Tag Archives: concert

Neal Preston IS Exhilarating and Yes, just a bit Exhausted

The new book by Neal Preston, Exhilarated and Exhausted, is finally here, available at Amazon, and it is his masterpiece. At 336 pages from Reel Art Press, favoring rich black & white photography on white or black NP_Neal Preston -Exhilarated and Exhausted coverborder, the book is a stunning collection of Neal’s best work taken from the 1960’s through the present day. While the focus is on the classic rock bands on the 1970’s, a few shots from the 80’s and beyond are included (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Eddie Van Halen, Michael Jackson, Guns and Roses, and a few others). That means at least 200 shots from this famous photographer laid out among his stories in this highest quality hardbound keepsake.

What is really key about this collection are musings and recollections of Neal himself. There is absolutely no substitute for having the man who crouched into those pits in front of stages around the world tell his story in first person narrative, full of witty and wise anecdotes gleaned from a life on the road, a hard life, but one that in Neal’s case rewarded then and now, as evidenced by this exceptional book.

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I first met Neal over the phone about three years ago. I had purchased a print of his classic black and white shot of Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant between songs on a giant outdoor stage. It’s the one where Robert holds a dove in his right hand, and a beer and cigarette in his left, peaceful smile on his face – you know the one – nearly every kid in high school had a similar (but not Neal’s shot) color printed poster on their wall. We framed it for my wife’s best friend and one of my closest as well. San Francisco Art Exchange passed on my digits, as I wanted to talk to Neal, and was also looking to license some shots for my own book. (by the way a bit of advice he gave me which I regrettably did not use? more B&W shots than color, Doug!)

I will never forget the phone ringing, and Neal on the other end saying something like “yeah, this is Neal, who are you? What is this idea about a book?” He proceeded to regale me honestly and without bluster as to his experiences, cramming in as many stories as he could in what ended up being a 2-hour call with some guy he never met (with numerous protestations that he “had to go, but just one more”). I felt truly lucky, knowing as I did then who Neal was, knowing already about his friendship with Cameron, as I devoured the “extras” on Crowe’s Almost Famous blue-ray release. So yeah, having that kind of time with someone also famous, who shared his passion and introspection without hesitation, was awesome. That’s what this book is, in print, forever.

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At the time of our second meeting, Neal was about to stage a gallery exhibit for the lighting design crowd in Las Vegas. He had done a rare show in Germany with several of the same prints on display, and they printed a book of sorts, with many of those photos. But, there was a paltry few paragraphs written by Neal himself. Too few, I told him directly.

Not so here. We learn that Neal and Cameron met at a Humble Pie show in 72. We learn that Cameron hired Neal as the photographer for his first piece in Rolling Stone, about the band Yes (where are those shots!!!). Then we get a master class from Neal about the art, seat and tears that go into being a professional photographer. Neal writes his many stories in melodious voice, drawing us into his circle, sharing asides that make us feel that we are in the pit or in the first row at least, right beside him, seeing through his eyes. I’ve tried to do this – it’s hard – really, really hard to write with that kind of immediacy and even urgency. Neal nails it here.

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Section titles such as humble musings on being lucky “The Greatest Job in the World,” “The Inner Sanctum,” (It’s a hot zone back there… think Chernobyl with guitars”), “Rock Tour Tension,” and “Bob Dylan Called Me A Leech” frame the stories. Each artist is given a page or more, and maybe some musings, and it’s all very much infectious. For example, when Neal shares his passion for all things Greg Allman, even if you are not a fan, you become one. One of my favorite bits is his advice for aspiring photographers: “I don’t care what kind of pictures you shoot or aspire to shoot…you’re gonna have highs and lows so you have to take the good with the bad.” See, he didn’t have to do that – he did not have to be generous in sharing what he knows and speaking to those of us who relate to what he does. But he does and it works – all of it. As we used to say, “go for it.” My highest recommendation.

 

Rockin’ the City of Angels: What?

