Monday, July 28, 2008

The Baseball Project: Volume 1: Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails

By: David Schultz

America’s National Pastime has a knack for inspiring some pretty insipid songs. For every “Centerfield,” there are dozens of schmaltzy, hokey tunes like “Talkin’ Baseball (Willy, Mickey & The Duke)” or “Super Bowl Shuffle” cash grabs that try to make a buck on a local team’s immediate success (e.g. “Let’s Go Mets”). It’s not a musical subgenre known for its successes. Using their wide-eyed love for the sport as their guide, Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Scott McCaughey (R.E.M., The Minus Five, Young Fresh Fellows) and Linda Pitmon successfully navigate the minefield of “baseball rock” and emerge with their integrity intact.

Spearheaded by Wynn and McCaughey, The Baseball Project revels in baseball lore with all its trivia, minutia and love of statistics with the unabashed glory of the biggest of baseball geeks. Taking creative license, they inhabit the minds of Ted Williams, Curt Flood and Fernando Valenzuela, who as you would expect expresses himself in Spanish, to get their point across about the possible passing of our pastime. The approach the Project with a sense of earnest whimsy and their excitement comes through in the lyrics. They rhyme Posada with Tejada, celebrate David Wells broad, booze style and find a way to name every pitcher who has thrown a perfect game while stumping for Harvey Haddix’ 12-inning 1959 masterpiece to be included on the list.

It’s the music that keeps Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails from becoming yet another collection of baseball related twaddle. While its far from the finest work this group has been affiliated with, when set next to Terry Cashman’s redundantly syrupy missives, it’s nearly Lennon & McCartney. Using a variety of loose and jangly rock and country based rhythms, the songs lope along with the easy pacing and provide the same enjoyment as a nine inning classic.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bodies Of Water: A Certain Feeling

By: David Schultz

On their 2007 debut, Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink, Los Angeles based Bodies Of Water came up with a dazzling blend of hymnal choruses and orchestral arrangements that sounded like glee club outcasts run amok in a downtown club. On “Gold, Tan, Peach And Grey,” the opening track of A Certain Feeling, their follow up on the Secretly Canadian label, Bodies Of Water pick up right where they left off, reviving their bracing formula of soaring multi-voiced harmonies and a playful call-and-response give and take. After that point though, Bodies Of Water tone down the choral gymnastics and meld their instruments instead of their voices with the result being a startlingly gritty compilation that reverberates with Ray Manzarek style keyboard riffs and Velvet Underground inspired industrial jams.

A Certain Feeling moves through garage psychedelic fueled repetitive rhythms, feeling-groovy, Chicago-derived jazz-pop licks and droning, too-often dreary, vocals; on “Even In A Cave,” they cycle through all three in just over three minutes. A little darker (musically) than their debut, the true revelation is how quickly they’ve developed into a cohesive instrumental unit. On “If I Were A Bell” and “Darling Be Here,” David Metcalf (guitar) and his wife Meredith (keyboards) steer Jessie Conklin (drums) and Kyle Gladden (bass) into highly effective industrial jams that careen forward and sizzle in their own momentum.

On each of the nine songs, there’s a nice wrinkle: the ponderous weight of “Keep Me On” contains with a Neil Young cribbed guitar solo; “Under The Pines” keeps its Yes tinged majesty while remaining defiantly lo-fi and Thom Yorke would smile appreciatively at the intro to “The Mud Gapes Open.” Unfortunately, A Certain Feeling looks to be the last album for this iteration of the band as Conklin will be leaving the band. For their upcoming tour, she'll be replaced by drummer Jamie Pitts and singer/guitarist/violinist Julie Carpenter.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Wardrobe Malfunction Fine Tossed Out

Janet Jackson's boob bounced it's way into television lore with it's mostly naked appearance on prime time national television at Super Bowl 38 when Justin Timberlake "inadvertently" released it from its leather covering way back in 2004. You'll recall that the FCC fined CBS $500,000 for the display. Since then, a notable music historian and critic has deemed the incident one of the top "resonant" moments in live music performance history (yes, I'm taking some editorial license with the term "notable" here).

Today, Janet's twins are making as much news as Angelina Jolie's because the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which sits in Philadelphia, has thrown out the fines levied when Jackson's "bare right breast was exposed on camera for nine-sixteenths of one second." A federal appeals court may set aside FCC fines when it finds that the penalties imposed were "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law." In other words, it'll smack down those claiming to enforce the law if they in fact don't properly follow the law when doing so.

