King Crimson in 2017-Monkey Mind Puts on Big Boy Pants and Climbs Incline to Level Seventeen.

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The double quartet in 2017, per Fripp. Eight is perhaps too many people in a band

King Crimson in 2017, a look back at what got us here-the fuck ups and nimble twists, and a look at two current concerts on this tour. Does all this Radikal Action show that the  Monkey Mind is still crazy, or crafty like a fox?

King Crimson in 2017. Just that idea is remarkable considering the perilous courses charted by King Crimson mk1 (the Greg Lake era, where Crimson was an equal partners band still), mk2 (the jazz influenced era, where Fripp and session musicians made up Crimson) and mk3 (the cutting edge Wetton/Bruford/Fripp/Cross era). Each of those bands crashed and burned, mostly at Fripp’s behest, after a two year stretch. Yes, two years is all any of these line ups lasted. Fragile was the word for Crimson band stability. Yet in five years, King Crimson created a body of work in seven albums that still reverberates strongly through the corridors of power in the rock n roll world to this day. This was groundbreaking shit when it came out, it was still groundbreaking two decades later, it is still groundbreaking today, four to nearly five decades after their release. Let that sink in for a minute.

In the Court of the Crimson King is the one that got the attention and still does, but smarter fans and savvier critics knew better. The real deal was Crimson Mk3. Heavy Metal magazine (formerly Metal Hurlant in France) in their December 1979 issue had a highly recommended article on King Crimson’s Lark’s Tongues in Aspic album, which had been released in early 1973. It posited the idea that King Crimson was so far ahead of their time that it would easily be fifty years before critics could come to grips with that album not as a rock release, but as a major musical milestone, a monument in the sand that future musicians would look back upon as an achievement unlike any other in rock music, a la Beethoven or Mozart’s lesser masterpieces. Perhaps it would be closer to one hundred years. Hyperbole or heady and prescient praise? Well here we are 44 years after Lark’s Tongues hit the shelves, and it remains a fairly unchallenged masterpiece in the rock canon. (That Lark’s Tongues borrowed very heavily from Bartok string quartets and Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring was something that seemingly eluded that original author at the time does not diminish his original point-this record is essential and far reaching in scope). Starless and Bible Black dropped the eccentric percussionist Jamie Muir (whose batwing costume and propensity to puke fake blood frightened the band and provided inadvertent inspiration to Kiss), while Red saw Lizard’s Marc Charig and founding member and principle songwriter Ian McDonald return to the fold. King Crimson was set up for another round of success. All three albums are visionary and pushed the edge of rock music to boundaries folks didn’t even suspect existed. Alas, ’twas not to be, as Robert Fripp pulled a schizophrenic disappearing act and Mk3 evaporated in the morning mist, much to the consternation of the fans, music press and the band itself. “Is Fripp crazy?” started to get asked in  many circles. There was no consensus on the answer to that. Fripp layed low.

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Mk1 1969-1970                     Mk2 1970-1971                           Mk3- 1973-1974

Round Two; Pentatonia, Meet Neurotica

“The Drive to 1981” and “The Incline to 1984” were announced in the liner notes of Fripp’s first solo album, Exposure, in 1979. These seemed to be a pair of three year plans for the future. Ambient music, pop music, and a strangely named dance band (the League of Gentlemen) comprised the first set of the plan. The League band is the one where Fripp once famously berated the audience to “stop staring at my fingers. This is a dance band, I suggest you dance!”  But contained in the songs was a structure that repeated itself from song to song: a highly disciplined  hypnotic pentatonic scale style that wove itself into most every song. This ended up being a hint as to what was coming next in the Incline to 1984-Discipline.

1981 brought a new band into existence for the next phase: Discipline. With Bill Bruford from Mk3 on board as drummer, Zappa and Bowie alumni Adrian Belew on guitar and noted jazz iconoclast Tony Levin on the new bass-like instrument the Chapman stick-crowds began to froth. Audiences recognized that this was a new iteration of King Crimson before Fripp himself did, but it wasn’t long before the moniker Discipline was retired and King Crimson Mk4 hit the floorboards. Unlike previous versions of the band, this one stuck very close to the interlocking pentatonic patterns approach of Discipline for all three of the albums in this run. They released the trio of stylistically similar albums, Discipline in 1981, Beat in 1982 and Three of a Perfect Pair in 1984.

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World tours, decent album sales, and glowing critical reviews made the band the envy of their peers. In the prog rock world, many of their contemporaries were flailing. Yes had done well with Owner of a Lonely Heart in the charts, but was that even really Yes? Genesis had become increasingly irrelevant after a last gasp with 1980’s Duke and a warning of things to come with 1981’s Abacab. The Moody Blues had abdicated whatever influence they had in the late sixties. Other extant prog luminaries like Mike Oldfield, PFM, Camel and Caravan were trying out pop formulae. Rush, often lumped in but never really a prog band was showing strong signs of falling off a musical cliff. Asia? ‘Nuff said. Most other influential prog rock bands had already folded up shop (ELP, Gong, Can, Soft Machine, Gentle Giant, Gryphon, National Health, Pink Floyd, UK). King Crimson stood alone at the end of 1984 as not only the last relevant prog era band still standing, but the only one that was still cutting edge, still making statements that made others take notice. Maybe even still ahead of the curve. Things looked pretty good. It wasn’t hard to predict what Fripp would do next- he called a halt to the proceedings and broke the band up.

What is the Opposite of an Incline?

The ecstatic response Crimson received in 1981 was world wide. After a decade off, the reunion prefaced by the EP Vrooom that showed up in 1994 was greeted by long time Crimson fans with…well it definitely was enthusiasm, but few were really surprised. Bruford, Belew, Fripp and Levin had once again reassembled right where they left off in 1984. The sound was not that much different: pentatonic tapestries wove shifting melodies that underpinned Belew’s plaintive wail. “I am a dinosaur” he wryly sang on the debut of Crimson Mk5, THRAK. The album sounded like the word, or as Fripp put it “…the meaning of THRAK is: 117 guitars almost hitting the same chord simultaneously”. He added  “So, the album THRAK, what is it? 56 minutes and 37 seconds of songs and music about love, dying, redemption and mature guys who get erections.” The addition of Trey Gunn on Stick and Pat Mastellotto on drums in 1994 had expanded the 80’s version to a sextet. Things sounded busy yet familiar.

