Monday, October 31, 2011

Sing For The Day - Tom Petty "Refugee"

Happy Halloween! To celebrate the day, is there anything scarier than Tom Petty? Just joking, though when I was in High School I would have been scared because I did not like Tom Petty's music. Didn't get it one bit. Petty's music wasn't commercial enough or polished enough or excessive enough to get me going. He was one of those artists Rolling Stone magazine would insist you had to like if you had any "taste".

Fast forward to the late 90s, after having a copy of his first Greatest Hits album I became a fan. I like his music a lot now. After watching a Classic Albums program about the making of the Damn The Torpedoes album including an extensive breakdown (baby baby Breakdooowwwn)on the making of "Refugee" it's been on my mind. What a great song.

One last note, until Melissa Etheridge covered "Refugee" I didn't know Petty was saying the word "Have" in the chorus. I thought it went "You don't, hey hey, like a refugee". The word "Have" came across like a Buddy Holly vocal hiccup thing. Though I admit the song makes more sense with the word "have" in it.

"Refugee" was from 1980.

And since it was so educational the Melissa Etheridge version too

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Quick Movie Reviews

Here's a few brief dvd reviews:

Just Go With It - has beautiful scenery

Black Swan - kind of a surprise with all the critical hype it was sort of David Cronenberg style horror not what I expected, but good.

Pirahna - as bad as you'd expect and then some. Hey, that's what happened to Elizabeth Shue!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sing For The Day - Foo Fighters "I Should Have Known"

While on the treadmill tonight I was walking off the pound this song came up on my Foo Fighters playlist. It's funny, even though the quality of the treadmill speakers wasn't as good as what's in my car the bass line popped more there which reminded me of ex-Nirvana bassist Krist Noveselic playing on that song.

Despite the obvious meaning to "I Should Have Known" due to it's dark mood and mournful/rueful lyrics Foo leader Dave Grohl insists it's not about Kurt Cobain. But with Noveselic and Nevermind producer Butch Vig involved it's hard not to take it that way. Even as a general song without the Nirvana ambiance it is an emotional stand out moment on the Foo Fighter's recent Wasting Light album.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lindsey Buckingham - Seeds We Sow live and on CD

When I first started buying records and tapes, listening to music intently beyond just what was on the radio, one of the first bands that I got a lot of was Fleetwood Mac. My best friend's parents had bootlegged HBO off a satellite dish and I asked them to make a recording of the Mirage tour concert for me. They did and I became a Fleetwood Mac super fan.

That taped concert made a huge impression on me on what I thought rock music was. Lindsey Buckingham in particular had an impact because he was the lead guitarist and singer (and later I'd find out producer, songwriter, artist, and so on). The way he played guitar (no pick), the herky jerky body language (like the air humping thing he does when he solos on "I'm So Afraid")...I just thought that was what all rock stars did. I didn't realize it was something unique to him.

Now decades later I've learned that Lindsey Buckingham is a unique talent and I've been a fan of both his solo work and Fleetwood Mac. This was my first time seeing Buckingham live on his own. I got held up at work and was late for the show, so the set list from what I saw was:

Go Insane / Trouble / Never Going Back Again / Big Love / Under The Skin / All My Sorrows / In Our Own Time / Illumination / Second Hand News / Tusk / Stars Are Crazy / End Of Time / That's The Way Love Goes / I'm So Afraid / Go Your Own Way
encore: Turn It On / Treason / Seeds We Sow

Napa's Uptown theater was pretty much a sold out crowd and they were pumped for a rock show. So pumped there was dancing in the aisle and random shouts of "Yeah!" during the acoustic first half. Buckingham wisely front loaded his hits at the start. Performing alone with his guitar and Art Garfunkel haircut, Buckingham was able to reveal added levels of desperation and wistfulness to his familiar tunes like "Trouble" and "Go Insane".

After "Big Love" a three man band joined Buckingham on the stage to allow for more of a band performance. With a lot of momentum built up the set list alternated between his pure solo stuff and remaining Mac hits to make sure no one got bored. Not that boredom is an option at Uptown, the small converted movie theater makes for a more intimate setting where people can yell things at the performer and actually get a response (like when some guy yelled "How many guitars you got?" between songs and Buckingham replied "Too many").

