Tag Archives: Rock

Return of the Dixie Dregs

DixieDregs2018_6Dixie Dregs is an American band formed in the early 1970s by guitarist Steve Morse and bassist Andy West. Their music is almost exclusively instrumental, fusing rock, country, and a bit of jazz into a potent brew that is designed to showcase each band member’s virtuosity. Their core compositions were typically rooted in traditional country & western music, most frequently upbeat and exciting. Their live shows were absolutely fantastic. One of their signature and most entertaining feats in concert was a game of “musical chairs” where each musician would trade off soloing in round-robin fashion, taking leads for ever decreasing measures until each would play just one or so notes, passing from one to the next at lightning speed in an amazing display of talent. Musicians came and went from the Dixie Dregs, all of them exceptional, and founder Steve Morse has always been at the helm.

DIxieDregs_NOTLDCover_72dpiAfter two early albums, the band was signed to Capricorn Records and released their most progressive album What If(1978), produced by Ken Scott, featuring Morse and West joined by Rod Morgenstein (drums), Mark Parrish (keyboards), and Allen Sloan (violin). After completing their first tour that year, they combined a few of the live recordings and several new pieces to create their most popular Grammy nominated album, 1979’s Night of the Living Dregs. The opening track “Punk Sandwich,” is a perfect introduction to the band for any fan or casual listener. Rapid-fire guitar and violin leads backed by electric organ bridge the tuneful melody. The second track “Country House Shuffle” leads off with a drum solo that demonstrates Morgenstein’s apt skills. The second half of the record is punctuated by the live track “The Bash” which demonstrates one of the country-western jams that featured their signature round-robin solos. I caught the band live on this tour at some small venue in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles and it was a spectacular show from the first note to the last.

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The band signed with Arista at the end of the 70s, and released an excellent follow up album, Dregs of the Earth(1980) with the talented T. Lavitz replacing departed Mark Parrish on keys. I was fortunate to see this tour as well at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, and recall being surprised that Lavitz was able to meet the challenge set by their former keys wizard. It was another exceptional concert experience.

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Widespread success eluded the Dixie Dregs, though they managed to build a core following of eager admirers. As the eighties wore on, the group hoped to expand their audience by changing their name to The Dregs, after which they released Unsung Heroes(1981) and Industry Standard(1982) the latter with guest vocalists. Soon after they disbanded but have continued to stage concerts sporadically to this day. Steve Morse plied his axe during a short solo career, and also took on lead guitar duties in years since with Kansas and then Deep Purple.

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So it was with only mild surprise that I saw an ad for the Dixie Dregs reunion, which we attended in Agoura California, at the Canyon Club last month. The show featured a new keyboard and saxophone player, Steve Davidowski, who joined original members Steve, Andy, Allen and Rod. The show was fantastic in every way. Morse had his hand wrapped in what looked like an injury support brace, but nothing was taken off the top of his incredible range and dexterity. Everyone played at the top of their game.

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During the run up to these shows, I heard from guys who still live in their mother’s basement, you know them, the ones who complain like “why are these old dudes out on the road again with no new material?” As if to prove any naysayers wrong, Morse and co. came to the stage on fire, nailing their leads with aplomb, showing one and all that there was and IS an instrumental band so adept at their chosen instruments, that they simply stun, even if their music was never heard before by the listener.

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To top off the experience for me, I was able to hand Steve a copy of my book, Rockin’ the City of Angels, which has a chapter on the Dixie Dregs, released last year. And while I was thanking him, I got a big surprise, one that made me burst into tears. Someone behind me exclaimed “Doug Harr?” as if they knew me. It was my long lost childhood buddy Marcus Ryle, the one in our neighborhood with the cool dad, the engineer, the cool siblings, and some real keyboards. Marcus’ dad introduced us to Moog synth music before Keith Emerson, regaling us with Wendy (then Walter) Carlos’s classical synth albums, and in particular the legendary Dick Hyman and his fanciful synth pop. Marcus was the first in our neighborhood to get his own synth and as it turns out, as I learned, went on to design them, and eventually same for guitars, sporting the Line 6 guitars at Yamaha. I will finally see him, now back from Japan, next week. Good times. Rock on.

 

Steven Wilson Plays To The Bone

Steven Wilson brought his To The Bone tour to the Fillmore auditorium in San Francisco last week. It was another in a series of amazing concerts given by this gifted man and his amazing band.

