Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Short Attention Span Theater

That's gnarly!

When music videos gained popularity in the early 80s, there was a lot of talk about how this was a new art form and would be like "mini-movies". After a few years that trend died and music clips were reduced to various performance miming bits. Now, in 2010, there are two music videos that are essentially "mini-movies" the first one directed by Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk Til Dawn) no less. As Mel Allen used to say, "How about that?"

The first video I got as a free download from ITunes this week by a guy named Bob Schneider. I got the name confused with Fred Schneider of The B 52's and thought "Cool, I loved that song about the monster in the pants and it does a dirty dance" so I clicked on it. Turned out to be a pleasant sort of polished indie singer songwriter deal. The video is like the ultimate 3 minute rom com, just missing the oh-no-they-might-break-up second act. What makes this better than say The Proposal or She's All That is if you don't like the flick, it's only three minutes of your time. That's modern efficiency!

The embed code isn't working so you can click here to see it.

The second video is by Free Energy whose album overall I was disappointed with but I liked this tune "Bang Pop". This video is in the ever popular setting of high school (see She and Him "In The Sun") and has the early 80s teen sexploitation flick look down. You can't watch this video and not think of Porkys or Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Awesome! Totally awesome.

The embedding is disabled so to see it you can click here. Sort of like that old Porky's tv ads, "We can't show you what happens on tv so you'll have to see the movie". Or something like that.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Alien Invasion!

At least someone is having a good time at Adventureland.

Three movies with nothing in common except I saw them. Three movies about outsiders that turn into insiders. Three movies to rule them all!

District 9 (2009) - Nifty sci fi about an alien ship that drops an new race of creatures into South Africa. Despite their advanced technology, the aliens themselves become lazy 3rd worlders and find themselves slummed into a shanty town. The metaphor for racial segregation is obvious but well played, with the local government dictating the terms of the alien's freedom and rights to their own advantage. The bureaucrat in charge of moving the aliens from one district to another becomes infected with a metamorphic substance that causes him to slowly transform to an alien. He then becomes both an outcast and sought after property as the transformation gives the guy the ability to use the alien's weapons (they only work for the aliens). You could write this off as The Fly meets Alien Nation but it's better than that, District 9 manages to make you feel sympathy for a digitally created race of enslaved beings. Oh wait, Avatar did that too but afterwards.

Adventureland (2009) - It's the late 80s and you're working in a theme park - I've so been there. A college kid's Dad has his career bottom out, forcing the kid to work in a theme park that summer to make some cash. The kid in question is a geeky poetry reading sensitive type who feels like an outsider in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He meets a girl who's a little more troubled and got those artsy sensibilities too (they both like Lou Reed). The kid finds that the theme park is like high school part 2 except he becomes the popular one, making time with both art school girlfriend and the local hottie. Adventureland has some nice qualities like a killer soundtrack (The Replacements! Husker Du!) and a semi realistic tone. Too bad lead actress Kristen or Kirsten or whatever her name is, you know that girl from Twilight, rings false in every scene she is. She seems to think acting is all in how you flip your hair around. And the story itself has been done so many times there's nothing really new here.

Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage (2010) - is a new DVD docu...wait, rockumentary about the awesome Canadian power trio. This is like most rockumentaries in that if you like the artist in question, you'll like the movie. If you don't or are indifferent, you'll probably be bored to tears. Rush aka the biggest cult band in the world is a group that if you've heard them, you've made your mind up about them. Worshipped by many but considered uncool by the rock and roll elite for decades, Rush is a band that stands alone no matter how you catagorize them. For fans it will either go over stuff you already know or in my case shed some light on the group's early past (in high school I had all their tapes but really just played Hemispheres thru Grace Under Pressure). This is not Anvil, Rush is not a bunch of charismatic odd balls with a deep story to tell (though what drummer Neil Peart has been through could qualify for a dramatic movie within itself if given the space). I like Rush so I like this rockumentary, but not for the uninitiated.

Three movies to rule them all! Well, not really. Rush and District 9 are good, skip Adventureland.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The No Spin Zone

The Spinners bring the Philly sound to Nor Cal after taking fashion tips from Big Bird.

On Friday night I went to the local fair to see The Spinners in concert. It wasn't really a show I was looking forward to, the main reason for going was to see some relatives who had an interest in it. Not that I mind The Spinners music, just I'm skeptical of groups where most of the key members are missing or dead. Do I want to see a cover band run around with the original name? Sometimes these types of bands can be deadly, running through tired routines with the enthusiasm of a chain gang. And others can actually be kinda fun. The Spinners, believe it or not, was the latter.