In addition to doing just that, the Court gives an interesting history of "decency" enforcement (read it here) and I can tell you from experience that it is a law clerk's (young attorneys who work directly for a Judge) dream to work on a Court opinion that not only let's you think about Janet Jackson's boobs all day, but also allows you to study George Carlin and see very serious Federal Judges thinking about artistic works like the Puppetry of the Penis.

CBS is not entirely out of the woods as the Court sent the matter back to the FCC for further consideration. But for now, the fine is gone and Janet's right breast gets another fifteen minutes of fame.

Last Licks: Billy Joel Closes Out Shea Stadium

By: David Schultz

The recently played All-Star marathon at Yankee Stadium gave sports fans everywhere an opportunity to revel in the history of the storied ball park that will be closing its doors at the end of the 2008 baseball season. In the sports world, Shea Stadium, much like the Mets, has the unfortunate burden of living in the shadow of their crosstown rivals. When it comes to rock and roll though, Shea doesn’t have to take a back seat to any venue, especially that edifice Babe Ruth built in the Bronx. Yankee Stadium may have seen its share of Pontiffs and world championships but there are few images that equal The Beatles at Shea Stadium. With the ballpark in Queens in its final year of usefulness, it was extremely fitting that it should play host to one final concert and there could be no better artist than Billy Joel to write the stadium’s last chapter.

As the post-September 11th Concert For New York made abundantly clear, Billy Joel is the de facto voice of New York City. The Florida Keys have Jimmy Buffett, New Jersey has Bruce Springsteen, Detroit has Kid Rock and New York City has Billy Joel; he has become, without question, the go-to guy when New York needs “representation.” For more than 35 years, Joel has spoken for New York City and its constituents, eloquently giving voice to their collective feelings of rebellion, longing and discontent with his broad appeal lying in his ability to deliver anti-authoritarian songs in a non threatening manner. The underlying message of “My Life” doesn’t differ too greatly from “My Generation.” Billy Joel just never frightened parents or made people uneasy like The Who.

With all apologies to Lou Reed, there isn’t a performer more distinctly affiliated with NYC that could have credibly closed out Shea Stadium than Billy Joel. Despite the dearth of new material over the past 15 years, Joel had no trouble selling out two nights at Shea. If his twelve shows at Madison Square Garden in 2006 are any indication, he probably could have sold out more. Even before the appearance of Paul McCartney at the close of Friday night’s show, Joel’s second show irked a number of fans who gobbled up tickets for the Wednesday night show under the impression that it would be the Shea’s “Last Play.” Not only did those fans not get to see the final show, they didn’t even get to see McCartney return to Shea Stadium to add a footnote to the Beatles’ historic 1965 appearance.

Speaking of McCartney, let me digress. Anyone who has known me for a while or simply been with me at a show where I refused to leave early has heard me expound on my “Paul McCartney Theory.” It’s quite simple: what if you left a show early and Paul McCartney came out and played the encore? How stupid would you feel that you missed seeing a Beatle because you wanted to beat traffic or get an extra five minutes of sleep? Friday night resolved that conundrum. Once the last notes of “Piano Man” faded into the sweltering night, people did start to leave. Forget the fact that Joel played an additional song after “Piano Man” on Wednesday night, Paul McCartney surely didn’t show up at Shea Stadium just to make a brief five-minute appearance! Shockingly, rather than wait for the house lights to go up, a good number of people hurriedly flocked to the exits. Each of those people that got up and left after “Piano Man” can live the rest of their lives knowing that they are unquestionably a jackass. Joel quickly returned to the stage but immediately stepped aside so McCartney could sit down at his piano and close the show (and Shea) with a beautiful rendition of “Let It Be.” It was one of those moments you hope to see every time you purchase a ticket for a show. The Paul McCartney theory has been tested and proven; it is now Schultz’ Law of Paul McCartney.

