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Greatest Concerts of the 1970’s

Greatest Concerts Cover_144dpiAs part of its 50th anniversary year, Rolling Stone magazine’s May 4th “special issue” included a lengthy article on The 50 Greatest Concerts of the Last 50 Years. I’ve been avoiding some of the “top N” lists that constantly flood social media, being so many are seemingly dreamed up by guys in their basement fishing for “click bait,” and some deemed dangerous to our privacy. But this article from the venerable rock magazine is entertaining and informative, well worth seeking out.

Over the years I’ve disagreed many times with critic’s music choices in Rolling Stone; they are so often focused on artists from the 1960’s and so frequently biased towards more commercial acts, weighted towards those hailing from the U.S. But the coverage is in depth, and the political analysis suits my beliefs nicely. I’ve been a long time subscriber.

The list of top 50 concerts in part drew my attention as I’ve recently released a book on the greatest concerts of the 70s entitled Rockin’ the City of Angels which features 36 acts from that decade, nearly all of whom played in my home town of Los Angeles, California. Was curious to see where our lists would match, and where they would diverge, and if that would be predictable for Rolling Stone. Due to the article covering 5 decades, there were 18 shows specifically from the 70s to consider.

Not surprising RS focused primarily on the type of bands that have nearly always appealed to their writing staff, six of which, in bold, matched mine, including:

The Who (Leeds, February 14, 1970)
Neil Young and Crazy Horse (Fillmore East March, 1970)
Elton John (Troubador, August 25-30, 1970)
Aretha Franklin (Fillmore West, March 5-7, 1971)
B.B. King (Cook County Jail, September 10, 1970)
The Allman Brothers (Fillmore East, March 11-13, 1971)
The Band (December 28-31, 1971)
The Rolling Stones (North America Tour, 1972)
David Bowie (World Tour 1972-73)
Van Morrison (North American Tour, 1973)
Patti Smith Group & Television (CBGB 1975)
Bob Marley (The Lyceum Theater, July 17-18, 1975)
Bob Dylan (Rolling Thunder Review, 1975-76)
Grateful Dead (North American Tour, 1977)
The Ramones (European Tour, 1977)
The Eagles (U.S. Tour 1977-1978)
The Clash (North American Tour, 1979)
Pink Floyd (The Wall Tour, 1980-81)

A 30% hit rate wasn’t a complete miss! In fact, as my own selection filtered out American R&B and the burgeoning punk movement (saved for future books), I match on about half of these artists. In addition, Van Morrison and Bob Marley are both artists I would have covered had editorial considerations not limited the book’s length!

A few particulars:

The Who Live at Leeds is indeed legendary as noted in RS, and it kicks off the first chapter in my book, as the Tommy album, the now expanded Live at Leeds recordings, and the film Live at the Isle of Wight rate highly in my collection.

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Photo @ Neal Preston

Elton John’s record-breaking shows at Dodger Stadium in 1975 are featured in my book, but I can absolutely back the argument that his first, intimate shows at the Troubadour launched him in the City of Angels, and make sense as the focus of the RS list.

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David Bowie’s seminal concerts during his Ziggy Stardust period in 1972-73 absolutely rate highly, and the movie taken from this tour is the primary official release of this artist on film during the decade. I struggled with the choice between this tour, and the 1976 shows in support of my favorite Station to Station. While Ziggy meant everything particularly to my friends in Hollywood and downtown, back in my suburban valley, I was more attuned to Station’s lush, disco-infused wares. The performances on that tour were striking – as one writer put it, Bowie appeared as a “hollow man who sang songs of romance with an agonized intensity… ice masquerading as fire.”

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Ultimately these lists are a difficult undertaking – always there are forgotten favorites, and when it comes to musical art, how does one define “greatest” – it’s largely subjective, yet occasionally we labor to piece them together and support our conclusions.

If I were pressed to make a similar list of the 18 “greatest” concerts of the 1970s, as experienced my original home town of Los Angeles, understanding that all of the other 18 I cover in Rockin’ the City of Angels rate in my book, the list below would be my conclusion:

