Tag Archives: live music

The Show Must Go On

18 Feb

I had the opportunity to see John Mellencamp in concert last night. For those not familiar, you’re dead to me. Ok, not so radical, but seriously, this guy has been around in the rock music scene forever, so you’d have to be either really living under a rock or something to not know him.

At the start of the show, he came out with the band, and they head off into some new material that I wasn’t familiar with – but three or four great songs with that familiar Mellencamp sound to them. The band – two guitarists, bass, drums, keyboardist that also played the accordion and a violinist – were tight and delivered that distinctive sound that he’s become associated with – interesting phrasings, mixes of major and minor chords, relaxed tempos, etc. That said, during this opening, clearly something was amiss with Big John’s voice – very raspy, very raw sounding. Since I had never seen him before, I was thinking that perhaps age wasn’t being kind to him, or the road, or something.

At the end of the 4th song, he stepped to the mic to greet the crowd and then said “Well, we talked this afternoon about cancelling this show because my throat is all fucked up. But then I said to everyone, ‘Hell no, we’re not cancelling. I can’t let those people down! Besides, I want to play.’ So folks, this is what we got. I sound like shit, but I’m here to play. If you can handle my croak, I can handle my croak.The band will rock and you guys will fill in when I can’t hit it. Deal?” Well, as you can imagine, the crowd went nuts.

Which made me like this guy even more. His music is all about “regular guy” real life, life in small town America, little Pink Houses for you and me, vacationing at the Gulf of Mexico, fighting authority (but authority always wins), thinking back on the good times and sitting and smiling. I love his songs – sing a few of them myself. And rather than being a diva and calling off the show because he has a scratchy throat, he just motored on through it and delivered for his fans.

The show must go on. A lesson for all of us.

As you were,

Stew

Apple Store Soho Presents Meet The Creators: Stephen King, John Mellencamp And T Bone Burnett

Cover Band or “Old Favorite”? Does it matter?

5 Sep

In keeping with our favorite summer activity, live music, Thursday evening we went to see Lynyrd Skynyrd at Ravinia.  Ravinia, for those that don’t live in Chicago, is a wonderful outdoor concert venue with a Pavilion offering reserved seating to about 3000 people in the Pavilion (for a higher ticket price of course) and an additional 12,000 or so folks spread out on “the lawn” which is a beautiful wooded park – with speakers spread throughout.

We had lawn seats for Lynyrd Skynyrd – we were directly off the Pavilion so the sound we were hearing was straight off the stage sound system versus the lawn sound.  But sitting in the lawn, I could have been listening to a very good cover band versus the original – which of course got me to thinking:  All the touring bands under the names of the old faves are often just that – cover bands.  Which of course gets the next thought – “does that matter”?

Lynryd Skynyrd is probably less of a cover band than most these days – it stars four original players including Gary Rossington and Johnnie Van Zant.  We all know this band’s story – back in the late 70s, there was a tragic plane crash that killed three of the band’s original members, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant – who really was the star and “sound” of the band.

We’ve seen lots of other “old fave/back in the day” touring acts in the last 8 years since this phenomena took hold including:

– Foreigner – one original member left:  Mick Jones:  That said, Foreigner is probably the best sounding of them all – and Mick Jones, while looking like father time himself, still riffs like a 30-year old and the band’s sound is stunning.

– Styx:  Two original members, Tommy Shaw and James Young, joined on stage by Chuck Panozzo on bass for a few numbers.  Tommy and James were the rockers of Styx, while Dennis DeYoung wanted to take the band into operatic “prog rock” back in the early 80s, which broke up the band.  These guys are the heart and soul of the Styx that I loved and the songs they play are primarily from Tommy Shaw and JY’s catalog, versus DDY songs.

– Boston: Only original member is Tom Scholz.  Still scorching.

– REO Speedwagon – two original members, Kevin Cronin, and the bass player (can’t remember his name).

– Kansas  – two original members

– Journey – two original members and a vocalist that was auditioned via You Tube and he is a Filipino guy who was a Steve Perry impressionist doing Karaoke until the band recruited him to be the Steve Perry impressionist doing live band Karaoke in front of a big live audience.  I haven’t heard them but I hear they are great.

And more …

And that’s the first tier.  These folks are still playing bigger venues, commanding decent ticket prices, and it still feels like a real rock show.  The second tier is where the cover band thing really starts kicking in.  Generally these acts are playing places like community festivals (Foghat played Buffalo Grove Days a few years ago and the year after was Starship – the smoking ruins of the old Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship, etc.).   Most of these bands feature just one original member and it is usually only someone that was sort of part of the band’s soul.  Foghat’s original member was the bass player.  Starship’s was vocalist Mickey Thomas, who was the band’s front man in the 80s, but without the incredible vocals of Grace Slick, that band was pointless.