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Like the previous incarnations, this one traveled a three album arc. One huge difference though-multiple lineup changes and a timeline that took from 1994 to 2008 to wrap up this incarnation, fourteen years. Now remember, from In the Court of the Crimson King to Red-mk1, mk2 and mk3-when Crimson was creating masterpieces on a weekly basis,  was less than six years in length. Factor in the hiatus from 1974 to 1981 and we are still only at fifteen years from 69-84. Fripp expanded and contracted the band several times during the tenure of Crimson Mk5.

Bruford’s exit in 1997 left a large hole in the band as one of the last foils to Fripp, someone who could look him in the eye and tell him that he was plain wrong-musically that is. Fripp had become annoyed with Bruford’s chaotic approach to drumming, a seemingly scattershot style that Fripp felt conflicted with the precise mathematical interplay of the guitars. Bruford was spot on in his response : “it was held that the other musicians *couldn’t* keep time, so they employed this guy called a drummer to do it for them…we have to assume that by now that Robert Fripp can keep time. And if he can’t, well, that’s tough.”  Bruford had “once called him an amalgam of Stalin, Gandhi and the Marquis de Sade”. He’s someone who would intimately know given the four decades of work together. Exit Bruford permanently.

Shortly after, Levin went on indefinite hiatus. This reduced the band once more to a quartet-Fripp, Belew, Mastelotto and Gunn, with the two long term member’s absence palpably felt. This move coincided with a noticeable stagnation in the band sound, resulting in the sporadically interesting album The Power to Believe in 2003. By now, they had been mining the interlocking guitar pattern style for 22 years, had put out (read: recycled) Lark’s Tongues in Aspic several times as parts 3,4 and 5 over the years. Visionaries were needed as things began getting a bit stale. Fripp opened up the windows to air out the room, and out flew Gunn and in flew a returning Levin and a new drummer Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree. This resulted in a 40th anniversary tour in 2009 that continued over familiar ground and there was a perception that the band was treading water. The band’s cutting edge reputation was now being written about in less than friendly terms, and phrases like “cutting edge” were now preceded by words like ‘once’ and ‘formerly’.

Resurrection of the Crimson King

As noted previously here, Fripp is a bit of a crazed musical force, self destructive and visionary in the same breath. He retreated into some fairly intractable diatribes online, culminating in his sudden self avowed quitting of the music business in 2012. This was perceived by many as a large hissy fit-likely triggered by Kanye West using 21st Century Schizoid Man as a sample in a song and having a huge hit with it. His interview at the time about this retirement can be read here. (click to expand the text below the link) So when Fripp announced in 2013 that King Crimson was reforming, well people were taken by surprise. This time the band was based on a 2011 project Fripp had done with Jakko Jakszyk, former Crimson reedsman Mel Collins, Tony Levin and Gavin Harrison.  While skirting close to easy listening or Crimson lite, it laid the foundation for a new page in Crim history.

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The tour in 2015 was a fairly interesting proposition. Gone were two decades of Belew/Fripp guitar interactions, and in was a set that drew heavily for the first time in their career on the early stuff. In the Court of the Crimson King, In the Wake of Poseidon, Islands, Lark’s Tongues were all represented. Although Fripp had offloaded some of the weightier guitar tasks to Jakko, his presence on many songs was still felt. Seated in the back corner of the stage, one could be forgiven for mistaking him for a turn of the century accountant sitting in for an evening. Three drummers lined the front of the stage. It was an evening of musical inspiration-stripped of the normal frills accompanying most shows like lighting rigs and video screens, this tour was about the music.  Reviews were glowing.

2017 Tour of America-King Crimson Live in Boston and Albany

The current tour saw some semi-confusing lineup changes for those not paying attention. Percussionist Bill Rieflin had departed the band in 2016 for reasons unknown, but had returned for this tour, but departed the touring band before the tour started, yet stayed in the band as a member. But now suddenly was replaced by TWO musicians: Chris Gibson now occupied the riser on keyboards (something Rieflin did from behind his kit originally), and new drummer and session man Jeremy Stacey on full drum kit, something Rieflin hadn’t usually played-sticking more to percussion work. The ‘Seven Headed Beast’ is now a full octet. (Belew had gotten into a scrape with Fripp and was tossed in 2009; today they have made up  and Fripp has allowed that Belew is now an unofficial 9th member of the band, awaiting a call up to the big leagues. Note that if Rieflin returns, this will bring the head count up to ten. Hmm)

Well how was it compared to last tour? The short answer is that there is a noticeable improvement in delivery, improvisation and general comfort level with each other onstage. I witnessed both a Boston show and an Albany show on this tour, and both were exceptional. The music was delivered in two sets. Boston had a tour record of 25 songs. Setlist here. This time around, Fripp was a much more active participant in the proceedings, taking back some guitar duties from Jakko, adding more mellotron here and there before switching back to electric banshee wails that are his trademark. Jakko is vocally very suited to the band. He is able to duplicate early Crimson with an air of authenticity-Greg Lake, Boz Burrell, John Wetton era tunes sounded very close to the original arrangements vocally. The Belew era was less convincing-Indiscipline’s strong spoken word portion now had a sing songy processed vocal arrangement that didn’t really work, though the instrumental portion of the song was still spot on. Mel Collins was once again a quiet force, able to reproduce the bellowing sax explosions of Ian McDonald’s work on the early material as well as his own riffs from Islands.  One complaint that overlapped from the last tour is his soprano saxophone work can tend to put some of the Islands material (never thought of as an essential album) awfully close to Kenny G territory–the smooth jazz approach of Scarcity of Miracles album that seemed like the whole Crimson thing was on life support. Me? I’d flush most of the Islands album from the set. A Sailor’s Tale and The Letters were nice on the reunion tour to reinforce the ‘early material’ vibe, but nothing from that album really  needed to be revisited. (historical note: the whole Islands band quit on Fripp in 1972 to form their own band due to his overbearing attitudes) Boston had some surprises-Cirkus and Lizard from the Lizard album were some out of the blue choices. Cirkus in particular was a highlight of the evening. Four songs from In the Court of the Crimson King also were crowd favorites, as was the rarely played encore of Heroes by David Bowie-a tune Fripp had laid guitar down on in 1977. The crowd was ecstatic.