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

A’la Mode

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe great Depeche Mode played the Shoreline theater last week to a sold out crowd of devoted rapturous fans.  I was there for every note with my soul mate and a couple of our best friends.  This is a band that’s truly weathered time well – singer David Gahan still bumps, grinds, and belts out the deep notes with aplomb.  Singer multi-instrumentalist and principal writer Martin Gore raises the stakes whenever he comes out to be front and center, most notably on this tour performing slow acoustic versions of “But Not Tonight”, “Home” and “Shake the Disease” hitting all the best long vibrato soaked tones perfectly. Andy Fletcher does his low key celebration in back.  A drummer and second instrumentalist round out the band for their live shows as they have for just over 10 years now.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe group was out to promote their latest release “Delta Machine” – an album that’s surprisingly good for writers so well into their careers.  From the opening track, also played to start the show, “Welcome to my World” to “Angel”, “The Child Inside (another Martin slow burner) and “Soothe My Soul” (a classic form for David’s best delivery) they covered many of its high points, all of which fit nicely in their catalog.  These new tracks serve to update the Depeche Mode sound, even hinting in parts at dub-step electronica, a variant on the form they practically invented along with German forbearers Kraftwerk.

Of the later work, only 2005’s “Playing the Angel” was represented with two tracks – “A Pain That I’m Used To” and “Precious.”  The rest of the set list focused on the band’s 80’s and 90’s hits including 1981’s “Just Can’t Get Enough”, skipping to 1985’s “Shake the Disease”, 1986’s “Black Celebration”, “A Question of Time”, and “But Not Tonight”, 1987’s “Never Let Me Down Again” (encore with everyone’s arm wipers to augment it), 1990’s “Enjoy the Silence”, “Personal Jesus”, “Halo”, and “Policy of Truth” (all practically required for these shows), 1993’s “Walking in My Shoes” and Martin’s tear jerker “Home”, now a perennial favorite from 1997. Not as fond of the other selection from “Ultra”- “Barrel of a Gun” which ended up being one of several instances where the drummer drowned out the founding members – a minor complaint, but here’s one fan wishing they more frequently dispense with the live drums.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe whole event proved that Depeche Mode has remained not only commercially viable, but in rare form artistically, delivering their sometimes gloomy but more often celebratory wares, aged appropriately and served up hot.

Black Sabbath Survival

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was discovering classic and progressive rock music back in the 70’s, Black Sabbath was on the outs in my circle of friends. Their lyrics, presence and brand all shouted ‘satanism’ and ‘occult.’ The fantasy elements of Yes, Genesis, Camel and their ilk seemed more welcoming to our young minds. So, I never collected Sabbath recordings and did not attend any of their shows, nor did I know anyone who did. As their influence spread and drove the heavy metal movement over time I also stayed away, even though I became enamored of the goth movement in the ’80’s, and even later, knowing that Ozzy Ozbourne actually had become quite an entertaining front man and TV personality and that Dio had become one of the best metal vocalists ever, not to mention the fact that Toni Iommi kept showing at the top of guitar players popularity polls.

All of that changed for me earlier this year when I read of Toni’s illness, recovery, and the rebirth of his classic guitar techniques on the new recording ‘13‘ – hailed as a metal masterpiece and return to form from these survivors. I downloaded the tracks and instantly loved the album.  This led me to look into their past work to discover what I had missed. In fact, while several of their most popular tracks present the occult, more of them are about other topics well suited to aggressive rock – the folly of war, drug addition and other social ills.  Heck they even sang about fairies with boots!  Often there were long instrumental breaks with a clear blues-rock vein, at times reminiscent of early blues based Jethro Tull, with a sometimes ‘progressive’ approach to songwriting, as many of their best tracks switch keys and rhythm as they unfold.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATherefore it was with great anticipation that we finally attended the most recent Black Sabbath show at the Shoreline Amphitheater on August 26, 2013. And it was everything I hoped it could be – great set list, Ozzy still an energetic front man, able to sing and deliver the old and the new work, Toni in rare form ripping through his riffs, and Geezer proving why he’s been one of the most celebrated bassist in rock. The set list featured original work from their first albums, including War Pigs, N.I.B., Paranoid, Black Sabbath, and Iron Man, as well as new tracks including God Is Dead? and Age of Reason. Not sure this will lead me to collect more metal than I have today – I’ve always been more a fan of keys driven work, but I now have Sabbath sitting in their proper place in the collection, between Bad Company and Camel, and alongside the contemporaries of their day. A rebirth of survivors for this older, newer fan.

