Friday, November 30, 2007

Foo Fightin'

Of current bands, the Foo Fighters rank as one of my favorites because of a straight ahead approach to rock. Although there are punk and alternative influences in Dave Grohl's music, there is also a love of hammering riffs, catchy pop choruses and a sly sense of humor. After scoring a big hit this year with "The Pretender", the band's second single is the excellent "Long Road To Ruin" accompanied by one of their trademark goofy videos. They may never put an album out that's equal to Nirvana artistically, but that actually makes me like them more than the legendary grunge band. That's why ex Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl and company are the song of the moment!

Foo Fighters - "Long Road To Ruin"

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Van Halen rocks the cradle in Sac Town

Everybody still wants some! A sober, older Van Halen rocks out.

Last night I finally saw something I thought I would never see - Van Halen with David Lee Roth. My wife and I went to the Arco Arena to see 3/4ths of the original band hit the stage. As with all things VH, it isn't controversy free as longtime bassist Mike Anthony was replaced by Eddie Van Halen's teenage son Wolfgang. Our seats were in the nosebleeds but because Arco is a smaller arena than, say Oakland, we still could see pretty well. The audience was mostly drunk but hey, it's Van Halen. It couldn't be any other way.

The opening act was someone who seems to be decended from Bob Marley. The Marley dude gave an energetic performance and showed a good amount of talent if reggae is your thing. Naturally, the biggest response came when he covered Bob Marley's biggest hits, "No Woman No Cry" and "I Shot The Sheriff".

Once the stage was cleared, it revealed a somewhat plain platform highlighted by an ascending "S" shaped ramp that ran from the middle of the front seating section to the rear of the stage. The lighting effects were suitably and effective, but also a bit modest. A far cry from the overblown sets of their glory years with endlessly high drum risers and a giant wall of Marshall amps. The amps were still there, but again a bit modest.

The band hit the stage in the dark in classic VH manner with a flurry of drum rolls and guitar squeals. The opening riff to "You Really Got Me" started and the lights came up to reveal David Lee Roth at the top of the "S" ramp waving a large red flag. Roth wore tight leather pants and a sort of Michael Jacksonish decorated coat. Eddie Van Halen looked homeless in worn jeans, no shirt and a grey beard. His son, Wolfgang Van Halen, had an appearance consistent with who he is: an overweight teen in long hair and a hoodie. Alex Van Halen sported his classic look, no shirt and a white bandana.

"You Really Got Me" kicked off the show to a rousing start even though the background vocals were low and atonal. After "Got Me", the background vocal mics had effects added to heighten and double the backing vocals. But the band sounded tight, with Eddie blazing away while Wolfgang revealed a Jack Bruce influenced bass style. Wolfgang was given more space than Mike Anthony ever had, his playing was aggressive and gave a muscular, thumping bottom to the material. Alex seemed to lose a half step with age, but not to the point it affected anything.

From "You Really Got Me" they went straight into "I'm The One" with their trademark high speed shuffle and Roth delivering the first of a handful of spin kicks he would deliver. In place of the Doo Wop break the band stopped for Roth to announce their return and for the members to make the first of many affectionate displays to each other (no, not that kind of affectionate display. I know what you're thinking, they just hugged a lot). Wolfgang and Eddie sat on the floor to trade licks until Wolfgang walked to the top of the ramp.

At the top of the ramp, Wolfgang held up his bass under spotlight to play the opening bass line to "Runnin' With The Devil". The band was in full attack mode and I was in a state of disbelief as to how good this was going. Roth put on a red top hat (he had a few in different colors like Stevie Nicks) and led the audience through a sing along of this classic anthem.

And that's when I realized the difference between then and now. On bootlegs, Roth was always too wasted to remember most of the words to his songs and led the band into rambling monologues that mainly consisted of random insults and slurring. While Roth did a random insult to an audience member early on, he seemed sober and in some control of himself. Eddie also seemed sober and happy. While this Van Halen may not scale the previous heights of excess, they were much more consistent.

"Devil" led to "Romeo's Delight" and the audience was in a frenzy at this point. Following some inspired harp playing by Roth, VH kicked into "Somebody Get Me A Doctor" to keep up the nonstop barrage of energetic rock. Somewhere at this point included some jamming between a scatting Roth and Eddie Van Halen along with a bit of the Who's "Magic Bus", the first of many references to their influences.

"Beautiful Girls" came next and again the audience tried to keep up with Roth's slap happy verses. The love for Van Halen II continued with the hit "Dance The Night Away" allowing Roth to cut loose with his dancing.

In another surprise, the band launched into "Atomic Punk" with the group jamming in the middle of the stage as Roth raced around the stage twirling his mic stand and then acting like he was going to throw it as a spear.

The tribal drums started up for the intro to "Everybody Wants Some!!". Eddie Van Halen started to move around the stage more, running and spinning about more like his former self. The hip surgery showed in his limited mobility but that didn't stop him from some of his trademark scissor kicks and hopping about. Roth and Eddie did some more jamming, this time on Cream's "Born Under A Bad Sign".

A little bass solo from Wolfgang started off the Fair Warning hit "So This Is Love?" and Alex showed he still has it. A faithful rendition of "Mean Streets" came next.

"(Oh) Pretty Woman" maintained the momentum but the band seemed to tire a little bit. Another difference from the good old days, these guys get a little winded now. Fortunately, Alex Van Halen bought the rest of the group time with an extended drum solo that included bits of "Outta Love Again".

Next up was my all time favorite Van Halen track, "Unchained". It was fun to see Roth try to help Wolfgang with the chorus lyrics and give the bassist the classic line "Give Me A Break, Dave". Wolfgang delivered the line with an ironic pause for laughs.