Sure it helps that The Spinners had a number of hits, although going in I only knew maybe one or two by name. But even with that this show could have been horrible. When the band opened with "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love" as one of the two surviving original members barely croaked out the lead vocal, I thought I was in for an hour of serious pain.

Yet this guy and his other original member dude (both are in their 70s) were smart and hired a crack backing band. The rhythm section wasn't just professional, they were smokin'. R&B isn't often a musician's showcase, yet the supple bass rhythms and sharp drums gave The Spinners some muscle. And the three younger replacement Spinners seemed to truly enjoy live performance, energetically tackling their vocals and dance moves. the original member was right to call the trio "stimulus packages" as they provided most of the firepower on the front line.

And in a move that I can only describe as pure Barry Manilow, The Spinners have retained the type of canned stage patter and gaudy costuming that surely existed in the 70s (canary yellow suits!). There was a knowing silliness to it all as if to say "We know this is a joke with no credibility so get over it and enjoy the ride." They say the key to moving pictures is the "suspension of disbelief". Same goes for The Spinners of 2010. Once you accept this is not a true creative force but a mock up no different than say Mamma Mia or Lynyrd Skynyrd, there is some enjoyment to be had. Even with the lazy choreography (didn't R&B vocal groups have to train to spin at the same time once?).
The band had enough hits in their catalog to stay away from the dreaded "cover other bands music to fill space" gimmick which was nice. Except for the vocalist solo spots, where the younger singers shined as the band turned from generic background music to "Let's Get It On" or "Get Up Offa That Thing" on a dime. Comfortable readings of past hits like "Games People Play" or "I'll Be Around" went smoothly without any incidents.

By the time the group pounded through their smash "Rubberband Man" complete with a psychedelic strobe light dance featuring giant rubber bands, there was no denying that this version of The Spinners could do well on the fair circuit. Is it better than the real thing? Hell no. But for cheap live entertainment, you could do a lot worse. And if you squint your eyes real hard, maybe you could find yourself back in 1973 for a second.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Racers Edge, Part Tres


A few weeks ago I traced the career of the Stone Temple Pilots up to their new release, creatively titled Stone Temple Pilots. Of all their releases, I've looked forward to this one the most. The band seemed to have a fire and was ready to bring some much needed RAWK to the marketplace. And any time you can catch Scott Weiland on an upswing is a good thing for music.

Nine years away from their previous release, the sluggish Shangri La Di Da, STP returns with a strong showing. A big plus, in those nine years the other 3/4ths of the band didn't do squat. Well, that's not entirely true but it may as well have been. In any case, the DeLeos seem ready and armed with great riffs for Weiland to build on. Weiland himself is in fine form, at least as good as on his previous solo album. He seems awake and alert, delving into his glam rock influences to pull out his unique brand of rock mysticism.

And like all Stone Temple Pilot releases, they wear their influences out in the open. Nirvana, The Beatles, Mott The Hoople, David Bowie and Aerosmith all get copied yet STP has enough guts to make them their own. The grunge influence isn't quite as heavy allowing more room for poppier melodies on some cuts like "Cinnamon". STP has put together a uniformly solid disc, there aren't any highlights yet the album as a whole makes a good impression.

Will STP continue past this year? Who knows and who cares. They're here now and have delivered their best disc since 1996's Tiny Music.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Maiden Voyage

Thank you to my wife for the tickets and the name of this blog post. Sunday night was a night of firsts for me, it was the first time I had gotten to see Iron Maiden. But more importantly, it was the first time I got to see Dream Theater.

I've been a DT fan for awhile now and although I had an opportunity to see them once opening for Yes I couldn't get to the Sleep Train Pavilion in time to catch 'em. We arrived about an hour before the show and promptly got into line to enter the Pavilion. And waited. And waited. Nice mix of ages in this line. And waited even longer, I don't think they opened the gates until about a half hour before showtime. Not that this stopped anybody from getting the party started. Shortly after we sat down in our seats, these two guys sat their drunk friend down a few rows ahead of us. About 15 minutes later, one of the friends escorted the drunk dude back up the stairs because the guy was so wasted he pissed all over himself. In a sort of surprise move, the music before the concert included a Dream Theater song "The Best Of Times". Then the famous slashing strings from the movie Psycho hit the PA to let the crowd know things were about to kick off.