Rumors of McCartney’s appearance had run so rampant that had he not appeared, it would have cast a pallor over Joel’s remarkable three hour plus show. McCartney’s rumored guest spot may have been the most anticipated appearance of Joel’s two “Last Play” concerts but it was hardly the only one. In addition to the former Beatle reviving “I Saw Her Standing There” before a crowd doing their best to recreate Beatlemania hysteria, recent VH1 honoree Roger Daltrey hit the stage, twirling his microphone with abandon through a fine rendition of “My Generation” and Aerosmith’s Stephen Tyler slithered though an energized version of “Walk This Way.” With Joel moving far away from center stage, Daltrey and Tyler had to generate their own fireworks as the band, which perfectly suited Joel’s style and repertoire, didn’t have the grittiness or abandon to give the songs the proper feel. In 1997, Joel appeared in Central Park as Garth Brooks’ guest and Brooks returned the favor at Shea for an ardent run through “Shameless.” By donning Mets attire and replacing his trademark black hat with a Mets cap, Brooks' delivery of the song outweighed the memories his outfit brought back of his comical attempt to try out for the San Diego Padres. Tony Bennett, the only singer to cameo at both Shea shows, strolled out during “New York State Of Mind,” and the singer who famously left his heart in San Francisco made himself a bi-coastal troubadour by dueting with Joel on his signature tune.

Due to Joel’s wonderful performance, the guest appearances were just icing on a cake that didn’t need any. Other than the fact that the placement of the stage in centerfield accomplished the difficult feat of making every existing seat in the building a pretty terrible seat - unless you were sitting on the field, you had a pretty distant view of Joel and his band – there was little to complain about. After opening with “The Star Spangled Banner,” careened into “Miami 2017” whose vision of a decimated New York City fit the night’s theme of honoring the decaying stadium. He dove into “Angry Young Man” and “My Life” with a feistiness belying his age and by using “Spanish Harlem” and “Under The Boardwalk” as a preface to “An Innocent Man,” he gave a historical context and added texture to an otherwise throwaway song but highlighting its shared structure with the doo wop beats of The Drifters’ classics.

Joel didn’t leave out any of his greatest hits, making sure Shea Stadium reverberated with the strands of “Captain Jack,” “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” and “Only The Good Die Young.” He also played a lot of beloved songs that didn’t have a life of their own on FM radio, relishing the reaction to his personal favorites like “The Entertainer,” “Summer, Highland Falls” and “Root Beer Rag.” Another album track, “Zanzibar” became a soundtrack for a New York Mets highlight reel and “Don’t Ask Me Why” lived up to its name by featuring a Benny Agbayani home run on the video screen. The video screens employed throughout the night provided a significantly unobtrusive enlargement of what was transpiring on stage. Only during “We Didn’t Start The Fire” did the video provide an unnecessary distraction by depicting images to go along with Joel’s rhyming recitation of political and pop culture events from the past fifty years. Even though the theatrics of swirling spotlights to emulate the helicopter effects on “Goodnight Saigon” came across as a superfluous trifle, the proper mood was restored by the end of the song with a number of New York City police officers and firefighters poignantly booming out the song’s chorus.

In the sports parlance, Billy Joel knocked this one out of the park. Unfortunately, as any Mets fan will tell you, what Shea Stadium really needs is someone who can throw middle relief.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Hold Steady: Stay Positive

By: David Schultz

Despite the fact they are old enough to be the creepy old guys at many of the events they sing about, there are no better chroniclers of the hormonally-charged, inebriated follies of adolescence than The Hold Steady. Their current album, Stay Positive, is the latest chapter in the band’s ever-evolving saga of exquisitely told stories romanticizing the antics and misadventures that befall the young, drunk and stupid. Carried by a fine ear for arena rock guitar riffs and lead singer Craig Finn's dry wit and sardonic vocals, The Hold Steady, with their boozy bar-band swagger, have transcended hip. They accomplish the ultimate feat in music: listening to them makes you feel young again.

A masterful lyricist, Finn populates his songs with impulsive teenagers who suffer at the hands of their own impetuousness as well as poor decisions typically motivated by drugs or alcohol. Like a novelist, Finn brings back characters and themes from past albums, girls are still going to go with whoever’s going to them the highest, there will always be consequences – good or bad – to getting loaded and someone always seems to be on their way to or from Ybor City.

Finn’s colorful style customarily draws comparisons to the early work of Bruce Springsteen but for as much of a debt that Stay Positive owes to The Boss’ idiosyncratic style of storytelling, it also writes an IOU to Journey and Peter Frampton. Giving life to arena rock by reinventing and reinvigorating many of rock and roll's familiar clich├ęs, Franz Nicolay has an uncanny knack for finding the perfect spot to insert his keyboards and even though Tad Kubler and Finn’s guitar work isn’t going to conjure up images of guitar heroes, they’ve mastered the art of the soul-grabbing riff. They’ve also mastered how to structure an album. After the relatively restrained “Two Crosses,” the title track simply leaps out of the speakers.

