Monday, November 23, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures - Roseland Theater - November 22nd, 2009

In a recent interview Dave Grohl talked about what it's like playing drums behind Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones in their new band Them Crooked Vultures. He said "When I was 16, I gave myself my first tattoo of John Bonham's 3-circle Zeppelin logo. I tried to make it look pro but it looks like someone put cigarettes out on my arm! Playing with John Paul Jones is definitely a dream come true for me." That makes sense but then he said something that had me shaking my head "This is definitely the best band I've ever played in." These are bold words from a guy that's played in Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters and Nirvana. I figured he's probably just psyched to be living the dream.
Them Crooked Vultures also features 2 other QOTSA members: Josh Homme on vocals/lead guitar and Alain Johannes on guitar. The band walked out on stage to a deafening roar; and this from a crowd that doesn't know any of their songs by heart. They couldn't. Their only record released just a few days ago. So the applause is more about the concept of a band that, at least on paper, has got to be great. And then you combine this caliber of talent at a small theater. If you had told me 20 years ago that I'd be standing 20 feet away from John Paul Jones rocking out with a new hard rock band, I would've assumed you meant that I had died and gone to some rock-n-roll heaven. They launched into their first song and immediately several things are obvious. Dave Grohl's drumming is astonishing. With precision, ferocity and finesse, he is one of the best drummers in rock and watching him is to see a master at work. Josh Homme, the lesser known of the band, is more than worthy and is very up to the task of leading the way. And Jones, looking fit, healthy and nowhere near 63 years old, is clearly glad to not only be back on stage but back with a vengeance by providing the foundation for a great new band. There are times when a band is in a rocking groove, where things seemingly couldn't get any better but then they take it to a new level, either by a time change or just quickening the beat to a new intensity. Josh Homme, like a poker player with an obvious tell, sometimes signals this by looking back at Grohl and Jones, and lifts his leg up just a bit as if he's going to kick something. And he most certainly is about to kick something: your ass. They take it to a level that seemed impossible before, sending the crowd into a pogo-jumping, headbanging frenzy. Just when you think they're going to let up, a smile comes across Grohl's face, that famous infectious grin which signals to them that he wants to take it even further. He and Jones lock tight into a manic-metal groove that elevates the intensity to mind-blowing levels. And so it goes, they slay the entire crowd, all in the first song.
The wildest thing about seeing Jones in this band is that the Vultures are a more rocking band than Zeppelin.What? No, now simmer down people. Not a better band but a band with a harder edge and with a faster metal tempo. He has always been incredible but these guys are pushing him even further. Seeing this legend rock this hard with guys half his age, hell, at times taking them all to school was truly a marvel. But the best times were when Homme and Jones would stand right next to Grohl, the three of them looking at each other laughing, yelling, egging each other on. Jones laughing because he clearly enjoys rocking again with a band that's truly worthy of his talent. Homme and Grohl had a completely different smile. One that unmistakenly said "Oh my God we are in an awesome band with John Paul Jones!" The band absolutely killed the crowd for 75 minutes and though noone wants something so special to end, we couldn't have handled much more at that intensity. My friend Mark Pickett and I were literally speechless for several minutes afterwards. I finally managed to say "I can't believe it. They really are the best band Dave has ever been in." He replied "They're the best band anyone has ever been in." I laughed, knowing he was joking. Or at least I think he was.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Guided By Voices - Berbati's Pan - November 15th, 2004