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To begin the show, as is the norm at Wilson’s events, a short film was used to “warm up” the audience. However, in past years, while the films have been haunting, melancholy bits of dirge, this year the content was thought provoking, and not exactly obtuse – a bit more Talking Heads, a bit less Dario Argento. Wilson is on a new bent these days, one where his music is more straightforward, a bit less melancholy, a bit more pop. Nonetheless, dramatic subject matter and skilled performances anchored the concert, and it was exceptional.

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In order to punctuate his slightly altered musical direction, Wilson stopped between songs to say a few things about the difference between PROG and POP music. How “pop” was the original rock music, and how there should be no distain for pop, in comparison to it’s more complex, uptight brethren PROG:

“pop music has a very fine tradition… the greatest pop group of all time were The Beatles – you would not call them a rock band, you would call them a pop band. Second greatest pop band was Abba – does anyone here not like the Beatles and Abba?  You see ergo everyone likes pop music. …Pop music is not SHIT!”

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After this bit of pep, he asked the audience to dance (yes dance) to his new song, “Permanating,” a nice song in the pop genre, it must be agreed. Of the new songs, by the way, “People Who Eat Darkness” and “The Same Asylum As Before” were particularly muscular and memorable. “Pariah,” the particularly melodic song which features singer Ninet Tayeb on record, was played with her image singing her parts on the front and rear screens – a very effective use of the silk that drapes down in front of the band for part of the show. Its amazing really how such a seemingly unassuming, quiet man can command a stage and rock the s___ out of a venerable venue such as the Fillmore.

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On this tour, the set list did not include stalwarts “The Raven Who Refused To Singand Drive Home” and that was disappointing for this fan, but it’s clear that Wilson is leaning in a bit happier direction. It must be said that the set list was a nice combination of older Porcupine Tree and newer Wilson solo work.

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As with earlier tours, 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 Fillmore. 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 new guitar player Alex Hutchings, 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. Steven 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 rock and pop music. 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.

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Astounding, and wonderful is this artist. Check him out!

Loving STRANGELOVE

Depeche Mode are an enduring, genius band that formed in 1979 who still write, record and tour today. Their success in the 80’s and 90’s is legend. More recently, during the last 15 years, their work has become increasingly dark and experimental — still a single here or there, for instance last year’s “Where’s The Revolution” reward the faithful who seek a bit more dance than trance — it all comes off smashingly well in their most continuing concert tours, which sell out to global audiences.

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Many fans of the band continue to follow and patronize the act, yet typically consider their “golden age” to stretch 1981-1997, now 20 years ago. These were triumphant times the band spent on the write/record/tour train, resulting in legendary albums from Speak and Spell(1981) to Ultra(1977). This is when DM could easily be compared to “The Beatles of the 80’s” — really “80s/90s”. As many will already know, the band began with their first album largely hemmed by Vince Clark, who left the year it was released, and was replaced by deft player Alan Wilder, who joined singer David Gahan and third keys-man Andrew Fletcher making the long running foursome. Alan left in 1995 before the last “core period” release Ultra.

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But at the early stage in 1981, with Clarke going away to do Yaz, Martin Gore became principal songwriter and instead of that being a challenge, the band’s output matured by leaps and bounds. The third record Construction Time Again(1983), which found Alan increasingly taking a role as lead player and soundscape creator is a masterwork. This album was a breakthrough in terms of ambition and maturity, though just one successful single, “Everything Counts” emerged. The record as a whole covered territory sonically and lyrically that became the trademark for these hard working musicians. Global popularity built steadily after this from Some Great Rewardto Black Celebration, Music for the Masses, Violator, Songs of Faith and Devotionand on. At the end of two decades, after the new-millennia “backward look” Exciter(2001), the band took increasing sonic risks, releasing 4 additional records and 5 world tours in the last 15 years. These live shows became louder and noisier – much more like rock ‘n roll in many parts, more focused on drums, bass and guitar than on 3 men at their synths – a different and new sound and style for this millennia.

