Thursday, February 26, 2015


Despite this being apparently the largest crowd Marillion ever appeared in front of, I'd never seen this footage before. The size of audience is staggering for just about any act, but for a second or third generation prog rock band? Crazy. But what's also notable is just how much the crowd clearly knows and loves the material—and their enthusiasm is extra impressive, given that it appears to be a hot sunny summer day and the audience looks to be absolutely baking—don't even try to count the number of cases of serious sunburn. I suspect the medical tent, if there was one available, was packed.

The next thing that hits is is just what a shitty frontman Fish is here. He's got the de rigueur 80s accouterments, with the Bowie/Gabriel/Adam Ant painted face, the Springsteen/Knopfler headband, the t-shirt with the arms cutoff, despite the fact that he's not exactly sporting a Springsteen/Sting-like physique, to put it mildly. (As the owner of a similar spare tire, I'm at least somewhat sympathetic.) But rather than putting on a show, ala Springsteen or Fish's spirit animal Peter Gabriel, he just sorta...bobs and weaves slightly, like a punch drunk fighter just trying to pick up one last paycheck on a lousy undercard. More than anything, his moves seriously resemble an earnest high school student aiming for immortality at the year end talent show.

What's more, it looks—and, sadly, sounds—as though his monitor goes a bit on the fritz during "Lavender,"as he seems to start having some problems hearing himself. As he's already avoiding some of the highest notes in "Kayleigh," this is unfortunate.

And yet the thing is, the strength of Steve Rothery's guitar lines and Ian Mosley powerful, intricate and yet tasteful drumming, combined with the sheer quality of the material carries the day.

Who told you so, dilly, dilly, who told you so? 
'Twas my own heart, dilly, dilly, that told me so.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Here Comes the Sun

Here's a lovely little something from the famous Concert for Bangladesh.

Pete Ham, the Badfinger guitarist who's George's only accompanist here, said George only asked him about playing the song the day before...and they never even rehearsed. Yet if there's a single clam anywhere in there, I can't hear it. They even manage to negotiate the tricksy measures in 11/8 and 15/8 seamlessly.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Though nothing will drive them away
We can be heroes just for one day
We can be us just for one day

Well. There 'tis.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Jumpin' Jack Flash

The great Dangerous Minds recently posted this live rendition of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones, complete with the transcript of Mick Jagger's revised lyrics:

“Yah Awa bo anna craw fah huh cay
Anna ho alamo in a try ray
Buh ah ray ah now yeah and fad is a gay
Oh ray now, a jumpin jay flay sa gas gas gah.
Ah wa lay bah a toodleh beedeh hay.
Ah wa sko wid a strap rahda craws ma bah.
Bahda oh ray now en fad is a gay.
Buh oh ray now jumpin jah flah sa da ga ga geh”

Yeah, that looks pretty accurate.

I have a friend with absolutely outstanding musical taste—no surprise, really, given that our taste in music overlaps heavily (if not perfectly: he actively dislikes virtually all Bruce Springsteen's music, even as he thinks the guy himself seems pretty cool if more than a little overhyped). But the thing that really seems to baffle my pal is why I think the Stones suck so badly live. I don't really understand why he doesn't get it—I don't understand why anyone with working ears would ever claim they were even good live, much less great, when to my ears it's simply undeniable that they suck suck suckety suck live —but because I am by nature a people pleaser, I shall explain.

Simply compare and contrast that live version up there with this, the original recording:

That's why.

The live version wouldn't even get an honorable mention at a junior high talent show—more likely they'd get the hook. The original version, on the other hand, has never been bettered in the history of recorded pop music—not by Elvis, not by the Beatles, not by Dylan, not by Springsteen. The massive gap between the two is where the snark, the disappointment, the anger is created.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

My Love and I

In case you were sitting there wondering, "say, what's the most gorgeous song ever?"

And now you know.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Needless to say, my mind was blown again." and I frequently like to play the "Can you imagine?" game.

It basically imagines what it must have been like to hear something amazing for the first time. Like "Like a Rolling Stone" or "Thunder Road." Or The Beatles in Hamburg in 1961. Or to be with Brian Wilson or Stevie Wonder in the studio when they were creating Pet Sounds or Innervisions. To be the proverbial fly on the wall. But also to be able to recall what the hell it must have been like to hear something so game-changing for the very first time.

