Rockin’ the City of Angels: What?

Click here to buy Rockin’ the City of Angels, the new book now available at Amazon.com

_______________________________________________

Titled Rockin’ the City of Angels, the book was a 2 year labor of love for this long time rock fanatic. I described it on the back cover in this way:

genesis_lambitboth_72dpi

STROBE FLASHES PIERCE THE DARK STAGE to reveal a NYC street punk as he faces the other half of his fractured self. A father’s WWII fighter plane crashes into a wall, temporarily slowing its ascent around his son’s troubled heart. A fiend clad in a white tuxedo steps out from the frame of a graveyard scene onto a haunted stage welcoming all to his many nightmares. A woman, weapon drawn, tells the story of James and his very cold gun. The top drummer from the top 70s rock band in the world pounds out the opening beat that tells us it’s been a long time since he rock ‘n’ rolled . . . a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely lonely time.

rtcoa_bowiepage_144dpi
David Bowie photo (c) Neil Zlowzower / Atlas Icons

THESE IMAGES ARE SEARED into my memory from the rock concerts I witnessed in Los Angeles, the “City of Angels” in the 1970s, a time when rock bands were making expansive concept records with sweeping themes. Rock albums at the time promised “theater of the mind,” and their creators were inspired to mount elaborate stage shows that brought these dreams to life. These artists used every available piece of stagecraft—lights, projections, backdrops, props, and costumes—to create awesome spectacles for arenas packed with adoring fans— fans like you and me.

rtcoa_yesbookopeningpage_144dpi

This book celebrates more than thirty of these incredible performances including key tours by bands such as Led Zeppelin, Queen, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Heart, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Who and Yes. We’ll share memories of those legendary concerts and my reviews of the best video documents of the era, each band illuminated by a hand-picked collection of brilliant images—some never-before seen—by the best photo- journalists of that time including Richard E. Aaron, Jorgen Angel, Fin Costello, Armando Gallo, Neal Preston, Jim Summaria, Lisa Tanner and Neil Zlowzower along with many others.

rtcoa_who1spread_144dpi
Who photo (c) Neal Preston

This coffee-table book is nearly the size of an LP album cover, 396 pages, over 500 images, written by Douglas Harr, designed by Tilman Reitzle. Forword by Armando Gallo.

rtcoa_toc_144
The bands, order by category, then the date of their key performance in L.A.

Kanye West, Mad Genius

Kanye West played one of what may be the final shows of his current Saint Pablo tour last Thursday night, November 17 at the SAP Center, San Jose. From media of all kinds, by now you think you know what happened there. You probably do not.

kanyewestmohammedaliFirst off, let me say that since my childhood I’ve been drawn to men with big egos, men with big plans, high ambitions and the certainty of their opinions. From Presidents (JFK), to fighters (Mohammed Ali, Bruce Lee), to musicians (John Lennon, Robert Fripp) and actors (Marlon Brando, Robert Conrad and Jane Fonda), these men and women inspired me, they thrilled me with the sheer power of their persuasive force, the brilliance of their art and their belief in themselves. To a person these heroes of mine were at times shocking in their strident manner, often offensive in their rhetoric, nearly always unapologetic.

Kanye West is to me one such man in today’s world. He is to me an absolute genius. Like him or not, love his music or not, he also lives passionately and he has strong opinions, unapologetically. Like other inspirational figures of the past Kanye has offended – he has made statements and taken actions that have shocked. From overly boastful claims, to taking the spotlight at award shows, to sometimes cutting a concert short, or filling it with speeches, to saying he would run for President in 2020, Kanye has to some, certainly to the media at large, crossed the line. Why?

kanyespeech_144dpi

First of all let me clarify I am not a big fan of rap music, mainly as it is not particularly the sound of my now older generation. But I have some of it in my collection. I caught on to Kanye when he released the track “Power,” as he sampled therein the chorus of King Crimson’s breakthrough song “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Next I saw him a couple of kanyewest_pablocovertimes on Saturday Night Live, rapping in front of large LED screens, once in front of a raging lighting storm, another time in a room completely covered in LED screens and more recently in a heavenly shoot for one of his new songs, “Ultralight Beam” a stunning meditative track that begins his latest work of genius, The Life of Pablo, an album I would place next to Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life.