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Enter tribute genius band Strangelove. What these stellar musicians and performers so is lovingly recreate the DM live experience, focusing on their shows from 1981 to 1997 – basically, the version of the band we all grew to love — all synth, maybe a few found objects, no “bass player” and definitely no drummer. Just four guys and three keyboard rigs, and four part harmonies all fronted by one of the most charismatic lead singers born to this world. Each member of Strangelove recreates not just the music but also the persona of their role:

Brent “Counterfeit Martin” (Martin Gore)
Leo “Ultra Dave” (Dave Gahan)
Julian “Oscar Wilder” (Alan Wilder)
James “In The Fletch” (Andrew Fletcher)

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Taken in parts or as a whole, I had multiple moments, regularly, where I felt like I was seeing the actual band live, despite each of these talented musicians infusing the proceedings with some of their own obvious talents. Critically, maybe most importantly, Brent’s vocal interpretation of warble-then-sustain (or vice-versa) Martin Gore is dead on, and Leo’s growling baritone representing Dave Gahan is note perfect, accentuated by moves both dressed and undressed that echo everything great about Dave as one of the world’s greatest front-men. It’s an unbelievable collection of talent which will, for all, preserve the early DM experience while allowing for the original band to continue stretching into experimental territory. And, finally, there is something about a show featuring all synth — pure synth, which bubbles and pops out of high-definition speaker systems in such clear form while we watch and dance.

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I talked to Brent after the show and in follow up discussions:

1) Brent did you specifically agree to focus on 1981-1999 in order to represent the four piece synth led version of the band?

We do represent all eras of the Depeche Mode canon. Depending on the scale and locale of the show we’re performing, we bring in different stage set pieces and costume changes that reflect key points in their evolution. That said, there is a deliberate focus on what are perceived as the halcyon days from ‘86-‘93, as this era represents the sweet-spot where many lifelong fans of Depeche Mode were first introduced to them. Our project also proudly features a 1:1 analog for every member of the classic lineup. The project was very much cast with this in mind.

2) Though Alan did play some drums, very tastefully by the way, on his last tour, for “Songs of Faith and Devotion”, did you make a conscious choice to avoid this?

Our own “Alan” performer, Julian Shah-Tayler (aka: Oskar Wilder) is an adept multi-instrumentalist and is easily up to the task of performing live drums for a segment of our set. That said, we would likely limit that to a live presentation that focused primarily on Songs of Faith and Devotion, and adhere to that visually, as well as in the set list and instrumentation. A native of London, via Leeds; Julian’s from the very popular UK outfit “Whitey”, that had quite a bit of momentum a handful of years ago. For larger shows in US we’ve brought in Terri Nunn/Berlin’s drummer Chris Olivas and he’s a our “fifth member”. An interesting footnote — I’ve produced a couple of original music projects, and brought in Depeche Mode drummer Christian Eigner. He did a fantastic job!

3) How many “Dave’s” have you employed, Leo is fantastic!

I began developing a project as music director and performing in the “Martin Gore” capacity in 2006, in what was an early iteration of what eventually became Strangelove-The Depeche Mode Experience. Since that time I’ve worked with two other vocalists before finding our current singer, Leo Luganskiy (aka: Ultra-Dave). When we first heard him we immediately knew our worldwide search was over. His vocal timbre is uncannily like Gahan’s. He’s the total package, and at just 30 years old, more accurately represents the timeframe we referenced above.

4) When you study Martin’s lyrics, do you pick up bits of humor or even a track you think is overtly happy from this maestro of all things dark and lonely?  (I might say “But Not Tonight”)

Of course we have poured over the lyrics quite a bit, in the course of the thousands of hours involved in recreating their studio work to present it in a live setting. There’s quite a range of emotion on display; and quite an evolution from their early work to the open cynicism in evidence on their latest release, “Spirit”.  A certain line in “But Not Tonight” often elicits chuckles from the audience. Other lyrics gain newfound relevance in our modern times (“People Are People”, “New Dress” immediately come to mind)

5) Are there any songs you omit because they are too challenging to you or to audience for any reason?  (I am thinking lack of singles on my favorite Construction Time Again)

We don’t omit any songs because of performing challenges, but rather, based on what we know the audience response is likely to be. For instance, there are no current plans to work up “Black Day” or Christmas Island” since few would care and others that are familiar would still likely be bored and go grab a pint. An immersive album listening experience is very different from a live presentation and there are matters of set programming flow and energy level to take into account.

6) Playing a few from Speak and Spell, do you see a real difference in the structure when Vince wrote and played as lead?

The chief difference to us was the naivety and spunk the young lads had at that point. Obviously, with Vince as primary writer at that point, the songs have a different feel. We do a few tracks from SAS and they’re still a lot of fun to perform live.