In another surprise, the band's "forgotten" hit "I'll Wait" came next. The icy synths and Eddie's smooth playing brought back memories of the mid 80's and Miami Vice. Roth worked the front of the "S" stage throughout the song.

A stellar version of "And The Cradle Will Rock" came up next before the band tore into "Hot For Teacher". The band was on fire again and went into the last surprise, Van Halen I's "Little Dreamer".

"Little Dreamer" was the highlight of the night as Roth stood at the top of the "S" in cool blue light delivering a strong vocal (his voice sounds better now than a few years ago). "Dreamer" reminded me of the first time I heard Van Halen I, on a hot summer night in my room with a tape I borrowed from a friend. Roth was then given some monologue time with his guitar as he spun stories of wild ex girlfriends, teenage drug use and Pink Floyd records.

"Ice Cream Man" blew the doors off the place. "Jamie's Cryin" kept the crowd's energy up with another sing along. The big hits kept comin' as the band ripped through "Panama".

Eddie Van Halen was given his solo space that was lengthy but inspired. He played bits of all his famous solos including "Spanish Fly", "316", "Cathedral" and "Eruption".

The band came back to life with "Little Guitars" from Diver Down as Eddie finally broke out his famous Frankenstein guitar. They closed the set with the rousing "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love".
Returning for an encore almost as soon as they left the stage, the opening strands of "1984" led into the mega hit "Jump". Predictably, the band members jumped all over the stage and Roth sported his baton twirling skills during the synthesizer solo. Confetti fell from the lighting rig and Roth carried a giant microphone baloon to the middle of the stage.

And that ended the show, the house lights popped on shortly after the band left the stage. I was reportedly smiling from ear to ear, which I believe because it was a dream come true to see them live. The car ride home I can't say the same about because I managed to dump half of a King size Diet Coke into the drivers seat of my car. But the concert itself was great. It wasn't as great as if I saw them 23 years ago but the band definitely still rocked. Thanks for the birthday gift honey!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Music Roundup-RIP Kevin DuBrow

A lot has happened in music lately, the biggest news being the death of Kevin DuBrow-

Kevin Dubrow of Quiet Riot found dead

Lead singer of Quiet Riot Kevin DuBrow was found dead in his home a few days ago. He was only 52 years old. Like many teenagers in the early 80's, I bought Quiet Riot's Metal Health album based on their big hit "Cum On Feel The Noize". Though they didn't receive full credit, that remake of a classic Slade song was the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" of that decade ushering in a wave of hair metal on MTV. Other songs like "Bang Your Head" and "Slick Black Cadillac" also stood out. Quiet Riot was sort of the doorway band to Metal for me, the first Heavy Metal band I had ever listened to. I also liked the fact that it was a multicultural band as half of the lineup was Hispanic.

Despite having a very successful album and a recognizable mascot, Quiet Riot quickly faded out. They would occassionally show up as a minor blip on the rock radar with their followup Slade remake "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" or the stomping "The Wild and the Young" but could never recapture their initial heat. Which is too bad, because they were a good band.

DuBrow had an outsized persona of a rock and roll crazy man that didn't translate well once the Hair Metal bands got pretty and sang power ballads. While I can't claim to be a die hard Quiet Riot fan, I liked the band and think it's sad that he's gone.

Rosanna Arquette seen with Paul McCartney

Normally I don't think much of McCartney's love life but being seen with Rosanna Arquette is news. She is the muse that has inspired some great songs (Toto's "Rosanna" and a lot of Peter Gabriel's songs). For some reason she's more inspiring as a musician's girlfriend than as a actress. Go figure.

Saga auditioning new singers on You Tube

The Canadian progressive rock band Saga is auditioning for new singers through their website at . You can download an instrumental track to two of their biggest hits, "On The Loose" and "Wind Him Up", and then record yourself singing to it and upload it to You Tube. Then you can e-mail them your You Tube link. Pretty cool, if I could sing I would try out myself.

Asia announces intention to record a new album

Finally, after many decades the original Asia will be recording a new album. With the current feeling of good will among the band and an emphasis on the debut album when playing live, hopefully the new disc will have more of the instrumental interplay they had at the beginning. Meanwhile, the John Payne version of Asia appears to be continuing as well which could result in one of those Survivor style battles (is Survivor Jimi Jamison or Frankie Sullivan?).

Led Zeppelin tour rumor

Could it be? This would be a blessing and a curse if it happens, it would be yet another high priced reunion tour. But it's Led Zeppelin!

Van Halen plays tonight in Sacramento

Finally gonna see them live with DLR. And unlike when I saw Rush, I plan on not drinking at all so I can remember what I'm seeing and hearing. Yes!

To close this out, I'm going to include a link to "Mama Weer All Crazee Now"

Quiet Riot - "Mama Weer All Crazee Now"

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Top 10 Favorite Lesser Known Van Halen DLR songs

Theyyrre Baaack! Eddie Van Halen takes his kid on the road, probably avoiding millions in child support.

Way back when, back when I was in high school in 1984 I decided to skip seeing Van Halen live. The other kids came to school wearing the T Shirts and saying they had seen a great show, so I thought the next time they came around I would see them. Little did I know the next time they would appear with Diamond Dave would be 23 years later! Van Hagar was great, don't get me wrong, but the band was more distinct with glory hogging Roth up front. They were a freewheeling explosion of rock and roll excess.

So, like with Springsteen I'll commemorate this event by making a list of my favorite lesser known tunes from the Roth era. And aawwayy we go!

10. In A Simple Rhyme from Women and Children First

On Women Van Halen decided to lengthen the average song times of their recordings allowing the group to stretch out musically and adding a lot more David Lee Roth speeches. It is the album that comes the closest to capturing early VH live, minus the drunken rambling, odd pauses and slurring. "In A Simple Rhyme" takes advantage of the changes by alternating between hard charging verse sections and a soft, slowed down chorus. There are brief moments that are almost Beatleish slapped in between Eddie Van Halen's guitar pyrotechnics.