On Separation Sunday and Boys And Girls In America, the Steady told their stories with a wizened, non-judgmental point of view. On Stay Positive, they haven’t become preachy but they now deal with some of the consequences of careless decisions. In “Sequestered In Memphis,” a feisty date who in bar light, looks all right but in day light, looks desperate, produces a gloriously raucous sing along about subpoenas when the date results in some form of litigation, in “One For The Cutters,” the lawyers do the talking for a girl who resorts to hanging out with the townies and in namechecking John Cassavetes, we learn that for some reason the actress sometimes gets slapped.

Along with the new My Morning Jacket album, the music literati (or uptight snobs as others may call them) have been eagerly awaiting the release of Stay Positive for many months. Anyone worried that the increased attention would affect the band’s vision or style need not worry; Stay Positive is a worthy entry into The Hold Steady canon.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Alejandro Escovedo At The HighLine Ballroom

By: David Schultz

There’s no bigger asset to becoming a successful artist than word of mouth. If enough people say a certain artist is the greatest thing to come along since Lennon met McCartney, it doesn’t matter if they actually are, the gospel is written and so it shall be. This can produce some bizarre scenarios such as Terrence Trent D’Arby being proclaimed the new James Brown, a widespread vision that Joanna Newsom will reinvent popular music in her image or just the simple belief that Cat Power is sane. Sometimes though, the prevailing collective mindset can be the correct and proper one: especially as it pertains to Alejandro Escovedo. The Austin-based singer-songwriter is one of the few artists whose esteem is inversely proportional to the number of people who could pick him or his music out of a lineup. He’s reached the level of hipness that people will lavish praise on him even if they don’t know exactly why they’re doing so.

Escovedo may one of the best kept secrets of the modern age. Last week, the 57-year-old troubadour returned to New York City for a headlining set at the HighLine Ballroom, playing a ninety minute set heavy on selections from his recently released Real Animal and replete with the reasons Escovedo is simply cooler than the rest of us. Over the course of Escovedo’s considerable career, he’s been a punk, a rebel, a balladeer and an alt-country pioneer. In moving on to new styles, Escovedo has never left anything behind. He brings together his various personae and seamlessly meshes edgy rock and roll riffs with lush orchestral strings; he’s as much Lou Reed as he is Doug Sahm.

In order to get the proper mood, Escovedo has put together a finely honed group of musicians. Guitarist David Pulkingham, bassist Josh Gravelin and drummer Hector Munoz work out the polished rock and roll riffs and cellist Brian Standefer and violinist Susan Voelz add wonderful orchestral counterpoint while remaining loose enough to keep it from sounding stuffy, When paired with the romantic and wistful feeling of Escovedo’s voice, the result is quite gripping.

Escovedo retains enough of the aging punk to give his songs an edge but it was only the gray beards in the audience - the ones who couldn’t tell No Age from new age - that responded as if they were in the mosh pit at CBGB. For as fine a songwriter as he is, Escovedo doesn’t have the force of personality to push finely crafted songs like “Put You Down,” along with an unbridled fury. Fortunately, it’s not something he tries to do. With the demeanor of the veteran who doesn’t need to prove how cool he is, Escovedo let the songs unfold and mid-set he unleashed a moving version of “Rosalie” after a beautiful opening guitar intro.

When he wasn’t deflecting some puzzling pseudo-heckling from the crowd or inspiring a brief outburst of violence from two of the oldest people to ever scuffle at a show, Escovedo charmed the crowd with new songs like “Always A Friend,” “Sister Lost Soul” and “Chelsea Hotel ’78.” He also got a little Dixie Chicksish in his preface to a rollicking version of “Castanets,” sarcastically pointing out how happy he was that with the end of the Bush era, W. would be returning to his home state of Texas. For his encore, Escovedo trotted out his influences, covering The Stooges, The Rolling Stones and Mott The Hoople with Pulkingham and Gravelin adding soaring backing vocals on “All The Young Dudes.”