"All My Sorrows" was a major treat for me, Out Of The Cradle is one of my all time favorite albums by anybody anywere. It was nice to drink in the languid tone and pretty melody during live performance. His new disc Seeds We Sow was strongly represented with six songs performed live and in a switch from the norm, the audience seemed to enjoy new material. "In Our Own Time" in particular thrived with Buckingham stooping down for his jagged little guitar fills. Also away from the norm, the crowd seemed to appreciate the artist's abilities beyond being a human jukebox, revelling in Buckingham's intricate guitar work (so intricate he has to shake his hand loose before many songs. Repetetive motion injury?) and howling vocals.

That appreciation is probably why the place went ape shit when Buckingham went full throttle into a classic rock smash like "Second Hand News". It was one of those perfect concert moments where the audience and performer feed off each other as Buckingham's insistent "Do it! Do it! Do it!" in between "bom bom bom bom"s increased in intensity. Buckingham reached out to his fans now, pointing at some dancers and shaking hands with the front row. The extended solo at the end of "I'm So Afraid" gave us the guitar God moment, ending with women literally grabbing at his legs. And how could "Go Your Own Way" not go over well?

After firing off all his major hits I wondered if there would be an encore and if there was would it include "Holiday Road". The answer turned out to be yes and no. Got another treat in form of the Out Of The Cradle track "Turn It On" before discovering a new appreciation for "Treason" off the Gift Of Screws album. Buckingham ended the evening solo acoustic on "Seeds We Sow".

Concert Rating:

Lindsey Buckingham's new disc Seeds We Sow arrived with some minor buzz around it a few months ago. Most of that buzz was about it being self released and sounding under produced. When I first played the album, I thought it was under produced too initally but have found Seeds We Sow to be a -wait for it - slow grower. Where Lindsey Buckingham's work can often be described as lush or layered, Seeds We Sow has an approach closer to Fleetwood Mac's Tusk where the music was stripped down to guitar, bass, voice and drums.

After playing this in my car a few weeks, the each of the songs started to resonate more. On initial listen I enjoyed the 80s pop flavored "Illumination" and the speedy "One Toke Over The Line" influenced "One Take". The electric version of the title track (an Amazon bonus cut) also sounded great. It was the slower numbers that took time to appreciate. "End Of Time" has become one of my favorite Lindsey Buckingham songs, beautiful chorus matched with just enough lush accompanyment to make it shine. And the jerky rhythms to "In Our Own Time" cannot be done by anyone other than Buckingham. The spare sound becomes refreshing over time and actually becomes one of the album's strengths.

If I reviewed Seeds We Sow a few weeks ago I would have given it a seven. But now, I'll bump it up to

Album rating:

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Midnight Madness - Steve Jobs Edition

Steve Jobs passed away this week, as he's been eulogized since then there is no doubt he has done so much to lead Apple through great advancements in technology and marketing. So I'll take up this tiny bit of cyberspace to give my respects to the man.

Love Me Do - Paul McCartney is married again?

Not much of a gift - Is it me or does the premise of A Gifted Man rub the wrong way? A surgeon is haunted by the ghost of his dead ex wife to run her inner city clinic. Sounds more like a breakdown than an uplifting show. Someone needs closure, seriously.

Love To Love You Baby - but Donna Summer is eligible for Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame? Why? Oh yeah, because the selection process for the Hall Of Fame sucks. I think we need to steer into the skid here and vote only for non rock artists, next year I think I'll campaign for Seals & Crofts to be entered. Is there a write in vote? Summer Breeze 2012 people!

Mr Burns lives! - and his name is Rupert Murdoch. At least that's who I'm blaming for putting the squeeze on The Simpsons talent forcing pay cuts to continue the show. I normally don't feel sorry for multi millionaires making less millions, but it's not like The Simpsons isn't a money maker just Fox wants more money for itself. At least that's what my uninformed half assed opinion is.

Manic Nirvana - Nirvana Nevermind's anniversary was celebrated all over the web and I didn't. I'll have to get around to some Nirvana in the near future to fix that. Once I get off my Foo Fighter's binge, a band I actually like more than Nirvana. I know, blasphemy right?

Great Scott - American Idol winner Scotty McCreery's debut is selling well. Could AI have it's first success story in ages? Will this be the ulitmate feather in the cap of the new judging panel? I'm asking a lot of questions today aren't I?

Are you ready for some hatred? - Seeing how the political atmosphere is with the President being compared to Hitler and the GOP feeding on their own over religion, I think this upcoming Presidential race will be the ugliest one in my lifetime. People are gonna hate hate hate.