9. I'm The One from Van Halen

A slam-bang rocker from the first album, "I'm The One" provided the template for future high speed shuffles that would be the highlight for many albums. The song has a few unique features, such as EVH cutting loose with dive bombing guitar runs during the verses and pulling back during the solos. An a capella doo wop break in the middle of the song reflects Roth's odd ball humor. And the sound of drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Mike Anthony pounding the beat while Roth screams "I'm the one / the one you love / c'mon baby Show Your Love!" seals the deal.

8. Me Wise Magic from Best Of Vol 1.

One of the most recent tracks from DLR Van Halen came with their first Greatest Hits set in 1996. From the reunion that should have been in 1996 until Roth pissed Eddie Van Halen off backstage at the MTV awards. Although this may have been a single, it was not a big hit and I never heard it on the radio.

The song has some of Diamond Dave's most direct lyrics about being back in the fold with the Van Halen brothers and a killer high flying chorus. It went "Do ya believe / Aw don't you trust me?/ Me Wise Magic / Yeah yeah, yeah yeah!" Plus, it has some of the intricate and windy guitar patterns Eddie Van Halen got into just before Van Halen 3. For a hot second, the original Van Halen was back together and rocking! Then they split up again for another 11 years.

7. Let's Get Rockin' from Bootlegs

Before Van Halen (the first album), the band recorded a 25 song demo that features most of the first album plus many tracks that would show up on later albums. It also had a few choice cuts that didn't make any album ("Babe Don't Leave Me Alone" and "Young and Wild" come to mind). One of those tracks was "Let's Get Rockin", a classic VH anthem if there ever was one. Alex and Mike lay down a fast groove to allow Eddie and Dave to cut loose in a manner equal to "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love". It's a shame this didn't make any regular studio release because it contains everything great about this band.

My wife went through a lot of trouble to get me this CD. Thanks honey!

6. Women and Children First from Women and Children First

Admittedly, when I think of Van Halen I don't think of campfire singalongs. Which is what makes "Women and Children First" a great surprise. Eddie Van Halen strums on the acoustic guitar while Roth leads a sing along to an original song with humor. I love the part about sailing away with some one's daughter.

5. Somebody Get Me A Doctor from Van Halen II

Another song from that legendary 25 song demo showed up on Van Halen's second album. An explosive rocker with a memorably heavy guitar riff and Roth screaming like a banshee. Live the band would stretch out the midsection of the song to a slower pace while Eddie Van Halen delivered some inspired guitar noodling. A fan favorite, almost every member of the band has revived this song for live performance even on solo outings. Somebody get me a shot!

4. Cathedral from Diver Down

This song ranks with "Eruption" as one of all time favorite guitar solos. Eddie Van Halen fiddles with his guitar to get a sound similar to a woodwind instrument (I want to say clarinet but could be wrong) for a solo that is both soothing and stimulating. It makes me feel like that scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off where they stare at the paintings in the art gallery. I remember the first time I saw Van Halen live, when this solo came up I just sat down and took it all in. And no, I was not drunk! (not that time, anyway).

3. Push Comes To Shove from Fair Warning

If you blink you'll miss it, the only time in the band's career where they get a little funky. Mike Anthony anchors a pumping bass groove while Roth coolly rambles on top. In a different band's repertoire it wouldn't make an impression, but hearing these hard rock heroes try something this different got my attention. And it's not half bad funk either. It's not Ohio Players, but it doesn't suck. I consider this to be their lost porn movie jam (ironically, last year Eddie Van Halen recorded an original song for a porn movie and it wasn't remotely funky at all. I saw it on You Tube).

2. Drop Dead Legs from 1984

A prototype strutting rocker for the Sammy Hagar era that would follow, "Legs" had one of those "Holy Crap that's amazing" guitar riffs that keeps a mid tempo pace while Alex Van Halen's ringing percussion builds up the power. Diamond Dave goes way over the top with his misogyny on this track to the point of overblown humor. Future Hagar tracks like "Cabo Wabo" and "Summer Nights" owe a debt to this song.

1. Hang 'Em High from Diver Down

After I bought 1984 and loved it, my friend said that it was their pop album and I couldn't handle their earlier stuff. To prove him wrong, I bought Diver Down and was blown away by the second song "Hang 'Em High". It became my favorite Van Halen song (until I heard "Unchained") as it hit hard with a low slung groove, EVH's zippy guitar blasts and Roth's cool low toned vocal. I ended up liking Diver Down enough that I went out and bought the other records they had released up to that point.

That's my list of 10 great unsung Van Halen songs. I hope to hear these songs live but won't be surprised if I don't. It looks like the new Roth tour is going to make it to my town before a breakup so I'm more than satisfied. All right! Let's Get Rockin!

Monday, November 19, 2007

There and Back Again

Apparently photographed the one day a year it doesn't rain in Seattle.

I've just come back from a mini vacation going to Seatlle, Washington to see a relative's wedding. Other than the near constant rain, I thought Washington was a great place to be. The people were nice, the city was clean, there was a good mix of traditional and high tech stuff and the drivers followed actual traffic safety laws. The relatives we stayed with were excellent hosts. A huge contrast to the aggressive slash and burn approach to living that comes with the Bay Area. If I didn't feel like Noah with all the rain up there, it would probably be a nice place to live.

Well, it wouldn't be a Mr Mike entry without media to compare the trip to. So here it goes!

Family Guy - Wrong Sounding Muppets

I hate flying which reminded me of this joke from TV's Family Guy about taking chances.