A couple years back, Escovedo removed “Castanets” from his set list after reading a story in the New York Times that George W. Bush had the song prominently featured in his iPOD. The cynic in me believes that this fact proves the cachet of acknowledging Escovedo’s name. While it’s entirely possible that Bush is familiar with the music and catalog of his fellow Texan, it’s equally as possible that a staffer answering the question for him decided that listening to Alejandro Escovedo would make the President seem cool. At least one person in Washington knows what they’re doing.

Ben Sollee Writes Open Letter To Kanye West

A couple months back, I came across Ben Sollee at The Mercury Lounge when he opened for Plants & Animals. Sitting alone center stage, Sollee enthralled the crowd with beautifully constructed songs made out of nothing more than his creative skills with the cello and his haunting voice. Strumming and plucking, Sollee is about to do for the cello what Andrew Bird did for the violin. If you haven't heard his fabulous cover of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," you might have caught him as part of The Sparrow Quartet, which also features Bela Fleck.

He's also not shy about voicing his opinion. In response to the Kanye West debacle at this year's Bonnaroo and the singer's refusal to except one iota of responsibility for the fiasco, Sollee has taken him to ask in "Dear Kanye." In his musical open letter, Sollee reminds West of the immense influence he possesses and chastises him for squandering that opportunity, telling him, "you don't need a light show, just good flow." It's a very well written tune and says things to Kanye that surely no one else is saying.

You can listen to "Dear Kanye" here.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Eleven Most Resonant Live Performances Of All Time

By: David Schultz

Give or take a couple days, this article pretty much marks my third anniversary with Earvolution. Over those three years, I’ve seen a whole host of shows and been part of audiences who walked away from them with a wide range of feelings and opinions. As for the artists, regardless of the size of the venue or the composition of the crowd, once the show is done, they’re usually off to do it again in another city for a different audience. Outside of the expansion of the musical horizons of the fans in attendance, one thing all these shows have in common is that no matter what transpired, very little changed in the macrocosm; in the long run, a single show rarely has much of an effect on the world.

As great a personal thrill as it may be to hear a phenomenal band for the first time at South By Southwest, to see the growth and increasing popularity of favorites like Tea Leaf Green, U-Melt and Grace Potter & The Nocturnals or simply to be in the room while My Morning Jacket kills at Radio City Music Hall, it takes a very rare performance to resonate outside of the range of the venue where it took place and affect more people than those who happened to be in attendance. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen.

What follows, in no particular order, isn’t a list of the best live concerts ever staged. That would be a somewhat academic exercise, populated as it would be with large scale efforts like Woodstock and Live Aid. Rather, this list – which in the spirit of Spinal Tap goes to 11 – consists of a group of performances that had relevance beyond the notes that were played and resonated well beyond the time and place of their occurrence.

U2 – Live Aid (Wembley Stadium), July 13, 1985

When U2 took to the Wembley Stadium stage as part of the London half of Live Aid, they really weren’t that big of a deal. Once they were done with their 20 minute set, the world – which was watching – had a sense that Bono wasn’t your average run-of-the-mill lead singer and that U2 were head and shoulders above their new wave brethren. Looking as if he’d been awake for the last three days, Bono led U2 through a torrid and inspired “Sunday Bloody Sunday” but it was their unforgettable version of “Bad” that proved lastingly memorable. Halfway into the song, Bono made his way from the monstrous stage down to the massive sea of people on the stadium floor and plucked a female fan from the audience onto the scaffolding. With The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. playing on, Bono held the girl in his arms and danced with her while she unsuccessfully tried to stave off hysterics. Running back onto the stage, Bono riffed on Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” and The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” and “Sympathy For The Devil” and by the time they wound up the song, hadn’t left enough time to finish their planned set. At the time, U2 believed they had blown their opportunity; it turned out to be a defining moment for a band that's had many. The BBC may have been partial to Queen’s performance and the image of Pete Townshend and Paul McCartney carrying Bob Geldof on their shoulders might be the event’s defining image but everyone who saw U2 steal the show at Live Aid recalls it as their first step on the path to becoming one of the most important bands in the world.