TV Quick Hits - The new tv season is here and I'll give my snap review of what I've seen so far.

Wolverine anime - Is all kinds of awesome. Finally get to see Wolfie do some real damage to opponents and the storyline reminds me of that first Wolverine comic mini series. Real good stuff.

Iron Man anime - Shell head is pretty good, unlike Wolverine the storytelling is less focused.

2 Broke Girls - Kat Dennings is funny as hell.

Whitney - OK, the show stars Whitney Cummings but she plays straight man to her boyfriend character. Don't get that.

How I Met Your Mother - still love the show, blew me away with the appearance of Victoria. This season is hinting at some serious changes for the McClaren's bunch.

Community - is as off the wall as ever and love it. "You're acting like a spoiled kid and not in a hot way". Classic.

The Big Bang Theory - the characters are great but nothing truly memorable yet this season.

Family Guy - getting some edge back, though Peter telling Cleveland they were never friends was cold.

The Office - I like Andy, still miss Michael Scott. Even as they make Andy more Scott like with the tattoo thing.

And that's where we're at, Chuck hasn't appeared yet so waiting on the final season of that. The last episode with Morgan getting the intersect turned me off but I've been watching past seasons on DVD and getting psyched again.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

A Foreigner's Journey Into The Night

Last nite got to see the all killer no filler triple bill of Night Ranger, Foreigner and Journey at the Sleep Train Pavilion. It had been raining hard and often over the past few days, but last night there was no rain. The show had a start time of 7pm, the pavilion was still sparsely populated when Night Ranger promptly took the stage.

Night Ranger set list:
Lay It On Me / Sing Me Away / High Enough / When You Close Your Eyes / Don't Tell Me You Love Me / Sister Christian / (You Can Still) Rock In America

Night Ranger opened with a heavy rock track from their recent Somewhere In Californa disc "Lay It On Me" which was a brilliant choice considering the crowd's hit heavy mood. Throw the new song on at the start before the audience has time to realize they don't recognize it! As bassist/vocalist Jack Blades, guitarist Brad Gillis and more recent addition guitarist Joel Hoekstra scampered, spun and tandem posed for the fans it became clear Night Ranger still worked a high energy attack. At least for guys their age.

Jack Blades made clear the Bay Area roots of the band while mentioning the last time they played this venue was in 1987 when they headlined with opening act Tesla (funny enough that was the last time I saw Night Ranger). This led to an enjoyable run through their early pop rocker "Sing Me Away". Then Blades said he was on the phone with Tommy Shaw the other day and Shaw insisted Night Ranger play Damn Yankee's power ballad smash "High Enough". Although I liked Gillis' guitar solo (it was great and nothing like Ted Nugent's original) the fact is that the song needs a high pitched singer like Shaw to pull it off. And it seemed kinda lame to include "High Enough" when Night Ranger had all those hits from the 7 Wishes record that wasn't played at all (including the Top 10 "Sentimental Street"). But they played it. Oh well...

Blades reminisced more about when Night Ranger played Day On The Green supporting Journey in '83 before bouncing into "When You Close Your Eyes".

It was time to rock again as Night Ranger barn stormed through their classic "Don't Tell Me You Love Me". Guitarist Joel Hoekstra started to wow me at this point with his blazing playing and easy camaraderie with Gillis. Blades told everyone they would be singing along a lot this evening and worked a little bit of The Eagles' "Hotel California" in the middle of "Don't tell Me You Love Me". Drummer Kelly Keagy got to walk out from behind his kit for a little - singing lead on that other power ballad classic "Sister Christian". That definitely got the sing along crowd, um, motorin, so the band broke out the red, white and blue guitars for "(You Can Still) Rock In America". Couldn't have been happier hearing Night Ranger dish out their best jams in rapid succession.

True to their rep, Night Ranger delivered a great set. Yet their opening act status meant no encore. Bummer.

After the normal stage reset for the next band on the bill, Foreigner jumped on stage. A lot of the audience had arrived by now and were ready to rock.

Foreigner set list:
Double Vision / Head Games / Cold As Ice / Waiting For A Girl Like You / Dirty White Boy / Feels Like The First Time / Urgent / I Want To Know What Love Is / Hot Blooded
encore: Juke Box Hero

I had read online that band leader and only remaining original member Mick Jones had not been touring due to his health. This meant a serious shortage of star power for Foreigner as both Night Ranger and Journey boasts three originals (defining original as being from the 80s lineups of these bands not necessarily founding members) to Foreigner's none. Zero. Zilch. Not even an original bass player (though ex-Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson is always great). The responsibility for driving this whole thing rested squarely on vocalist Kelly Hansen's shoulders.