I saw the Who last night in a small club. Not actually, but that's the closest way to describe seeing Guided By Voices at Berbati's. They don't have a guitarist as good as Townsend, or a drummer like Keith Moon, but Bob Pollard has written more perfect pop gems than anybody, and all 600 people were singing the words to every song as if they were tunes that had been on classic rock radio for the last 30 years. They did not let up for over 3 hours of glorious guitar rock heaven. Bob must have drank a case of beer during the show which only heightened his trademark high kicks and microphone swinging. The spectacle of it: As much fun as the crowd is having, no one is having more fun than Bob.Guided By Voices is really just Bob Pollard. He writes the music and lyrics to every song and the band lineup has changed so many times that one journalist counted more than 100 guys that have been in the band at one time or another. In 1983 Pollard was an elementary school teacher in Dayton, Ohio and instead of grading papers at night, he wrote songs. Thousands of them. He started a band and released many unsuccessful albums but the band's live shows became legendary. Then in 1994 he released "Bee Thousand" which Rolling Stone magazine called "a tour de force by a good old-fashioned American basement genius". The group was suddenly thrust into the mainstream, appearing on MTV and acquiring the kind of glowing accolades from corporate magazines generally reserved for bands like R.E.M. and U2. Pollard quit his teaching job, and the group performed on the Lollapalooza tour. Since then he has stuck with the formula which he describes like this "I write 100 or so songs for each album. 20 of them get stuck in my head and become an album. Next thing I know, it's unbelievable, our fans are singing them with me every night".No point in trying to remember what songs they played last night since they played about a hundred. And since most of their songs are only 2 minutes long, that's not an exaggeration. It was a special evening because their bass player, Chris Slusarenko, is from Portland. Many years ago Chris started a GBV cover band here called Giant Bug Village which eventually landed him the real GBV gig. He was ecstatic to be playing all those songs for old friends and family with his hero Bob at the helm. It was also special because this is the last tour for GBV. Nearing 50 years old, Bob was the only person with grey hair in the club.Alluding to the band's eternal underground status, Bob said "Portland has always been good to us. We used to play here for just a few people. Now we play all around the dozens of people." Guided By Voices may not tour anymore but you have to love a man that has dedicated his life to rock and roll even though he never got the big payoff. But why does he still do it? In the closing song "I Am A Scientist" his lyrics said it best:
I am a lost soul
I shoot myself with rock & roll
the hole I dig is bottomless
but nothing else can set me free

David Bowie - Rose Garden Arena - April 13th, 2004

Is David Bowie cooler than Mick Jagger? This question just popped in my head as Bowie proved to Portland last night why he’s had such a long lasting career. From the opening riff of “Rebel Rebel” to the rolling thunder encore, his powerhouse band put a fresh spin on the old ones and made the new ones sound like instant classics. Not only is his voice still incredible but a sleeveless shirt revealed surprisingly muscular arms, and that movie star smile of his just never stops. Face it. This guy was born for the stage. But it’s the hunky dory attitude that made the night so memorable. He’s having a blast and you can’t watch him do his weird moves and wild role-playing without having fun too. He told great stories between songs and considering how hard his band was laughing, he must tell different ones every night. He acts like you’re best friends when saying “Did I ever tell you about my first trip to America? No? I went to see Elvis at Madison Square Garden and I was in full Ziggy attire, six-inch heels, red spiked hair, and could not have looked more out of place at that show. But I was determined to be Ziggy, even if it meant embarrassing myself in front of the King and all his fans”. He confesses this quietly so that his point is made: Whatever it took, he was going to be a star. He switches back to entertainer mode “Elvis ended every single song like this (he does a funny Elvis karate pose) and for months, back in England, I imitated Elvis for my friends, but Ziggy doing Elvis just doesn’t work people.” His band and the crowd really laugh at this and he adds “But that same trip to America was the first time I heard one of my songs on the radio. I was in a cab and I rolled down the window and screamed ‘That’s my song on the radio!’ The sad thing is. I still do that. Everyday. Driving across America I’m screaming out of the bus ‘That’s my song on the radio!’” Even though he’s joking, I couldn’t help but think that he has had a LOT of hits, all of them worthy of screaming about. A well-studied actor, for over 2 hours, the Thin White Duke took on various personas for each song; ego tripping in “Fame”, rock starring in “Ziggy”, and even became a “China Girl” purring “Oh baby, just you shut your mouth”. In the encore, as they tore through Suffragette City, the Mick versus David debate ended. David is a better entertainer than Mick. In fact, he’s bigger, badder, and oh hell, I’ll just say it: he’s cooler.