Michael Jackson – Motown 25: Yesterday, Today & Forever, March 25, 1983

Madonna notwithstanding, Michael Jackson is the defining superstar of the 80s and his coronation to becoming the self-proclaimed King of Pop began with the performance of a single song. To commemorate Motown Records’ 25th anniversary, many of the label’s most revered performers, including Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross gathered together for an NBC TV special. As part of the show, Michael Jackson, who with Off The Wall had established himself as a solo act, reunited with his brothers as the Jackson 5 for a medley of hits including “I Want You Back,” “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “I’ll Be There.” After completing the mini-set, Jackson remained alone on stage and spoke about the magic moments of the past. For as much he liked the old songs, he also liked the new, which at the time meant those on the recently released Thriller. With an off screen band playing Quincy Jones’ super-funky rhythm, Jackson picked up a black fedora from the floor and proceeded to deliver the performance of his career – a blistering version of “Billie Jean” that included the debut of the moonwalk. It’s hard to explain the impact of those three backwards steps but for weeks after NBC aired the special, kids would spend hours trying to duplicate Jackson’s mindboggling moves. Propelled by that one performance, the video for “Billie Jean” went on to shatter MTV’s then impenetrable color barrier and Thriller went on to become an International phenomenon. Dancing like he’s floating above the stage, this - not the ashen, surgically disfigured subject of child molestation allegations - is the Michael Jackson that most of us prefer to remember. Even if the performance seems a little dated twenty-five years after the fact, it contained everything set Michael Jackson apart and launched him to the highest stratosphere of superstardom.

Bob Dylan – Newport Folk Festival, July 25, 1965

This is the famous “Dylan Goes Electric” performance that angered the traditionalist folkies and left Dylan vilified in certain circles for daring to plug in his guitar and play electrified blues. Backed by Paul Bloomfield, Al Kooper and other members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Dylan’s heavily debated set consisted of only three songs, including “Maggie’s Farm” and “Like A Rolling Stone,” and was booed lustily throughout by a stunned crowd that felt betrayed by Dylan’s rejection of the folk ideal. At least that is how the myth goes; to this day, there is no clear consensus as to the reasons behind the crowd’s reaction. In contrast to the widely held belief that the crowd immediately turned on Dylan for plugging in, people who were there claim the poor sound system, not the music, provoked the heated response while others believe that the boos were directed at host Peter Yarrow for cutting the set short. If the latter is correct, Yarrow caught a raw deal as Dylan and his band had only rehearsed three songs. Whatever the crowd’s motivation, Dylan going electric sent shockwaves amongst the folk community who treated Dylan like he was a traitor to their cause. The anger would dog Dylan for months, most famously at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester – a show incorrectly attributed to having occurred at the “Royal Albert Hall” – where he was greeted with catcalls and proclaimed “Judas” by a vocal fan. In his typical fashion, Dylan remained unfazed by the whole controversy but decades later, his Newport Folk Festival set still provokes discussion over its significance and meaning.

The Rolling Stones – Altamont Speedway Free Festival, December 6, 1969

Don McLean proclaimed the day Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper perished in a plane crash to be the day the music died. In that vein, The Rolling Stones’ 1969 performance at the Altamont Speedway is the day the Sixties died. As documented in Gimme Shelter, The Stones’ dream of a Woodstock on the west coast was a doomed effort from the start. Poorly organized, shoddily executed and marred by random outbursts of violence, The Rolling Stones took the stage well behind schedule and when they did, faced a hostile and restless crowd. By the time Hells Angel Alan Passaro, a member of Altamont’s “security” crew, stabbed and killed Meredith Hunter at the front of the stage while the Stones played “Under My Thumb” – not “Sympathy For The Devil” as legend would have you believe – the hippie ideals of the 60s had been exposed and for all intents and purposes the Woodstock generation was dead. From a performance standpoint, Altamont is far from the Stones’ best, quite possibly their worst as they spent an inordinate amount of time trying to keep the unruly crowd from rioting and had to often stop midsong to attempt to restore order. Aware that someone in the audience had been knifed by their security, The Stones considered aborting the show. Fearing the mayhem that might have occurred had they stopped, they soldiered on and presided over the end of an era. Four months after Woodstock galvanized an entire generation, Altamont threw away all the goodwill; an impressive legacy for a single performance.