The Who – Tommy tour Anaheim Stadium June 14, 1970
The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street tour L.A. Forum, 1972
Jethro Tull – A Passion Play tour L.A. Forum July 20–22, 1973
Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Brain Salad Surgery tour California Jam April 6, 1974
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black tour – Shrine Auditorium June 19, 1974
Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour Shrine Auditorium January 24, 1975
Cat Stevens – Majikat tour L.A. Forum, February 2, 1976
David Bowie – Station to Station tour L.A. Forum February 8, 9 & 11, 1976
Ambrosia – Somewhere I Never Travelled tour – Santa Monica Civic 1976
Paul McCartney & Wings – Wings Over the World tour L.A. Forum June 21, 1976
Queen – News of the World tour L.A. Forum December 22, 1977
Led Zeppelin – Presence tour L.A. Forum June 23, 1977
Yes – Relayer Tour – Anaheim Stadium – July 17, 1976
Supertramp – Even in the Quietest Moments tour L.A. Forum April 28, 1977
Heart – Little Queen tour Universal Amphitheater July 17, 1977
Kansas – Point of Know Return tour Long Beach Arena December 31, 1977
ELO – Out of the Blue tour Anaheim Stadium, August 26,1978
Fleetwood Mac – Tusk tour L.A. Forum December 4–6, 1979
Pink Floyd – The Wall tour LA Memorial Sports Arena February 7–13, 1980

Caveats – not many – I trimmed out the bands such as Happy The Man, Kate Bush and Camel who did not make it to L.A. for their greatest tours (in the case of Ms. Bush, never forever!). Also gone were some of the more progressive acts, such as Gentle Giant, Frank Zappa, PFM, U.K., Dixie Dregs, which were amazing live, but did not garner a wider audience during the period of my focus. Even with the edits, I cheated and listed 19 bands.

Given the more mainstream focus of RS, I still would have expected the staff to cover a few more bands that make my top choices, such as Yes, Queen and Jethro Tull who I personally witness delivering the most spectacular live concerts of the decade. Having said that, I’ve come to predict the view of this magazine and their favorites over the years, which to be fair has in fact grown to include artists they would have skipped in the past. The article is a fun read, full of quotes from those who were there, and it may prompt you to reflect on your past concert experiences, and maybe grab a seat at an upcoming show, to again bask in the glow of stage lights.

 

Rockin’ the City of Angels…Why?

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

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My first book, Rockin’ the City of Angels, is off the presses and at the warehouse. It will be shipping starting Tuesday, December 27!

Yesterday I was asked why I wrote the book…it’s worth a moment of reflection:

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Freddie Mercury of Queen, the stunning photo (c) Lisa Tanner

When I was a teenager (way way back in the 1970s), I was lucky to be able to attend dozens of rock concerts staged in Los Angeles, the City of Angels. Rock music had become increasingly relevant to my life, and I was drawn to complex works and the challenging, sometimes fantastical elements of the genre known as “progressive rock.” My collection of records and collection of concert cite stubs grew to include prog-rock bands like Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Pink Floyd, along with some of the more creative harder rocking contemporaries like Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, and Queen, as well as bands from North America like Kansas, Styx, and Heart. My youthful fascination grew into a lifelong passion for music in general, and for progressive or classical rock music in particular. My enthusiasm was stoked by seeing these bands live in concert, where increasingly elaborate theatrical productions dramatized the themes of many of these concept albums. These concerts were almost religion to my growing list of fellow concertgoers.

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Yes Relayer/Solos Tour

I wrote this book as homage to rock music of the ‘70s—in concert and on film. It tells the story of three-dozen key concert performances from this era; illuminating the genius of the best progressive and classical rock acts whose concerts I attended. I spent two years tracking down a selection of iconic photographs from those unforgettable events, taking me to agency basements, file drawers brimming with slides, to band member and photographers homes, to collections both organized, and out of control! In the process, I’ve been fortunate to meet many of the talented photojournalists of the era, including Neal Preston, Armando Gallo, Jorgen Angel, Neil Zlozower, Lisa Tanner, Jim Summaria, and many others. Many thanks go out to these artists, who captured these consummate rock musicians in their prime, frozen in time in arresting images.

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David Bowie; Station to Station Tour – One of my favorite photos in the book!

In addition, I’ve combed through more than 100 rock films from the decade, all part of my private collection. TV appearances, professionally filmed 35mm movies—even celluloid left in the can for years, sometimes decades after light hit the film—are finally getting
home video or streaming media release. I remember going to see many of these films that cooperalice_dvdcover_3x4_72dpifeatured Led Zeppelin, Yes, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney and Wings at the local cinema, flicking lighters and hollering at the screen. Now, just about every major band of the era can be seen performing live in one format or another, thanks to the dedicated teams at Eagle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video, and others who are helping to keep their legacies alive and to introduce the power and majesty of this adventurous music to new generations.

Although some of these bands are still touring, their time is waning, and soon these films will be the only way to recapture their extraordinary live performances. I believe these films are important documents of rock music performance in our life times. Those of us who were there found more than just good times at these concerts. Those shows brought us together to share profound, even life-changing experiences that bonded us forever.

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Fleetwood Mac’s incomparable Stevie Nicks

That’s what led me to write this book, and work for months on end with my designer Tilman Reitzle to render these photos and my recollections into a stunning tome. Check it out…. as we would have said… it’s bitchin’

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.

