Tag Archives: queen

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.

Queen Over the Rainbow

queen_1977I first saw Queen perform live on the 1977 News of the World tour stop in Los Angeles, California. It was absolutely magnificent. Long before the band even took the stage, the crowd was madly clapping and stomping out the opening beat to their mega hit “We Will Rock You.”  And once the lights went out, what an entrance – as close to rock royalty as any band I’d seen – all pomp and pageantry mixed with true grit!  After all, Queen were playing arena sized shows in the states, having conquered the airways completely with A Night at the Opera (1975), A Day At The Races (1976) and News of the World (1977) between them sporting the operatic anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody” the gospel “Somebody to Love” and the double-single “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions.”  The show was spectacular both in staging and sound. A moment I will never forget was Freddie Mercury’s echo enhanced vocal solo during a break in the cannon segment of “Prophet’s Song” – I’ve seldom seen another singer accomplish the highs and lows of that moment, with such a large audience held in awe.

queen1Because of this tremendous experience, I’ve always held that we saw the perfect Queen tour at just the right time, before they became a bit more commercial, and arena’s led to stadiums, and Freddie cut his hair. I gravitated to the less metal, more pop-rock oriented records from their mid period, after the first three albums got the band started. Unfortunately, though there have been bootleg films, I’ve never been able to find restored and official footage of these mid-70’s appearances nor any of the tours before then. There are scores of concert films from Queen that are fantastic – but those were from the 1980’s and later, once my interest had waned a bit.

queen6Now 40 years on, this crisp, clear film emerges: Queen Live at the Rainbow ’74. It includes footage from two 1974 tour stops at London’s Rainbow Theater – a few tracks from the March 1974 Queen II concert along with a complete performance later that year after Sheer Heart Attack was released.  These nights were captured for posterity and the footage is finally seeing an official release with restored and sparkling hi definition visuals and near perfect audio quality.  The effort has returned hue and deep blacks to the picture, and there is clever use of cross fades, and dual angles that enhance rather than detract from the proceedings.

queen3bqueen4queen5The band members including Freddie Mercury (keys, vocals), Brian May (guitars), Roger Taylor (drums) and John Deacon (bass) are at the peak of their powers – already developed as the skilled players we came to know – and also rocking with a bit of a harder, more glam-infused edge than in their later years. Freddie and the group confidently strut and pose on stage as though already playing to the arenas they would soon inhabit. The November appearance begins with “Procession” and a dramatic version of “Now I’m Here” – used effectively as the opener again this year when Queen plus Adam Lambert toured the states.  Freddie greets the audience with “The nasty queenies are back!” and the band tear into the progressive rocker “Ogre Battle.” The set list includes many tracks from these first three albums, highlighted by the openers plus the majestic “White Queen,” a bit of “Killer Queen,” and a metal tinged “Keep Yourself Alive.”

queen_coverThe video is a remarkable document of the band right at the point when they emerged from smaller venues, prepared to take the super star mantle both on record and in concert.  The tighter, edgier material brings a more focused lens to each band member’s technicality and skill. Now I find this a close tie with the arena sized concert I first witnessed and highly recommend the DVD as being the best way to approximate the experience so many years later.

Queen Rocks down Memory Lane

P1010329The brilliant British band Queen hit the music scene in the 70’s in a flash of lightning, building a musical history and legacy with which almost all readers will be familiar.  Led by the enigmatic Freddie Mercury on vocals and piano, there were Brian May (guitar), John Deacon (bass) and Roger Taylor (drums).  They blazed a trail which particularly in their early years included sometimes very inventive and progressive variations on the stadium rock form.  Specifically, their 1975 album A Night at the Opera set a new high water mark for lush production values –  layering vocals to create the sound of a true rock opera, culminating in the masterwork “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  I feel fortunate to have seen Queen in Los Angeles supporting the followup to that album, 1976’s A Day at the Races.  Freddie was one of the most amazing singers and performers I had seen before or since – he had an ability to connect with the audience in a way that engaged your emotions, reaching triumphant heights during their most anthemic numbers.

P1010320After Freddie’s untimely passing late in 1991, it seemed the band would never tour again without him, even if George Michael nailed the vocals on “Somebody to Love” at festival.  It seemed no one could or would try to appear in Freddie’s place, given his intensity of performance, connection with the audience, and overall persona truly impossible to duplicate.  Brian and Roger did eventually tour again with Paul Rogers, the highly acclaimed vocalist from Bad Company, singing lead.  These were great shows, though Paul’s more gritty, tough guy vocals and appearance could not summon Freddie’s presence.  This year Queen set out again on tour employing American Idol winner and performer Adam Lambert up front.  With anticipation and some trepidation we booked a chance to see them at the SAP Arena in San Jose on July 1, 2014.