Recently my son screened a video of Kanye in 2015 at the BRIT awards, where he staged an absolutely spectacular performance of “All Day” complete with flamethrowers, and moves anyone who has danced would envy. Guess what – Taylor Swift was in the front row absolutely loving it, so we can all relax about award shows.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ABk7TmjnVk

kanyewest_allday_144dpi

Kanye is known to sometimes inject into his shows long speeches, sharing whatever is on his mind, extolling the crowd to see his viewpoint or just hear him out on a few complaints. Knowing this, I still booked a ticket to see the man in San Jose, last Thursday night. Being a “school night” I was hoping for a tight two hour show, with about 33 tracks, as had been seen as the set list before that night. I was wrong, yet not dissatisfied and am happy to have gone.

kanyeweststage_144dpi

The staging was innovative. As most of the music was pre-recorded, with a couple guys in the mixing booth adding guitar, keys and other live instrumentation, the stage existed to support Kanye alone. This allowed for a platform both literally and figuratively that was maybe 30’x30’ square, suspended above the crowd, with lights below and above, able to move back and forth across the arena floor, hanging from on a large suspension rig above. The rig was also able to articulate, turning slowly to one side or the other across the length of the arena – very impressive. A few pictures say it all.

kanyelive_144dpi

The songs and the performance were decent – I know Kanye is capable of more spirited showmanship, but he was in a way a bit subdued. As we would see, he had a lot of things weighing heavy on his mind. The audience enthusiastically joined in, a chorus of young voices filling in background vocals and singing along with their liege. Due to the breaks in the show, we had to leave early near midnight, though I did get to see him perform my original favorite “Power.” He made it through 29 of the typical 33 tracks, mostly because it seems Kanye had clearly hit a breakpoint of some kind (queue media speculation here).

What happened that night? Nothing that was surprising to me based on what I know of the man and his concerts. Every fan who attends should it seems by now understand that if Kanye has something particularly urgent to say, he’s going to say it – this is his stage, and passionate speeches or “discussions” (not rants damn it!) are a part of his performance. Why is the media both formal and social making such a fuss about this? Kanye had politics on his mind ten days after the election, and all he did is talk to us about the following, perfectly leading to the next song in the set list “Power”

  • How many people at the San Jose show voted for Trump?
  • Do you think anyone here voted for Trump?
  • Republicans and Democrats both came to a Kanye West show so doesn’t that mean we are closer than we think? Music lovers are not all liberal
  • He did not vote; if he voted he would have voted for Trump
  • The dumbest thing about politics is this idea of creating a separation; no one side is all good or all bad
  • The echo chamber of online commerce is comparable to the same echo that drove us to think Hillary would win the election
  • Don’t believe everything you hear on the internet
  • If Trump does not find a new way to govern, if that is not successful, then we should think about Kanye in 2020
  • We are one world, one race
  • Jay Z should call him

So… really? What is all the righteous indignation about? To my ears, nothing here seemed so outrageous. In fact a lot of what he said was important, particularly for his younger audience members, most of who cheered. Prolonging a show for a point of view is no big deal, unless you really can’t miss seeing late night television? The man has his views, any fan knows, and he is apt to share them. In order to deliver this stream of conscience in his way, several songs were interrupted midway through, later restarted. For us, it meant we could not stay for the whole concert –though I would have loved to see him do the opener for the new album, which was performed as the last track, I’m good.

kanyeperspective_144dpi

After our show, Kanye cut his Sacramento set short after just three songs, clearly disturbed by the media reaction to San Jose, saying before dropping the mic, “get ready to have a field day, press.” For the next show in Los Angeles, he cancelled three hours before it was planned to start. Now the rest of the tour is scuttled and worst of all Kanye ended up in the hospital to recover from some sort of breakdown, stirring the media frenzy. These things are regrettable.