Set List:Rebel Rebel
New Killer Star
Hang On To Yourself
All The Young Dudes
China Girl
Young Americans
The Loneliest Guy
The Man Who Sold The World
Under Pressure
Life On Mars
Golden Years
Ashes To Ashes
Let’s Dance
Modern Love
White Light
White Heat
I'm Afraid Of Americans
Pablo Picasso
Five Years
Suffragette City
Ziggy Stardust

Eric Clapton - Rose Garden Arena - July 28th, 2004

A word of advice. If you ever get a chance to see Eric Clapton, keep this in mind. When he closes his eyes mid-solo, and he sticks his tongue just slightly out of the side of his mouth: pay very close attention. That’s when the magic happens.After a great set from Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Eric followed his 7 bandmembers out on stage, wearing tennis shoes, faded jeans, and a short sleeve shirt. They start things off with the 1970 classic “Let It Rain” and for the first few songs, it’s all about the voice. It’s unfair for such an excellent guitarist to have a voice like that: emotive, sensual, bluesy, strong. You’ve been hearing it for so many years, he sounds like an old family friend, good ol’ Uncle Eric. But it was during the incredibly funky “I Shot The Sheriff” that he first really let loose on guitar. He closes his eyes, tilts his head back, and is seemingly possessed by Robert Johnson, Albert King, and Jimi Hendrix, squeezing notes out of his Fender that defy description. I’ve seen a lot of great guitarists but I’d never seen anything like this. I actually laughed out loud several times, not sure why, that was just my reaction. Maybe I was laughing at myself, for being surprised that Eric was blowing my mind.But every once in a while, during a ‘possession’, he’d stick his tongue out of the side of his mouth and his fingers would fly into a flurry of fits and his guitar would make the strangest, most beautiful sounds and people all around would shake their heads back and forth like me thinking “What was that?!!! What did he just do?!!!” And then the crowd would burst into applause and he’d step back up to the mic with the look of a magician saying “That’s just one of my tricks, and even I’m not sure how I do it”.After another verse, Billy Preston would take an electrifying solo on keys and remind you why John and Paul called him the 5th Beatle, who played all the classic piano parts on “Abbey Road”, “Let It Be” and countless other classics. The back-up singers left the stage and the guys sat down on chairs for the acoustic blues set, where Eric convinced us all why he’s the heir to the Robert Johnson throne, playing scorching versions of “Me and the Devil”, “They're Red Hot”, and “Milkcow's Blues”.The back-up ladies came back out for the rest of the show where Eric stood back up and ripped through long blistering solos on favorites like “Badge” “Layla” and “Cocaine”. After more than 2 hours of pure guitar heaven, they encored with Robert Randolph and Eric trading licks on “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Got My Mojo Working”, leaving the crowd breathless and completely awestruck.I went home and, though I told myself not to, I couldn’t resist picking up my guitar. I started playing a high note, and stuck my tongue out of the side of my mouth: Nope, I got nothin’.

Set list:
Let it rain
Hoochie Coochie Man
Walk Out In The Rain
I Wanna Little Girl
I Shot The Sheriff
Me and the Devil Blues
They're Red Hot
Milkcow's Calf Blues
(If I Had) Posession Over Judgement Day
Kind Hearted Woman
Got To Get Better In A Little While
Have You Ever Loved A Woman
Wonderful tonight
White Room

Sunshine of Your Love (with Robert Randolph)
Got My Mojo Working (with Robert Randolph)

Eric Clapton - Guitar, Vocals
Nathan East - Bass, Vocals
Steve Gadd - Drums
Doyle Bramhall II - Guitar, Vocals
Chris Stainton - Piano
Billy Preston - Keyboards, hammond organ, Vocals
Sharon White - Background Vocals
Michelle John - Background Vocals

