Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jon Stewart Rally Features Musical Treats

Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity had plenty of musical highlights to go alongside Stewart's plea for rationality and civility in American political discourse. Among the highlights was a sort of mic battle between Ozzy Osborn and Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens). Both shocked the crowd when they took the stage.

Islam came first singing "Peace Train," but was interrupted by Stephen Colbert who brought on Osborn to sing "Crazy Train." The two then faux "battled" back and forth with their competing songs, when Stewart ended it by bring on the O Jays to sing "Love Train" to further advance the message of the day.

The Roots served as the house band and were also joined by John Legend, Tony Bennett, Kid Rock, Jeff Tweedy, Mavis Staples and Sheryl Crow. It was historically interesting to see Islam jamming along side Osborn during Crazy Train, yet maybe more impressive is how he got off the no fly list to attend the rally!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Schultz' Earful

By: David Schultz

Chris Rock once marveled at the level of celebrity reached by Bill Clinton by noting that he was so famous, anyone who sucked his dick also became famous. That one thought can explain the enduring nature of The Vaselines, who owe their entire career to Kurt Cobain. Don’t get the wrong idea from the Chris Rock analogy, Frances McKee probably never blew Cobain but the sheer fact that Nirvana’s frontman liked The Vaselines - covering “Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam” and naming his daughter Frances - has rescued the masterful Scottish outfit from obscurity. Such is the power of Kurt Cobain. Essentially defunct since the release of Dum-Dum, their 1990 debut, two decades later McKee and Eugene Kelly have reformed The Vaselines, finally getting around to recording a follow-up, the rollicking Sex With An X.

Playing before a woefully underpopulated crowd at New York City’s Webster Hall, McKee and Kelly offered up a briskly paced set which, due to the quantitative dearth of material, practically covered the entire Vaselines’ catalog. Surrounding pithy and succinct lyrics with concise and efficient guitar licks, The Vaselines embrace the pop song mentality while simultaneously thumbing their nose at all of its conventions. It’s the cleverness of the songwriting that makes The Vaselines a worthy listen: on “I Hate The 80s,” they coo in harmony in an effort to correct misperceptions about the musical tastes of the decade; on “My God’s Bigger Than Your God,” they mock religiously motivated political battles and on “The Devil’s Inside Me,” a song destined to close an episode of True Blood, they offer up a swampy dirge to the demons that lie within. In a live setting, The Vaselines’ sardonic cool emanates from the stage in waves of hipness. In contrast to Kelly’s dry delivery, McKee bantered bawdily yet sweetly with the audience, showing off the sly insouciant wit that underscores Vaselines songs like “Monsterpussy” and “Sex With An X.” Cobain didn’t get enamored with a cool album; he recognized a truly talented band. Come 2030, when The Vaselines get around to cutting album #3, expect something monumental.

THE WORLD’S GREATEST BAR BAND has outgrown the clubs in which they developed their reputation. Moving uptown, The Hold Steady played before a sold-out hometown crowd at New York City’s Beacon Theater. Running through five albums and ten years worth of Beat Generation influenced narratives that revolve around the oft-inebriated, existentially-challenged follies of the young and young at heart, The Hold Steady may have to retire their bar-band moniker in favor of one that better describes their growing success. In barking out his lyrics with his inimitably droll delivery, Craig Finn related his chronicles of youthful follies, judgmental lapses and the joys of being in a rock and roll band with a jittery energy that keeps him from remaining in one spot for more than a few seconds. Other than extending “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” into a lengthy jam, neither the set list nor the arrangements of the songs deviated from their days in smaller venues. Much has been said and written about the band’s Springsteenish tendencies and skillful penchant for cranking out arena rock riffs. In the Beacon’s arena style space, those qualities had ample room to breathe and like a fine wine or cold can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, filled up the hall instead of being swallowed by the space.