In a real rarity, Dream Theater started their show five minutes before the official start time of 7:30. I've never seen that in all the years I've been to concerts, no one ever starts early. DT came out with guns blazing on the opener "As I Am", immediately proving lead singer James LaBrie was in excellent voice. A sea of devil horn throwing arms thrust towards the stage to the beat. "A Rite Of Passage" has a sluggish groove but came alive with drummer Mike Portnoy doing his drum parts while standing each chance he got. The longest cut of the evening was the epic sitar effect laced "Home", a ten minute run through DT's proggy side. My wife had gotten me a beer during "Passage" so I had a nice buzz going when we hit the highlight of my evening, "Constant Motion". DT blasted thru "Constant Motion" hitting the groove changes with hairpin precision. Guitarist John Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess took their fleet fingered solos to the next level. Meanwhile, we noticed this one dude to our right headbanging with equal fury and accuracy. This guy was definitely a fan, he changed head banging speeds in perfect time with the music.

The groups Rock Band representative track "Panic Attack" came up next, giving bassist James Myung room to groove. Then it was time for the big finish, DT didn't miss a beat on their lone hit "Pull Me Under". Keyboardist Jordan Rudess whips out the keytar and it is smokin'. And then as efficiently as they had started Dream Theater finished and left the stage. A great performance that seemed to be held to a very regimented time table.

After a set redress the stage became cloaked under a black fabric screen. The sound of an Iron Maiden song raged over the PA as the audience anxiously awaited the arrival of their Metal heroes. Then the cloak was removed and revealed a stage set that looked like a sci fi movie. The stage was framed by sci fi looking storage containers that doubled as a second tier above the floor. Iron Maiden's drummer sat centered on the second tier as band members ran in and out of a fabric door to the rear left of the stage.

Now for a disclaimer / admission. I like Iron Maiden. They are one of those bands that are beyond questioning in terms of motivation to rock. I don't know a lot of their music. I know three albums from them, The Number Of The Beast, Piece Of Mind and Somewhere Back In Time - The Best Of Iron Maiden. I thought playing the Best Of Cd the week before would help me prep for the concert. Of the 15 songs on that album, Iron Maiden only played three of them in my presence (I had left before "Hallowed Be Thy Name" was played). So I hardly knew any of the songs played at the concert. It doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the show, but that my Iron Maiden experience was more a series of impressions than anything else. From what I remember, it went something like this:

  • All right, it's Iron Maiden!

  • Bruce Dickinson runs around a lot. And jumps a lot. He's more active than David Lee Roth!

  • Wow, that blond hair guitarist got those poser moves down. Playing while standing on one leg? Cool!

  • Hey, I didn't realize they had three guitarists before.

  • "Wrathchild"! I know this one. Interesting how Dickinson does this snake like move with his upper torso and arms while singing.

  • The other blond guitarist is playing, funny how the one guy looks hair metal while this dude looks Bachman Turner Overdrive. And the non blond guitarist moves with courtly gestures like an English gentleman.

  • Their new album The Final Frontier isn't out yet so the sci fi staging doesn't make total sense, but it sure looks awesome!

  • Why is it I can hear Bruce Dickinson loud and clear when he does stage patter but he gets buried in the mix during song performance? WTF?

  • Gotta take a monster whizz.

  • Is Dickinson skipping to the drum kit during guitar solos? Is that allowed? I've never seen skipping by a member of a hard rock / metal band.

  • We're getting to the slow songs, kinda cool and medieval sounding.

  • Dickinson pays tribute to Ronnie James Dio, huge crowd pop and "Dio" chant follows. Nice lead in to the song called "Blood Brothers".

  • I like it when the bass player aims the neck of his guitar out at the audience and pretends to strafe them with a gun.

  • The audience is getting drunker if that's possible. I've had people fall out of the aisle into me twice now. That first dude had serious b.o., he hit me for a second and his stench lingered the whole song!

  • Speaking of smells, there has been a lot of medicinal herbs stinking up the place.

  • All right, back to the fast songs!

  • The Bunny looks cute head banging.

  • Should I put up some devil horns at the end of song? Should I? Yes! Feels so good :)

  • Dickinson's shirt says Psycho Ward. I kinda miss the Medieval warrior look I used to see him wear in Circus magazine all those years ago.

  • The guy in front of me keeps getting blocking my view at random by making out with his chick. Damn he's got a big head. Now they're leaving to presumably do it in the bathroom.

  • Awesome, the blond guitarist with the poser moves has added two new moves: slinging his guitar up and down his shoulder like a military rifle mixed in with some around the worlds.

  • It's the song "Iron Maiden". I've heard this one before! A giant alien looking Eddie is onstage and the band members are doing battle with him. Cool!

  • The Pavilion looks totally sold out. The main part of the set is over, time to go. Don't want to get caught in a drunken traffic jam.