The Who Hits 50!

Who50_Hits_50_TourAd_72dpiA nice kitschy title for the most recent, maybe last, tour of the Who, one which comes at the heels of the seminal band’s 50th anniversary, and wherein they ”play the hits.” The Who, after a delay a several months, made it to the Oakland Arena here in the San Francisco Bay Area last week on May 19, 2016. The delay was due to health issues with singer Roger Daltrey, which involve his voice, limiting his ability to sing on consecutive nights, causing quite a logistical challenge during the tour, and a long delay of our show due to a resulting shuffle in the schedule.

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The show was fabulous, despite Daltrey’s evident struggles with the vocals. The large backing band were all singers as well as instrumentalists, and they helped immensely with multi-part harmonies and solid backing vocals, particularly during tracks like the opener “Who Are You,” “The Kids Are Alright,” and “I Can See for Miles.” Daltrey covers his parts as best you can imagine, often nailing even a high gruff note, while at times needing to hang back in the mix a bit. Though he now struggles during challenging passages, he is still in fantastic shape, a real inspiration for clean living and fitness! I read that Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder stood in for Daltrey at an event in Chicago, and that he directly sought out Daltrey at the end of the long set. He told the legendary vocalist that he could not fathom how the man ever delivered those vocals throughout the very long tours the Who staged over the years, so challenging was it to hit those notes on just one night. Sweet thing to say, and one can imagine how true it is, given the experience of all us fans, and our flawed attempts over the years to sing along! Townsend still hits his vocal marks quite well, though at bit gruffly as during “The Acid Queen,” but perfectly well on “Eminence Front.” His guitar technique is immaculate, and though he understandably does not leap into the air as in times past, he still executes his windmill-arm attack on the frets mightily. And he has attitude to spare.

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The backing band is filled with a who’s who of stellar musicians. Townsend’s son Simon plays guitars, Pino Palladino plays the bass, Loren Gold and John Corey are on keys all led by musical director Frank Smiles who adds more keys (did the Who really have that many keys on the albums?) and assorted instruments, including very strong backing vocals. Critically, Ringo’s son Zak Starkey played drums, and while no Keith Moon (who is?) he did an amazing job of interpreting and covering some of Moon’s most roiling, propulsive leads. As any fan knows, Moon used to play with almost reckless abandon, seldom pinning down a beat with single snaps of the snare, instead nearly always substituting a roll where others would place a note. He was one of the greatest drummers on the planet, maybe the best rock drummer ever (okay, right next to Bonham?), and it’s impossible not to miss him, even though we’ve had nearly 40 years to get used to the fact. Nonetheless, Starkey was top of his class and his assertive and stylized playing hit the marks as well as any drummer imaginable, a truly worthy heir.

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Due to circumstances, poor timing and other factors, I’ve never seen the Who. Back in the day I was drunk on complex progressive rock, and prioritized concerts by Genesis, Yes, Tull and others given limited budgets. In retrospect, the Who’s music edged into that progressive category, as even though their focus was dead-on rock ‘n’ roll, their compositions were deceptively complex, the musicianship and vocals driven and unrelenting in their sheer power and audacity. Besides The Pretty Things’, SF Sorrow, Townsend’s masterwork Tommy was one of the first long form rock operas, certainly affording him and the band a place at the pinnacle of rock god heroism.

Who_TommyCover_72dpiAlas, as I recently shared within these pages, Tommy both excited, and repelled me, particularly after viewing Ken Russell’s love-it-or-hate-it movie version of the album. I realized recently that all my friends had the soundtrack alum to the movie, and it crowded out the memories I had of the original Tommy cassette tape I played endlessly at ten years of age. I recently rediscovered the album and it’s charms, and the story behind it, influenced by Eastern philosophy much as my brother was at the time, as soon after this album’s release he left home to go into seclusion, and become a monk in the Self Realization Fellowship church. Townsend plowed serious ground with Tommy, arguably more personally and more effectively invoking a spiritual story than any of his counterparts including the Beatles who touched on these themes though never as expansively. And, in case you’ve forgotten, there is an almost complete lack of shrieking vocals or angry guitar on the album, quite unlike the movie soundtrack. Townsend primarily plays acoustic guitar, and clear, clean electric while he and Daltrey sing through relaxed vocal cords, innocence and emotions laid bare. Add to that Entwistle’s natural ability to lead or color everything he touched, and Moon’s unrelenting rolls, and the result is an album that is fresh, impactful and eminently listenable, particularly as an adult — it’s simply a masterpiece.