On a personal note, for the first time since college, I sat in the upper balcony of the Beacon, which offers a completely different perspective of the show. Unlike most theaters, the Beacon doesn’t fill its space by extending away from the stage: it feels like it goes straight up. You may be physically closer to the stage but you are so high up that from certain angles, the front of the balcony can obscure the front of the stage where Finn would occasionally skitter. From a sound standpoint, the upper balcony is an absolutely miserable option. Perched above the sound, you get all the volume with none of the clarity. Those on the floor were able to hear Finn’s hyperliterate lyrics; up in the stratosphere, he was buried as deep within the mix as Michael Stipe on early R.E.M. albums.

NO ONE CAN ACCUSE Neil Young of remaining complacent and churning out the same sound with every album. Fortunately, for his latest effort, Young isn’t experimenting with hip-hop or trying out the Auto-Tune. Rather, on Le Noise, produced by Daniel Lanois, the Godfather of Grunge, works in a minimalist sphere, mainly surrounding his distinctive falsetto with a single reverberating electric guitar. The milieu doesn’t provide much room for variety but it’s still infinitely better than listening to Young sing about his electric car. If you’ve ever wondered what it look like to see Neil Young play guitar in a doorway with horror movie lighting, rejoice and click here.

FINALLY, THIS PAST WEEK, I overlooked my Manhattanite elitism and got on the R train to see Rebecca Hart and Jon Reitzes play an early show at the recently opened Rock Shop in Park Slope. The Rock Shop’s owners trace their roots back to NYC’s Bowery Ballroom and their spiffy new Brooklyn venue, with a bullseye marked floor, possesses much of the same charm. Laid out and booked as a Kings County version of The Mercury Lounge. However, unlike Manhattan venue, The Rock Shop boasts an upstairs bar with an outdoors roof deck and a kitchen which specializes in burgers and wings. The Rock Shop will host a bevy of CMJ shows featuring The Barr Brothers, Beach Fossils, Cloud Nothings and the Bogmen and follow it up with nights headlined by Bob Mould, Ben Kweller, Oh No Oh My, The Crystal Stilts, The 1900s and the Robbers On High Street. Anyone mourning the loss of the great venues from NYC’s Lower East Side can find solace in the fact that they seem to be popping up across the bridge in Brooklyn.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Schultz' Earful

By: David Schultz

In his relentless quest to entrench his position as the rightful heir to the Pink Floyd legacy in the hearts and minds of classic rock fans of all ages, Roger Waters devoted the second set of his 2006 world tour to performing Dark Side Of The Moon in its entirety. For his current trek around the globe, Waters returns to the Floyd catalog, clearing out the storage warehouse for full-blown performances of The Wall, the 1979 double album that effectively marked the end of the bassist’s productive period with his old band. An intensely introspective epic, the late-night staple at the core of Alan Parker’s cinematic effort starring Sir Bob Geldof has developed a mythology all its own, having been played in all its theatrical glory with an All Star cast at the site of the former Berlin Wall. The Wall’s final refrain of “tear down the wall” will likely never be chanted with such resonance as it was in Germany; nonetheless the call still rang loudly in the heart of New York City at Madison Square Garden, where Waters played the first of three grandiose performances.

The concepts and logistics have not changed significantly from the Pink Floyd performances of the early 80s; the technological limitations that prevented the band from literally and metaphorically touring extensively behind it have all been shattered. Putting a new coat of hi-tech shellac on The Wall, Waters’ latest presentation of his Floydian masterpiece is a stunningly visually compelling spectacle that may very well be the most viscerally engrossing live concert experience ever offered. Within minutes of the opening notes of “In The Flesh” and an accompanying WWE worthy fireworks display, a WWII era plane descended from the rear of the Garden, crashed through an upper portion of the wall and disappeared in an explosion of flames. Over the two sets, consisting solely of the iconic concept album, Waters incorporated The Wall’s inextricable imagery into its multi-media display: mammoth replications of mother and the didactic teacher towered over the stage and legions of goosestepping hammers marched towards their unseen goal. It also wouldn’t be a Waters performance without the inflatable pig and it hovered over the crowd during the reprise of “In The Flesh” and an extended version of “Run Like Hell.”