Two days later, the Egg in Albany offered a different take on the band. The tiny venue has a capacity of just over 900 and is an acoustically designed amphitheater. Once again the crowd was warned in written and audio statements against photography, filming and recording. (one of the better bootlegs of the 2015 tour was recorded here, but Fripp’s minions diligently hunt it down and remove it whenever it pops up online.) Although the apparent attempt by Fripp is to enjoin us all to ‘remain in the moment’ and actively stay focused on the music, it is clear that this is evidence of Fripp’s long term paranoia that has hampered the ‘fun vibe’ for decades. Folks were ejected for taking a single picture, including a white haired gentleman from the front rows forced to leave during the last song.   My seats on the aisle stage left top revealed a flaw in the design of the Egg-if any artist isn’t standing near the front of the stage, they tend to be cut off from view. With five members of Crimson on a podium at the back of the stage, fully half the band was cut off from view. Here is an approximate view (no Crimson onstage):

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No Fripp, Jakko or Gavin in view from here-some Levin. Really?

I moved to the standing room center quickly and had a good view for the show. This time the band took a while to get going. They opened with a drum solo showing off their new triple full kit attack. Nice technique, but Fripp should  know better than to open a show with a drum solo. In fact most people would know not to open a show with a drum solo, but common sense often does not factor into decisions here. In fact there were FIVE count ’em five drum solos in the first set alone. Jesus. (Mastelotto took Harrison and Stacey to school btw-Stacey hung in there but Harrison was somewhat plodding in comparison). Back to back versions of Moonchild and The Court of the Crimson King kept set one from being entirely a wash. Set two picked things up instantly, no new disposable tunes, it was pedal to the metal. Setlist here.  Lark’s Tongues part 1 and part 2 back to back? Fallen Angel and Starless? They hit the stratosphere right to the last clang of Easy Money.

The Shooshers

Also of note in Albany were the “shooshers”. Some folks get vocally enthusiastic at shows, but this brand of anal retentives are hell bent on making everyone shut up. By loudly  and continuously shushing at the first sign of anyone cheering….and not noticing that they are disrupting the proceedings as much as anyone. I saw one guy get out of his seat and walk ten feet to angrily admonish someone in the standing room to stop whooping. Another shoosher in the middle kept it up at the slightest instance of incidental noise. At his second insistent shoosh I was forced to spontaneously yell out a quick “faaaaackofffff’ which got quick approval of all in the standing room area. (I had witnessed the previous week at a Goblin show in Boston a fan TWICE move across the floor to get in a guy’s face threaten to beat the shit out of someone who was yelling enthusiasm at the Italian horror legends.) Message to shooshers: get over yourselves. People enjoy concerts in their own personal way.

21st Century Schizoid Man needs a Drum Solo In It Like Close to the Edge Needs a Grand Funk Railroad Commercial In the Middle of It.

Why is there a drum solo in this song? In view of the five drum solos in the first set, I had trouble keeping quiet and not going all ‘belligerent seventies New York style’ to show my disapproval. Seriously, this shit has to stop. The song doesn’t need it, never had it before, and smacks of gratuitous soloing–something that Crimson was always avowedly against. Does Gavin Harrison have dirt on Fripp? For he is the only one with a true drum *solo* in the whole evening. All other ones were interactions between the trio of drummers. Which leads us to….

The Ever Present March of the Quill Pig

Porcupine Tree. The band is becoming worryingly intertwined with King Crimson, which beckons the question above. I have been vocal in my opposition to Steve Wilson’s remixing of Crimson and other bands (read a quick take here), and began to question why Fripp was allowing Wilson to tamper with his work. Then Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree joins on drums. Now Steve Wilson’s solo album drummer Jeremy Stacey is in the Crimfold. What gives? One can be forgiven for thinking that these fuckers are aiming to take over Crimson on the sly. Maybe Steve Wilson is actually the one with dirt on Robert.

The Final Cut

As stated in the introduction, King Crimson in 2017 is a fairly unlikely event. A quick read of Fripp’s phoenix-like self immolations would lead one to think this could never be a reality, and yet-it is. I’ve seen the band three times since the reunion, and they are still  going strong, with signs of actually becoming even more musically dangerous. And that my friends, is a good thing for all of us.

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Another Carwreck Pileup-Summer 2017 Concert Round Up: Jarre Dead Ween Blondie Who Purple Coop Crowes Quadrophenia Venom Roky. And Seinfeld-Once More Around the World in 80 Daze

As chronicled last year here , summer is the time to get out there-preferably under the stars, and see rock shows like they did back in the day: grassy field, blankets and festival vibes. Like last year, this summer had a wide range of rock enticement. What was on the menu?