Now lucky for me I saw Foreigner last year, so this time around I was prepared for Hansen's Steven Tyler stage presence and adapted to it easier. And I have to say Hansen pulled it off, leading the band with energy and powerful vocals. Even when Hansen's mic cut out during "Dirty White Boy" he handled it like a pro, going to the side of the stage to trade out mics and then picking up where he left off in the verse. Equally impressive, on one of the fast songs (don't remember which) Hansen sang a verse section while running a lap around the inner seating section without getting winded.

Foreigner also had the best staged show out of the three. Their usage of the background video screen was impressive with flashing lights and dynamic use of colors (except of "Juke Box Hero" where they decided to employ computer graphics from 1993 to show people with stars in their eyes). The dizzying box images on "Head Games" or the flames for "Hot Blooded" really got me. And for "I Want To Know What Love Is" the group brought out a local choir to handle the background vocals.

It was because of these factors that Foreigner got over the most with the audience. By the end of the set it was nearly a packed house (save the row in front of us, more on that in a minute) who were all kinds of Foreigner crazy. For me, the lack of original members of any kind was noticeable (I've seen Foreigner in '85, '99 and 2010) so while the performance was good it was hard to shake that tribute band feeling (maybe if they played something off Can't Slow Down it might have felt less that way). But I didn't feel like anyone else noticed, or maybe just didn't care. Thought it was funny some in the audience were bemoaning the lack of Steve Perry with Journey but nobody missed Lou Gramm. Why no love for Lou?

Another stage redress and Journey were on their way!

Journey set list:
Separate Ways / Ask The Lonely / Send Her My Love / City Of Hope - Only The Young / Faithfully / Guitar Solo / Stone In Love / Escape / Lights / Wheel In The Sky / Keyboard Solo / Open Arms / La Do Da / Be Good To Yourself / Lovin' Touchin Squeezin
encore: Any Way You Want It / Don't Stop Believin'

"Separate Ways" always makes a good set opener as Journey split the cool night air with that familiar synth intro. Guitarist Neal Schon literally kicked things off with a kick to the sky. Singer Arnel Pineda hit the stage and was still in good voice (although some of his high notes were boosted with an echo effect). They kept things rolling with an excellent take on "Ask The Lonely" as bassist Ross Valory mugged for the camera.

A nice set list surprise with the quiet ballad "Send Her My Love", it's been so long since I've heard it live I didn't recognize it at first. Pineda dug into the haunted sentiments and displayed an open sensitivity not seen since the Perry days. It was the musical high point of the evening for me.

Keyboardist Jon Cain addressed the crowd and did the usual "Are you ready to rock?!" stage patter garnering a strong audience response until he asked if we were ready to hear some new music. Think I heard some crickets chirping after Cain asked that question. "City Of Hope" was introduced as being about Manila in the Philippines, it's a pretty good song. Too bad the audience wouldn't even do the "tolerate the one new song" courtesy most bands get, they were stone dead silent throughout save for a guy two seats down from me booing. It was like watching a band perform in a vacuum. Journey must be getting this reaction a lot because "City Of Hope" cuts into "Only The Young" without a break in between.

Pineda got the lead vocal nod on "Faithfully" which was nice, I was expecting the mic to pass to drummer Deen Castronovo (who sounds more like Steve Perry than anybody) at this point. In fact Castronovo got no lead vocals this show, the first time I can remember that happening since...Arrival tour? It was good to see the vocals center on one guy again.

Neal Schon's guitar solo I can't recall exactly where it was in the set so I'm guessing it was here. It was as spectacular as always. "Stone In Love" amped up the fans, Castronovo's ability to beat the hell out of his drums really came across here. Also Arnel Pineda's familiarity with the material from touring is paying off as he came across earnestly during the all important "I've got dreams I'm livin' for" segment of "Escape".

"Lights" got the audience swooning in a waving sea of cell phones and bic lighters (I guess the stoners were good for something after all) before they crushed "Wheel In The Sky". Schon freshened up that charged guitar riff he kicks into towards the end and Cain showed off some likeably sloppy harmonica adding a bluesy charm.