I have just one of those memories with one of my pantheon-level bands, which I documented a few years ago here.

But thanks to an old buddy from my journalism days nearly 25 years ago, here's another one for you. Which I hope you'll enjoy.

When I first became a just-outta-college daily newspaper reporter in Connecticut in 1990, I was fortunate enough to meet some of the most seminal people of my life right off the bat. One was my (and is my) always and forever wife, whom I annoyed right from the start on my very first day. One was my first editor Ron Winter, an accomplished journalist and decorated Marine from the Vietnam War who taught me not only how to be concise but thorough, tough but fair, but also taught me about loyalty and how to treat people.

And another was my buddy Steve Starger, a brilliant arts writer who also had (and still has) one hell of a personal history as an author, musician, songwriter and recording artist. He played with a psychedelic band called NGC 4594 in the 60s. He played with a terrific horn band called Sunship in the 1970s. His review of Miles Davis' Jack Johnson is referenced on that album's Wikipedia page. His poems and writings have been published in myriad publications for the past 40+ years. He's written plays and a biography of comics giant Wally Wood. And, as he once proudly told me, he once lit Aretha Franklin's cigarette!

Steve's now semi-retired and living the good life with his good wife in Rhode Island. Harkening back to our "Can you imagine?" game, here is something Steve told me about his reaction to a certain rather important piece of music, while he was serving in the Army in Puerto Rico in the mid-60s, as the Vietnam War was ramping up.

“You asked about my coming home from Puerto Rico and freaking out (so to speak) at what was happening in the country. The story goes like this: My friend Chas Mirsky (NGC 4594's guitar player and a man of exquisite wit and mental acuity) and his then-wife, Arlene, came to visit me when I was in the Army in Puerto Rico in 1966. We of course had a great time, and Chas brought with him a copy of the just-released Revolver. Needless to say, my mind was blown again. I had heard Rubber Soul and Freak Out while on leave the previous year and said "What the fuck???" any number of times. Revolver deepened my curiosity and the feeling that I was at least a year out of the time-flow back on the mainland.”

I would say that is a rather perfect reaction to what this rather perfect rock-n-roll album meant to America's (and the world's) dramatically changing existence at the time. An example of just how crazily and indelibly we were changing culturally, politically and ever other way you could imagine. Mayhap you agree.

I mean, for the love of Mike (not to be confused with Mike Love, because fuck Mike Love), just listen. And imagine what it must have been like to hear this for the first time in 1966, after being away for the previous couple of years.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Stuck On You

It has just come to my attention that the Lionel Richie collection titled The Best of Lionel Richie: 20th Century Masters (Millennium Collection) does not include "Stuck On You," thus rendering its own title a lie.

Look. I loves me some "Penny Lover," adore "You Are" and don't even think for a moment I come in second to anyone in my love of "Hello" and its adorbs memes. And that's without even getting into his work with the Commodores. [Oh, "Sail On" are the sun, you are the rain that makes my life this foolish game. You need to know I love you so and I'd do it all again and again.]

But his best song is so clearly "Stuck on You."

I mean, it's so obvious. It's not even up for debate, any more than evolution or climate change or the need to vaccinate your kids. It. Is not. Open. For debate.

Listen to it. Start with that hushed and lovely opening. His voice is just the right mix of sweet and yet commanding. The way he hits certain phrases; listen to the way he sings, almost murmurs "...that I just can't lose." This is someone very gifted operating at the height of his talents.

The melody, simple and logical, remains nothing less than perfect, especially impressive given the way the phrases blend unexpectedly into each other in an oddly circular manner. Listen to the way the little fills in between the verses resemble another straightforward and classic lovely love song, "Wonderful Tonight." And much like that gem, Lionel offers no tricks here, just intimate and intricate affection.