May 16-Jean Michel Jarre Boston

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Pray to the light machine…

This was a big one. I mean this guy never tours. His first album that broke him, Oxygene, came out 41 years ago. He’d played the States exactly once, a single show in Houston in 1986, 31 years ago. A detailed review of this Boston show written at the time can be read here. Jarre is a first generation French synth giant along the order of Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, the big three krautrock synth god founders of electronic music. The Bank of America Pavilion is on the waterfront, and the back of the stage is pretty much on the sea wall. Bass sequences set up standing waves in Boston Harbor, and Jarre shattered reality, profoundly Oddly, this show was completely unknown and literally unpromoted. (I wore the tour shirt to an electronic music festival later in the summer. An older fan who flew in from overseas said he was a huge Jarre fan and asked when I’d seen him. I turned around so he could read the tour dates on the back of my shirt. “Hmmm, ok, ok…..uhhhhh no, nooo, NOOOOOO!!! The tour is over?!? Why didn’t I hear about this?) Why indeed? Not one single Jarre fan I spoke to this summer had ANY idea he was coming, and all were genuinely pissed they missed it. No print ads, no radio. Unsurprisingly, the venue was only about 1/3 full. Jarre beckoned to the crowd “come closer” and gathered the faithful. He told us secrets. Setlist

June 9-Ween Cooperstown NY

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Richard ‘Dick’ Smoker, Left Field
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Mollusk.

Up next, and on the same date the summer concert blitz started last year, June 9 saw Ween at the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown (home of the baseball Hall of Fame). This one was a camping overnight on site event. Things learned? Brewery + Ween + walking to campsite at end of show = uh oh. Bodies dropped left and right into the mud trying to navigate in the dark, and last call went until well after eleven pm-strong brewery beer. I’d seen Ween five or so times since the reunion…and this band has some deep catalog to draw from. This night was no different. Setlist here. a 26 song setlist of rarities and chestnuts. A double encore seemed to precede either an extended LMLYP or Poopship Destroyer, but the oh so clever brain cell challenged neo hippie jam band element thought they would provide entertainment and rewards for Deaner by pelting him in the face with glow sticks (the thin pixie stick kind).

In their heads, they probably imagined it looked something like this:

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In actuality it was much more like this:

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Hit me again you fucking fuck and I’m done

This phenomenon of pelting the band with LARGE handfuls of glow sticks started at Phish shows, but thinking the band will react in any fashion other than pissed off is evidence that repeated drug use might cause the brain damage that D.A.R.E. always promised. Deaner turned to the drummer and motioned ‘this is it, last riff we are done’ ending the song while glaring back at the crowd of idiots clustered in the front. Concert ended early. Good show, and Ween in an outdoor venue with camping? Hope they do this again next summer.

June 20 – Dead and Company SPAC Saratoga NY

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SPAC is a fairly legendary venue for the Dead. In 1983 I saw one of their performances of the decade here.  I’d seen them last summer in Boston, and the band performed one of their dream shows, still spoken of as the best show Dead and Company have ever  played. I mean Help->Slip->Franklin’s in the FIRST set? St. Stephen->Dark Star->Terrapin-> drums/space->Terrapin->Morning Dew to start the second set? Yeah that’s not likely to be topped. Combined with the rampant rumors that John Mayer tripped at the show for his first genuine ‘electric’ Dead experience, and well you have a show not likely to ever be topped. So it was with a little trepidation I rode out here, knowing that they will probably never top what I saw last summer. But hey, the Dead outside in the middle of a forest state park? Count me in. Rain is usually in the forecast, but this time blue skies guided the vehicle the whole way. Grabbed some lawn seats near the stage (this venue is notably difficult to see the stage from the field) and watched some puffy clouds gather. Then, during Looks Like Rain, well…. it started to rain. Something in 35 years of seeing the Dead that I had never seen happen before. Friends were incredulous. Definitely weird. Even weirder, as the song drew to a close, behind us this happened:

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Looks Like Rain? They’re a rainbow full of sound?

Yeah it was a fucking moment. Song list trended towards ordinary, and Lost Sailor/St. of Circumstance was arranged to a point where it was barely recognizable at first. This is why many go to so many Dead shows-a deceased Jerry hasn’t curbed their propensity for dodgy shows here and there. John Mayer has definitely learned how to do a proper Jerry, and Oteil can channel Phil Lesh with much more authenticity than his early turns in 2015. Good but not great. It is disconcerting to realize they might never top what I saw in Fenway Park last summer. Mickey Hart can still create some sonic mayhem though.

July 7-Jerry Seinfeld Springfield MA

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Funny and unfunny…they’re like this close

I had wanted to get down the NYC to the Beacon Theater to see Seinfeld in his residency there this year, and saw he was doing a quick one off in Springfield. His reason? “Just like you, I had nothing better to do on a Friday night, and I needed to kill some time. So I came here.” Seinfeld does a clean and non topical act-cursing and politics are off limits- and he revisited some of his older material from the show. Springfield Symphony Hall is a venue that can cater to decent sounding acts, but much of Seinfeld’s act was barely audible, inexcusable really. However familiarity with his patterns and riffs helped the long time fans keep following the thread. The free wheeling playboy Seinfeld has been hitched for a while, and semi-lamented his married status and new group of friends: “If you don’t have a wife, we have nothing to talk about. You have a girlfriend? That’s Wiffle ball. You’re playing a paintball war and I’m in Afghanistan with real, loaded weapons. A single guy is sitting on a merry-ground blowing on a pinwheel. I’m driving a truck full of nitro down a dirt road.” Funny, but one got the sense he doesn’t have to work very hard to create his act anymore. Legends are like that though.