P1010391Any fears that the show would not live up to expectations were extinguished quickly.  From the first selection “Now I’m Here” to the encores “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” Adam and the band delivered a performance that extended the band’s legacy.  While not as “muscular” sounding and charismatic a vocalist as Freddie, Adam did him proud, delivering both pretty and powerful vocal performances over the two hour show.  At two points in the set, Freddie even made an “appearance.”  In a move that left no dry eye in the house, Brian came out front to play an acoustic version of “Love of My Life” – one of their most beautiful songs.  With the audience singing along, Freddie appeared on the main screen to sing along with us, his performance taken from a film clip of the band from an original live show.  This was done one more time, for the last verse of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, one of the tracks Adam interpreted so wonderfully, with he and Freddie trading off the last words.  It was impossible in the moment not to mourn the absence of the man, but it seemed fitting as recognition and tribute to his legacy.

P1010347“Front man myopia” always threatened recognition for the other members of this band, but it must be recalled that Brian May has certainly been one of rocks most creative composers and guitar players with that multi-layered recording style and crisp pickup.  Roger Taylor on drums as well stands as one of rocks better musicians – another drummer who has always understood the value of nicely tuned toms.  Both are also vocally blessed – Brian sang “39” with Roger and backing band, and Roger sang “These Are the Days of our Lives” – screens awash with old film and photos of the band.  It’s clear these two love their early work with Queen and are justifiably proud, and excited about being able to play the original works live again, so effectively.  By nature, it’s a long trip down memory lane, yet a chance for many who never saw the band to catch a glimpse of the magic that was and is still is, Queen.

Muse Just That

Muse, the hard rocking band that has taken the world by storm over these last several years appeared at Oakland Coliseum Wednesday April 14, 2010. Older work by this band focused on rapid-fire metal compositions, but more recently they moved into more of a glam-alternative-stadium rock direction which mixes in elements of progressive and classical music. Put together Queen, Green Day, and Pink Floyd with an occasional disco beat and you get a new unique sound achieved by Muse. Wednesday night the band focused on more recent releases, 2006’s Black Holes and Revelations and last year’s The Resistance to deliver the right mix of these varied styles.

The show was simply spectacular. The staging was unique as each core band member appeared within a set of three huge towers stretching from stage to ceiling, on which live and collected images were projected to stunning effect. The lower sections of these towers were lifts which alternately rose and lowered to embellish the stage below.

The music was equally exceptional, as singer Matthew Bellamy (voice, guitars, keyboards) manages to hit all of his notes and somehow preserve his vocals through long tours, partly due to the band’s deft management of sound dynamics. Outstanding band mates Christopher Wolstenholme (bass), and Dominic Howard (drum) also take leads, but alternately lower and raise the volume during verses and choruses so everything can be heard.

Only complaint would be that Matthew spent too little time at the piano this time around, given he is an excellent pianist obviously influenced by classical composers such as Rachmaninoff . Also at times one could say Muse is almost too perfect live, threatening to lose a bit of the emotional punch of the tracks. Given the staging and performance itself is so expansive and aggressive, these issues are overcome making this spectacle truly amazing and highly recommended.

Yeah Yeah Pink Tings

pink in slingThe last few weeks brought several shows to the San Francisco Bay area which were all fronted by powerful female vocalists.  The Yeah Yeah Yeahs with vocalist Karen O at the Fox Theater, Oakland were up first.  Next was the entertaining show by Pink with opener The Ting Tings, fronted by singer Katie White at the HP Pavilion, San Jose.

I think of all of these bands as pop entertainment – a good night out to see a show and have fun.  In this regard, Pink came on as the most advanced entertainer. Between the time I first saw her after the breakthrough second album, “M!ssundaztood“, released in 2001 until this tour for the 2008 release “Funhouse“, Pink has matured into a first class performer.  She’s confident, sassy, talented, athletic and tough. There were lots of highlights to this show, and several of Pink’s original compositions and collaborations were superior, but one of the most memorable moments for me was when she and her very skilled backup band, singers, and dancers performed a note perfect version of Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I saw Queen perform this in 1977 in Los Angeles on the “News of the World” tour, and they left the stage during a pre-recorded middle operetta. Pink and co. conquered the whole track live and brought back some great memories in the process. This show overall reminded me of the spectacular Christina Aguilera show last year. Both of these singers have now made the transition from performer to world class entertainer.

ting tingsThe Ting Ting’s opened the evening with a fun set of their danceable pop. Several of the tracks from their debut album were performed with great energy and enthusiasm. One of their biggest hits, “That’s Not My Name” had the crowd on their feet and it was impossible not to catch the hook. Keyboards and bass were pre-recorded, and the duo would benefit from a larger band…next time…one to watch.

yeah1The Yeah Yeah Yeahs played to a packed house of devoted fans at the Fox. Singer Karen O is fine at the front of the stage and consistently propels the music forward with her emphatic dance moves and delivery. I was reminded of a happier version of singer Siouxsie Sioux, but the band really needs to step up their game to support the proceedings at the level of the Banshees….next time…one to watch.