The Beatles – The Ed Sullivan Show, February 9, 1964

Given the ease with which a video or live performance can be accessed on Youtube, it’s hard to recall an era where visual images of the artists you heard on the radio weren’t widely and immediately accessible. Part of the allure of the early days of MTV – back when they weren’t a reality TV channel - was the sheer fact that you could see what the band looked like and, depending on the video, watch them perform. Prior to The Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, America had only caught limited glimpses of The Fab Four on news broadcasts documenting the overseas growth of Beatlemania. With the possible exception of Elvis Presley’s appearance on the same show years earlier, The Beatles’ appearance on Ed Sullivan was the most anticipated television performance in the history of music. More than 73 million people watched as The Beatles played “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “All My Loving,” She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Till There Was You.” The Beatles appearance, the first of three consecutive performances on the Sullivan show, officially launched Beatlemania in America, changed how a generation viewed the new wave of rock and roll musicians and inspired a legion of rock stars to pick up guitars and begin their own career. It is one of the defining moments in rock and roll history.

Phish – Newport State Airport (Coventry), August 14 & 15, 2004

It wasn’t a secret; the three day destination event was going to be the last performance of Phish before they went on an indefinite hiatus and every able bodied Phish phan with the ways and means to get to Coventry hopped in their renovated VW bus and made their way to Vermont. Given the logistical difficulties presented by the weather and the overwhelmingly sentimental emotions brought out by the event, Coventry’s mystique has grown to epic proportions. Phish attracted tens of thousands to the campgrounds for their own Woodstock style bon voyage. However, poor weather turned the grounds into a disaster area and if you hadn’t made it to the campgrounds early, you were being advised not even make the effort. Leaving their vehicles where they could, fans trekked as far as 30 miles by foot to be there for the band’s final shows. Visibly emotional, Anastasio gave away their signature trampolines, wandered out to perform in front of the stage and prompted possibly the largest glow stick war ever battled. Phish finished six sets over two nights with “The Curtain” and from the moment they took a group bow, fans have been clamoring for a reunion. At this year’s Jammy Awards, Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Page McConnell and Jon Fishman caused a modest amount of excitement just by appearing together on the same stage for the first time since Coventry. Given recent statements by various members of the band, rumors are flying that the long awaited Phish reunion may become a reality.

The Doors – Dinner Key Auditorium, March 1, 1969

Even hardcore fans as well as their staunchest apologists would be hard pressed to refute the fact that Jim Morrison’s performance at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, Florida marked the beginning of the end of The Doors. By most accounts, Morrison showed up the show drunk and belligerent and his demeanor didn’t improve once the band took the stage. For nearly an hour, Morrison alternated between singing verses of the songs and berating and inciting the audience. He then drifted on to the topic of love and nakedness before allegedly exposing himself to the crowd. In hindsight, whether Morrison actually showed the audience his Lizard King is irrelevant: everything went down hill for The Doors from this point on. The controversy over what by all means was reported as an erratic and substandard show erupted a couple days later when the Dade County police issued a warrant for Morrison’s arrest, charging him with indecent exposure and public profanity. In the avalanche of negative publicity that followed the incident and its resulting legal morass, venues cancelled shows on The Doors’ upcoming tour, radio stations dropped the band from their playlists and in the 18 months before Morrison’s case went to trial, The Doors immediate popularity waned considerably. The incident would help perpetuate the rebel shaman myth surrounding Morrison and time would restore The Doors to their proper place in the classic rock echelon. Although Morrison lost his legal battle while he was alive, fans refuse to give up his fight. To this day, Doors fans continue to pester Florida congressmen to posthumously pardon Morrison. In the end though, The Doors at the Dinner Key is the exception to the adage that one bad show won’t kill a band.

Nirvana – Sony Studios (MTV Unplugged), November 19, 1993

When Nirvana performed before an intimate audience and MTV’s cameras at Sony Studios in New York City, no one ever imagined that they were playing the set that would ultimately serve as the public eulogy for Kurt Cobain. Wanting to go against the grain of the increasingly stale Unplugged formula of playing acoustic versions of a band’s greatest hits, Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic learned a few eclectic covers to go along with select numbers from Nevermind and their recently released In Utero. Cobain didn’t approach the acoustic performance lightly, characteristically butting heads with producers who didn’t like the setlist and steadfastly refusing to give an inch. This distressed MTV who wanted a rowdy unplugged rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” instead of a guest appearance by the Kirkwood brothers to perform three engrossing covers from the Meat Puppets catalog. When the show aired in December of 1993, it was well received but not hailed as visionary or transcendent . . . until April of 2004 when the show, especially Cobain’s haunting rendition of “All Apologies,” served as a final and enduring reminder of Cobain’s troubled soul.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Monterey Pop Festival, June 18, 1967