Janes Addiction - Lollapalooza 03 - St. Helens, OR

How many times have you seen an opening band upstage the headliner? Not toomany, for me, but it has happened and as I watched Audioslave (Chris Cornellof Soundgarden fronting Rage Against the Machine) work the Lollapaloozacrowd into a frenzy, I actually thought for a second that they just mightupstage Jane's Addiction. I've only recently gotten into Audioslave, sotheir music is new to me but Chris Cornell is still at the top of his gameand they were really kicking out an infectious metal groove. The crowd wasgoing insane and since I'd also never seen Rage before I was quickly beingconverted, and getting that cool enlightened feeling of "So this is what allthe fuss is about". My buddy scored us press/photo passes so we get to seemost of the show in front of the front row, where the bouncers are. Andsince this is a general admission show, it was even crazy in that smallhaven, moshers constantly being thrown at us. It's just been so long sinceI'd seen Jane's and I had almost forgotten what makes them the best hardrock band around. Jane's come to shock, dazzle, arouse, and overwhelm youwith an intoxicating cocktail of strippers, lights and freaks. And whilePerry may grind, dance and prance in his black leather pants, you never losesight of one thing: they're the tightest band you've ever seen and they arehere to kick your ass! That's what they did in the L.A. punk clubs in '85and soon had every major label offering them millions of dollars and thealmost unheard of 'Full Artistic Control". Now it's nearly 20 years later,and their music still sounds fresh, vital and still, somehow, ahead of it'stime. As the curtains drop to the foreboding bass line of Up The Beach, DaveNavarro stands shirtless right above me, the ultimate Guitar God, poised tolaunch his power chord assault. Perry, who hasn't graced the stage yet,waits out the opener for Dave to hit the opening riff of Stop to comerunning out, full speed, screaming "Here We Go!" Indeed! Perry is pouredinto a black leather outfit that only he could pull off. Pull it off henearly does, teasing the writhing crowd, and for the first set he neverstops flailing and bouncing off the stainless girder stage, while Navarroand the boys rip through all the gems including Mountain Song, Been CaughtStealin, Ocean Size, and Whores. Then they launch into 3 new ones and theysound just as great as the classics and the crowd freaks just as hard. Aftera while, he stops the show to thank everybody that help put the show on,this is after all the last night of the tour. Then Dave thanks Perry forstarting Lollapalooza and the crowd is screaming so loud that even Perrycan't get a word in. He just smiles and looks in awe at all the mayhem andjoy that he has created. They leave briefly and come back out to the bass ofThree Days. The epic song builds and climbs to Dave taking his most inspiredsolo of the night. With a steel drum rolled out, Jane Says is the perfectgood times clincher. I had never seen them do a cover before, but they'rehaving so much fun, and it's the last night of the tour so why not? Theyclose with Zeppelin's Kashmir and for once, everything is just right in thiscrazy mixed up world.I know this has gone on too long but you know I'm a man obsessed. We walkaway from the show, in a daze and take one last look at the press tent. Lotsof people hanging about, there's a Mexican feast spread out and freemargaritas for the crew and the bands and rumor is Perry might show up.After an hour we had just about given up and I walked over to where a DJ wasjust starting to mix some tunes. I walk up to the table, I'm still the onlyone at that end of the party, and the DJ is none other than Perry Ferrell!I'm usually not one to dance to club music but what else do I do. Perry'sfive feet away, spinning tunes and looking right at me. So I do my white guydance and Perry keeps spinning tunes for me. He keeps looking at me,smiling, just glad someones dancing. He grabs a mic and starts singing alongto the dance beat. I wanted to stop him because I knew this would be the endof my one on one Perry show. Sure enough, once the crew and bands heard hissinging, they all came over and started dancing. I'm dancing with the girlgroup, the Donnas, when he comes out and they all hug him and thank him forhaving them on the tour. I just got in line, pretended I was a Donna andhugged him too. I said "Thank you so much Perry, for all the awesome shows."He said "Awww, no man. Thank you!"Sure hope those pictures turn out.Thanks for listening,Kenny