  • I can hear "The Number Of The Beast" play as we walk to the car in the distant parking lot.

  • Time for some Dennys!

Considering I didn't know most of the songs, I had a great time at the Iron Maiden part of the show. The size and spectacle was impressive, as was the tight performance of their music. Maiden is one of those groups where if you like one song, you're gonna like them all. Sound mix could have been better but it wasn't horrible. I left thinking I was going to miss "Run To The Hills" but it turns out they didn't play that one. All in all, a fun concert.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

For Mr A...

My parent's neighbor passed away a few days ago. I'll refer to him in this post as Mr. A. Mr. A was a very nice man, a big guy who was gregarious and fun. I got to know him a little bit over the years, growing up I saw him when I would visit his son Mike to play sports or trade cassette tapes. I'd see him here or there around town in my adult life too, even as he aged he didn't lose that positive attitude. He was a great guy.

Mr A. had a love of sports and he really loved the local teams from San Francisco. Of my assorted memories of Mr. A., my strongest memory is a collection of moments where I didn't even see him. When baseball or football season came around, every warm Sunday you could hear Mr A. listening to a sports game on the radio as he relaxed on his back porch. I could hear him talking and the radio playing over the fence from my own back yard. There was something very pure about his passion for sports and listening to him luxuriate to a game had an infectious sort of contentment to it.

The best media tribute I can think of for the man is the moment that every 49ers fan in the 80s cherished. "The Catch". Goodbye Mr. A., you will be missed.

Friday, June 18, 2010

How I Met Your Mother Is Legend - Wait For It - Ary

While I was laid off work I got into watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother. It was just something to watch at first, I'd seen episodes before and generally liked them. Watching the episodes on a daily basis changed my perception of the show, it went from being pretty good to...wait for it...legendary! HIMYM is a really good sitcom, one of the few good ones left (this and Big Bang Theory pretty much does it for me now on that front). The writing is brisk and knowing, picking up with near Seinfeld like precision on the little personal jags and habits of people and blowing them up to epic proportions. Great bits like the slap bet, the glass breaking with the mutual realization of an annoying habit, Canada trashing, Robin Sparkles...the list goes on. Best of all, a fine ensemble that includes totally awesome Neil Patrick Harris as the jaded womanizer Barney, the red headed girl from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and that guy that stars in a bunch of movies now like I Love You Man. So funny and so consistent, HIMYM has grown over the years and has become a fave of mine. Oh yeah, up top bro!
And now, the playbook by Barney Stinson where he reveals some of his best scams. My personal numero uno? The Lorenzo Von Matterhorn. Spells like it sounds, with two "t"s.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Other Ghost Of Tom Joad

Jakob Dylan goes blowin in the wind on his new album

and a half

Jakob Dylan's new album Women & Country is an album I have to fight through a whole lotta internal conflict to listen to. That's because it's a project that seems so rigged for a certain audience to like, it's hard not to feel a little manipulated when hearing it even though it's done subtly. You don't need me to tell you times are tough with the economy, foreign relations, personal relationships and a loss of national virtue banging down our doors every day. But history has proven we would like Bob Dylan to tell us about it. Or if he's not going to do it, maybe his son?

From the title (Women & Country, way to narrow down your subject matter) to the T Bone Burnett production smearing tattered flag Americana all over the soundscape, Jakob Dylan positions himself as the "new Dylan". Lots of guitar slidin and pickin, dirge rhythms and Salvation Army band horns set the stage for world weary tales of woe. Well, at least the kid has the birthright to do it.

Setting aside all this stuff, how good is the album itself? Surprisngly, it's more often good than not. "Nothing But The Whole Wide World", "We Don't Live Here Anymore" and "Everybody's Hurting" meets its reach in speaking to the masses living in what's presented as a modern day dustbowl depression. And the ballad "Smile When You Call Me That" is absolutely heartbreaking.

Some of the songs are too slight to carry the heavy messenger delivery utilized here but none of them are embarassing. It's an album that grows over time, better with each listen. I haven't bought anything of Jakob Dylan's since that famous Wallflowers album, this disc is good enough to call for a reevaluation of his catalog. Women & Country is no landmark classic, yet in these times of struggle it will do nicely.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Kansas - Drastic Measures (1983)

And you can tell this is a Kansas

Obviously I can't get enough of Kansas, since I've already given 1986's Power the track by track treatment and now here I am with Drastic Measures. Drastic Measures was one of the first vinyl records I had bought when I got my first record player (I also bought Heart Passionworks and Styx Cornerstone) mainly because I loved the song "Fight Fire With Fire". And Kansas was a band name I had heard of. So as Brian Wilson would say, I'm going back in my room, to relive the glory days of '83's Drastic Measures.