South Park - Cartman "I did not have an anal probe!"
My cousin had a funny story involving this quote and a train. Plus, she does a great Cartman impersonation.
Rilo Kiley - "Breakin' Up"
The Fray - "How To Save A Life"

I watched Grey's Anatomy for the first time. The only patient they had died because the doctors were too busy worrying about who they would sleep with next or who were fighting over who had more alcoholic parents. Your HMO dollars at work people! Anyway, Rilo Kiley played in the background and The Fray are like the soundtrack band to this show.

Foo Fighters - "The Pretender"
Metallica - "Ain't My Bitch"

My IPOD got a good work out during this trip, I really liked waking up to the Foo Fighters. Both songs were motivational in dealing with some of the stresses of travel.

Buddhist Leader Guy (not sure of official title) - "Chanting"

The wedding ceremony was Buddhist and included some chanting. I've heard some chanting before and thought the guy was pretty good, the Simon Cowell in me was suitably impressed with his vocal tone. HUmmmm. HUmmmm.

Prince - "I Wanna Be Your Lover"

The music at the reception was fairly sedated, but towards the end after most of the guests had left this song played. It stood out after hours of hearing Adult Contemporary. Was somebody trying to say something?
University of Washington versus Cal - 37 to 23
Everyone had reason to celebrate after Washington upset Cal before the post reception party. It was great to see many relatives I hadn't talked to in years.
Depeche Mode - "Clean"
I often discuss media with my cousin and she brought up this song from the Violator album. I didn't remember it and so when I got home I played it off You Tube (I hate being stumped on music). She mentioned looking for a remixed version but I couldn't remember which one it was. Anyway, I found a cool stripped down version to put here. This one's for you Cousin!

Jackson 5 - "Never Can Say Goodbye"

The morning we left my Aunt, Uncle and Cousin brought out old home movies from the early 70's that included me falling off a chair, terrorizing my brother and doing my Michael Jackson dance in front of the record player. My Jackson 5 record stood out in the foreground, fittingly titled Never Can Say Goodbye.

Jimi Hendrix - "Angel"

This song played on the IPOD on the way home. Flying is very stressful and my wife was very supportive to me thorughout the flight, so of course I thought of her as this song played. Love you honey!

Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Coming Home"

There's probably irony in thinking about Skynyrd following a safe plane ride, but I thought of this song on the way home from the airport. Or maybe it's a residual aftereffect of wanting to yell "Freebird" at the wedding organist during the ceremony.

And that was the trip. My Aunt and Uncle were very nice to let us stay with them and we all had a great time. Dixie ate her bed while at the kennel. Do you love him, Honey?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

When Genres Collide - Sugarland and Beyonce

About a year ago when I heard Beyonce's hit "Irreplaceable" I thought it was a pleasant, catchy tune that conveyed a strong sense of purpose and personality. I found the hook "To the left, to the left" sticking in my brain for weeks. It wasn't my favorite song and didn't look for it (didn't have to, it was always on somewhere) but I did like it.

Apparently, many other people liked it too including the Country band Sugarland who took to performing the song live at their shows. This has culminated in a suprising collaboration between Sugarland and Beyonce at the American Music Awards. The show looked really boring so it sucks I missed this, but I caught it on the web and all I can say is...Wow. It's not a perfect team up as some of Beyonce's soulful vocal runs roughshod over the bluegrass beat but it still kicks ass. A fun example of When Genres Collide!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sweetness Follows

Yesterday I learned of the death of an old friend of mine from back when I worked at a local theme park. Peggy was a good friend to me as I worked summers at the park, she always looked out for others and had a great sense of humor. She could see through bull a mile away and was very kind. I worked with her for five years and was occasionally invited to her house for some gatherings. She used to refer to me as her "son".

I've only seen her once in the past few years, but I am definitely saddened to hear of her passing. She was a special person and will be missed. Her daughter informed my wife and I of her passing today, while visiting her daughter I could see a lot of Peggy in her. Peggy also had grandchildren, I'm sure she would be happy that a part of her still lives on.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Artist Spotlight: Pearl Jam

Ahhh grunge. You know we're sincere 'cause we dress poor.

It's time for another Artist Spotlight and with winter and rain here it seems fitting to cover my favorite band to come from the Seattle grunge scene. Pearl Jam rode in following Nirvana's wave of popularity that made alternative rock and specifically the downbeat, punky hard rock bands of grunge popular. From the beginning, Pearl Jam stood out as, well, being the grunge band with the most commercial sound while still retaining a strong sense of integrity. Unlike some 90's band that took a little time to grow on me, Pearl Jam I liked from the start. In someways they were the soundtrack to my 20's. Who knew this great band would start with a surfer and a demo tape?

Ten (1991)

When singer Eddie Vedder of the band Bad Radio received a demo tape from former Red Hot Chili Pepper drummer Jack Irons, rock history was made. Vedder put vocals and lyrics to the demo of ex-Mother Love Bone guitarist Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament and ex-Shadows guitarist Mike McCready. When Ten was recorded, Dave Krusen was the drummer who left after recording. Given clear, visceral production from Rick Parashar the group exhibited a muscular sound that had the anthemic rebellious qualities of The Who matched with a stripped down spikiness like The Police.

Ten is one of my favorite albums as they unwittingly made a great Arena Rock album. The thrashing "Alive" became the bands breakout song. "Even Flow" rocked harder and showed the band could pull the loud/soft dynamics was part of Nirvana's sound. " The surging "Jeremy" became an MTV standard as everyone tried to guess if the boy in the video shot himself or shot the classroom (the song was based on the true story of a boy who shot himself in front of the class that tormented him). The Stonesy ballad "Black" demonstrated Vedder's melodramatic delivery to strong effect.