The wall built between Waters and the audience over the course of the first set served as an elephantine blunderbuss of a symbol of the rock opera’s themes of separation and alienation as well as a canvas for newly incorporated messages concerning the victims of war and terrorism. Harnessing the wonders of high-definition projection, the wall, even amidst construction, became a pliable prop, exploding in bursts of color or bending and dissolving into a series of menacing crevasses. Waters sounded in fine voice, most notably during the “The Trial.” Taking advantage of the audience’s preoccupation with the accompanying animation, Waters lurked at the side of stage embodying the song’s various voices and characters. In choosing to forgo an encore of additional Floyd classics amidst the rubble of the demolished wall, Waters could be faulted for offering a dearth of music, the running of time of the show clocking in at roughly 90 minutes. Quantity aside, Waters is undoubtedly offering the concert experience of the year, if not the decade.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, as part of the celebration commemorating their 20th anniversary, moe. the venerable jamband from upstate New York, played a pair of shows at the Roseland Ballroom, the once-storied Manhattan venue that has been forsaken for the cavernous and unfriendly Terminal 5, and helped break in the fledgling Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg. Still clad in the natty formal attire they’ve donned since turning 20, moe. kicked off their fall tour by returning to another one of New York City’s hallowed venues, the Beacon Theater. As proven by the Allman Brothers residencies, the Beacon provides a cozy home for bands that have developed a comfortable relationship with their fans, the friends in the audience being of equal importance to the music emanating from the stage. The allure of any moe. show is the familiarity, not with the set lists or the songs themselves but with the personalities and the musicianship. Guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey seem to converse across the stage with their guitars and bassist Rob Derhak hardly needs to turn to communicate effectively with drummer Vinnie Amico. This all leaves ample space for percussionist and xylophonist Jim Loughlin to work in Zappa-like flourishes within the many layers. Working in “Scratch” and “Dragon,” two new songs, into a pair of sets that included the proggish “Dr. Graffenberg,” a jamtastic “Plane Crash” and a geographically apropos “New York City,” moe. showed that even old jambands still have plenty of new tricks in them.

THE COMMUNAL SPIRIT remained vibrant throughout the evening, moving south of the Beacon to Sullivan Hall, where Leroy Justice offered a late-night set that featured a spate of guest appearances. After opening with a lengthy run through “Belt Buckle,” which featured some nifty guitar work from Brendan Cavanaugh, Justice reprised “I’ve Got A Feeling” from their Halloween masquerade as The Beatles, receiving an assist from Ratdog’s saxophonist Kenny Brooks, who stayed on to accentuate a phenomenal cover of “Bring It On Home To Me.” Justice’s lead singer Jason Gallagher, who just completed a tour with the Counting Crows as part of their Traveling Circus and Medicine Show, has a voice tailor made for classic rock stalwarts, consistently able to infuse the passion and emotion that fuels the genre. God Street Wine’s Lo Faber lent his voice and acoustic guitar to versions of The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and the Allman Brothers' “Dreams” while moe.’s Al Schnier laid down some tasty guitar licks on The Band via Marvin Gaye’s “Don’t Do It” and, along with Brooks, enlivened a run through the Stones’ “Miss You.” Justice can do much more than serve as the house band for a series of featured guests. For one night, though, it was a fun treat.

You can check out portions of Leroy Justice’s set as well as Lo Faber and Aaron Maxwell’s acoustic set on UStream. (The beginning of Justice is at the end of Faber/Maxwell). Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Schultz' Earful

By: David Schultz

Naming your band after a Shakespeare play and crafting an entire album around a Civil War motif might give people the impression that you are side project of The Decemberists or spent too much time listening to Rush records. Then again, considering that Titus Andronicus is The Bard’s bloodiest play and the Civil War is America’s bloodiest conflict, that combination might also work as expert branding for a death metal combo. Entwining together a high minded literacy with an earnestly punk attitude, New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus embody the ethos of the bands that most frighten the establishment: they can say “fuck you” and explain why it’s a well-deserved and appropriate sentiment. Concluded an early autumn American tour with a near-hometown show at New York City’s Webster Hall, Titus Andronicus drowned the melodies of yesteryear in a mélange of distorted guitars, Jersey bred angst and attitude and a multitude of propaganda-quality refrains. With wild eyes, an unkempt beard and a jittery stage presence, Patrick Stickles makes an unlikely frontman, his eloquent lyrics and fervent delivery giving him the persona of a socialized Unabomber with a more inclusive and benign philosophy. While crowd surfing muttonheads forced others to carry their weight, (seriously, why don’t the skinny crowd surf; it’s always the chunky . . . and loaded), Stickles led a wildly enthusiastic crowd in a chant of zealous refrain of “the enemy is everywhere” from “Titus Andronicus Forever.”