July 20-The Who Mohegan Sun CT

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Rested Daltrey + Cunty & Pissed off Townshend = Amazing Show
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Daltrey seeks escape velocity

The Who. Only the Beatles and the Stones have the stature and influence the Who have as originators of modern rock. In truth, this band has seen all eras of rock n roll. From their first angst ridden thrashes in dance halls in 1964 to 2017-the Who have seen it all, close up and personal. Roger Daltrey, the ace mod face, and also ‘The Voice” of rock has had his share of vocal difficulties over the past twenty or so years. From vocal cord surgery in 2011 to difficulties with smoke in the audience in 2013 to postponing their 2015 fall US tour, there have been problems. But at this show, Daltrey was well rested, and in the best vocal condition I had seen him, perhaps ever. And he knew he was in good form-vocal riffs ran scales from borderline falsettos suddenly hurtling octaves into a deep familiar bass growl to end songs. Townshend was in good form, prickly and extra cunty. “We’re grateful to be here. Well I’m not grateful but I’ll bet you are…” Daltrey shot him an incredulous stare from center stage and took over…..”We are very glad to be here tonight, right Pete?”  Townshend continued irritably prattling on about how he didn’t need the money and that he had just flown in to town in his million dollar private jet. Daltrey once again had to smooth things over. With Pino Palladino out on tour with John Mayer, John Button from Daltrey’s solo band stepped in, and things were quite different from the first legs of “the Who Turns 50” tour. Townshend said introducing My Generation: “I’ve written about a hundred songs, and every one is better than this one”. The song degenerated into the chaos it used to in the sixties and early seventies arrangements, and then…suddenly I looked up. What the hell was going on? The band had jumped the rails and was off in uncharted territory, with Townshend slashing random riffs and Daltrey riffing random improvised vocals. Soon it seemed to solidify into a vague version of Cry If You Want-

 

 

 

 

 

Woah. The Who hadn’t let things fly like this in a bundle of decades. Bargain and Overture also had some free wheeling improv sections. Daltrey stalked around in front of Townshend in repetitive short circles as Pete thrashed his guitar with frenzied rhythmic slashes that increasingly bore no resemblance to the song. Incredible explorations, albeit short and interspersed, that hadn’t been seen live in well over forty years. The signature scream at the end of Won’t Get Fooled Again, the trademark howl of two generations? Spot on. Perhaps the best time and tightest I’d seen them in the over two decades of seeing them. I’d still pick out the Quadrophenia ’96 tour as my personal highlight, but vocally and arrangement wise, this was one powerful fucking show. The Who were famously challenged by the punk rock bands in the 70’s as dinosaurs, but the punk comet burned out early and the dinosaurs still freely stomp the earth, bringing rumbling thunder and showing that this is no damn nostalgia act, they can still rip the roof off an arena. The highlight of the summer, if not the year. song list

July 30- Blondie and Garbage Bank of America Pavilion Boston

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70’s meet 90’s

I once again trundled to Boston to see Garbage and Blondie. I wasn’t really sure what this would bring, I mean Debbie Harry is much older than many think (she was in bands on major labels in 1968, and was literally born during WW2-1945 for you non historians). I’d seen Garbage last year on the first album commemorative tour, and was beyond pleasantly surprised. They were nearly as powerful as when I saw them on the first album tour twenty years ago. This time though, no such luck. Shirley Manson admitted to being way overtired and had just got into town. The setlist ignored most of their hits, and the band was listless. It was apparent that much of their set is electronically pre-recorded and triggered from the stage. Fifty grand in sound equipment but from the ninth row the guitars sounded like a Peavey Backstage and Line Six Spirit amps were in use. (translation for non guitarists-two really cheap beginner guitar amps). Butch Vig, soundcrafter extraordinaire, had no visible mics on his cymbals, indicating they were electronic as well. Odd for such a perfection based and studio sound obsessed band to have such a thin sound and low energy.

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Beehive queen

Blondie however, was a big surprise. Debbie Harry came out dressed as above, but covered with a cape emblazoned “stop fucking the planet”, resembling sixties legend Moondog, statuesque and shamblingly regal.  At nearly 72 years old one would assume she has the gravitas to let us know what’s up-perhaps more of an instruction in truth. Their new album, Pollinator, brings to theme Harry’s cause, which is to save the disappearing bees. The setlist was pretty much as expected, and four songs from Pollinator was a brave choice, but the new stuff really hung in there with the standards. Founding guitarist Chris Stein seemed a bit propped up on stage and shows some signs of his lingering illness that has hampered him for a long while, but his riffing quietly with Iron Man underneath band introductions…wish he’d continued it. Overall, I’d have to say one word for Blondie in 2017-impressive.

August 20-Chris Robinson Band Holyoke MA

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A show in the newly created Gateway City Arts in Holyoke was one of those ‘hey they’re too famous to play here’ vibes that new venues can get. But this is a solid place to see a show. CRB is the Chris Robinson led half version of the Black Crowes while Rich Robinson has most of the rest of the band in The Magpie Salute. Will the long admired original Crowes band traditionally combative brothers ever get back together? According to Rich, not very likely due his brother’s obsession with his Dead influenced CRB: “Chris is done with it and we’re done with him, in a weird way. And it sucks, because that band could still do a lot of great things, he’s just into the Grateful Dead. That’s all he really cares about. He makes his records sound like the Dead; he hangs out with the Dead. It’s fucking crazy,” says Robinson. “But that’s what he wants to do. And if he’s happy doing it, good for him, man.”

Remember that the Black Crowes are the band that had this famous exchange between the brothers at the beginning of a tour:

Rich: If anyone gives my brother drugs, they are fired (from crew)

Chris: If anyone refuses to get me drugs, they are fired

So I was well prepared for a Dead influenced version of the Crowes. Yet most of the material was surprisingly well afar from the Crowes, and the band sounded more like a hybrid of Bobby and the Midnights circa ’83 and the Jerry Garcia Band from around the same era- a Dead solo trip hybridization, a more timid version of the Dead if you will. One of their songs sounded quite close to Birdsong, which several in the crowd noticed.  Flickers of other Grateful Dead themes darted in and around what was essentially ‘Dead Lite’.

Back in the days of the Black Crowes, when Chris Robinson strapped an electric guitar on, it was an ‘oh shit’ moment. Anything could happen, often off kilter things not planned. Rich would often turn his back noticeably on Chris when he quietly riffed on a few songs. This night, Chris was an able and tasteful guitarist, trying to channel Bob Weir’s ability to lead the band places unexpected.  If your tastes run more to slow burn Grateful Dead, and not expecting too much of a Crowes experience, worth seeing. Setlist

 

August 27-Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Edgar Winter Mansfield MA

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Like last years summer kick off with Bad Company and Joe Walsh, this was another one I almost gave a miss. But when tix on Stubblehub dipped to fifteen bucks, I had to do it. I mean I’d worshiped Edgar Winter Frankenstein since it came out, had seen the holy album cover in school-a whisper time holy relic of big kid culture.