There is so much to love here. That the meat of the song—hell, the very title of the song—is on you from the start. Just as "Losing My Religion," years later, would be rightly lauded for its popular and artistic success as a pop song despite its lack of a real chorus, so too with "Stuck On You." Instead, it has just a few verses that quickly wind their way into your subconscious, just like "Operator" and "Something" and a few other of the finest love songs ever written. The harmonies are sublime. The sentiment is both real and realized. The bridge builds the suspense by staying on the minor third and minor sixth chords over and over, ramping up the tension until he finally brings us back to the still unresolved but more familiar subdominant and dominant chords. And just as soon as it gets going again, it ends. The entire thing is a fleeting, indelible show of beauty that you want to revisit time and again.

Lionel Richie had a barnful of hits that made him a deserved legend. He is worthy of a greatest hits collection, no doubt—in fact, his record labels seems to believe him worthy of a dozen such collections. But a wise man once said, "A flute with no holes is not a flute. And a donut with no holes is a danish." Sorry, Millenium Collection. Lionel Richie had a great many hits. But without "Stuck On You," it is not a "best of" collection, not even close, nevermind one deserving of the appellation Millenium.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

You Shook Me

This is:

A) awesome.

2) proof that music—specifically, in this case, rock, but all genres, really—is a collaboration between artist and audience and that it does not belong just to the performer, not by a long stretch.

Just check out what happens when Matt Nathanson jokingly starts to play an AC/DC song and soon has to just hold on for dear life as it instantly spirals out of his control.

The bemused looks that pass between the guest and drummer at the very beginning, the look of utter astonishment on Nathanson's face when it takes off, the moment when he points at the guitarist questioning, and the guitarist nods, letting Nathanson know not to worry, that he's got the solo covered...amazing.

As a wise man once said,
Rock is art and a million other things as well—it's an indescribable form of communication and entertainment combined, and it's a two-way thing with very complex but real feedback processes as well. I don't think there's anything to match it.
(That same man also wrote, but did not sing, "it's the singer, not the song, that makes the music move along." He was right in both cases.)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Well, you wish upon a star that turns into a plane
And I guess that's right on par
Who's left to blame?
If you were a pill
I'd take a handful at my will
And I'd knock you back with something sweet and strong
Plenty of times you wake up in February make-up
Like the moon and the morning star you're gone
Tonight makes love to all your kind
Tomorrow's makin' valentines 
Hey, you pop up in this old place
So sick and so refined
Are you strung out on some face?
Well, I know it ain't mine
If you were a pill, I'd take a handful at my will
And I'd knock you back with something sweet and strong
Trouble keeping your head up when you're hungry and you're fed up
Like a moon and a lone star you're gone
Tonight makes love to all your kind
Tomorrow's makin' valentines
If you were a pill, I'd take a handful at my will
And I'd knock you back with something sweet as wine
Yesterday was theirs to say, this is their world and their time
Well, if tonight belongs to you, tomorrow's mine
Tonight makes love to all your kind
Tomorrow's makin' valentines

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Pictures 6

You know what's uncool? To be able to play drums like this:

and then also be able to play piano like this:

C'mon, Jack. Pick a lane, man. It's not fair to everyone else.

Maggot Brain

Because, really, can one have too much "Maggot Brain"?

I love Nels Cline. (Pace Mark Kozelek.) I love his sounds, I love his style, I love his...well, okay, I'm not sure I love his guitar face. But given the way he pours his all into his shredding, I'm not sure it's possible to fault him for excessive grimacing. (Also, I'm not sure he even comes close to competing for the title of Most Guitar Face Guitar Face Ever.)

Man. Nels Cline, Mike Watt and Stephen Perkins. That's some talent right there.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Maggot Brain

Let us be very clear about something: this is not better than the original. Eddie Hazel's original solo is one of the most incendiary yet heartfelt and nakedly emotional pieces of music—not just guitar solos—ever committed to tape. The legend has it that Funkadelic mastermind George Clinton told Hazel—a mere pup at 21 years old—to play as though he'd just learned his mother had died...and then learned she hadn't actually. Whether or not that story's apocryphal is almost beyond the point, because that is exactly what Hazel's solo sounds like.

This cannot surpass Hazel's original, because it's not possible to. But it is an amazing tribute, paying homage to Hazel while very clearly allowing J Mascis's own personality shine through: but in the process making it obvious just how big an influence Hazel had on Mascis's style.