7) Can Londoners expect any surprises that we don’t see in the states?

The biggest surprise, (even though it’s listed on the poster) is that we’re having “Scant Regard” open for us. This is a new project by Will Crewdson, the London-based guitarist/writer/producer best known for his work with the London band Rachel Stamp, Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano, Flesh for Lulu, Adam Ant, The Selecter and Bow Wow Wow. He may bring a special guest to sit in…

8) What does Depeche Mode think of your project-

We’ve had quite a bit of interaction with several people within the DM camp. I’ve had a few conversations with Martin about our project and he’s very gracious and generous with regard to helping us out. I’ve had a couple of screwdriver-ish conversations with him about particular synths/samplers used on specific songs. Alan Wilder has also provided us with original tour samplesets (the custom-made keyboard sounds they employed in making the records). Their manager Jonathan Kessler politely tolerates us, I think in part, because they understand that we keep fans sated while they’re on their tour/album cycle hiatus. At a recent “Spirit” press conference Dave took the piss out of Martin for spending hours watching OUR performance videos!

Londoners and those close or far by via tube/train – do NOT MISS THIS SHOW.  Diego

Facebook event for London gig.
https://www.facebook.com/events/2001096206818310/

All Photos (C) Animus-Art Photography
Instagram : @animusartphotography
Facebook: @animusartphotography
Thank you, B!!

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Finn Leads the new Mac Attack!

Fleetwood Mac is one of the most popular and successful bands of the last four decades. Their mega-hit albums Fleetwood Mac (1975), Rumors (1977), their masterpiece, Tusk (1979), and follow-up Mirage (1982) were staples of the FM airwaves in Southern California where I grew up. Each member of the band came with a public persona that seemed real, not something manufactured by the music press, where they appeared frequently. Many of my friends hung their posters, and followed their exploits closely, particularly due to their very personal, confessional lyrics and their appeal as representatives of who we were at that point in the 70’s.

FinnMac Classic Lineup

While the band began life as a British blues act in 1967, numerous personnel changes resulted in a cross-pond partnership of both British and American musicians that together had global appeal. Peter Green, Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan – many guitarists and members rotated in and out of this ever-changing band in the early years. In 1975, desperate to save the band after many drug and alcohol fueled hard times, core members Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass) and his wife Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals) recruited Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals) and his then girlfriend Stevie Nicks (vocals) to join the already well-honed trio. There had already been nine Fleetwood Mac albums. The rest as they say is history. Or is it?

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The Mac continued to release material and tour on and off again with or without Lindsay and Christine though to 2015. We saw them with the entire classic lineup and that I assumed would be the last time.

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Then several things apparently happened, which led to the sacking of Lindsay Buckingham last week:

  • Lindsay reports that the Mac will record a new album for 2015, and stage a last tour (yeah, right!)
  • Stevie reports that she is reluctant to work on new material, lest it cloud memories of the old, and why do it anyway?
  • Lindsay/Christine report that they recorded many songs, none of them with Stevie.
  • Lindsay / Christine release an album and tour in 2017, just last year!
  • In 2018, in April it is announced that Lindsay has been “sacked” from the group, and the next tour due planned to kick off this year (2018). The reason given – arguments of the set list (the set list, really?!?!)
  • It is joyfully announced by the way that Split Enz / Crowded House / solo genius from down under, Neil Finn will join the band for the new tour, and will be accompanied by Mike Campbell of Tom Petty fame!!!!

For many fans this will erroneously be considered bad news. The Mac without Lindsay, didn’t they try that after Tango in the Night, to disastrous results?

FinnMac Stevie 2014

FinnMac Neil Finn Early ShotYes, and no. Well at least, they did not have the new secret weapon – they did not fill the guitarist/singer role with a star or stars adequate to the task. Enter Neil Finn, who is easily the greatest musician, along with brother Tim, to work in and outside of New Zealand…. basically ever. I would consider them The Beatles of ANZ. Neil’s work is not nearly as well known as the Mac. Neither Split Enz, Crowded House, Finn, nor Neil Finn played to stadiums outside ANZ to my knowledge. Here in the states, the typical venues for anything Neil Finn would fit 2,500-5,000 patrons. No “sheds,” basketball arenas or much less stadiums for the genius from down under. It’s the same story for his brother Tim Finn, the greatest tenor vocalist of the 80’s.

