater on August 1st.
Brooklynite Bess Rogers has created national recognition through her work as lead guitarist and backing vocalist for Ingrid Michaelson, and is quickly becoming a star in her own right.  Her fan-funded album, Out Of The Ocean, will be released on September 20 with the first single, “Anchor,” released to radio and iTunes in August.  Bess has spent this summer as the singing voice of the nationally televised Mott’s For Tots advertising campaign with her song, “We Believe In You,” and has had other compositions featured on television shows such as Switched At Birth, One Tree Hill, and Pretty Little Liars.  In recent months Bess has shared the stage with Ari Hest, Lelia Broussard, Jay Brannan, Rachel Platten, Caleb Hawley and others.

Allie Moss hails from New Jersey and, like Bess, also had her start in Ingrid Michaelson’s band, handling rhythm guitar & backing vocals. She will be supporting her new LP Late Bloomer on this tour, a 10-song album produced by Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Erin McKeown). The album’s lead track “Corner” was a left-field hit in the UK last year, which racked up over a half-million views on YouTube after being featured on a British Telecom advertisement.  Other songs of hers have been featured on Brothers & Sisters and the CW’s Pretty Little Liars. Her new album also features the whimsical, bittersweet single, “Melancholy Astronautic Man” accompanied by a delightful stop-motion video comprised entirely of Legos.

Together these three emerging talents have joined forces to create an incredible tour.  Landing on the scene together, this is the perfect opportunity to catch them at intimate venues before this constellation of singer-songwriters shoot to superstardom.

IAN AXEL: http://www.ianaxel.com | http://youtube.com/ianaxelmusic
BESS ROGERS: http://www.bessrogers.com | http://www.youtube.com/BessRogers
ALLIE MOSS: http://alliemoss.com | http://youtube.com/alliemoss

 

TOUR DATES:

Mon – 1-Aug – New York City, NY – Beacon Theatre (Ian Axel solo w/ Matthew Morrison)
Weds – 24-Aug – Seattle, WA – Fremont Abbey Arts Center
Fri – 26-Aug – Modesto, CA – Copper Rhino
Sat – 27-Aug – San Francisco, CA – Hotel Utah
Mon – 29-Aug – Fresno, CA – Fulton 55
Tue – 30-Aug – Los Angeles, CA – Hotel Cafe
Wed – 31-Aug – San Diego, CA – Lestats

Wed – 7-Sep – Marlboro, NY – The Falcon

Thu – 8-Sep – Easton, MD – Nightcat

Sat – 10-Sep – Vienna, VA – Jammin’ Java

Mon – 12-Sep – Nashville, TN – Third & Lindsley
Wed – 14-Sep – Atlanta, GA – The Earl
Thu – 15-Sep – Durham, NC – The Casbah
Sat – 17-Sep – Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Upstairs
Wed – 21-Sep – Boston, MA – The Red Room @ Café 939 

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Spotify Indulges My Guilty Pleasures

Has anyone used Spotify yet?  I downloaded it last weekend (right before the Hurricane) and with the exception of Saturday afternoon, haven’t used it much. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps, due to the free version I’ve downloaded I decided to indulge in guilty pleasures instead of songs that I actually like.

The same thing happened when I discovered Napster in High School. It was a gate-way to terrible songs that I never in my life pay for. With Napster, I could convince myself that I was justified in downloading some of these songs because I never paid for them. In my mind, if I paid for it that meant I either legitimately liked the song.

For instance, my Spotify playlist contains “Disco Inferno”. By all rights, I should be ashamed to admit that I even like that song let alone decide to put it on a playlist. Yet, “Disco Inferno” remains partly due to its inclusion in “Ghostbusters”.  Ten there’s Lenny Kravitz’ “Fly Away”. For some reason this song always made me laugh, hence its inclusion. Kravitz wants a party-vibe (the bass is especially funky) on this track, but over-all he sounds a little too sincere. “Girl, I gotta get away!” He shouts as the song draws to its conclusion. Dude, if you really feel that feel maybe a party isn’t the place to be.