Jon Cain then handed in a marvelous piano solo, probably the most extravagantly classical keys solo I've heard since Rick Wakeman. Predictably this led into "Open Arms".

Journey then blew my mind by pulling out one of my all time favorite songs of theirs that I've never heard from them live, "La Do Freakin Da". Well, really "La Do Da". This is late 70s rock at it's face melting best. Then it was back to the "dirty dozen" with "Be Good To Yourself" which was memorable because someone distracted Arnel Pineda to the point he missed the start of the second verse. I think he was laughing at someone in the front rows. Though it was technically a goof, the humor added to the positive messaging of the song.

"Lovin Touchin Squeezin" closed out the main set, a song I recently found out was inspired by a Sam Cooke song (thank you wikipedia). Just a bit of trivia I never knew. Na na na na boo boo, stick your head in doo doo.

I make it a point to leave before the final encore to beat the traffic. There was some opening guitar parts that sounded like the start to "Lay It Down" before they snapped into "Any Way You Want It". I heard that and "Don't Stop Believin" on the way to the parking lot. From the crowd noise those two went over big and sounded great.

Night Ranger rating:

Foreigner rating:

Journey rating:

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

You Really Can Still Rock In America

To a smaller audience, but yes you can. A few weeks ago I got the most recent album from Night Ranger, a Bay Area band I've been a fan of since their debut Dawn Patrol way back in 1982-83. After a three album hot streak of killer rock and flick your bic power ballads the band seemed to lose direction - going all synthesizer, then firing the keyboard player, then turning into a power trio before doing the whole reunion thing in the 90s. Despite their best efforts, Night Ranger was not able to recapture that spark they had early on - they rocked yet lacked that hyper adrenaline manic edge of their early days. I thought maybe that edge could only be captured in the studio by the late producer Pat Glasser since he handled the first three albums. When last we saw our "Sister Christian" heroes, they were searching for a new sound that would fit in with the 21st Century. The guitars were lower (think the term is "downtuned"?) and an emphasis on alt rock style melodies dominated Hole In The Sun. Sun turned off the fan base and the quick dismissal of long time axe slinger Jeff Watson didn't help.

So here we are in 2011 and Night Ranger is making a 180 from Hole In The Sun. They're going back to the 80's - the early 80's, to recapture their original sound. And unlike so many bands who have done this same maneuver only to prove you can't go home again, Night Ranger pulls it off on their new disc Somewhere In California. Those high flying choruses, barrelling grooves and twin guitar attack have sting again. Rockers like "Growin Up In California", "Bye Bye Baby" and "Rock And Roll Tonite" are dazzling spectacles of AOR perfection. When the band hits that guitar solo build up part of "Lay It On Me" I'm in rock heaven. And the power ballad quota is met with the decent "Time Of Our Lives". Somewhere In California front loads the best songs in the first half, the second half is good but not as memorable (save "Tonite" and a rampaging cover of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" as a bonus track). This disc shows off a revitalized band who I hope to see live tomorrow (weather permitting).


Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sing For The Day - AC/DC "Big Jack"

At times I hear a song or think about a song...anyway, a song comes to mind and stays in my head for whatever reason. So when this happens I'm gonna start just writing about that song and in honor of the almighty Styx I'll call this Sing For The Day.

The other day I ran into this guy who is a huge Ac/DC fan. While talking we found we both agreed that one of the best songs off the last album (Black Ice) was "Big Jack". The guy plays guitar and told me a bunch of musical stuff about 5 chords and pletcorums and pull offs that I barely understood, but I still enjoyed the conversation. Later the same day I met another guy wearing an AC/DC shirt, it was just an AC/DC kinda day.

So what does "Big Jack" mean? Is it related to their earlier song "The Jack" which was about some sexual disease? Not a lot of interpretations on the internet, KGB Agent website says it's about a tough guy who plays pool. Okay, I've read the lyrics now. The great thing about AC/DC is it seems to me 99.99999% of their lyrics are cheap sex metaphors and it's no different here. I think the song is about the big O if you know what I mean. I can see why the KGB guy thought it is about pool since there's a brief part about racking balls and stuff. But the chorus talks about how "it's only natural" and that "he's the only one with a full sack". Ac/Dc, always so raunchy it's funny. If these guys didn't make it as musicians they'd probably be the only fifty somethings in Australia still writing dirty limericks on Men's room walls.

But hey, with Ac/DC it's always really about the monster groove. So enough words, here comes "Big Jack".