Pearl Jam at this point managed to recall the greatness of other classic hard rock bands but wore enough flannel to seem current. It was a group I enjoyed listening to for their fire and honest approach to BIG RAWK glory. At the time, I was trying to wrap up college and with many of the bands I liked before breaking up was looking for something new to listen to. One album into their career, Pearl Jam had already generated a classic.

Singles soundtrack (1992)

Normally I don't count a soundtrack appearance as a perfomers discography unless they performed the whole album, but when I think of this movie I often think of Pearl Jam. Probably because most of them are in it playing Matt Dillon's band, Citizen Dick. The rocker "State Of Love And Trust" is one of my favorite PJ tunes and "Breath" was all over the radio. This appearance plus music videos and appearing on MTV Unplugged made Pearl Jam the band you couldn't escape from in 1992.
Vs. (1993)

Probably stunned by their own success, Pearl Jam was determined to break their "one trick pony" label of grungified Arena Rock. Tired of their own omnipresence, they quit making music videos particularly after being unhappy at the acclaim "Jeremy" received. At the same time, they loaded up some familiar sounding songs to avoid completely losing their audience. The result was the enervated but scattered Vs. album. Originally titled Five Against One until the media took it as a shot at their most famous critic, Kurt Cobain, Vs. finds the band upping the punkiness at times and introducing a new acoustic element. New drummer Dave Abrusezze had an even more Stuart Copeland feel to his playing but clashed with Vedder in terms of personality. The Southern rock anti-gun rant "Glorified G" is written as Vedder's response to Abrusezze buying a firearm.
Musically, it's definitely a transitional album. The first single "Go" announced a less commercial approach overall as it hit the radio with it's rapid pace and frantic guitars. "Go" and "Blood" emphasized the punky edgy side of the band. Sequels to the hits from the first album abounded as "Dissident" was "Alive pt.2", "Animal" was the new "Even Flow" and "rearviewmirror" copied "Jeremy" except for the Rush style bass pattern. And The Police influence kicks into high gear on "W.M.A."
But the acoustic side is what shines on Vs. Pearl Jam standards "Daughter" and "Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town" are the highlights here. "Daughter" is easily the best song on the album, an almost folk rock feel with lyrics that hint at the woes of child abuse.

Pearl Jam's career continued to fly high and succeeded in expanding their sound. On it's own terms, Vs. is a fun ride but not much more. Personally, I could relate to the need to make a step forward in life at that time and was dating my wife when she bought this CD. We both liked Pearl Jam and still have this CD in our collection, I often think of my wife when thinking about Vs. but that's more due to timing than anything else. There's really nothing sentimental on the album.
Vitalogy (1994)

You're not a rock star until you make an album complaining about the rock star trip and with fame phobic leader Eddie Vedder it was inevitable. Vitalogy finds the band continuing to stretch their sound sonically with consolidating the overall approach so it all fit under one roof. Wild experimentation such as the White album era Beatlesque "Tremor Christ", accordion driven "Bugs" and the sound collage "Hey Foxymophandlemamathat'sme" broke new ground. Elsewhere, they built on the approach of the first two albums with the hyper punk "Spin The Black Circle", the swaggering Stones styled "Not For You"and the dark folk of "Immortaility".

The lyrics do their best to show Vedder and the band trying to keep fame at arms length, whether it's spiteful ("Not For You"), rueful ("Corduroy") or fighting it's attraction ("Satan's Bed"). Vitology was a darker album than the previous two (and with Pearl Jam that's saying something) but the band was able to keep their roll going . "Corduroy" and "Nothingman" weren't the singles but still made a huge impact on radio. Best of all, "Better Man", a song Vedder had from his Bad Radio days, proved to be a smash and is one of the best in their catalog.

My wife and I were just married and didn't have much money, I often associate this disc with living in our first apartment. The apartment was in a noisy neighborhood next to a hospital and the complex was shaped like a pill box. Vitalogy was one of the few CDs I bought at the time, so fortunately it was really good.

Merkinball (1995)

By the next year many changes took place that helped Pearl Jam dismantle the fame that had come the first half of the decade. They got into an extended battle with Ticketmaster that resulted in very little touring in the US. At the end of Vitalogy, drummer Dave Abrusezze was fired and replaced with Jack Irons. Then they recorded an album backing their hero Neil Young called Mirrorball (1995). Two left over tracks from those sessions, "I Got Id" and "Long Road", became Pearl Jam songs released on a two song EP called Merkinball.

"I Got Id" was another big radio hit, a midtempo anthem stamped with a stark guitar lead. The second song "Long Road" has become a minor PJ classic of sorts, a soft meditative song with a healing tone. Years later, the band used "Long Road" for the 9/11 tribute for one of that evening's best performances.

For me, I had started a new job and heard "I Got Id" as I drove home almost daily. So I always think of work when I think of this song.

No Code (1996)

I have reviewed this disc before on my Favorite 100 CDs list so I'll recap. Pearl Jam was reportedly not getting along well during the making of this disc and it shows. But, that's not necessarily a bad thing. No Code shows the band dropping much of it's hard rock tendencies and loosening up. New drummer Jack Irons playing style was key to this as he replaces the Stuart Copeland influence with a bouncy garage band flavor. A former Chili Pepper, Iron's was also adept at polyrhythmic drum patterns like on the single "Who You Are". Neil Young's influence creeps in, particularly on "Smile" and the band strives to match Crazy Horse's Ragged Glory in their own terms.

Although it sold well initially, No Code was the first commercial setback for Pearl Jam. And they seemed unfazed by it. They actually seemed to prefer it.

Yield (1998)

Since they weren't going to break up, Pearl Jam continued forward but with a new attitude. Yield to me is the career album, not in greatness but instead a band deciding their in it for the long haul. As a result, much of Yield comes off as workmanlike. Where No Code showed the band's various songwriting elements pushing for more individuality, Yield yields a slightly homogenous product.