EVEN THOUGH BOTH BANDS were tabbed by Rolling Stones as bands to watch in 2010, Free Energy, a rambunctious little outfit from the Jersey/Philadelphia area, still made for an interesting pairing with Titus Andronicus’ cerebral-minded hard rock. Reminiscent of a pop-influenced Faces, Free Energy specializes in a brand of melodic rock and roll that the Brits seem to churn out with great regularity. For significant portions of their 45 minute set, lead singer Paul Sprangers effortlessly flirted with an entire crowd, prowling the stage with Chris Robinson like moves and a fledging rock star gait. The playful glam rock in jeans catalog might be easy to dismiss if it wasn’t played with a sense of abandon and glee that makes it irresistible catchy. Their sense of fun spread to the more determined headliner, who celebrated the end of their tour together by bringing Free Energy out for a wildly sloppy yet engaging version of AC/DC’s “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock And Roll).” Titus Andronicus carries a weightier mien and aims for loftier goals than Free Energy but it’s the latter that is destined to find a larger audience. In touring with Titus Andronicus, Free Energy’s getting a fine introduction to a hipster oriented crowd (well, at least in New York). I suspect that there will come a time in the future, likely when Titus Andronicus is opening for them at larger venues, when this pairing will be used to enhance Free Energy’s credibility in certain critic’s circles.

THE REAL PYROTECHNICS at Webster Hall came early in the evening during the all-to-brief opening set of the Screaming Females, a power trio that grinds and slithers like heavy metal mavens. It’s lost within the mix on Castle Talk, their fourth album but Marissa Paternoster, the screaming female, shreds on guitar with a speed and precision that is nothing short of stunning. When she steps back from the mike, hides behind her hair and goes to work, the likes of Vernon Reid and Eddie Van Halen would take notice. Like the Ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail, on many of the songs, bassist King Mike and drummer Jarrett Dougherty speed up the tempo only to have Paternoster ratchet the throttle up higher which then prompts a reciprocal response. If only to see Paternoster play in person, the Screaming Females are worth your time.

THE 2011 NOMINEES FOR THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME were released last week. Broadening the list to 15, this year’s potential inductees are Alice Cooper, The Beastie Boys, Bon Jovi, Chic, Neil Diamond, Donovan, Dr. John, The J. Geils Band, LL Cool J, Darlene Love, Laura Nyro, Donna Summer, Joe Tex, Tom Waits and Chuck Willis.

Many may rend their garments over the announcement in December but I would wager that Bon Jovi will get the nod this year. The hair band era of the late Eighties/early Nineties lasted too long to be ignored. Of all the bands that emerged from that unfortunate time, Bon Jovi is the only one that can be credibly called credible. Poison, Motley Crue or Warrant aren’t coming near the HoF and Bon Jovi will be inducted as the representative from that entire genre. Plus, Richie Sambora and Jon Bon Jovi did kind of start the whole Unplugged fad in the Nineties.

I would also wager that The Beastie Boys, Chic, Dr. John and either Neil Diamond or Tom Waits get the other four slots. As for the others: Donovan’s candidacy should be effectively kneecapped by the scene from Don’t Look Back where Bob Dylan embarrasses him; Donna Summer was the Queen of Disco, not the Queen of Rock & Roll, then again The Bee Gees are in; if Kiss, who invented rock and roll marketing, and Rush, who invented time changes (work with me here), aren’t getting in, neither should Alice Cooper and The J. Geils Band.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!