Another song I threw on the playlist was The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “The Impression That I Get”. I’ve mentioned this song before (back when no one was actually reading the blog) as permanently stuck in 1997. For me, this song will always exist in the back of my Chevy Cavalier driving on the highway at 16 to get sour cream (or was it cream cheese?) for my mother. The blasting rhythms and saxophones perfectly captured my new-found freedom that came with my driver’s license.

Maybe this weekend, I will actually use Spotify to download some more appropriate tracks. But for now, I’m perfectly fine with using it to listen to songs which I should have no right really liking.

 

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Songs About America: “Coney Island Baby” – Lou Reed

 

Bono once claimed that Lou Reed was the James Joyce of New York City.  While that might be a bit of hyperbole the former Velvet Underground leader is synonymous with New York City.

Breaking musical and social barriers, Reed showed the dark under belly of the city. Much like Joyce did with Dublin in Ulysses.  Theirs was the version of a city that not everyone got to see, or even cared to acknowledge.  But like it or not, they captured the spirit of their surroundings in descriptive detail.

Reed’s songs were with drugs and sexual deviants.  Sometimes the characters did both activities at the same time.  If the lyrics weren’t shocking enough for the late 60s, crowd there was the music.  The Velvets provided a mountain of noise and attack that has rarely been equaled.  By the time Reed went solo in the early 70s, the music was toned down slightly, perhaps in an attempt to invite a wider audience into the party.  “Take a walk on the wide side,” He encouraged the listeners. There will be things that will blow your mind, but craziness never sounded so fun.

So it must have come as a shock to hear Reed take off his mask, and reflect with a rare sense of sincerity with 1976’s Coney Island Baby.

The song itself tells the story of Reed’s teenage years in Long Island.  The song sums up teenage confusion.  Which is the right path?  Is it Acceptance by peers or following one’s own path?  It’s clear which road Reed ultimately took, but “Coney Island Baby” makes it’s clear that, at least initially the choice wasn’t easy.

His admission of “wanting to play football for the coach” makes this clear.  For many, football is the ultimate form of acceptance in high school.  Not many things are more American than Football.  It’s a sport filled with acceptance, popularity, and brotherhood.   It’s a far cry from commands to “taste the whip”.

The song begins slowly with tasteful guitars and Reed’s soft voice.  Even if you don’t believe the story about Reed wanting to play football, it’s very affective.  As the song moves along, the dream of being on a team is shattered – “All your two-bit friends have gone and ripped you off,” He laments. “They’re talking behind your back.”

The song reaches its emotional climax mid-way through.  A group of singers appear in the background, offering a heartfelt harmony as Reed announces, “the glory of love, might see you through.”

Coney Island Baby is the type of song Lou Reed could write. There’s a sense of youthful innocence lost, and the trials of growing up.  It’s full of heartbreak and hope.  Ultimately this life isn’t meant for Reed. When he describes the city “as something like a circus or a sewer”, you know he’s found his true calling.

“Coney Island Baby” isn’t strictly about America.  But is an American tale.  The line between acceptance and self-worth can sometimes be blurred.  And for many in the 1960s, New York was one of the few places were those who were not considered to be “normal” could find like-minded individuals.  Like those who came to New York from oppression overseas, New York offered a sense of security and possibility to those who chose to follow a different path than the mainstream.  After struggling through his teenage years, it would be Lou Reed would bring this world into the mainstream.

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Songs About America: This Land Is Your Land

I’ve decided to go back to weekly themes.  It seems I do my best writing when I have a specific topic.  So with July 4th around the corner, I thought I’d pick song about America.  Enjoy.

In grade school, I seemed to be in a pageant every month.  They were mostly historical and Biblical fluff (I went to a Christian school) aimed at entertaining parents and friends, rather proving any intellectual value.  Every once in a while we had a patriotic theme.  My fellow classmates dressed up as iconic American heroes such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Naturally, Washington did not tell lies and Lincoln lived in a log cabin.

As for the songs, they were standard patriotic fare – “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful”  -to the applause of the audience.Interestingly, during one pageant we sang, “This Land is Your Land”.