Of late, we’ve seen many good  cover acts as well – tribute bands to the Beatles including Chicago-based and nationally-touring American English, tribute bands to Pink Floyd, Journey, Foriegner, Kiss, etc. etc.  And all are great – and it is great fun to hear the music of your youth performed live.

Which of course brings me around to the point – are these cover bands or are they originals?  And, does it matter? Certainly, in the case of bands like Styx, Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc., you can make the point that they are current versions of the originals.   All businesses and let’s face it, rock bands ARE businesses, change out personnel, so it goes in music.  Foreigner, with Mick Jones at the helm, and considering he wrote most of their catalog, isn’t a cover band so much as a better version of the original.  While I’m no expert in contract law and intellectual property, clearly all these bands have a member who still owns rights to the band name and the music catalog and so they go.

On the subject of “does it matter”?  Well, depends on your perspective.  If you’re a music purist, I suppose it does.  But, if you’re like me, a music lover and a nostalgic soul, instead these bands are a walk through our youth.  And a damn enjoyable walk it is.

And while those first huge, loud chords of “Feels Like the First Time” by Foreigner slam through you, or you’re fist pumping your way through “Blue Collar Man” or “Fooling Yourself” with Tommy Shaw of Styx, savoring the incredible guitar solos of Boston, or yelling “Free Bird” with thousands of Lynyrd Skynyrd fans like I did Thursday night – you’re simply transported back to an earlier time.  And that’s all good.

Go see live music and support these touring 60 year olds.  Re-live your youth.  It’s good for the soul.

As you were,

Stew

Listening to Albums

13 Aug

This summer, I’ve had the unique, fun and nostalgic experience of hearing two of my favorite artists, play two of my all-time favorite albums end-to-end in concert.   First was Peter Frampton playing Frampton Comes Alive straight through on July 5th (great way to celebrate the night of our 25th reunion, by the way) and the second was last night with Steely Dan playing Aja all the way through.  Both were treats.  And trips.

Back in the day (and friends around my age will get this), that’s how we listened to music.  You slapped on an LP, or later, a CD and played it from start to finish – all the tracks.  Flip it when needed, change records if it were a multi-disc set, etc.  But you got to know the album and the artist through the rhythm of the album.

There were plenty of occasions where you wondered a bit, “now why did they put that track there?”, “how come they buried this uptempo hit song on side two in the middle”, etc. etc.  I’m sure there are people that are far more knowledgeable about the music business than I am, that understand the idea and rhythm of figuring out what order to put the tracks in.  But at the end of the day, that’s how you knew your music.  After a few listens through, you knew which track was next.

A good friend of mine, Jason, is a music aficionado, and we will frequently get together with his wife, Andrea and Robin and me and sit and listen to old favorite albums straight through.  It is a rare treat.  Some of my all time favorite albums – Supertramp’s Breakfast in America, Boston’s first album “Boston”, Styx’s Pieces of Eight, Aerosmith’s Toys in The Attic, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Led Zepplin 4, The Eagles’  Hotel California, The Beatles’ White Album and Abbey Road, Steve Miller Band’s Book of Dreams, and of course the aforementioned Frampton Comes Alive, and Steely Dan’s Aja are just great works.  Yes, I love the songs individually, but there is an entirely different listening experience that comes from hearing the entire artist’s work, in the way that the artist intended it to be heard.

I guess this is a nostalgic post – in these days of iTunes downloads, YouTube videos, media sharing sites, Pandora, iPods, etc., this style of listening is entirely foreign to our kids in general. My kids, thankfully have gotten in the habit of buying CDs, not just tracks from iTunes (although with iTunes gift cards being a popular currency, there’s plenty of single-track buying being done), but I don’t think that they are in the habit of hearing the work striaght through.  The tracks get ripped to the computer, dropped into playlists, etc.  Thank goodness iTunes and iPods support album listening – because I’d be lost without that.

Overall, this has been a fantastic music spring/summer for us so far – in addition to seeing/hearing Steely Dan and Peter Frampton, we also have seen Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, as well as Steve Miller Band and in a few weeks, we’ll be seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd (also at Ravinia).

As we were listening to Steely Dan – Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, play through Aja, Robin and I were talking about how we doubt our kids will ever have the experience of hearing the artists of their youth, touring in their 60s, while they are in their 40s or whatever, and enjoying the trip back to their youthful days.  Who of today’s artists have music that has that staying power?  Damn few!  Perhaps Kid Rock, Nickleback, Jason Mraz and a few others, but certainly not Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, and all the other autotuned acts.  That’s a bummer.

Anyway, my advice to you my dear friends, is put on an album.  Sit down with a beverage of your choice, put on an album from your favorite artist (in whatever format you have – vinyl, CD, iPod tracks, whatever) and with perhaps a loved one or two, and just listen.  Think about the rhythm of the tracks and how they work together.  If it’s an old favorite, try to remember what comes next.  And immerse  yourself in the music.  You’ll be glad you did.

As you were,


Stew
(and other album covers for nostalgia purposes …)

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