1. Fight Fire With Fire

Let's get an automatic criticism out of the way that I've heard since my friend brought it up in '85: It doesn't rock as hard as Metallica's song of the same name. Yeah? No kidding?? Really??? "Fight Fire With Fire" is probably Kansas hardest rocking song...which isn't saying a whole lot because Kansas wasn't a hard rock band. Still, that hammering guitar riff and epic synths set a nice stage for lead singer John Elefante to wail like a guy getting sucked on by a giant mosquito. The music video looked expensive and got lots of play on all the vid clip programs of the day. I wonder if the Hellish backdrop of the video upset the groups strong Christian following (half the band became born again Christians a few years before this)? A lot of this album has to do with struggles thematically, "Fight Fire With Fire" kicks off things nicely.

2. Everybody's My Friend

I didn't care for the song back then and even now I'm kinda indifferent to it. The music itself is pleasant by the numbers midtempo 80s AOR, the Beatles style hook of "Hello Hello" is OK, I just don't like the lyrics to this. "Everybody's My Friend" with its complaints of fake people glomming onto them because they're famous seemed whiny. Boo hoo, I'm a big 'ol rock star but people don't love me for the real me. Maybe Elefante was tired of people getting him confused with original (and future) Kansas lead singer Steve Walsh - he of the almighty mullet. Have you seen classic era Steve Walsh mullet? It is a thing to behold, like Mount Rushmore. Guess it could have been worse, if they made this record now Kansas would probably tweet or Facebook their indulgent sadness or something. Speaking of which, did you know Kansas has three Facebook pages? Hello Hello!

One of the three tracks written by former main songwriter Kerry Livgren, in an ironic twist finds him concerned about "selling out". Which is interesting since most of the album is written by lead singer John Elefante in a slick up-to-the-minute AOR style that people would consider begging for record sales. Lyrically Livgren vividly outlines his position of internal debate over the benefits and negatives of trying to sound like everyone else. Couldn't help but notice the generic "rawk!" guitar riff this tune is built on. Between "Mainstream" and "Everybody's My Friend" it looked like Kansas was stuck looking for new fans that they didn't really want anyway. Also, it could just represent the feelings of Livgren prepping to go whole hog into Christian rock which isn't "Mainstream". Which he did after this record.

4. Andi

This was a weird ballad, for the first few months of owning this I kept wondering why they were singing this soft song to some dude named Andy. It took a little bit before I realized it is about a girl named Andi. A girl who others take to look like a boy but Kansas looks forward to the day that she'll blossom into womanhood and stuff. Given their Christian leanings, I'm sure Kansas didn't mean anything creepy by this. And yet it still comes off that way. It's like, why is this dude so into this little girl growing up? Random non sequitor, remember that bad horror movie where Bruce Springsteen's sister played a boy raised as a girl that becomes a mass murderer at a summer camp? If you guessed Sleepaway Camp, you'd be exactly right!

5. Going Through The Motions

OK Kansas, we get it: you don't want to be here. You don't want to sell out, don't want fake fans but at the same time you're doing exactly that. Why are you doing this? The answer is on the next song...

6. Get Rich

There's no point to selling out if you're not gonna make a bunch of cash for your trash. Or at least hope to. Or maybe when they say "Get Rich fast" they were referring to eye patched guitarist Rich Williams. It wasn't called "Get Robby" because violinist Robbie Steinhardt quit the band before the recording of DM. Rich Williams and drummer Phil Ehart, the only two guys to make it through every incarnation of Kansas. They're like the Louisiana Purchase of the band. See that? I got all Suftjan Stevens on ya, looked up some history and worked it into my thing.

7. Don't Take Your Love Away

When I read up on the Drastic Measures album, this is the song that gets slammed the most by fans. Probably because it's the biggest piece of cheese on the whole record. It's got those ABBA ike scampering keyboards, breakneck pace changes and Elefante wailing like a child who lost his parents at the Dodge City Amtrak Station. "Don't Take Your Love Away" is also my favorite song on this album both then and now. I love AOR cheese and you can't top this-not for all The Better Cheddar in the state of Kansas. See? I did it again!

After taking most of the record off, guitarist/formerly main songwriter Kerry Livgren returns with two songs to close out the inning. And it's no accident that these songs sound the most like 70s Kansas - pompous, heroic and Biblical. "End Of The Age" seems to be about the end of the world as we know it. Fire and destruction abounds. Like that Arnold Schwartzenegger movie Governator of Culifornia.