Yes, Woody Guthrie’s anthem was performed by a group of school children.  “From California to the New York Island” seemed perfectly innocent, and evoked an image of The American Dream. As far as I can recall, we only sang the first verse and the chorus.   The verses where the narrator wanders through “heat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling” were left out.  We sang it with no sense of irony or contempt.  Our rendition of “This Land is Your Land” was as straight an arrow.

As a 5th grader, I didn’t know the song was written by Woody Guthrie and was written as a response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”.  Even if I had known those facts, I’m sure the concept would have been lost on my feeble mind.  The song seemed just as cheesy as any of the others songs we were forced to sing, and not worth my time.

Years later while listening to The Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues, I discovered the familiar chorus on the last track on the album.   Why the hell are they covering this piece of shit?  I wondered.  The Waterboys had sunk to a new low.  When I dubbed the album to a cassette, I purposely left it off.   The “proper” ending to the album was “The Stolen Child”, not the little ditty that came off as Celtic campfire song.

“You realize this is a Woody Guthrie song?” My older brother asked me once when the song came on.

“Who’s Woody Guthrie?” I asked.  “I thought it was a traditional song.”

He was shocked.  “No, no,” He replied, with a hint of disgust.  “He was a singer in the 1940s.  Big influence on Bob Dylan.”

“Oh ok,” I nodded, not really understanding what he meant.   I still hadn’t discovered Bob Dylan, so this connection was hardly revelatory.  Besides, any type of music made before rock and roll, had nothing to offer me.

It wasn’t until I went to protest the Iraq War that I discovered the true meaning of the song.  Thousands of people were gathered in the cold streets of Pittsburgh.  It was snowing lightly, but no one seemed to mind.  Their minds were elsewhere.  As local artists and activists shouted their position from a nearby stage, the crowds cheered loudly.  By the time the Pittsburgh punk band Anti-Flag took the stage, the crowd seemed ready for action.  Surely this band would get the momentum going.  Surprisingly, they came on stage with an acoustic guitar.  “This is a song that I’m sure all of you know,” leader singer Justin Sane announced, launching into “This Land is Your Land”.   Suddenly, its lyrics made sense.  It wasn’t quite the flag-waving anthem I had previously thought it to be.  It was an attack on a Capitalist society, and an out of touch government.  “This land is your land, this land is my land” was hardly an invitation.  It was a call to arms.  This land belongs us, and we will take it back if necessary.  As thousands of people sang Guthrie’s words, my attendance in the protest never felt more secure and right.  If we didn’t take control and voice our opposition, who would?

Though Guthrie’s song isn’t what most Americans consider to “be patriotic”, for me, it means more than “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America”.  It offers hope, and possibility.   It’s not idealistic and naïve, but rather a rallying cry for those who might not otherwise have a voice.  Guthrie is an American icon, because he was able to express his views in song form, even if it wasn’t popular.  And if that’s not American, I don’t know what is.

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Music To Listen To This Summer

Each season has their own soundtrack and summer is no exception.  There are numerous albums I listen to in the summer, and find perfect for days when you just can’t seem to cool off.  So here’s my selection of albums to listen to and kick back to.  (Note: I exclude some obvious choices such as Springsteen.)

Elvis CostelloGet Happy!!

Though King of America and Imperial Bedroom might be better albums, Get Happy!! is Costello’s most listenable album from front to back filled with R&B and soul styled songs with a punk twist.  The songs move along at breakneck speed (as do some of the songs) leaving the listener with barely any time to soak in the subtleties. Even when the songs are mean-spirited, the music is sheer fun.  What comes across though is Costello’s melodies and flawless songwriting, making it the perfect soundtrack for a summer day.

Outkast – Speakerboxxx

When Outkast’s double album first came out, most of the press focused on Andre 3000’s half, The Love Below.  As it turns out, Speakerboxxx turns out to be the better of the two, as Big Boi flirts with fast-paced beats, swing and jazz influences and George Clinton-style funk.  And like the rest of the albums on this list, there’s no filler – it’s genre -hopping music that’s perfect for nights with intense heat that never seems to let up.