The Led Zeppelin "Going to California" influenced "Given To Fly" was the first single and most memorable piece from the album. Another strong rocker, "Do The Evolution" was very listenable and showed a rare flash of humor from an otherwise stern band. "Push Me Pull Me" was the next step in developing the groups spoken word / sound collage style. "MFC" was a nice little bit of stomping garage rock.

The rest of the album sounds great as well, but there is a sameiness to much of the disc. Like Pearl Jam, I had settled into a long haul with my work and could relate to it. Still, Yield is one of the lesser favorites this band has done and I rarely play it.

Later in the year, the band recorded their annual Christmas single that included a cover of a 60's R&B hit called "Last Kiss". The song became Pearl Jam's biggest hit single of their career much to their chagrin.

Binaural (2000)

Pearl Jam continued their commercial slide, intentional or not, with Binaural. Produced with that distinct murky touch producer Tchad Blake brings, PJ went into the new millenium with a different drummer. Jack Irons dropped out and was replaced by ex-Soundgarden stickman Matt Cameron. Cameron made his presence felt on the prior live album Live On Two Legs (1999) where he brought muscle back to the rhythm section. Expected to do the same here, Binaural was a bit of a disappointment for fans like me waiting for Pearl Jam to really rock again. As on No Code and Yield, there was an intentional shying away from playing anything remotely catchy to be sure no one outside of the immediate fan base liked it.

In contrast to their prior work, the musicianship and playing is tight and professional while the atmosphere is remote and mysterious. The songwriting was still more on the rote side with a touch of underwritten material despite inspired moments like my favorite track, the acoustic strumming "Thin Air". Vedder's ukelale backed "Soon Forget" is another memorable flash of humor. The Who styled opener "Breakerfall" was a rocker that would have made John Entwhistle proud. Taken in full, Binaural does effectively create a mood of communication breakdown.

The band witnessed a tragedy when a concert at Rockskilde resulted in the death of many fans during their set, almost resulting in the band breaking up.

For me personally, Binaural came at a time when the band I looked to for rock were mellowing out. I listened to it a bit at the time but usually forget the album when selecting music to listen to.

Riot Act (2002)

The last studio album for Columbia / Sony was the fittingly named Riot Act. Usually the last album in a contract of a formerly popular band is a last ditch attempt to sell out. "Like me or I won't have a job" is what these albums usually scream. Yet Pearl Jam persevered with their uncommercial approach. No anthems, no pop hooks, nothing to get them on the radio. What was there was the warmest effort they've done since Yield, they even brought in an organ player for some tracks.

Despite the refusal to sell out, Riot Act features tunes more accessable than the previous few discs. The lead single "I Am Mine" received radio play and was somewhat catchy in a seaside shanty kind of way. The oddly titled "Love Boat Captain" (not Captain Stubbing) was the catchiest thing they had released since "Better Man". My favorite on the disc, "Green Disease", rocked with fervor and of course a message.

In contrast to Binaural, this disc is practically glowing in delivering a real flesh and blood band. All of the songs are well written and thought out but not to the point of staleness. Riot Act isn't meant to sell millions of records but is a baby step towards re-establishing them in the public eye.

For me, Riot Act came at a time shortly after we had moved into our current address. I remember sitting on my relatively new couch listening to Riot Act play on the stereo so it is tied to these memories of getting used to a new place.

While on tour, the band starting to play the Bush /war bashing "Bushleager" at live shows generating a lot of heat for the group. Done at a time when the country was on the verge of war and President's Bush popularity riding high, Pearl Jam became the target for all liberal bashing pundits. Everyone, note to self-listen to Eddie Vedder next time.

Lost Dogs (2003)

Pearl Jam has one of the strongest cult followings in rock today and are a strong generator of bootleg recordings as a result. So much so, PJ took to recording and releasing just about all of their concerts. In the studio, rarities were all over the place so they decided to clean up with a two disc set. Lost Dogs brings in the Odds & Sods of their career, filling in the blanks with B sides and soundtrack cuts. The early Hendrix styled ballad "Yellow Ledbetter" finally gets an official release. The hit "Last Kiss" also gets the full CD treatment.

The set is uniformly good except for the deletion of lyrics from "Brother". For me, the Who cover "Leavin' Here" is a rampaging bit of good rockin fun. Because much of it was previously released or bootlegged their weren't any stand out tracks but succeeds in setting the band up for the next phase.

Pearl Jam (2006)

Effectively off of Sony and now free to make music on their own terms Pearl Jam returned to the Big Rawk. Easily their hardest rocking disc since their debut, Pearl Jam shows a band ditching their restraint and finally writing catchy songs. "Life Wasted" written following the funeral of a Ramone is one of their best ever. Thematically, Vedder has Iraq on his mind with "Marker In The Sand", "Army Reserve" and the excellent rocker "World Wide Suicide".

At this point, Pearl Jam was sort of forgotten about to me but this disc brought it all the way back. The band is alive and rockin again with an abandon not seen in years. Pearl Jam stands out as a whole more than the actual songs as I can't remember all of the tunes but recall being impressed with it as a whole. With newly restored vigor and relevance, Pearl Jam found themselves being censored on an online concert by AT&T.

For me, the album mirrored my own life in that it came at a time when new energy and a new approach was needed. One of my favorite discs of 2006, I rate this one as a welcome return to form.

In 2007, the band recorded a cover of the Who classic "Love Reign O'er Me". To hear it, just click below:

Pearl Jam - "Love Reign O'er Me"

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tom Petty gets the Last Picture Show treatment

Petty still won't back down-and now he has a movie to tell you about it

Tom Petty - if you told me 30 years ago I would be a fan of him, I would've thought you were crazy. Petty was the antithesis of what I was listening to, he had a nasally singing voice, no flashiness and short songs. He seemed to be a stubborn classist amid a range of modern hit tech bands.