Livgren ends the album with the most Christian Rock sounding track about heading towards salvation. the light, etc. Upbeat and dazzlingly proggy, it feels a little out of place next to the dour tone of the other tunes. For another tired movie metaphor, it's like the end of The Abyss where you go through this dangerous underwater journey and all looks lost then suddenly - Viola! It's not and happy days are here again. Still, seems like a good place to comment that I'm glad to read Kerry Livgren's health is improving following a sudden stroke last year.

Drastic Measures wasn't drastic enough, Kansas commercial slide continued leading to them calling it a day. Except for mainstays Williams and Ehart, the others went off to the Christian Rock scene. Well, not before Elefante recorded one more awesome song with them, the Best Of Kansas bound "Perfect Lover". That song is da bomb!

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Racers Edge, Part Dos

You ever see that movie Sin City? Where Bruce Willis is in jail and gets out and stuff? That was cool. Not as cool but beneficial for rock n roll was Scott Weiland getting launched from the big house.

Shangri La Di Da (2001)

STP's second disc after the relaunch finds the quartet blending more Scotti-isms into the mix. A lot of mid tempo grooves and Bowie tricks (like the song "Wonderful" having keyboards straight outta "Heroes") are thrown in. Maybe a little too much though, much of the album meanders with a crawling sense of understatement. At least understated for these guys, who made their name by putting together pulverising riffs and hammering them right in your head. The skidding dance effect influenced "Coma" is about as exciting as things get. Shangri La Di Da drags along after track 3 to the point I usually forget its on until it ends. Boorring! Getting lost in a mellow haze might lead you to believe STP had matured, yet Weiland was there to set things straight by getting arrested for domestic violence and following that up by fighting with band mate Dean DeLeo.

Velvet Revolver - Contraband (2004)

A lead singer with a strong creative point of view, drug addiction and anger issues would put off many a band from hiring such a person. To the guys who had survived Axl Rose, Scott Weiland was going to be a walk in the park. So went one of the biggest supergroups of our young millenium, Velvet Revolver. Those with a hankering for a Guns N Roses reunion were sated with Scotty boy hooking up with Slash, Duff McKagen and Matt Sorum (plus one other dude who I can't remember because he wasn't ex-GNR). Velvet Revolver sounded exactly like it looked on paper: Use Your Illusion era GNR rhythms topped with Weiland's increasingly Bowie styled hard rock. As relentlessly predictable as it is enjoyable, Contraband boasted plenty of what you paid for. The driving rocker "Slither" and the power ballad "Fall To Pieces" kept up interest and pushed the unit to big sales.

Oh, and in case you thought Weiland might not challenge the patience of his new employers dude got into a car accident while high. Still beat dealing with someone inciting a riot while wearing a skirt - sorry, tartan is it?

Velvet Revolver - Libertad (2007)
I think it was around this time that Velvet Revolver was the band inducting Van Halen into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. Their performance of Van Halen songs were done with such a sense of sloppy disrespect that I just plain hated Velvet Revolver. Even thinking about it now pisses me off. What the hell is a Libertad anyway? Skipped this disc, could be the greatest thing since sliced bread, I don't care.

Scott Weiland - Happy In Galoshes (2008)

OK, I'm listening to this CD for the first time. Though it isn't the revelation that his prior solo disc 12 Bar Blues was, Happy In Galoshes is pretty good. Even though there are stylisitc shifts here or there, this is mostly a straightforward rock disc. In someways it comes across as a calm STP album, not calm like Shangri La Di Da with slow heavy rhythms just the even balance between instruments pulled behind the vocal. There are a few oddball moments like the surprisingly soft ballad "Killing Me Sweetly" but not the smorgasboard of sound the first solo album was. The single "Missing Cleveland" and also "She Sold Her System" remind me a lot of STP in terms of melody. "Be Not Afraid" is brilliantly haunting. There is a silly cover of David Bowie's "Fame" which comes across like a remixed version of the "Fame '90" remix. I also think I hear a bit of The Killers in the overall approach too. In case you think Weiland got it together now, he was arrested for a DUI in '07. Also, Weiland separated from his second wife.

In yet another messy professional breakup Weiland left/jumped ship from Velvet Revolver to reteam with his old band Stone Temple Pilots. STP released a new album which I just got so I can check it out. Nice time for a mental breakdown...