The Gourds – Blood of the Ram

If you’re outside grilling, and drinking a beer, Blood on the Ram should be an essential addition.  It’s a combination of bluegrass, Band-style Americana, and alt-country.  Each song is a masterpiece in Southern Boogie and sing-alongs.  Songs such as “Do 4 U”,  “Lower 48” and “Cracklins” are designed to get you off your chair and dance.  And if you don’t feel that way, your humanity might come into question.  Plus where else can you sing every single state in the lower 48?

Creedence Clearwater RevivalChronicle

For a long time, I resisted getting this collection because practically every single on this collection is burned into the consciousness of every fan of classic rock.  But song for song, you can’t really ask for a better greatest hits collection.  With a a mix of down home rock and memorable songs, Chronicle feels like a lazy summer day.  And if it’s really hot, let CCR do the hard-work and sweat for you as they tear through their classics.

Al GreenThe Absolute Best

For me, Al Green has the best soul voice anybody’s side of Sam Cooke, and this collection as the title suggests, offers nothing but his best.  There’s straight-up soul classics – “So You’re Leaving”, “Strong as Death (Sweet as Love)”, funk-rock – “I’m a Ram”, “Driving Wheel”, and soul-jam classics – “Look What You For Me”.  Perfect for relaxing, with a strong drink in your hand as the day winds down.

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Revisiting Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising”

Since it’s getting warmer out, it’s the perfect time to listen to Bruce Springsteen.  For me, he’s always been one of the quintessential “summer artists”.  He’s the guy you go to when you’re driving around with the windows down, thinking about the possibilities of the open road.  Listening to Born to Run, simply taking off not only seems romantic, but feels like it could be your destiny.

So last week I put on the usual Springsteen albums, taking in the warm weather – Born to Run, Greetings from Ashbury Park New Jersey, E-Street Shuffle, and the Hammersmith Odeon Show in particular.  While I enjoy his newer albums, I tend to gravitate towards his older music. For whatever reason, sometime last week, I reached for The Rising, which I admit I haven’t listened to in a good few years.

And at first, I listened to it casually.  Production-wise I think it’s one of his best sounding albums.  There’s a warmth and comfort to it, musically.  As I listened to it, I found myself enjoying it more than I ever have.  Perhaps I never really gave it a listen, I thought.  This seemed odd considering I’ve listened to it dozens of times over the year.  And then it hit me, that maybe I had subconsciously started listening to it, as a result of the biggest news story of the past few years.

The Rising was an album only Springsteen could write and make.  Like thousands of others in the New York/New Jersey area, Springsteen saw first-hand the devastation.  As New Jersey’s Favorite Son, it makes sense that he would be the one to put these feelings into a record. It’s an Rising filled with confusion, loss, sadness, and most of all hope.  Springsteen has always had a penchant for creating seemingly real characters out of fictional ones.  On The Rising he composites real stories of the heros and lost loved ones of 9/11.

The Rising provided a comfort for many people when they couldn’t make sense of the world around them.  And like the best Springsteen records underneath the sadness, he also tells us that it’s okay to continue on.  There might be darkness on the edge of town, but the American people are resilient, and that’s at the heart of The Rising.  Even so, when Springsteen invites us to Mary’s Place for a party, he asks: “how do we get this thing started?”  He doesn’t know.  He’s just sending out the invitations.  It’s up to us to follow and be united.

Listening to it now is entirely different beast though.  At the time of its release it guided us through tough times.  Now it’s a reminder of the way things were in the first few years after the attacks.  For some , now there’s a sense of closure in what happened on May 1st/2nd, but the turmoil still remains. We’re still waiting for a sunny day and counting on a miracle, even if the clouds have lifted a little bit.

The Rising offers a view of unity that hasn’t been felt for some time.  Everybody dealt with tragedy in their own way, but there was a sense of solidarity.  It’s present in the music – not just the lyrics.  Springsteen may have considered reuniting The E-Street Band for an album (they got back together for a tour in 2000) before he wrote these songs, but the very idea he bought back the members he fired an severed ties with a decade before got back together also speaks volumes.  The E-Street Band was back and the old feeling were gone.  There was work to be done, and stories to be told – and it could only be told through the power of a family.