But over time I came to appreciate these very qualities in Petty. And it's those qualities that receive a good look at in Peter Bogdonavich's documentary Runnin' Down A Dream (2007). Bogdonavich uses home movies, videos and interviews to tell Petty's story in chronological order and ties each album release to events in his personal life. At four hours long it seemed daunting to view it, but once started Runnin' becomes addictive.

You follow Petty from his hungry early days, his record company battles and personal tragedies. Best of all, the Heartbreakers part in his life are illustrated and given their due. There are many boring rockumentaries. Runnin' Down a Dream isn't one of them.

One nice thing about the movie is that it reminded me of The Last DJ (2002), possibly Petty's worst album (though Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) 1988 is actually that title holder). The song snippets played in the movie sounded great so I popped that disc into my car. And I found that DJ is an album that is less than the sum of it's parts. Each individual song on DJ is a gem, particularly the "Into The Great Wide Open" sequel "Money Became King" and the humorous record company putdown "Joe". But the concept album is too insular, it means to make a statement about society becoming sensationalistic and money grubbing but instead just makes Petty seem like an old crank. It takes away his relatability which leaves DJ hard to take over as a whole.

But that's what's great about Petty. his iracible directness in his songcraft and approach to music. Even when he misfires like on Last DJ, Petty still comes up with winning songs like "Dreamville". Runnin' Down A Dream brings this into sharp focus more effectively than even his box set Playback. Petty has proven himself to be a first tier classic rocker.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The best video I've seen this year

I was watching my favorite channel VH1 when the video for the latest Fergie single came up. Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas has had a series of successful singles that borrows from other artists sound. Fergie's new song, "Clumsy", is in that Christina Aguilera mode of faux 40's retro to a current electronic beat and is extremely catchy.

Best of all, the video is done in a pop-up book style with great special effects. Although the effects aren't groundbreaking, the zippy visual style is definitely forward thinking and will probably be copied in commercials for the next 6 months. I really enjoyed the segments with the airlock and the plane. A great video to a decent song.

It's viewed in less fuzzy condition without the closed captioning at

Fergie - "Clumsy"

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Can you wail like a banshee caught in a beartrap?

If there is an unofficial title for the ultimate wailer in rock, it's Steelheart's Mike Metijevic. I can't think of anyone in maybe the history of music that sounds quite like him. The band Steelheart never got that far commercially stateside and Metijevic suffered a serious injury to his head that hampered his career, but internationally they seemed to achieve greater success. Asian countries seemed to take to the power ballad "She's Gone" as there are some Asian singers both professional and karaoke on You Tube taking their shot at Metijevic's title. Of course, no one measures up to the supersonic high pitched greatness of Steelheart but this guy gets kinda close. So here's reportedly unfamous singer Kim Sang Min performing "She's Gone".

Kim Sang Min - "She's Gone"

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Better Seen and Not Heard

Is it a Fame reunion? No, it's America's Most Smartest Model!

The latest Reality TV show to catch the eye of me and my wife is VH1's America's Most Smartest Model. The show is like any other reality show, there's a high concept (in this case dumb models trying to prove they are not dumb), challenges and of course eliminations. Contestants are reduced to two dimensional characters to elicit a response from viewers-if they have enough charisma to take them that far. The formula is stale and boring so what's left is the hook, the catchy gimmick of the show, to reel viewers in.

America's Most Smartest Model has a great hook. Take a bunch of over privileged pretty people known for their stupidity and have them attempt to prove they're not dumb. Like In N Out Burger, this show delivers one thing and it works over and over again. I can't get enough of watching these models fall all over themselves trying to figure out who wrote Tom Sawyer or the year of the Bicentennial.

I don't even care who wins this show, it delivers eye candy while making me feel unjustifiably smarter than others. Unless you're part of that 3% of the country that can pass for being a model, you come out a winner! In your own mind, at least. Just ignore the fact that they probably make way more money than the other 97% of the population. I guess they're smarter after all.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Number 42

CSN and sometimes Y - the popular side of a difficult artist receives extra attention. Eddie Vedder takes notes.

Continuing my favorite CD countdown, here's Number 42-

Neil Young - Greatest Hits (2004)

Like many non melodic rock artists, I got into Neil Young a little late. Around 2004 to be exact, when this set came out. Before then, I considered Young to be a country rock singer with a bad voice. But the one-two punch of this Greatest Hits set combined with seeing him perform live a year later at a Bridge School Benefit made me a fan. Suddently, I could appreciate his "ragged glory". His music had character and an individual sense of life to it.

Greatest Hits covers most of Young's best known songs. The classic rockers "Cinammon Girl", "Like A Hurricane" and "Rockin In The Free World" are all here. Guitar heavy work outs like "Ohio" sit comfortably along folk rock adult contemporary such as "Heart of Gold" or "Only Love Can Break Your Heart".

The excellent "Comes A Time" folk ballad makes a welcome appearance. The songs are uniformly good, the only knock I can give to Greatest Hits is that it tries to chart his career over a broad period of time. It fails on this front, Young's career was varied with many wrongheaded side trips and is best known for his early 70's work that is emphasized here. If Greatest Hits was all the Young you had, you'd think Young took most of the 80's off.

Taken as a sampler, Greatest Hits is very effective. Many of Young's most popular colors-acerbic with harsh guitars, wistful with acoustic guitars, political outrage and personal reconciliation all are here. Neil Young will always be considered a rock and roll rarity-the hippie from the country with the worldliness and intelligence to be more than his influences.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Lookin' Good, Shellhead!