Albino Twins

They Only Come Out at Night

This was seriously traumatic and intriguing for a pre-teen in ’73. The allure of Frankenstein and to a lesser extent Free Ride (both have the signature synthesizer gurgle swoop sound in them) influenced me on an atomic level.

Since then, Edgar has been a noted Scientologist, and scored the soundtrack to the historically execrable Battlefield Earth scifi/scientology non blockbuster. His twin brother Johnny plowed a blues furrow for decades, and Edgar…? He seemed to fade. Yet the idea of seeing Frankenstein live was a bucket list type thought. A thirty minute traffic showdown on the MassPike caused a mad high octane dash to the venue…and running up the ramp to the amphitheater one could hear the opening strains of Frankenstein, clearly the last song of the set. Winter took solo turns on drums, saxophone and of course synthesizer during the song-impressive. Forty year wish fulfillment. (Actually heard Derringer’s Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo on the way in if I remember right.) Setlist

Coop

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Hello, Hooray

I really didn’t expect Alice Cooper to win the night. Recently I’d seen him headlining in a theater and was mildly impressed, and then saw him open for Marilyn Manson and found myself wondering if he really wanted to do this. Alice was never known for his vocal prowess even back in the day (it was known that it took many takes to get something good from this band), and to his credit, Alice hasn’t really deteriorated from his mid 70’s growl sing.

But this night-big stage big production dollars involved-things were different. The band played with a swagger, triple guitar attack. Songs and more expensive theater vignettes salted the show. Cold Ethyl was acted out as a love affair with a female corpse who gets brutally knifed by Alice. (Cold Ethyl is actually a love song to alcohol and a warning on its killing powers…oops. Alice was beheaded next). Seventies chauvinism was exalted and amplified at the altar of seventies excess in a paen to an era gone by. I’d only wish to see this show performed somewhere near Smith College as a writing prompt to a decade of collective indignant polemic. But in the haven of beers n bones Mansfield, no such consciousness was in evidence.  In odd juxtaposition to the shock on display, Alice has been a little know born again Christian for a while. Though the setlist was fairly close to those of recent years, new songs were snuck in. Halo of Flies was the highlight, Alice’s attempt to prove to the prog rock snob crowd that ‘hey we can do that King Crimson shit too’. Decapitation, sword attacks, straight jackets, ten foot Frankenstein, electrocution….you know, the usual suspects were there to flesh out the concepts. Clear winners of the evening.

Purple Passages

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Popeye? Never noticed…

Deep Purple. One of the second wave of British bands behind the Who, the Beatles, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. One of the kings of heavy, with only Led Zeppelin acknowledged as their peers in ability to improvise, vocal power (hell Ian Gillan was Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar), album sales and concert draw. One of the godlike bands of my childhood.

I worshiped at the altar of Made in Japan for decades. Whispers of Purple playing again was a heady concept. I’d known of Purple’s reunion circa 1985, that they were secretly rehearsing in New Hampshire at the time. When a sold out Worcester Centrum in 1985 announced on the radio that day of show the stage was a different shape and that 195 tickets would be released that afternoon, I bolted straight out there. The setlist of that tour stuck pretty close to Made in Japan, and during the opening chords of Highway Star, the opener, I leapt so high in the air I didn’t come down in the row in front of me, I landed TWO rows in front of me, right on top of some unsuspecting girl. I dusted off and scuttled away. They were fucking amazing, and in a form very close to their 1972 peak.

Since then, the departure of John Lord (RIP) and Ritchie Blackmore has impacted the band’s sound. Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse has been manning guitar since 1994, and Purple fans seem satisfied. Blackmore is the Hendrix vibe of unbridled chaos Purple survived on, warts n all. Morse is the Robert Fripp of the band politely filtered through country precision. But as founding drummer Ian Paice has said “Life’s too short to play with Ritchie Blackmore again”

Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Ian Paice, Glen Hughes Steve Morse and Don Airey still provide a formidable line up for any vintage rock band in 2017-essentially not one replacement part.  Three to four original members (yeah four if you include 1973 Hughes) and Don Airey as a longtime keyboardist of Rainbow. (Stargazer intro in keyboard solo) make this a band that has the ability to kick ass and show off at the same time. Airey mostly carried the night on a variety of keys. Gillan’s increasing resemblance to Popeye was wryly noted on his choice of apparel. His once amazing four octave vocal range is now diminished, but the power to amaze still bubbles underneath. Three new songs probably give them the illusion that this isn’t a nostalgia act. ‘The Long Goodbye Tour’ might be a sign they are actually aware, so more power to ’em or springing some cool new riffs on unsuspecting ears. Were they close to Purple in 1985 with Blackmore? No. Were they still showing signs of being able to annihilate most post 80’s bands? Yes. setlist

(On a religious front, this is about as close as Purple got to Born Again, Gillan’s underrated 1983 alliance with Black Sabbath)                                                                                       Image result for sabbath born again

September 2-Pete Townshend’s Orchestral Quadrophenia: ‘Classic Quadrophenia’

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Alfie politely Roger’s Townshend

Pete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia is a work two decades in the making. From his first meeting with Rachel Fuller at a party in 1996, Townshend went into one of his periodic infatuations, and did everything he could to bed the then 23 year old up and coming arranger and film score artist. He finally landed her as a musical and then life partner, and realizing that his original premise to chat her up “uhh maybe we should get together, I need someone to orchestrate some Who” had to be followed up on…two decades later here we are.