All that will change for Neil with the Mac, as long as the publicity is done right and they get fans to the shows. Here it will likely be the Oracle or SAP arenas, particularly if fans “get it” and the publicity is well handled – that is important. So far, there are good words coming out of the camp, with some expressions of excitement.

FinnMac Neil Finn

But listen people – this should not be hard — Neil Finn is a major songwriter, vocal talent, and in fact an amazing guitarist. If all you know from him is “I Got You,” or “One Step Ahead” with his brother in the Enz, or “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong” from the debut Crowded House album, you are sadly out of touch with this, one of the world’s greatest songwriting and performing talents – you have some catching up to do! Try Crowded House albums Together Alone(1993) and incredibly, the more recent Intriguer(2010). How about his solo work, Try Whistling This, it is achingly gorgeous. Compare the newer Housesong “Amsterdam” to anything off the new Buckingham/McVie album, as pleasant as it is, and it is a stellar album by the way. But again, check it against new lead man Neil Finn, and hear the difference.

You can easily imagine, if your ears are tuned, Neil will clearly grace anything the band wants to do which covers Buckingham, Green, Welch or any of the talented crew that have joined and left the Mac’s lineup. Reportedly, unshackled by a picky approach to the set list, there will be surprises. Why not go back and do “Hypnotized” along with other early gems? Finn can nail all of them.

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Now, add to this that we are not only getting Neil Finn. On top of that we will have Mike Campbell, the long time guitarist from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Anyone who saw Tom perform, rest his dear soul, knows what an amazing lead player Mike is. Now this is getting exciting, concert fans.

See this lineup – maybe the last you say? No, more likely just another chapter. But, the Mac lives on, above and below the equator, and we are all better for it.

p.s. fans of all things Lindsay, of course he will do a solo tour, so…. peace.

FinnMac Lindsay Roots

Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy Plays On!

Once in awhile you see a concert that truly surprises and delights your senses to the core –- one that’s ear and eye candy for the hungry musician inside you. Recently, on March 22, 2018, Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy played in a small club in Redwood City, California, and this was one of those very amazing occasions.

Palmer Carl Palmer

As most readers will know, Emerson Lake & Palmer was the preeminent “progressive rock super group” that emerged at the beginning of the 1970’s, reigning supreme until a few misfortunes befell the band and they essentially “lost the plot.” Keith Emerson started his career as the keyboard wunderkind of The Nice, growing into a keys juggernaut, favoring multi-tracked equipment of every kind, blended into an aggressively beautiful noise that was frequently overwhelming to anyone remotely familiar with what it takes to play the piano. Greg Lake had already proven his skills as melodious baritone and bassist of King Crimson on their first two massively influential and stunning albums In the Court of the Crimson King(1969), and In the Wake of Poseidon(1970). Carl Palmer, drums and percussion, the only remaining living member of the trio, got his start with none other than Arthur Brown and then Atomic Rooster. The guys banded together in 1970, Greg added guitar to his skill set, and the game was, as they say, on.

ELP_BSS_Cover_72dpiThe group released a series of increasingly complex, multi-layered progressive rock albums, beginning with the self-titled debut in 1970, and continuing with the brilliant follow up Tarkus(1971), then Pictures at an Exhibition(1971), Trilogy(1972), and their undisputed masterpiece, Brain Salad Surgery(1973). Following extensive touring for this 1973 release, which included a stop that was recorded in Long Beach California (Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends – Ladies and Gentlemen 1974), followed within days by a headlining spot at California Jam (also featuring Deep Purple headlining an adjacent evening), the band took a long break to rest and recoup.

The last really exceptional work by this amazing trio was then undertaken – Works Volume 1and Works Volume 2(1977) — oddly sold separately and one of four total LP sides devoted to each band member — allowing them to “stretch their wings” (or “ego-up” depending on how one saw the band’s work). As is well publicized, the band then “lost their shirts” mounting a tour to support Works, which featured a symphony orchestra. The massively expensive tour was a ballsy move that cost them a fortune and set the band back on their heels. When they returned in 1978 with an ill conceived follow up, the attempt-to-be-commercial Love Beach, it was time to disband, just as “punk” music had already seen it’s sad and stupid one-year-long stint as the music of the times!