After listening to it again, with a bit of perspective, I’ll rank The Rising up with the best of Springsteen’s albums.  It may not have changed the face of rock and roll in the way that his earlier records did.  There’s no romanticism, just real-life.  And sometimes, that’s just as good, if not better.

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The Ten Most Important Artists of the Last Decade: 9. Green Day

In the summer of 2004, I read an article that was previewing what would become American Idiot. It stated that Green Day were working on a rock opera about the state of the nation.  One song, the article said, was about 10 minutes long and would contain multiple sections.  At the time, it seemed quite ridiculous.  Green Day, was after all a band that sang about masturbating and smoking weed.  And who knows, maybethey sang about doing both of those activities at the same time.  Green Day were a good band, a fun band.   Billie Joe Armstrong might have borrowed Joe Strummer’s snarl (and occasionally the accent), St. Joe he was not.  During a drunken night, I told one of my friends about the alleged 10 minute song I read about in the article.  “Shut the fuck up, Matt,” He told me with a bit of disdain.  “Next, ever speak of this again.”  Afterall, who would want to listen to Green Day’s thought on the state of the nation?

As it turned out, Green Day would prove the skeptics wrong. American Idiot, would end up becoming one of the defining albums of the era in part because many of its song were protests against the War In Iraq.  While there plenty of artists making statements and complaining about the war, they seemed to be few and far between.  And it wasn’t just the Dixie Chicks who got some shit.  Dozens of fans walked on  a Pearl Jam concert in 2003 when Eddie Vedder sang the anti-Bush song, “Bushleaguer”.  If artists were speaking out against the war, they certainly weren’t doing it on the radio.  Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief didn’t receive much play, Neil Young’s Greendale only spoke to his devoted fans, and Conor Oberst was too much of a niche artist at the time to make any impact.  But when “American Idiot” came blaring on the radio in the summer of 2004, it suddenly became clear that Green Day were no longer trying to be The Clash.  They were The Clash for this generation.  When Armstrong suggested that ” Everybody do the propaganda and sing along to the age of paranoia” it was a rallying cry to wake people up.  And if the lyrics didn’t cover that ground, the sonic assault of the song was just as arresting.

While many of the songs are a protest agains the War in Iraq, making no pretense about the band’s stance, it’s also much more than that.   In a decade where everything seemed to teeter out of control from every direction.  “Hey can you hear the hysteria?” Armstrong asks. But then he takes it one step further – “The subliminal mind-fuck, America.”   Somehow Green Day managed to tap into the cultural zeitgeist – a fusion of anger and disillusionment.  It was an era where many seemed destined to “fall in love or fall in debt” .

Of course, Armstrong’s instincts and intentions would mean as much if the songs on American Idiot weren’t good.  The aforementioned 10 minute song, “Jesus of Suburbia” combined punk and elements of prog-rock.  Amazingly the 5 pieces of the songs fit together perfectly, and the result became of the band’s best songs.  “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” with that weird feed-back loop managed to be the successful song on the album.  The band managed to cover a lot of ground, without missing a step.  The lyrics may have the focal point of the album, but their content also never got in the way of a good rock song.  Which American Idiot was full off.

American Idiot brought back some of the spirit of the 60s and 70s – when music actually meant something, that it could be a catalyst for change.  If a group that previously known for being dumbass stoners ends up releasing the album that best sums up what it was like to live in the mid 2000s, I’m not sure whether Green Day deserve even more credit than they already have, or if I should point a shameful finger at others for not stepping up.

(And for those who might suggest I’m only basing this off of one album, The Sex Pistols only had one album as well.)

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Top 20 Concerts – The Final 5

5. The Pogues (March 2006, Washington DC – 930 Club)

Is there a better way to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day then going to the see the originators of Irish-folk punk?  Last year was an exception, but since 2006 I’ve been going to see the Pogues every March when they tour the East Coast.  Some years I even went twice.  Shane MacGowan’s vovals might be more warbled than they are on record, but the musicianship of the band more than makes up for it.  The Pogues can easily tear through songs such as “Streams of Whiskey”, “The Sunnyside of the Street”, and “Bottle of Smoke” with reckless abandon that can cause even the squarest of concert-goers to let loose.