White Stripes - Keller Auditorium - August 10th, 2005

When I first read Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield’s 5 star review for the White Stripes latest cd, I had to laugh. He said, “Having clocked all rivals, the Stripes have to settle for topping their 2003 masterpiece, Elephant, the way Elephant topped White Blood Cells. If you happen to be a rock band, and you don't happen to be either of the White Stripes, it so sucks to be you right now.” I mean come on. Yes, they’re good. But isn’t this a bit much? There is little doubt that the White Stripes are the most hyped band in the last 10 years. Their jet-black hair and red and white clothes are so synonymous with their image, they almost seem more of a brand than a band. But with each excellent album being not only better than the last, but also so much better than anything on the radio, it’s no wonder that the duo of Jack and Meg White get a lot of press. Jack and Meg have cultivated their hype quite well, fueling the mystery of whether or not they are siblings, married, neither, or both. They date movie stars, beats up rock stars, and marry supermodels on canoes in the Amazon rainforest. It’s impossible for the press not to just eat it up. So when I finally got a chance to see them, I couldn’t help but wonder, are they really worth the hype?
Part of the allure is that the White Stripes do with two people what most bands can’t do with five. Twenty minutes into the show I closed my eyes and listened and was amazed at how dynamic and huge they sound and thought how could this be? Because when I opened my eyes, instead of seeing five or six people jamming on stage, you only see this one little brunette girl wailing away at the drums, and this one lone guy on guitar, standing at the microphone. But he might as well be standing at the crossroads in backwoods Mississippi because there is one thing that is crystal clear: Jack White sold his soul to the devil to be able to play guitar like that. He doesn’t so much wear his influences on his sleeve as he does channel guitar legends. He is Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Page, and Robert Johnson, all in one song. His singing so intense and riveting, he’s Howlin’ Wolf in one breath and screaming Robert Plant the next, yet somehow still sounds distinctly original. Jack repeatedly switched instruments each song, from guitar to piano to marimba, yet the show never lost its steadily increasing momentum. Even when he was playing piano or organ, he would kick this thing with his foot that would crank out the last distorted guitar riff he had played on his guitar. And sometimes Meg would play the melody on bells while her feet kept the beat. They don’t just rock. They rock with every limb on their body, at the same time. From Delta acoustic blues to Brit blues rock, from seventies metal riffs to pure pop rock, the Stripes had the crowd in the palm of their hands throughout. After the stunning 30-minute encore, which included “I’m Lonely”, “Hotel Yorba” and “7 Nation Army”, it became obvious that I too would have to join the hype. I have no shame in stealing this line: people, I have seen the future of rock-n-roll, and his name is Jack White.

Ryan Adams - Roseland Theater - April 24th, 2006

Drunk, stoned, and mumbling incoherent babble in between a few decent songs. No this isn't a description of me at the show last night. This unfortunately was Ryan's pathetic attempt at a solo acoustic show. Jesse Malin's inspired, energetic opening only further highlighted what this show could've been. Although Malin isn't quite as talented as Adams, he is still hungry whereas Ryan knows that most of his devoted fans will gush and fawn over even the most aborted renditions, false starts and lame jokes as he took 5-10 minutes between each "song" to tune his guitar and order vodka drinks. I've seen what he's capable of at previous shows and I don't expect for him to play hits, Whiskeytown or otherwise but I also won't give a good review to a lame show. Just because his voice is beautiful and he writes incredible songs does not mean he always puts on great shows and he fell way short here. Even the very cool surprise of Phil Lesh coming out to play with him on a few Dead classics could not save this trainwreck. Put down the bong, pick up the guitar, shut up and sing a song. That's why we're here.