Palmer Carl Band

Though the band reunited, recorded, and toured with new material, there was no way to match the 1970’s era brilliance of what one could argue was the biggest prog rock band of the decade – challenging as they did Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd (uh huh, among others) for the top spot. It should be noted that Black Moon(1992) was an exception to the lesser rule, and that album plus tour, which followed, was really the last chance to see the band in good form. In addition, while Palmer managed to stay fit and fluid working with Asia, ELP and others in the years to follow, Emerson and Lake suffered declining heath and physical abilities. Sadly, both passed away in 2016.

——

Carl Palmer has been out now several times with his own band, the ELP Legacy, to give honor to his fallen brethren, to stay fit, in top musical shape, and rightfully remind all of us that he is most certainly one of the world’s top drummers, and now absolutely the greatest drummer remaining from the progressive rock era. Always possessing a muscular ability, coupled with occasional deft gentle touch, always with military snare at the ready, Palmer played a mean kit, backed by dual gongs and well tuned toms. For Brain Salad Surgery, he innovated a synthesized drum kit that, once triggered used sequencer technology to create an electronic orchestra for the drums, as evidenced on the track “Toccata.” It was and is simply an unmatched, violently brilliant work of sonic wonder. (Apologies to Phil Collins, Bill Bruford, Neil Peart, and a few others that vied for the top spot, Carl had or at least has it now!)

Palmer Carl Set ListPalmer plays a great set list of selections from the 70s, and does so instrumentally, with ace guitarist Paul Bielatowicz, and bass/stick player Simon Fitzpatrick. No keyboards you say, blasphemy?  No, Paul and Simon cover all of Keith Emerson’s keys, at least the ones that mattered, unbelievably. These two younger musicians have no idea how good they are – it’s uncanny to watch them just nail this material with aplomb, supported and driven of course by master of ceremonies, the ever talented Palmer. As an example, when they do “Lucky Man” Simon plays bass on the stick with his left hand, while soloing the moog lead with his right at the bottom synthesized end of said stick. Awe-inspiring. Truly. By the time Palmer launches into “Fanfare for the Common Man” within which he slips a 10-minute drum solo, you will be absolutely convinced of your good fortune in catching the man and the living legend, Carl Palmer. I promise, welcome back.

A bit of film, ending with said drum solo!!!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OQ1NctsKPg

Carl Palmer (drums, percussion, gongs, amazingly great humor and attitude)

http://carlpalmer.com

Paul Bielatowicz (guitars)

https://paulbielatowicz.com/all-about-paul/biography/

Palmer Carl Paul

Simon Fitzpatrick (bass/stick)

https://simonfitzpatrick.net

Palmer Carl Simon

p.s. Only thing that bugged me? Even though many of us in the crowd are getting “up there’ in years, when did we Americans become so lazy?  No one, and I mean no one, stood up between songs to do a standing ovation – it was like they were sitting on their arses, expecting to be entertained. Three of the best musicians I’ve ever seen play live (and believe me, I’ve seen ‘em all) gave a master class on bass, drums, and guitars, and no one can stand up?  Damn. Just sayin’   Over and out.

Palmer Carl Venue

Palmer Carl Venue Pano

The Beginning and the Enz of an Era Part II, the Hard Act To Follow

Split Enz Vol_II Band2My next book will be about the era from 1977-1987 when music changed for the better and new heroes were born. The intro will expose the “glam” and “quirky rock” phase of the 1970’s, which ran from approximately 1972 – 1977. During that time as fair readers will know, we loved the Bowie, the New York Dolls, Roxy Music, T-Rex, and… wait for it…. Split Enz, the Beatles from “down under.”

As we learned in part I, Split Enz was formed by singer/songwriter Tim Finn, in 1973, along with Phil Judd (guitars). Tim’s younger brother Neil, joined the band, for their 1977 album Dizrythmia. While punk is raging in Britain (Sex Pistols) and pop-punk in the states (Ramones), Split Enz was still recording decidedly-not-punk music, while making quiet preparations to draw the world into their loving circle.

The band, now a bit more honed, recorded and released their final album from the formative years, Frenzy (1979). By now, punk has splintered into a dozen branches of far more interesting music, goth, ska, Burundi/jungle/island themed rock, and…”the” new wave. Standout track “I See Red” leads to the Split Enz 1980’s work, refining and honing what it means to be an “art rock” band, sometimes almost “prog rock” yet be danceable, fun, and truly what we came to call the “new wave.”