Even the slower songs as such as “The Old Main Drag” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes” truly come alive in concert.  “Thousands Are Sailing” a lament about the troubles of Irish immigration becomes a triumph, when the song’s writer Phil Chevron takes over on lead vocals (MacGowan uses this a break to take a piss – I’m not joking).  The fan-favorite “Body of An American” can become something of a bit of bro-mance – when was the last time you saw so many dudes with their arms around each other’s shoulder singing loudly?

4. U2 (June 2001 Washington DC – Verizon Center)

I personally think that the 2005 Vertigo Tour had better performances (saw them twice that year) but on the 2001 Elevation Tour U2 showed not only were they back after the disaster that was Pop, but proved that concerts can be an uplifting and cathartic experience.  U2 perhaps more than any other group, excel at this.

This was the first U2 show I went to, after years of trying.  I had desperately tried to buy tickets several times, only to find Ticketmaster inform me that the show was sold-out.  Less than a week before the show, I read on a U2 fan-site that leftover tickets were being released.  Nervous that I would be locked out again, I quickly logged on.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I snatched up a pair of tickets for my older brother and I.

By June, even the newer songs off of All That You Can’t Leave Behind seemed like classics – particularly “Beautiful Day”, “Kite” and “In a Little While”.  Even the classic warhorses seemed to gain a new life.  Whatever you may think of him, Bono remains one of rock’s greatest frontmen – restless, until he reaches out to every single person in the arena.  It’s rare that a band seems to be so aware of every single person in a 20,000 person arena.  And The Edge’s ice-y guitar chords never sounded so glorious.

One of U2’s strengths has always been to make their old songs, relevant and contemporary.   The bridge of “I Will Follow” linked the past to the present as Bono recalled playing clubs in DC during the group’s early days.  “Bullet the Blue Sky” included an anti-gun rant, and “One” shed light on the troubles in Africa.

I just wish I had seen the post 9/11 shows when U2 songs seemed to be a soundtrack for a wounded nation.

3. Elvis Costello (May 2007, Washington DC – 930 Club)

I should probably pick the Costello show with Allen Touissant.  But, I only remember half of the show, so I don’t think that should count.  As I stated many times during this list, I’m in in love with small venues.  And seeing Elvis Costello, five feet from my face at the 930 Club is about an intimate as you can.  Being this close to one of your heroes is an experience that has evaded me until this show.

It wasn’t just the closeness that made this show great.  Costello was touring behind a collection of his “rock” songs, and as such the show centered around material from his earlier days when he looked liked and act like a pissed off Buddy Holly.  While Costello has mellowed a bit in his songwriting, the performances retained every bite and sting he left on record.  “Lipstick Vogue” was particularly snarling with its length instrumental bridge.  “There’s No Action” was a little tighter than the version found on This Year’s Model, but still seemed on the verge of veering out of control.

“Shabby Doll” was even darker than its studio counterpart, and the live favorite “Watching the Detectives” was given an extended reading, which suited the song’s reggae feeling.  Costello is often known for his love of The Beatles, and the group’s rendition of “Hey Bulldog” was a highlight.

2. Leonard Cohen (May 2009, Columbia MD – Merriweather Post Pavilion)

For a man that doesn’t tour very often, Leonard Cohen put on one hell of a show.  And like Willie Nelson, Cohen also seemed to be enjoying himself through the over 3 hour set which included all of his best known songs, “Suzanne”, “So Long, Marianne” “Tower of Song” and of course “Hallelujah”.  As for Cohen himself, he seemed a lot more animated than you would expect a 75 year old man to be.  He also seemed extremely humbled to be in the presence of “friends”.

The constant rain didn’t seem to do anything for the atmosphere.  Despite being soaked for most of the night, the show could have gone on for 3 more hours and I wouldn’t have cared.  Unlike Bob Dylan, your chances of seeing Leonard Cohen live are few and far between.