But I would respectfully say, please, REALLY? Why must we eat our own? Why pile on via every possible media outlet to attack our artists, many of whom are, in fact brilliant in their own way, sometimes to the level of being a true tortured genius. Art and seeing can do this, we all know this, we ALL know this. Lay off Kanye, he is one of those few people in our times who reaches for the brass ring, a pursuit that means winning but sometimes falling off the horse, inspiring and sometimes offending. Spin Life of Pablo listening as openly as you can, listen to the core of his actual speech, and then tell me I’m wrong. And, don’t believe everything you see on the internet, including I suppose this?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKoe_GteC2I

 

Bad Company Lives Live!

badcompanylive_cover_72dpiBad Company is one of the most important rock bands of the 1970s. They topped a hard rock core with silky smooth yet gritty production values, hooks galore, and pedigree in each musician. They are a band I had to, regrettably leave out of my upcoming book Rockin’ the City of Angels. The omission is due in large part to a few issues – most importantly that the book is a celebration of the outstanding concerts of the ‘70s including classic rock and prog bands, and I did not get to see them in concert until recently. I could not find any footage nor official live albums of the band during that decade. That last excuse has just been remedied with the release of an outstanding double-CD set of Bad Company Live in concert 1977 and 1979.

badcompanylive_interior_144dpi

The release is exceptional in every important way. The first set, recorded in 1977 at The Summit, Houston Texas, May 23, 1977 captures the band tearing through 15 tracks over 76 minutes, starting off with the title track from that year’s album Burnin’ Sky (1977) and ending with the mega-hit “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” Label mates Led Zeppelin played the same venue just two days earlier, and this show similarly brims with crackling intensity. The second set is just two minutes longer with the same number tracks, taken from the Empire Pool, Wembley Arena in London March 9, 1979, where they did three shows to 12,000 fans each night, just a week before the release of Desolation Angels (1979) considered by most to be their last strong album. The set list begins with the title track of their debut, Bad Company (1974), and ends with another hit “Can’t Get Enough.” In between quite a number of the “then new” tracks are included, most notably “Gone, Gone, Gone” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy.” In addition a cover of the Hendrix breakout hit “Hey Joe” was taken from the Capital Center, Washington DC, also in ’79.

Overall, the sets are edited so that there are only two tunes repeated between the 1977 to 1979 shows – just “Shooting Star” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love” appear on both discs, smartly leaving buyers with a generous helping of 28 songs performed live. Most importantly, these sets sound fantastic. There are no overdubs made to either show, a fact noted on the promo sticker. Fans of the band know how unnecessary sonic tinkering would have been, as the original four-piece Bad Company lineup was known as a non-nonsense powerhouse in concert. My book designer Tilman Reitzle saw the show in ’79 and told me the band was the most rehearsed, professional group he had ever seen, able to be precise while still keeping the energy and excitement at the highest level. Between-song chatter was kept to a minimum, and you can now hear the remarkable economy and precision of their delivery on this set. It comes from the rock-steady beat of drummer Simon Kirke (ex-Free), to the baddest fretless bass from Boz Burrell (coming off a stint with King Crimson), amped guitar riffs from Mick Ralphs (ex-Mott The Hoople), and pitch perfect vocals from Paul Rogers (also ex-Free), certainly one of the genre’s most talented, dependable vocalists, not to mention his capable chops on piano and guitar, which helped to round out the band’s sound.

The booklet, authored by David Clayton is informative, if a bit shy on photos of the guys on stage and off. Having said that, the shots that are included, by Brannon Tommey, Bruce Kessler, Alan Perry, and Aubrey Powell are fantastic. There are also snaps of memorabilia – mostly ads for the shows, tickets and backstage passes. The booklet includes a background with lots of information about their progress in studio and the extensive, sometimes punishing touring schedule. Clayton puzzles as to how these tapes remained untouched in the vault for 40 years, something we can all agree on. He also provides this, a favorite quote about the band: “guys wanted to be them and girls wanted to be with them.”