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Not surprisingly for me then, the Tommy segment of the “Who Hits 50!” tour was most compelling to me. The set kicked off with “Amazing Journey,” and continued through the instrumental masterpiece “Sparks,”(go straight to your stereo and spin that track if you have at all forgotten what an incredible piece of music that is!) then “The Acid Queen” (one of the tracks I felt ruined in the film by Tina Turner!), ‘Pinball Wizard,” (okay, Elton did nail that one!) and coda “See Me, Feel Me,” presenting what must be one of the greatest lyrics to end the 60s and start the 70s:

Listening to you, I get the music
Gazing at you, I get the heat
Following you, I climb the mountain
I get excitement at your feet

The concert ended with two songs that followed the Tommy set, two of their absolute greatest, “Baba O’Riley” during which Daltrey’s signature scream actually hit the mark, and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” featuring those classic Townsend power chords. The lighting, and particularly the visual backdrops, rendered in hi-def imagery added mightily to the impact of the presentation. Overall it was a great night of music and a celebration of this legendary band, now more than 50 years in the making, and still rolling on.

 

p.s. while finishing up a chapter on the Who for my forthcoming book, I learned something interesting about what is possibly the greatest bit of film of the band playing live. It appears at the end of the documentary The Kids Are Alright, and features the Who playing a blistering version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” What I did not realize was the this is the last footage of drummer Keith Moon playing live, just shortly before his passing, and that it was filmed at Shepperton Studios by the movie’s young director, who felt that this song and it’s companion “Baba O’Riley” had not been properly captured on film….besides the other celluloid rarities the director collected for this doc, the inclusion of this footage alone makes the film worth collecting!

Elton John Plays the Hits

EJ_3Elton John is one of those British exports that we in the states took very closely to heart. His phenomenal success here echoed globally – but there was always something that seemed so American about him. Lyrics and themes from Bernie Taupin– songs about Marilyn Monroe, Hollywood, Philadelphia, along with frequent inclusion of honky-tonk piano and 50’s pop rock sensibility spoke to us. He had seven consecutive number one albums in the US. The sprawling Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973) is his rich and varied masterpiece while Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975) is the most musically adventurous and so becameEJ_GYBR_Cover a long lasting personal favorite. I grew up during his formative decade and been a dedicated fan of his melodic, emotive work. In fact one major reason I gave up playing the piano was due to having made the effort to learn “Funeral for a Friend” on piano, with sheet music – taking six weeks to master it – then finding out it was originally written and recorded in a day!

EJ_CF_CoverDue to the large number of progressive rock concerts I attended in those days, I never did get around to seeing Elton John perform live, despite his reputation for staging outrageous, exciting rock concerts. But last night, on October 2, 2014, we did see Elton John at our local arena in San Jose, in a tour a local ad claimed would include “All His Hits.” There was truth in that advertising.

EJ_1Elton’s stellar band entered to the tolling church bell that begins “Funeral for a Friend” and went on to play the rest of what was side one of the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album – continuing on during the show to play “Grey Seal”, “All the Young Girls Love Alice,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and the title track when we were asked to sing along during the chorus. The rest of the set list was similarly filled out with hits from his back catalog, along with only a couple of new tracks – a very pretty “Oceans Away” and also “Home Again” from The Diving Board (2013). The show ended with “Circle of Life” which Elton introduced after exclaiming how his children have so enriched his life. Only complaint on the set list from this fan was the focus on only “hits” and possibly therefore lack of any tracks from Captain Fantastic. Otherwise a nice blend of mostly older selections played with precision and energy.

EJ_4Elton sings in a lower register these days, but has adapted the songs by half notes, keys, octaves to suit his range. His falsetto is completely gone, making vocal delivery more forced and gravelly, yet able to be tuneful and melodic. Elton still likes to rock these songs out – even “Your Song” concludes with the band swelling it’s backing sound to full volume. Surprising in a way he does not back them down more frequently, and sing in a more quiet way for some of the ballads. He kept stories short last night – mentioning Bernie, his kids, and his appreciation to fans who have kept him in the business for so long, adding that he loves performing now more than ever before.

EJ_2Elton played all the songs last night from behind his beautiful Yamaha grand piano. His skills on the instrument are well known, and were highlighted during several interludes and codas when he executed runs that only the most dexterous trained hands could accomplish. This is a man who can play one chord, stand up, and smile as everyone shouts “Bennie!” After each song, Elton rises from his bench to enjoy the audience reaction, and stoke more, shaking his fists in the air and making the “ohhh” face! It’s hard not to miss the younger, bawdy performer with the huge glasses, feather boas and costumes, but then we’ve all grown up a bit too. At this stage, the performances are still stellar, and befitting his position as one of the most successful pop stars of our time.