1. Van Morrison (February 2009, New York City – Wamu Theater)

(Note: I couldn’t find a video from the Astral Weeks tour)

A once in a life-time show.  I’m usually not lucky enough to go to “special performances”, but I did manage to get tickets for this sold out show (at a hefty, but extremely worthwhile price).  Like Cohen, Van Morrison doesn’t tour very often but in late 2008 he surprised everybody by not just playing a few shows, but by performing Astral Weeks in its entirety.

For me, Astral Weeks is a life-changing album, and I had no doubt that seeing Morrison perform Astral Weeks live would be a life-changing experience.  Usually, I’m not a fan of concerts where you have to sit down, but this was one concert where sitting back, taking in the music was a perfect suit.  In its original incarnation, Astral Weeks a reflective mood piece – one that commands you to sit down and listen.  And the same went for the show.

The first half of the set contained many standard Van Morrison songs. While he was every professional, Morrison seemed to plow right through the set (“Domino” was particularly short winded).  I wouldn’t suggest that he was actually bored with own material, but it was clear that he really wanted to do the Astral Weeks set.  In contrast to the first set, Astral Weeks was given a slow jazzy treatment that didn’t take on the songs original arrangements, but retained the spirit of the record.  “Slim Slow Slider” was given an expanded ending with Morrison repeatedly chanting, “I start breaking down”.  It’s a song that I never gave enough attention to on the record, but it became one of the highlights for me.

Astral Weeks has always existed in its own plane.  It’s not rock, it’s not folk, and it’s not jazz.  It can be a combination of these things – but it’s also about the passage of time – looking back and seeing the past.  Morrison made many great records since Astral Weeks, but he never made a better one.  And in 2008 and 2009, Morrison finally looked back into the past and finally admitted what everyone already knew – Astral Weeks isn’t just a record, but an experience.

 

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Top 20 Concerts Part 2

I should note that some of these artists I have seen multiple times, so I will only list my favorite concert from each particular artist.  Otherwise the top 10 could easily include multiple repeats.

Pearl Jam (May 2006 – Camden, New Jersey)

I’ve seen Pearl Jam a total of three times over the past few years, and I have yet to see a bad show by them.  Pearl Jam treat their shows like every single one is a special event.  Eddie Vedder is the Pete Townshend of lead singers – jumping across the stage and doing guitar acrobatics that lesser men would like downright silly even to attempt.   The last time I saw them in DC in 2008, they only made it about a minute into “Evacuation” before the band stumbled.  In the old days, Vedder might have walked off screaming.  Instead the band laughed it off, and went on to the next show like nothing happened.

I realize that I probably might get shit on for including Pearl Jam on this list by some people I know.  I still think that the lady at the concession lying when she said that drinks were no longer being served at the “artists’ request”.

 

The New Pornographers (October 2007 – 930 Club, Washington DC)

Twin Cinema is easily one of the best rock-pop records of the 2000s.   On record The New Pornographers have a lot of energy, but live they are well-oiled machine.   Neko Case and Carl Newman remain the band’s not-so secret weapon united in harmony, but it’s amazing to see them pull it off so effortlessly on songs like “All The Things That Go Make Heaven and Earth”, and “Use It”.  And when the coda for “The Bleeding Heart Show” kicks in, you wish it would go on forever.

 

Kings of Leon (October 2005 – Sonar, Baltimore MD)

In 2005, Kings of Leon were down right sleazy.  Not like the pretty boys and rock- pop cons you know today.  If the whiskey soaked songs, and dank of Sonar weren’t enough, the show included girls dancing on poles between sets and a magic show.  You could feel the sweat flying from the Followills foreheads as they blazed through countrified-punk versions of “The Bucket” and “Slow Night So Slow”.  Appropriately enough, they closed with the aptly titled, “Trani”.

The concert was awesome, but things turned sour later on, including being stuck in a traffic jam with the gas-tank on empty, and a fall down a flight of stairs.  (Both incidents turned out to be ok, but the gas tank was a close-call.)