"I-am-Iron Man-La La La La La La La Iron Man" is what I remember of the lyrics to Black Sabbath's song

Like many young boys from the pre-internet days, I read comic books to pass the time between baseball games and Battlestar Galactica. Back then, comic book adaptations to tv or movies were a dicey affair. The first two Superman movies, the Wonder Woman and Batman tv shows were all successful adaptations (even if the Batman show redefined the character as campy). But in spite of these successes, dreary stuff like The Amazing Spider Man starring Nicholas Hammond or the Captain America tv movie became the norm. The Batman movie series re-established the darkness of the character and was financially successful until Joel Schumaker drove it back to it's campy style.

Marvel comics had the most difficult time to adapt because the edgier storylines and more complex "super powers" made it tougher to fit into any companies budget. The special effects weren't up to the level needed to make the characters abilities seem real. And plotlines that have to do with self doubt or racism wasn't going to sell any tickets.

Until The Matrix. The Matrix made it possible for comic books, particularly Marvel Comic books, to successfully adapt. That landmark film pulled in a huge audience with a superpowered hero filled with self doubt battling both himself and the universe with innovative special effects. It opened the door and great versions of Spider Man and The X Men hit the silver screen and became successful films in their own right.

But after those successes came an endless stream of crappy movies, some of which were just as profitable financially as Spider Man. Sad versions of The Punisher, Daredevil, Elektra, Hulk and The Fantastic Four popped up and mostly made money. So when I heard that Iron Man was going to be made into a movie, I was expecting the worst.

Which is why the trailer is such a surprise. In the two and a half minutes featured here, you can see the serious tone and special effects really come through. Plus, Robert Downey Jr's bit as Tony Stark shows he has a good fix on the alcoholic billionaire arms contractor the way Michael Keaton did Bruce Wayne in Batman. Best of all, the special effects don't look like the wholesale bargin bin stuff they've been using for most comic adaptations lately.

Iron Man won't come out until 2008, but I'm looking forward to it already. Repulsors at maximum!

Iron Man trailer

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Asian Invasion

The smile is back in the eyes of the first Supergroup of the '80's
Way back when I first started to by Lps and Cassettes one of the first band's I listed to was Asia. My mom had bought the cassette from Columbia House in 1982 and since I was listening to new music I tried it out. Asia quickly became a favorite of mine, the band's pairing of pop hooks and instrumental dexterity proved irresistible. In 1983, the group released a second album and announced a world tour.

Then they cancelled the tour. The tour called Asian Invasion '83 had bitten the dust. News of bassist / lead singer John Wetton getting sacked followed. Greg Lake of ELP replaced Wetton for the important Asia in Asia concert that December. Following that show, Asia would become a revolving door of performers for the next 23 years.

So I was shocked to see the original lineup of Asia - John Wetton, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer and Geoff Downes- touring lasts year under the Asia moniker. As great as that simple fact was, they skipped Northern California on the tour meaning I still could not see them play.

Until now. Asia has released a live DVD, Fantasia live in Tokyo (2007), to give fans like me a break. Finally I get to see the amazing supergroup in live action...on video that is. What Fantasia showed was a group of aging musicians who still can get their groove on. The musicians have become pudgy and bloated except for guitarist Steve Howe, who as my wife puts it "Looks like a mad scientist". And while they have each lost a step since their 80's prime, there's no denying Asia still has chemestry and spectacular chops.

The music pulled mostly from their triple platinum self titled album. In fact, the entire album is played live during this show in all of their glory. A handful of tracks from the second album Alpha is featured, particularly in a stripped down sort of "unplugged" section. To top it off, four songs from the group members past in The Buggles, Yes, ELP and King Crimson all receive air time. One of the major highlights of the DVD is the band trading solos on Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" made famous by ELP. "Heat of the Moment", "Only Time Will Tell" and "Sole Survivor" also fared well.

But it comes down to if the musicians still have it. John Wetton has gained considerable weight but is still a rock solid bass player with a heroic voice. Guitarist Steve Howe shows more energy than he has in the past 3 Yes concerts I've seen recently. Keyboardist Geoff Downes still shows off unnecssarily but highlights his fluid playing style with a bank of synthesizers. Lastly, drummer extrodinaire Carl Palmer is still blindingly fast with his sticks.

By the end of the DVD, I had felt like I had watched a concert I've been waiting half my life for. Fantasia shows the group of elderly prog rockers still had the ability to create some excitement. If you're a fan of early 80's power rock, this DVD is well worth getting.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Return of Soul

It's no secret that the 1980's brought a shift in how music was being made as the industry focused more on image and performers projecting an attitude than making anything revealing human feeling. There's nothing wrong with artifice for the sake of itself (see The Donnas below) but it can get old after a while. Certain musical styles suffered from this shift, such as folk music and rhythm and blues. Both Rock and Hip Hop music became primarily technological mediums as producers became bigger stars than the performers by auto tuning, looping, song doctoring and sampling the radio to death.

So it's refreshing to see a recent trend of retro soul going around. It started with the demented but soulful Amy Winehouse who scored a big hit earlier this year with "Rehab" and then spent the months after proving why she needs it. But even with Winehouse temporarily out of the picture, her success has brought attention to the Dap Kings who helped with her album.

I never heard of them until EMusic started pushing their album mercilessly on their website. I checked into them and was impressed with what I found: a group of musicians playing real instruments in an analog studio fronted by a singer old enough to remember what 60's and 70's soul sounded like (not an insult to her age). They're authentically retro-sort of like how the Black Crowes are authentically retro but without the fistfighting. I downloaded one song and have been listening to it this week and really like it. And now they have an even more retro video, shot in black and white with 60's tv staging, hand cranked zooms, bad focus and everything. And a singer with a fantastic voice. That's why Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings have the Song of the Moment.

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - "100 Days, 100 Nights"