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.

Raconteurs - Roseland Theater - September 17th, 2008

Getting backstage at a Raconteurs concert is one thing. Meeting Jack White is another. But wait, I'll get to that. The Raconteurs walk out onstage to loud, pulsating music; the stage backlit to look as if they are playing as the sun is setting in an eerie, ancient forest. Jack slings his guitar over his head but keeps his back to the crowd. Ever the consummate showman, he knows you love the band but that you’re really there to see him. They build up the song to a roar as he slowly backs up to the microphone, finally turning around to scream out "Haven't seen the sun in weeks. My skin is getting pale!" and reveals that he has painted his face a stark white. Dramatic, fantastic, shocking, in essence: rock-n-roll. The crowd erupts and Jack makes sure to keep this intensity, this mania to a fever pitch for the rest of the night. 2 years ago, in this same theater, the Racs were just the Jack White side-project; something to keep him busy while the White Stripes rested. But now they're an awesome band to be reckoned with. And clearly, Jack White doesn't rest. His wife must have earplugs on a string around her neck because know this. Even if he's not on tour: He is rocking, loud and hard, somewhere.With every blues riff, every rocking solo, every single word, whether he's whispering it with his eyes closed or screaming it in his mad scientist howl, he is here to rock your world and he won't stop until he's completely convinced you that he is the one of the best frontmen you've ever seen. Jagger? Daltrey? Plant? "Sure, I can hang with them. But do they play a guitar like THIS?!!!" On a Wednesday night in Portland he brought the crowd to their feet for the entire show and even the jaded, music-industry insiders that I was with were left with jaws on the floor and heads shaking in stunned amazement. Yes, it was that good.
Afterwards we managed to get backstage and I was determined to meet Jack. We walked down a flight of stairs into a dank, musty basement with old couches, coolers of beer and tables loaded with booze. I saw him in the distance but he disappeared into a smaller, darker room. As discreet and cool as possible I made my way over to that doorway only to see him disappear into yet another smaller room. I convinced myself that he had gone into a room with no exit and stood my ground hoping he would have to come back by me at some point. We met the band; gracious, cool, thankful. Hell, they know they've got a killer gig with a badass boss. Alls they have to do is show up, play very close attention, and rock hard. Really hard. But wait. Here he comes! What do I say? "Hi Jack, could I talk to you for a moment?" He smiles and says "Of course, what's your name?" "My name is Kenny and I just want to thank you for the great show and I also want to thank you for bringing Loretta Lynn back into the limelight. I love her." He said "Oh hey thanks. It was my pleasure. She's my idol. I still can't believe she’s my friend." I said "Would you mind posing for a picture?" He said "I'd be glad to." And with those words he summed up a night I won't ever forget.

The Dead Weather - Roseland Theater - August 23rd, 2009

The Dead Weather is Jack White’s much-hyped new band. They’re fronted by The Kill’s Alison Mosshart on vocals, with The Queens of the Stone Age Dean Fertita on guitar, The Raconteur’s Jack Lawrence on bass and White on drums just so that you’ll know he can rock those as well as he rocks a six-string. They’ve got all of the promise that a supergroup typically carries. But with White masterminding it they’ve avoided some of the problems that often weigh supergroups down with this basic premise: If Jack White’s involved in it, it’s got to be good. And it is. Good. But it’s not great and here’s why. Songs. You’ve got to have good songs. No matter how great each person is in their respective roles the whole has got to be greater than the sum of its parts. And let me tell you, each person is great in their role. White’s drumming is so good you actually want to watch him the whole time. But you don’t because Mosshart commands the stage with such authority, such intense sexuality, you cannot take your eyes off of her. She is Chrissie Hynde, Deborah Harry, and Shirley Manson all rolled up into one tight, rocking sexy singer. She clearly knows that she’s got to have tons of attitude and swagger to pull off the impossible: taking the spotlight from Jack White. But she does. She actually pulls it off. And Fertita is faced with an even more daunting task: playing guitar in a band where the world’s best guitarist is sitting right behind you. Surprisingly, he almost pulls it off by smartly playing in a style nothing like White’s. Difficult to categorize but in the vein of Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, he’s constantly doing things with the guitar that seem other-worldly, where you’re scratching your head “What the? Wow! Awesome!” The band easily whipped the sold-out crowd into a frenzy and when they left before the encore not a person moved. Everyone kept screaming for more. Which surprised me. Because as good as they were, there isn’t a single tune that I could hum for you right now. Not one song that I wish they would play for me again. So I feel like what the audience was really screaming for was for them to finally play a really good, memorable song. It’s strange. The Emperor looks good naked. But still, he should put some clothes on.