Tanglewood in Lenox Massachusetts was the site of the opening night of this four city presentation. Seeing the Who within the last month was quite a juxtaposition of takes on Townshend’s underated compositional skills. Coming off one of Daltrey’s better vocal performances in decades, this one was likely to be some level of letdown. Daltrey’s place was split between two diametrically opposing fields of talent-the punk by Billy Idol (reprising his 1996 role with the Who’s first real Quadrophenia tour) and the rest by operatic tenor Alfie Boe. Pete Townshend showed up on a few songs as well. But how well can a well heeled opera and theater star fronting a top notch orchestra channel the pure angst and frustration that is Quadrophenia? This night, the results were mixed. First, the sound was spotty, with many sections nearly inaudible on the lawn. (I was front row lawn right behind the back row in the shed, so the sound deteriorated quickly as one walked back into the jam packed field). In the UK run in 2015, it was noted that Alfie was a bit too clean, no grit, and didn’t really capture the essence of the piece. At Tanglewood, it was evident he had taken steps to correct some of these criticisms, and was animated and excited. Still, the familiar growl of Daltrey is so intertwined with this album that one couldn’t help but notice some of the power gone. Also of note-Keith Moon and John Entwistle on drums and bass weave a powerful low end rumblingly delicate dance throughout the four sides of Quadrophenia. Here, the string bass and percussion section just couldn’t do justice to what essentially is the beating heart of one of the more dynamic works in the rock canon. Sure, the original album has some scattered orchestrations (mostly the work of Entwistle’s talent on all sorts of brass) which are nice reference points, but Fuller’s arrangements seemed a bit too polite in the long run. Tommy had been orchestrated in 1972, with similar mixed results, but a bit more able to capture the beating heart of that album. In the end, one question remains: “can you orchestrate one of the greatest rock albums ever? Yes. Should you?” That one is up to the listener. A noble failure.

September 3 – Venom Inc, Goat Whore, Toxic Holocaust, The Convalescence. Brighton Music Hall Boston

Venom Inc

Venom. The band that started Black Metal 36 years ago. Just a mention of their name can still raise eyebrows across many genres of fans of heavy. Hell, they were tagged as the primary inspiration for the notorious Norwegian church burning/murder scene of 1992 (chronicled here). The band had mostly dissolved with bassist and vocalist Cronos keeping the Venom name, and Mantas (gtr) and Abaddon (drums) left to their own devices.

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Abaddon, The Demolition Man, Mantas and spiritual overseer

But Satan had other ideas. At a festival in Germany, the promoter asked Mantas (Jeff Dunn) if he’d mind if Abaddon (Anthony Bray) came out to jam. They hadn’t spoken in well over a decade, but they jammed, the crowd went berserk and Venom was reborn.

So how does one follow up on Boston Symphony Orchestra doing the Who? A little Goat Whore and a lot of Venom. Arriving late with a posse, tired and still hung over, and amazed I’d talked people into driving across the state on consecutive nights, this night belonged to Venom. Brighton Music Hall holds about 400, yet there was a suspiciously large open area in the middle of the floor. A shirtless metal dude bobbed near the edge of the opening. I thought ‘hey nice place to see the band’ and then another thought crossed my mind. Before I could react, Venom hit the stage, and then something very much like this happened:

 

 

 

Bodies flew in all directions. Glasses flew in all directions. Bodies hit the bar-head first. Notes to self, when kids have the DRI logo on their jackets, beware. People started to rally and revive. One of our posse was fading and wanted to lie down in the car. Three songs in, all of us were head banging furiously, while one yelled out “Holy shit Satan healed me!”  Things amped up even further During Live Like an Angel Die Like a Devil, one of Venom’s faster tunes, but now delivered at a mind boggling tempo. Bodies flew, sweat flew, beer flew, blood flowed. Warhead, Die Hard, Countess Bathory, Black Metal, Leave Me in Hell….Metal at its finest. God bless Venom. Satan too. Setlist here.

September 11- Roky Erickson and Death Valley Girls Brighton Music Hall Boston

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If’n you’da seen what I seen…

The summer started with a legend, a cult legend to be sure, and ended with one of the most renowned ‘cult legends’ in the history of rock-60’s legend Roky Erickson. Roky’s tale is one that could easily encompass ten thousand words, but his short stint with the 13th Floor Elevators from 1966-1969 created a legend in the music world that still runs large ripples on both sides of the pond to this day.  In truth, Roky is America’s Syd Barrett, the US psychedelic pioneer that was subverting the youth of Texas and promoting the nascent counterculture of dope sex n rock (and eventually launching decades of psych fans across the planet) while gobbling prodigiously large amounts of acid before the Grateful Dead even existed. And then dissolving spectacularly into madness, incarceration and retirement from public view.

From the first glorious notes of the Cold Night For Alligators until the the last reverberating chords of You’re Gonna Miss Me, the night was something completely different that what one could legitimately expect. Why? Well, Roky’s return to the floorboards in 2007 caught many by surprise. The stories of his unbridled madness: junk mail covering his walls, radios, tvs and alarm clocks jamming his house, all on full volume -a cacophony of noise that ran 24/7… his sister allowed that if the noise stopped, Roky could hear the voices again. Like Barrett, his legend precedes him in most circles. So when I witnessed a young looking and shaven revitalized Roky at the Bowery Ballroom in April 2007, he shook everyone’s preconceptions quickly. I got to a meet and greet after the show, and far from clinically mad, Roky was erudite, quite lucid, in strong voice and in command of his guitar….and ripped off the roof off the ballroom:

 

People were ecstatic that his return, so unexpected, could be so successful and raucous. He toured sporadically after this and his appearance and demeanor plummeted quickly, going from this to this in seven short years:

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Seeing him in 2013 and 2014 I began to wonder what was going on. Roky blew lyrics on most songs, played very little guitar as it was slung prop-like over his shoulder, and seemed generally unaware of his surroundings. I began to wonder if elderly abuse charges needed to be filed against his backing band as they led him tottering to the stage, and then guided him painfully slowly off stage at the end. Roky did not acknowledge the audience as even being there.