Split Enz Vol_II True ColorsIndeed 1980’s True Colors was a complete revelation. Less makeup, soon to be none little circus atmosphere, save stage craft and coordinated brightly colored suits (classy yeah!) just serious new wave music designed perfectly to make everyone love the Enz, and love them us smart ones did. Kicking off with their first big hit “I Got You” a Neil Finn composition and lead vocal, an ANZ #1, this was now music to be reckoned with. Add to that, follow up Tim Finn rocker “Shark Attack” and you are talking one fine album! Now take the standout ballad, “I Hope I Never”- if you can really, really listen to those lyrics, and Tim’s yearning, soulful voice singing,…

“I hope I never, I hope I never have to seeeeeeee you again”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMBoDtz1ooY

Split Enz Vol_II Tim Finn

…and not wrest a tear from your eye, you are, as I like to joke to non-criers frequently, “made of stone.” It’s one of the most beautiful songs of the 1980’s and it’s important to note, because by this point keys player Eddie Raynor who graces this one with synth strings and amazing grand piano, is really giving the 70’s proggers a run. Really. Tim kicks off “side 2” with “Nobody Takes Me Seriously” indeed. Neil “fights back” with “Missing Person” sung together with Tim, initially intended to be the first single (really?). Now, spin the next one, and to me the one that shows how ready this band is for stardom.  “Poor Boy” is another Tim Finn gem – take the bass/drum sync of Nigel and Malcolm, expertly pinning down the track on the bottom end, the spacy-synth – “she speaks to me with ultra-high frequency” and Neil’s tightly wound guitar licks…. Gonna listen till I grow old, for sure, yes, please – this music stands the test of time. Those of you who know these songs can follow this chain of thought, this unadulterated affection for the band. The rest of you hit the Spotify, Apple Music, or disks and study up!

Split Enz Vol_II WaiataIt’s tempting to categorize 1981’s Corroboree/Waiata as a sequel to True Colors. Not so. Here is the track list of the most important songs – can you even believe the first “side” of the LP is so perfectly arranged, and “side 2” does not, in any way let up? It may be their most perfect “non proggy” album, refining as it did the definition of new wave music, for the (much much) better.

All songs written by Tim Finn, except where noted. Side one:

  1. “Hard Act to Follow” – 3:17
  2. One Step Ahead” (Neil Finn) – 2:52
  3. I Don’t Wanna Dance” – 3:34
  4. “Iris” (N. Finn) – 2:50
  5. “Wail” (Eddie Rayner) – 2:49
  6. “Clumsy” – 3:29

Side two:

  1. History Never Repeats” (N. Finn) – 3:00
  2. “Walking Through the Ruins” – 4:15
  3. “Ships” (N. Finn) – 3:01
  4. “Ghost Girl” – 4:26
  5. “Albert of India” (Rayner) – 4:03

Just “Hard Act” “One Step” and “I Don’t Wanna Dance” would make a successful album. The third is the most new wave of the new wavers, so danceable, so much vibrato, so much tenor/falsetto – Neil’s guitar, Eddies synth patch, bass/drums all building the story of the boy who is too het to dance, without his sweetheart. On record, this is now one unbelievably great band. Follow up tracks “Iris” “Wail” (not my favorite) “Clumsy” complete side 1. Side two cracks open with “History” then “Walking” later “Ghost Girl” which is better than it has any possible right to be – are you kidding? “Don’t get too close boys to the ghost girl, she’s already haunting you” the clever lyrics seem so easy, so natural for them, both brothers always and to this day make it sound so easy – but just try to turn a simple phrase like that with just the right musical backdrop – art indeed.

So many of my progger friends just did not get this music, while I frankly and gladly left them in the dust listening to 80s era Yes/Genesis. What a loss for them.

Split Enz Vol_II Band

So fair readers, this is seriously awesome music you need to hear – again as fresh today as the day it was released. And, it was the first and only time I was privileged to see the band, in the gym of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo – an amazing fun, artful show that sold me forever on this important, influential band. I remember the band in good spirits, “talking the piss” out of each other, Tim doing push ups, Neil generally appearing a bit more dignified, and all of the musicianship being plainly stellar, with Eddie standing out even live with those amazing ivories. Check it out. Part III soon.