Hot Night for Neo-Soul Queen Erykah Badu

Erykah at the Winery
Erykah at the Winery

Erykah Badu brought her slow jam funk & soul show to the Mountain Winery last night and proved her command of the form under on a hot summers eve.  Starting the show her band displayed their chops on a version of “Amerykah Promise”, after which Erykah led us through a short list of twelve tracks, no encore, for just over an hour.  The set list ranged from older selections like “On and On” and “Apple Tree” from her 1997 album “Baduizm” through to her last studio release “New Amerykah Part Two” from 2010, from which my favorite track “Me” was included.  As there were a number of slower grooves during the first 45 minutes of the set, it took awhile for the majority of the crowd to get to their feet and dance.  But Erykah reaches out to her audience on a deeper, more soulful level as well, speaking her philosophies via her poetic lyrics, and honest delivery.  A warm introduction – highly recommended.

Black Dub Blues

Been a bit tardy in writing up reviews for the first part of 2011, due in no small part to the fact that I’ve taken on the role of CIO at Splunk, and having a great time focusing on all that entails. The other factor is that we have not been fortunate to catch many great shows since the new year. However, one of the best was seeing Black Dub on January 31, 2011, at the Independent in San Francisco. As they are coming back to the Fillmore on May 29, here is a recommendation.

Black Dub is a collaboration between Daniel Lanois (guitar, vocals), Trixie Whitley (vocals, drums, etc.) Brian Blade (drums) and Daryl Johnson (bass, vocals) resulting in a concoction of smoky blues and rhythm directly descended from the original form. Trixie is the daughter of the late guitarist Chris Whitley, and she is a revelation – a powerhouse vocalist, drummer, and overall multi-instrumentalist. For anyone not familiar, Daniel Lanois is the famed producer for Peter Gabriel, U2, Bob Dylan, and many other imaginative artists, and as a solo artist, he has released several stunning albums, most notably his first two releases and the soundtrack for the movie “Sling Blade.”  Lanois music traverses rock, jazz, soul and most often Cajun blues. His first recording, 1989’s Acadie, is a masterwork that should be in every music fan’s library.

As the leader of Black Dub, Daniel’s role is more as an equal member of the band.  Trixie is the perfect foil for him, pulling both into a darker angrier blues, and then back to happy, almost joyous tracks, while keeping the unit from drifting off into excess. Brian and Daryl are accomplished musicians in their own right, and together establish a propulsive foundation for the inventive soundscapes. The extremes make the overall work very dynamic, and best heard live. The band was incredibly tight throughout, and covered two standout solo tracks from Lanois’ first two solo albums. Daniel played a third track as a solo on pedal steel guitar – an unearthly, and beautiful ambient piece from 2005’s Grammy nominated Belladonna.

If this sort of blues makes you happy, or maybe just a bit sad, you’ll want to experience this stellar band live.

Arcade Fire Warm Hearts

Arcade Fire burst on the scene in 2004 with their first full-length album “Funeral” quickly winning over the indie rock community.  After their sophomore release, “Neon Bible“, and tour in 2007 they returned this year with the critical favorite “The Suburbs“.  During these last 6 years, the band earned a reputation as an amazing live act, blending wild abandon with a determined raw energy – building epic tracks towards frenzied crescendos.  Therefore, we waited anxiously for the recent tour’s visit to the Greek theater on the campus of UC Berkeley on October 2, 2010.

The show was amazing and hit all the right notes as hoped.  The band’s performance was full of emotion, energy and intensity.  Yes there was wild abandon, but also a sense that the delivery was very carefully arranged and rehearsed.  Lead singer guitarist Win Butler fronts most of the songs though several selections featured his wife Régine Chassagne as lead vocalist.  All of the band are talented multi-instrumentalists each of whom switch duties throughout the show keeping things fresh and never dull.  Lights, surreal video and a closed circuit live video feed of the show were very effectively combined on a central large hi-definition monitor placed in front of a full sized projection backdrop.  Highlights of the performance included the chipper “Sprawl II” sung by Régine in a childlike lilt.  The dramatic track “Rococo” is a personal favorite which was rendered even more powerful in it’s live delivery.  They closed the show with their epic first hit “Wake Up” and delivered it’s sing-song finish along with enthusiastic audience participation.  Heart warming inspirational show – highly recommended.