 

The Black Crowes (August 2007 – Sonar, Baltimore MD)

Another show at Sonar. This is not really a criticism, but The Black Crowes are the best Rolling Stones cover band with original songs.  It was an old-fashioned rock and roll show at its best.  I distinctly remember it being the hottest night of the year – it was so fucking hot, and the compressed venue of Sonar only made it worse.  But somehow, it only seemed fitting to see the Crowes that way.

The Pixies (December 2009 – Constitution Hall, Washington DC)

I ended up going to this show at the last minute.  I got a phone-call in the afternoon from a friend telling me that an extra ticket was available.  So off I drove to DC during rush-hour to go see The Pixies.  I was almost late because I got lost to my friends house on the way – even though I had driven there at least 5 times prior.

This show was part of The Pixies “Doolittle Tour”. Prior to this show, I had never seen a whole album show, and was curious about how it come off.  The songs off of Doolittle are short and concise, so even the duds (there are really only about 3 off of an otherwise great album) are over before you know it.  The big songs – “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Here Comes Your Man” got the most response, but it was on “There Goes My Gun” and “Vamos” The Pixies really came alive.  The former proved that even in his mid 40s, Frank Black can still scream like a motherfucker, and the latter included an extended feedback solo that peeled the paint off of the otherwise stale Constitution Hall.

 

 

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5 Great British Bands That Go (Mostly) Unnoticed In the US

“Laid” by James just randomly played on my computer and my girlfriend demanded to know why I purchased that “stupid song from American Pie”.   I told her I actually have 5 songs from James.  To the US audience, much like Blur (who’s only stateside hit is “Song 2” aka “Woo hoo!”), James is considered a one-hit wonder.  But in Britain they were part of the Manchester scene (the UK equivalent of the US’ musical 90s Mecca Seattle) and put out a total of 12 albums since 1986.  Not bad for a band that is only known for “one song” in the US.

James and Blur aren’t the only bands to achieve commercial and artistic success in the UK, only to remain relatively unknown in the US.  So here’s my list of 5 great British bands that Americans don’t pay enough attention to.

Joy Division

Another band from Manchester.  Joy Division are perhaps best known for “Love Will Tear Us Apart” which came out after their lead singer Ian Curtis died.  Joy Division are one of rock’s most important bands – they’re practically the inventors of post-punk.  Joy Division were one of the first groups that took punk’s DIY ethics and lo-fi techniques and place the emphasis on mood and atmospherics rather than straight up aggression and anger.

The Smiths

Without a doubt, The Smiths were the most important alternative rock band of the 80s (with the exception of R.E.M.).  Morrissey was a highly intellectual and literate lyricist whose lyrics are most often associated with loneliness and isolation, but he could also be a keen social critic as well (“Panic”, “The Queen is Dead”, and “Sweet and Tender Hooligan”).   Johnny Marr is a widely underrated guitarist, and his ringing chords provided the backdrop for the Smith’s unique take on rock with a pop sensibility.  Stateside, they are probably best known for “How Soon Is Now?” which is a great song, but not representative of their sound.

The Faces

The Faces are probably best known at least in the US as “band that Rod Stewart used to sing with” or “that band that Ronnie Wood was in before he was in The Rolling Stones”.  The Faces songs were sloppy, and dirty much like The Rolling Stones in a certain way.  But while The Rolling Stones became the target of many punk bands for their overblown image, many punk bands often cited the Faces as a direct influence.

The Kinks

The Kinks are probably best remembered in the US for “You Really Got Me”.   Although they normally get placed in with the “British Invasion” wave of the early 60s, The Kinks incorporated pop, country, R&B, folk and blues into their sound.  The riff of The Who’s “I Can’t Explain” is almost a direct rip-off a Kinks song.  The Kinks influence can be heard in the songs of the The Clash, The Ramones, the Jam, and Oasis.

The Clash

To the US audience, the Clash are mostly known for “Should I Stay or I Should I Go?” or “Rock the Casbah”.  But with the dynamic Joe Strummer at the helm, The Clash were one “the CNN of music”.  They were political and intelligent.  And they can could take on almost any musical style and make it their own as witnessed on 1979’s London Calling. If both Eddie Vedder and Bruce Springsteen cover your songs, that should say something about The Clash’s influence.

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