 

Zucchero Sweetens the Palace

Zucchero_blackcatusacanadaMy wife and I were very fortunate last weekend to attend the San Francisco stop on the latest tour of Italian superstar Adelmo “Zucchero” Fornaciari. This man known simply as “Zucchero” who reportedly first picked up a guitar the year I graduated high school in 1978 somehow escaped our attention until the turn of the century, when we travelled to Sienna Italy and were surrounded by posters of his then new tour, supporting the album Shake (2001). We knew of Italian progressive rockers Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) and in a sort of happy coincidence were stopping in Pennsylvania on the way home from Italy to see a rare appearance by that band at a prog music festival. But we also picked up Zucchero’s decidedly not-prog record, learning that it was recorded near our Zucchero_Shakehome in Sausalito, then back in Italy, finally mixing and mastering at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios. It was a certified hit for Zucchero – an album of boisterous, life-affirming music. We instantly fell in love with the man and his work. From the strength of that initial exposure we started our collection, which now includes the newest, Black Cat (2016). We more recently snatched up tickets to what ended up being a fantastico, bellissimo, heart-rending blues and soul infused evening of music last Sunday night.

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What we’ve learned is what many readers may already know, and I recommend the rest of you learn, that Zucchero’s career spans more than three decades, with worldwide record sales over 60 million and an impressive collection of awards and accolades received over those years. The gospel, blues, soul and rock music influenced artist is considered to be “the father of the Italian blues.” Zucchero, meaning ‘sugar’ in Italian, is a nickname given to Adelmo by a schoolteacher when he was just a young boy growing up in Roncocesi, Italy. It’s an appropriate moniker for the musician whose work is often about love and whose presence on stage exudes joy, passion and positivity. When sampling Zucchero’s work for the first time, take the time to browse a variety of his albums/songs and notice that much of his work is akin to listening to many of those he has collaborated with over the years (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, Peter Gabriel and so many more), while drawing strongly from his native Italian roots.

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Black Cat is a return to the artist’s much beloved blues & soul style work, and as such is being compared to his fourth studio album, oro incenso e mirra (“gold, incense & beer) in 1990. We read that the latest album was inspired while touring the southern U.S. and that Zucchero wrote the songs much as he did in the early days of his career, when things were more simple and he didn’t have as much to lose and didn’t care about the logic of the market. The album features among others the song S.O.S. (Streets of Surrender) penned by long time friend, Bono of U2. The song, born on the wave of terrorist attacks in Paris last November is a hymn against such hatred and violence.

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Zucchero’s March 19th, 2017 show at the San Francisco Palace of the Fine Arts not only joyfully delivered most of the tracks off of Black Cat, but with more than 30 tracks on the set list, it also included so many of his audience’s favorite songs spanning the past few decades, from the sexy Baila Morena (Shake 2001 – Spanish Version), to the passionate duet with Pavarotti Miserere (Miserere 1992), the soulfully beautiful Bacco Perbacco (Fly 2006), Un Soffio Caldo (Chocobeck 2012 – track titled Life on English version) and so many more. The band, which included exceptional musicians on violin, keyboards, slide guitar/guitar, bass, and drums, was top of class. Special guest Corrado Rustici, who worked on Shake, joined them on guitar for one track. The backdrop was, appropriately a framed heart, which was set off by moody low lighting, approaching brighter tones only when raising the house lights that illuminated the cheering crowd of both faithful followers and the newly informed.

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Though Zucchero occasionally sings in English, it’s when you listen to his sultry, whisky voice singing passionately in his native Italian tongue or occasional Spanish that you truly ‘feel’ his work. This is what we felt Sunday night, as the artist focused much less on any pop trappings, and absolutely more so his sultry, bluesy, and heartfelt work delivered in the more romantic languages. During one of only a couple breaks between songs, after apologizing the his English was “not so good,” Zucchero explained that he grew up listing to the music of many English artists, finding that even though he had no clue what they were saying, the “music spoke” to him, adding:

Music talk. You don’t have to understand everything. It’s the vibe, the feeling…

That we understood completely, as it was our experience that night, not knowing Italian beyond a few key words like Amore. Didn’t matter in the least, in fact it made the evening a unique and special experience. It certainly helped that Italian Americans and travelers at the show enthusiastically poured their affections out verbally and visibly all around us, helping to highlight what is so meaningful about Zucchero’s songs and lyrics. Catch this legendary artist in concert if you possibly can. Your heart will thank you.

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