Sunday, June 06, 2010

It Takes A Continent

Sometimes planned activities for the elderly pay off :)


and a half

When the first supergroup of the 80s, Asia, reformed a few years ago it seemed as unlikely an event as, well, the first time it happened. Sure the four members were of similar prog rock pedigree, but with that came all the baggage of ego and excess that marked their prior careers. Plus two key members, bassist/singer/main songwriter John Wetton and guitarist Steve Howe really seemed to not like each other. So much so that I can't point to any musical moment between the two spanning from 1983's Alpha to 2008's Phoenix album. That's a lot of hate there when you consider the other former members of Asia have all interacted with each other in the intervening decades. So, believe it or not, we are now on the second album of the reconstituted Asia with the original lineup - John Wetton, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer (drums) and Geoff Downes (keys).

When last seen, our erstwhile heroes had rebanded with the Phoenix album. That disc, following the health scare of John Wetton, was a solid restablishing of the group as a creative entity. The songs tended to be a little laid back (not unusual for artists who have just faced death or given birth) yet the instrumental prowess was back. Asia's new disc, Omega, is the type of album that often happens following a relaunch of this type. They come back soft, tour a bit, and return more rockin.

Omega ('cause we've already had Alpha, so we either had to have a Beta or Omega coming) catches latter day Asia in full flight. The Wetton driven power anthems still make sweeping heroic statements like Superman facing General Zod in the Fortress of Solitude. Whether he's pledging his undying love ("Ever Yours"), teaching the children well ("Listen Children") or fighting for truth, justice and the, er, Asian way ("I Believe") John Wetton bellows out with assertive thunder. The arrangements are a little more restrained than the previous Phoenix disc, still no one could call Asia's music sparse. Steve Howe can still pick out a flurry of various textures with guitars sliding, careening and accenting all over the place. Geoff Downes seems focused on more organ work than normal (for that special "classic" sound!) but remains tasteful. And Carl Palmer, every other second is a drum solo for this guy.

In a lot of ways, Omega is reminiscent of Asia's third album Astra. The groups playing focuses more on the songs than solos and some of the songs aim at military goings on ("Finger On The Trigger", "Holy War") though with admittedly less silly bombast than the Astra classic "Countdown To Zero". Interestingly, the song that stands out the most musically is the bonus track "Emily" which has a sort of (intentional?) comic pleading happening over a pensive beat. Sort of Beatleish.

Asia Omega will do nothing to change the minds of anyone who knows the band. But it's a real good album. The Heat Is On! Oh wait, that's Glenn Frey. The Heat Goes On!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Racer's Edge,Part Uno

Grunge fans initally found a lot to like but little to worship at the Temple. Time and talent would eventually convert the nonbelievers (like me!).
The Stone Temple Pilots are back with a new album which I'm waiting for to show up in the mail, in the mean time I decided to look back on their career. STP have never been critics darlings, they were considered derivative carpetbaggers when they first started (thank you high school history class for drilling that term in my head). Continued success and artistic development has helped STP shed this rep and are now viewed as their own band.

I got into STP through my wife who loved their music up until about the No. 4 album. Funnily, that's about the time I got more into them because of the song "Sour Girl". Our combined interest has us owning about all of their catalog, so I'll be replaying each release I have to jog the ol memory on the history of STP, formerly Mighty Joe Young, formerly Shirley Temple's Pussy.

It all starts in San Diego when Scott Weiland, Robert DeLeo, Dean DeLeo and Eric Kretz formed the band and recorded their debut...

Core (1992)

Grunge was the hot new thang in '92. There was the Seattle scene with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and what not all over the place. Even Cameron Crowe made a movie about flannel clad people doin' it with the new sensation (Singles). And into this came Stone Temple Pilots, suddenly omnipresent on MTV with their rampaging rocker "Sex Type Thing". A fantastic guitar riff and lyrical controversy (were they mocking or supporting the mind set of a sexual predator?) drove them up the charts. Critics carped that STP were imitators, not originals, in the grunge scene. Because San Diego is nice and sunny, not rainy and suicidal like Seattle. The group was compared to all the major bands, Weiland had that insect like tone to his voice like Layne Staley. The lyrics were sad and oppressed like Nirvana. The rhythms were low and heavy like Soundgarden. Like a guy who steps on the end of a rake and gets smacked in the face, the band's next single "Plush" added fuel to this fire. Keeping a similar pace to Pearl Jam's "Alive", "Plush" surged forward with a video that featured Scott Weiland doing the self hugging poses PJ's singer Eddie Vedder was famous for. Did this stop their success? No. But like Rappin Rodney they got no respect, no respect at all!

Listening to Core now, it's retained a freshness and has aged pretty well. Core is a good name because all of STPs best moves are here in its most straight forward form. Heavy grooves, herky jerky sections and haunted acoustic numbers fill the rest of the disc. Even lesser developed songs like "Crackerman" gets by on manic energy.