There was once a time when the world, or in this case America, didn’t acknowledge Jimi Hendrix as the most innovative guitarist of his time and he needed a showcase to establish himself as the preeminent talent of his time. With Otis Redding, The Who and Janis Joplin and Big Brother & The Holding Company making their first major American appearances, it took an iconic performance from Jimi Hendrix to overshadow all that came before. At the insistence of Pete Townshend, Hendrix headlined the last night of the festival and responded by giving the performance for which he will always be remembers. Playing his guitar behind his head and with his teeth, Hendrix pulled out every stage trick in his arsenal before setting his guitar on fire, worshipping reverently before the flames before picking it up and smashing it along with the band’s equipment. Often confused with his Monday morning performance at Woodstock, the Monterey set, which includes “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe” and covers of “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Wild Thing” is the iconic Jimi Hendrix set; it’s been the focus of a D.A. Pennebaker documentary and Jimi Plays Monterey is one of the many posthumous Hendrix releases. Jimi at Monterey is permanently ingrained in the collective unconscious of classic rock fans and it is the 45 minute set by which all others will ever be measured.

Janet Jackson & Justin Timberlake – Reliant Stadium (Super Bowl XXXVIII), Texas, February 1, 2004

This seemingly innocuous little halftime show between halves of the New England Patriots/Carolina Panthers Super Bowl affected the world more than any other performance on this list. Possibly trying to mimic Mick Jagger’s de-skirting of Tina Turner at Live Aid, Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson’s right breast and the resulting “wardrobe malfunction” changed how live music is presented on the public airwaves. The ill-advised publicity stunt, timed to correspond with the line in “Rock Your Body” where Timberlake proclaims he’ll have you naked by the end of this song, not only gave birth to the delightfully inaccurate term “wardrobe malfunction,” it riled up the FCC who levied enormous fines on CBS and caused a Puritan-quality overreaction of rampant censorship throughout the entire broadcasting industry. Certain ABC affiliates refused to show Saving Private Ryan on Veteran’s Day due to concerns over FCC fines, networks enacted time delays on any live musical performance, Howard Stern left terrestrial radio for the unrestricted airwaves of Sirius Satellite Radio and two years later, the NFL censored certain words from The Rolling Stones’ performance of “Start Me Up” and “Rough Justice.” Timberlake emerged relatively unscathed: although he did bow to pressure to act contrite and gave a penitent apology at that year’s Grammy Awards. Jackson wasn’t so lucky and this little exploit ankled her career, which was already in need of resuscitation. An impressive legacy for a performance that lasted less than ninety seconds.

James Brown, Boston Garden, April 5, 1968

By performing at the Boston Garden the night after Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee, James Brown is credited with saving Boston. Worried about the violence that had sprouted in other major cities as a result of King’s assassination, Mayor Kevin White considered canceling the concert but was deeply concerned about bringing about the rioting he wanted to avoid by giving the appearance of stifling black expression. The political wrangling and monetary machinations that led to The Godfather of Soul taking the stage that night and permitting the show to be simulcast on public television have been the subject of multiple books and documentaries. More than the music, which included funky classics like “Please Please Please” and “Cold Sweat,” smoldering soul masterpieces like “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and numerous R&B covers sung by other members of the traveling revue, Brown made this show memorable by reminding everyone watching – and there were many - of the immediate importance of King’s non-violent beliefs and imploring Boston’s African-American population to rise above the violence plaguing the other cities. James Brown’s righteous brand of soul might not be the music that would customarily soothe the heart of a city about to explode, but on this night, often referred to as “The Night James Brown Saved Boston,” it kept Beantown from falling apart at the seams.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Jay Z Channels Oasis

Jay Z, like Ryan Adams, is an Oasis fan and paid homage to the Gallagher brothers at this year's Glastonbury festival by sporting a guitar and singing "Wonderwall" as an intro to his "99 Problems." I'll write that one more time in case your brain is still trying to make sense of it: Jay Z covered Oasis at Glastonbury. And, if you don't believe me Perez Hilton has got the footage.

Of course, it's not Jay's first foray into the rock world. You'll recall Jay Z's performances with Linkin Park, including the one from the Grammys where Paul McCartney joined them and there was also the time Jay Z welcomed Phish to Brooklyn. Never the less, still cool seeing Jay Z getting down with a little Oasis. And you thought Amy Winehouse trying to hit someone in the audience was the only punch from the show?

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!