If I owned a business, I would make this the hold music. (This shows pretty definitively why I don't own a business.)

In addition to Watt's admirably restrained bass, it's a neat touch to have Funkadelic's Bernie Worrell on keys.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

This works way better than it has any right to. I wish it weren't quite so produced—I'd love it if it were just Jon Anderson and Steve Howe, one take, no overdubs—but maybe that'd be way too sparse for a song of this epic length. Still, lovely.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Stuck Inside of a Lexicon with the Roget's Thesaurus Blues Again

"This is nothing terrible, it's bad enough, but it's not terrible—wow, that's deep, man."

On the John Lennon Anthology box, this is titled "Satire 2." But I much prefer its unofficial title, taken from Lennon's lyrics: "Stuck Inside of a Lexicon with the Roget's Thesaurus Blues Again."

Hearing one genius savage another genius like this is, frankly, delightful. (And going out of his way to make sure his old bandmate George got hit with some collateral damage in the bargain.) I also love that Lennon's Dylan impression isn't nearly as close as nearly anyone else's in the entire world, timbre-wise, although his cadence is awfully good—but his lyrical broadside is pretty damn spot-on, even if it's more one of Dylan's earlier talking blues he's parodying and not the Blonde on Blonde classic.

The official Soviet newspaper said that temple members have protested the mindless arms race and the filthy war in Vietnam and were persecuted and finally forced to seek refuge in another country—wow, sounds like a ballad to me 
Oh man, Bangkok, Thailand, has launched an air/sea-search for a fishing boat carrying some four hundred Vietnamese refugees, the boat was towed back out to sea after arriving in Thailand, sources said because of a breakdown in communication 
Oh Lord, the boat was towed into Thai waters by a German freighter and the Thai navy, unaware that the refugees had been guaranteed a resettlement in West Germany, took the boat out to sea after providing all passengers with provision—wow, that's deep man 
The Chinese newspapers have made the first reference to the country's curtain wall poster campaign according to vice-premier Deng Xiao-Ping, and saying that the country's stable and its leaders are confident and been planting modernization programs—oh, this should get me in the Village Voice 
Deng gave his blessings to the campaign but he commented not all the opinions of the masses are carefully thought out nor can we demand that they all be correct, adding this is nothing terrible, it's bad enough, but it's not terrible 
Former president Richard Nixon, on his second trip outside the United States since his resignation, was a smiling handshaking politician again, greeting crowds outside his hotel and trying a little French, he sure as hell didn't try it on Pat Nixon 
Mr. Nixon is in Paris to sight-see and be interviewed on French television, before going on to deliver a speech in England, he'll participate in the French call-in program and said he will answer questions in Welsh—that's pretty big, Mr. N 
Oh, I'm so cynical I could just keep on doing this forever because, you know, they ain't gonna be looking in my golden bunions in a hundred years from now, they're gonna be selling my socks like Judy Garland, and I hope they get a good price, I mean, what with the inflation and the price of rice, but man, I shouldn't worry, I own all my own songs and I wrote them myself too 
I got twenty-four children, fourteen wives, three mistresses, fifty-nine accountants, one-hundred and-five lawyers, two million fans, a posting system that never fails to land me in jail, and look through my mail, perhaps have a garage sale, and you know, go save the whale, and eh, you know, get a boat and go for a sail, and, and, oh, oh, oh, how do you get out of this hell, I'm stuck inside of a lexicon with the Roget's Thesaurus blues again—sometimes I wish I was just George Harrison, you know, got all the answers, oh my God, oh my God
Also, check out his spoken intro: in true Lennon fashion, he seems to be transmogrifying the former Robert Zimmerman's surname from "Dylan" to "Diddle."

God help and breed you all.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Favorite Song Friday: The Emperor's New Clothes

It seems years since you held the baby
While I wrecked the bedroom.

Call it a vast oversimplification on my part. But even with a decent knowledge of the huge and wondrous canon of rock-n-roll lyrics, I can’t think of a song that opens up with more of a lyrical gut-punch, with a more clearly defined and blunt statement of purpose.

Yes there are equals. “Like a Rolling Stone.” “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Patti Smith’s “Gloria.” The Who’s “I Can See For Miles.” "Born in the U.S.A." I get that. They are all equally as visceral, as pointed, as clear and concise in intent from their opening lines.