It’s said that manager Peter Grant’s belief that live audio and film recordings took away from the impetus to see his bands live contributed to the unavailability of these artifacts from Bad Company. Grant also managed Led Zeppelin who released limited and rather poor live audio and filmed material during the decade, something that has also been rectified in years since. Fans can now rejoice that at least on the audio front this has been corrected with this superb new CD release. Add it to your collection, and hang on for video that hopefully one day will follow…

badcompanylive2016_rogers_144dpi
Paul Rogers, still rockin’ today

p.s.

Best videos I’ve located from the 1970s are almost exclusively from television appearances:

Feel Like Makin’ Love:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeZqjZ_kvLY

Can’t Get Enough:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7p9mzYB–uI

 

 

Steven Wilson’s Masonic Moment

Steven Wilson brought what will likely be the final leg of his Hand. Cannot. Erase tour to the Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium San Francisco, Friday November 4, 2016. This is the third time I’ve seen Wilson on this tour – the first being in early 2015 and the second at the Royal Albert Hall in London. While the RAH show held many surprises, the show at the Masonic hewed much closer to the original leg of the tour, with the addition of a recent song off his six-song EP 4 1/2. It was another in a series of amazing concerts concerts which have served well to thrill Wilson’s existing fans and expand his audience.

wilsonsteven2016_band_144dpi

To begin the show, Steven and his well-seasoned band again performed the entire album Hand. Cannot. Erase, a concept record that fictionalizes the tragic true story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a young woman found dead in her London apartment, undiscovered and not wilsonsteven2016_cover_72dpimissed by anyone for over two years. On this night Ninet Tayeb (aka Nina) was not present to sing the devastating, beautiful lead vocal on “Routine,” though a recording of her vocal was used in part and the song was still a standout. With the focus appropriately on the five musicians on stage, dramatic subject matter and skilled performances graced the first half of the show.

After an intermission, the band continued with masterful versions of Porcupine Tree songs “Dark Matter,” “Lazarus,” “Harmony Korine” (again an enduring highlight of these shows) and “Sleep Together.” There was also a new track from 4 1/2, “My Book of Regrets,” followed later by “Don’t Hate Me” (originally a Porcupine Tree song from 1999’s Stupid Dream). These sounded equally fresh and powerful, despite another missed opportunity to hear Ninet who is featured in studio on the latter remake. Wilson began the encore of three songs with a Prince cover “Sign of the Times” which he promoted as a better choice than the typical cover of that artist’s rich and varied catalog. So true. Next up, a stellar rendition of Porcupine Tree song “The Sound of Muzak” and closing the show, the gorgeous title track from Wilson’s fantastic album The Raven Who Refused To Sing, a song he described as representing his best work, an agreeable notion for many fans.

wilsonsteven2016_look_144dpi

Wilson and his concert production team are adept at staging this work live, setting the mood with long dissonant ambient sounds, muted lighting and surrealistic imagery projected on a stunning high definition screen. As with earlier shows in the tour, the lighting techniques were clever and colorful. Sound was crisp and clear, reproduced by the top-notch audio system, which sounded amazing in the acoustic-friendly Masonic. Even with all the finery, the primary focus remained on the band members demonstrating their virtuosic skills throughout. From the increasingly well-rehearsed touring band there were complex rhythms and solos from lead guitar player Dave Kilminster, electronic textures and brisk synth leads from keyboard player Adam Holzman, and a deep, thunderous bottom end and vocal harmonies from Nick Beggs on basses, paired with skilled drummer Craig Blundell. It was plainly visible that each one of the musicians has become exceedingly adept and delivering this material – in particular Kilminster and Holzman cranked out a number of superb progressive-laden solos throughout the evening.

Wilson delivered his poetic lyrics throughout in fine voice, alternating skillfully between guitar, bass, keys and samples. He displayed his wit and thoughtfulness between tracks as lead raconteur. These elements combined to make up a masterful set; an evening of dramatic, inspirational and at times emotionally overwhelming musical theater. Wilson remains at the top of the list of artists I’ve seen over these now forty years with his accomplished, expressive body of work and ability to so expressively present it all live in concert.

wilsonsteven2016_duo_144dpi

There are a handful of shows remaining in the U.S. this year, along with two in India, with no other plans announced at this time – get there if you can…nothing lasts forever!