Purple (1994)

Believe it or not, Scott Weiland allegedly recorded Core clean. While on tour, Weiland tried heroin. And quickly became an addict. You know, if you're trying to not be a grunge cliche' avoiding that stuff would have been the right thing to do. But sho nuff, Scott Weiland got deep into it, so deep he got arrested for buying his own drugs. Doh!

And that leads us into STP's sophomore disc Purple,which sounds like Core...on drugs. The tone of the album is darker, murkier than Core while retaining the heavy riffage and taut grinding rhythms. The Zeppy rocker "Vaseline" and the ground and pound stomp of "Lounge Fly" lay down the law so hard they barely come up for air. Interestingly, it was STP's acoustic moments that garnered the most airplay. The angsty ballad "Big Empty" got mad love from MTV after it was used on MTV Unplugged, playing just about every second of the day. Add to that the band's most enduring hit, "Interstate Love Song". A bit of a classic rock feel came into "Interstate", opening up the group to a wider audience. Some nice bits of psychedelia emerge, such as on the trippy "Pretty Penny". Still, Purple remains STPs heaviest disc to date.

Tiny Music...Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop (1996)

Weiland was pretty well smacked out of his mind at this point, which made recording and touring to support Tiny Music a challenge. The group would temporarily split after trying to tour for this album, I missed their concert on this tour because I was sick but my wife got to go. She was a big fan of theirs in '96 so glad she got to go.

By '95 the big old grunge scene died, imploding on its own sludgy depression as the national economy rebounded. People just weren't as sad and hopeless anymore. STP read the playing field and changed strategy, pulling out a lot of the grunge making this one of their lightest sounding efforts. Classic rock influences get pulled to the forefront with obvious nods to The Stones ("Big Bang Baby"), The Beatles ("Lady Picure Show") and Led Zep ("Trippin On A Hole In A Paper Heart"). More variety was featured, what with the slightly funky "Art School Girlfriend" or my favorite on the album, the loungy "And So I Know". At the same time, Scott Weiland's personality begins to show more with bits of his David Bowie / Jim Morrison sense of drama and melody becoming more obvious. Too bad Weiland seemed to deteriorate physically and after holing up with Courtney Love to do a bunch of drugs- bets were being placed as to how long Scotty boy would last.

Talk Show - Talk Show (1997)

Scotty and the rest of the band went in separate directions, with 3/4ths of STP hiring a new singer to call it Talk Show. While the new singer was clearly more level headed and easier to deal with, the guy was also bland and unexciting. So much so I can't remember his name, I just remember him being blond. Same goes for this album, I remember nothing other than the song "Hello Hello". This was a snoozer of a disc, now we don't even own it. We cancelled Talk Show. Bazinga!

Scott Weiland - 12 Bar Blues (1998)

Talk Show demonstrated that they came up with the riffs, Weiland therefore had the melodies. You might think this would leave Mr Scott high n dry with creating a new album, but guess what? Weiland shows he has a real artist in him instead. His sense of catchy melody intact, Weiland supports them with techno beats, Hawaiian guitar, xylophone...just about any sound you can think of. And amazingly, it all fits together like it's all part of a plan. The Beatles White Album sounding "Lady You Bring My Roof Down", the NIN influenced "Jimmy Was A Stimulator" and the alterna ballad "About Nothing" are among the highlights of this excellent disc. What should be a laughable ego trip is instead Weiland's finest work creatively. Commercially it was a bomb and to top it off Scotty got arrested for buying drugs again. What kind of rock star buys his own drugs instead of sending roadies? Oh yeah, seriously addicted ones.

No. 4 (1999)

Once Scott Weiland and Talk Show figured out they couldn't support themselves financially selling CDs to just friends and family, they regrouped. The album title No. 4 says it all as this is the most predictable disc in the band's catalog. Playing it now, it's one of those discs that sounds good when its on but when it ends you struggle to remember what just played. What I could remember was the grungy "Down" and the garage rock mayhem of "MC5". And my all time favorite STP song, the haunting guiltfest "Sour Girl". The rest is STP by numbers, there's a fast song, a slow song, a heavy groove song, etc. Funnily, in 1999 this was my favorite of the STP albums while my wife lost interest in them. Played it a lot while driving to work. Careerwise this put STP back on track just in time for Scott Weiland to go to jail for his drug arrest.

And that's where we will leave our heroes for now. The lead singer behind bars. A band wondering if there's time for Talk Show 2. A space mercenary frozen in carbonite while Billy Dee Williams and a walking carpet go looking for him. All this and more in part 2 of The Racer's Edge!