Just no more than Sinead O’Connor is in the words that open one of her best, most personal and most raw and pointed songs, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

The song is laced with acid and spite, seething anger and frustration. And it comes with the full knowledge that she is a part of this story, that she holds a stake in all that has happened. It’s not victimization; it’s realization and self-reporting. It’s about love that’s not there and anger that is difficult to express. That’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”—that’s what Sinead is doing in this 25-year-old song.

And that’s why those opening lines floor me. The juxtaposition of the sad regret of the first line with the unhinged madness of the second line is a warning shot for what’s to come. It will not be sentimental. It will not be wistful. It will not be apologetic. But it will be honest and it will—it will—be something we won’t forget.

That’s why in the old school lesson vein of a “topic sentence”—make your intent clear from the outset, Mr. Marcus always advised—those opening lines are so perfect.

The rest of the song is a marvel. Two chords, from opening to close, that never deviate. The dance beat comes with a not-at-all subtle layer of menace. Sinead’s voice, always a fascinating instrument in her ability to go from vulnerable to commanding within nanoseconds (Mikal Gilmore of Rolling Stone called it going from "ethereal to feral," and he was very right), stays more towards the understated side mostly throughout, but it drips with pathos and soul-bearing desperation.

And the writing is so…primal. This isn’t Sylvia Plath, but it does come across like a Sylvia Plath rough draft, or maybe even a page of notes. A sampling:
I see plenty of clothes that I like
But I won't go anywhere nice for a while
All I want to do is just sit here
And write it all down and rest for a while
Everyone can see what's going on
They laugh 'cause they know they're untouchable
Not because what I said was wrong
Whatever it may bring
I will live my own policies
I will sleep with a clear conscience
I will sleep in peace
Maybe it sounds mean
But I really don't think so
You asked for the truth and I told you
Through their own words
They will be exposed
And they've got a severe case of
The emperor's new clothes
These are words that need to get on the page now. Not tomorrow, not when they are fully formed, not after they’ve been pondered and thought-about for awhile. This is a bleeding, struggling need to get these thoughts out without any more hesitation, whether they or anyone else is ready or not. This is as confessional as confessional songwriting gets in its sense of urgency and immediacy.

(I haven't even mentioned the video, which it equally jarring. Sinead in some ways almost seems to want to blend into the background, clad in a shapeless black tunic, remaining largely expressionless as she reluctantly half-dances/careens he way across the stage in front of a small, collegial audience. But that face, those eyes. That's what you keep seeing; you can't look away.)

For that reason and others, “The Emperor's New Clothes” this is one of the bravest, most brutally honest songs I have ever heard. From one of the bravest and most brutally honest—for better and for worst—songwriters/performers I have ever heard.

And it all starts with that opening line.
It seems years since you held the baby
While I wrecked the bedroom
It might not be as poetic and soaring as, “Once upon a time you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?” But it’s no less shocking. It may even be moreso.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Best of Mike Love

This pretty much sums up his post-1965 highlights.

(His musical highlights, that is: drunkenly interrupting Brian Wilson's lovely Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech with extremely unfunny and awkward "jokes" should always be a major part of his legacy.) 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

I Can Hear Music

There are a few things to take away from this clip:

1) God, Carl Wilson had a great voice.
2) Oh, Dennis. You were awesome. No wonder Keith Moon loved you guys.
3) Bruce Johnston looks more like a Wilson cousin than Mike Love does.
4) Speaking of: Jesus, Mike Love's insufferable. His ridiculous dancing, wherein he half-assedly acts out the lyrics, are a combination of Steve Allen-like superiority, sneering at his own material, and a need to pull the attention away from the actual lead singer and the music itself.
5) And just look at his eyes. They look exactly like...well, Quint said it best.
6) But even that asshat's not enough to take away from the greatness of the band, with or without Brian. (But he comes damn close at times.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Monday, February 2, 2015

Twist and Shout

Well, shake it up, baby, now
Twist and shout
C'mon c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, baby, now 
Come on and work it on out

Well. There 'tis.

Sunday, February 1, 2015