Twitter: @diego_spade
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/diegospadeproductions/

wilsonsteven2016_sw_144dpi

Alice for President!

cooperalice2016_alice_72dpiAlice Cooper started as a band that featured Vincent Furnier (vocals), Glen Buxton & Michael Bruce (guitars), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith (drums). The group’s early performances are some of the first examples of overtly theatrical rock, designed to shock and excite young audiences of the 70s. Because of their antics and stage sets that included guillotine, live snakes, baby dolls, fake blood, spiders and an electric chair, the group gained prominence and was banned more than once in multiple countries. In 1974 after 7 albums and countless concert dates, the group took a hiatus. Furnier legally adopted the name Alice Cooper, and embarked on a long and fruitful solo career. We just caught his latest band in concert in San Francisco at the Warfield Theater, fittingly near Halloween, on October 28, 2016.

cooperalice2016_band_72dpi

Of the many rock groups in the 70s that strove to stage a theatrical performance, Alice Cooper stands among those that invested significant time and energy in the pursuit. “We were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. And what hadn’t been done is nobody took the lyrics and brought them to life…. you use the stage as a canvas. It’s all vaudeville and burlesque” according to Cooper. Of their place in history, Cooper sums it up best in a documentary interview: “From the very inception of Alice Cooper [the idea] was, there are so many rock heroes, we need a rock villain. I want to be the rock villain. I want to be the personified Captain Hook of rock. I don’t want to be Peter Pan. But I wanted Alice to also … have a sense of humor. I enjoyed playing the heavy… a bizarre vaudevillian character.”

cooperalice2016_frank_72dpi

This all remains true today, as Cooper completes a long 2016 tour with his crack band, stage props, dancers and costumes. While much of the stagecraft has been presented consistently throughout the years, the show is amazingly well rehearsed yet still fresh — a sonic and visual success. The best visuals included costumes like the Harley Quinn-styled ballerina and the huge “FrankenAlice” monster, which rages about the stage after being shocked to life during “Feed My Frankenstein.” Other bits included the long running gag where Alice is decapitated via guillotine, and the scene featuring the limp doll he caresses during “Cold Ethyl.” This, along with excellent stage lighting, pyrotechnics, and even bubbles (bubbles?) created a visual feast for the enthusiastic crowd.

cooperalice2016_ethyl_72dpi

Musically, this was a straight-on hard-rocking show, highlighting the chops of the band’s three guitarists, most notably L.A. resident Nita Strauss, whose searing solos and flowing blonde hair punctuated many of the most metal-laden tracks. Cooper sustained his own cooperalice_nita_72dpistill-intact gravelly vocals from start to finish, enthralling the crowd as the well-fashioned master of macabre ceremonies. Near the end of the main set, Cooper paid unexpected and fitting homage to three fallen rock stars, Keith Moon, David Bowie, and Lemmy of Motörhead. Other than that the set list was peppered with some deep cuts and many hits like “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” along with encore “Elected” during which Cooper made a fairly good case for his election to U.S. President, as a third-party candidate fronting the “Wild Party.”

cooperalice2016_elected_72dpi

With many number one hits, multiple awards and a place in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, Alice Cooper hit his marks once again, continuing a long and successful career as rock’s oft lighthearted prince of darkness.

Be sure to vote!

cooperalice2016-for-president2

======================================================

The band included:

Tommy Henricksen, Ryan Roxie and Nita Strauss (guitars)
Chuck Garric (bass)
Glen Sobel (drums)

cooperalice2016_frets_72dpi

======================================================

cooperalice_superdvd_72dpiFor those interested in more on Alice Cooper, the band, and the man, consider picking up the brilliant documentary Super Duper Alice Cooper (2014) which is every bit as artfully presented as his unique stage shows. It provides deep insight into the madness that created the Alice Cooper character, a persona that almost killed the man.

cooperalice2016_harley_72dpi