This night, with a new band, Roky was led to the stage like usual, but this time a comfortable stool was front and center. And as mentioned, things were quite different. The new band was the most well suited to his material yet. His set list was unprecedented. 20 songs, 3 encores, NINE 13th Floor Elevators songs, an electric jug a la Tommy Hall? Christ,  this was one miraculous recovery.  Roky was still minimalist to non participating on guitar. But his vocals were sparkling, no cheat sheets in use (I was watching from the side of the stage), intricate lyrics delivered perfectly without any flubs. I watched as his left hand hung low by his side and twitched in an almost autistic fashion, wondering if he was suffering a level of torment. But after some observation, I realized that his hand was silently chording the guitar riffs right along with his vocal, an invisible and inaudible accompaniment, though the guitar hung unused on his neck. Fascinating insight into a mind that has been through the wringer of chemical madness. And an amazing evening with one of the last living legends of psychedelia. Brilliant stuff, akin to time traveling to a better golden age you’d thought had evaporated long ago. Yardbirds, Stones, Floyd, Beatles? Syd Barrett is long gone, but his American counterpart and pioneer is still out there infecting the masses with 50 year old vibrations. The pulse of acid inflected madness still floats in strength from Austin’s pioneering treasure, and I am damn glad he’s back in force.

Another amazing summer criss-crossing the Northeast, six outdoor shows sprinkled in. Get out there folks and spend next summer doing it right. The Who, Roky and Jean Michel Jarre were the top three shows of the summer, a fucking unbelievable summer.

Once again, let’s have Jerry Garcia Band bring us to the end:

Cats on the bandstand, give ’em each a big hand
Anyone who sweats like that must be all right
No one wants sometimes, no black eye
Just another cat beneath the stars tonight

Cats down under the stars
Cats down under the stars

 

Final tally: 14 bands, 9 venues, 2,095 miles traveled. Highway Stars.

 

 

 

Jethro Tull Broke Up and Someone Forgot to Tell Us? Ask Martin Barre

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Oscar: I tell you one thing that really drives me nuts, is people who think that Jethro Tull is just a person in a band.
psychologist: Who is Jethro Tull?

Owen Wilson, Armageddon ,  1998

Recently a friend said to me “Tull is coming in November, should we go?”  I quickly said “hell no!” and he was surprised by my quick response. Why? Well many out there might not have noticed, but Jethro Tull quietly expired at the end of the 2011 tour. “But wait!” you say, “they just played Chicago!”   Well yes, and no.

During the  2011 Tull tour, Ian Anderson dropped the bomb that  he was done performing Jethro Tull concerts, was going solo, and that Martin Barre (essentially a founding member and guitarist since 1968) and Doane Perry (drummer since 1984) were no longer needed, suddenly and without warning pulling the rug out from under them. Goodbye. No more Tull. And then…

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Could they make the apostrophe ‘s’ any smaller?

Thick as a Brick 2 by Ian Anderson was released very shortly after in 2012, which confused the hell out of Barre, Perry and any Tull fans still hanging in there. (Check out the tiny apostrophe after Jethro Tull) This move made the notoriously difficult Anderson to look even more of a calculating asshole. Barre said in an interview at the time:

“When Ian announced on the American tour last year that he didn’t want to do any more Jethro Tull shows, Doane and I had no idea that he was planning to do “Thick As A Brick 2.” This was all stuff he had planned before he had told us anything. He told us nothing, yet, obviously, he had thought this through for a long time. It is what it is. Everybody has to draw their own conclusions.”

Tull had been on life support for a while (Rock Island in 1989 many consider to be the swan song), and Anderson’s creaking vocals became more and more strained as the millenium clicked over. I had seen them with Emerson Lake and Palmer in 1996, and it was apparent that Ian’s voice had deteriorated quite noticeably. (In deference to Tull being my first ever concert circa War Child, instead of putting up a link, I will let the reader go online to any Youtube videos of Tull in the last decade). The last twenty years since that 1996 moment have seen a further frightening decline in his vocal range. But back to the Tull confusion.

The Jethro Tull website run by Ian Anderson is a source of some very strange  information for someone through with the band. Since Tull broke up, and Ian said he was done performing Tull, we have seen:

Ian Anderson- Thick as a Brick tour 2013

Ian Anderson Band Best of Jethro Tull tour 2013

Ian Anderson Thick as a Brick tour 2013 continued

Ian Anderson Band Best of Jethro Tull tour 2013 summer German tour

Ian Anderson Thick as a Brick tour 2013 continued Russia and Scandinavian tour, US tour, Canada tour

Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson tour spring 2014

Ian Anderson Band Best of Jethro Tull tour summer 2014

Ian Anderson Best of Jethro Tull tour winter 2014-2015

Ian Anderson performs Orchestral Jethro Tull spring 2015

Ian Anderson Best of Jethro Tull tour summer 2015

Jethro Tull the Rock Opera fall 2015 – winter 2016

Jethro Tull performed by Ian Anderson spring 2016

Ian Anderson Band Best of Jethro Tull tour summer 2016 Europe

Jethro Tull performed by Ian Anderson Norway summer 2016

Ian Anderson Band Best of Jethro Tull tour fall 2016

Jethro Tull performed by Ian Anderson October 2016 – June 2017

Ian Anderson Band Best of Jethro Tull tour Europe summer 2017

Jethro Tull performed by Ian Anderson summer 2017 US

Confused? I am. Apparently Ian is, as the multiple incarnations trading on the Jethro Tull name belie him being ‘done’ with Tull in 2011. Actually, seems like quite a bit of Tull going on there. So what gives? Even Anderson’s website still contains the Jethro Tull lineup with Martin Barre and Doane Perry listed as current members of Tull, along with his separate solo band lineup, disingenuously muddying the waters for anyone checking in to see what’s what. Can’t help but notice the slow morphing from ‘Ian Anderson Band’ to a more frequent ‘Jethro Tull’ label. With Barre gone…well this is pretty close to intentional deception.  http://jethrotull.com/musicians/

 

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Could they make the ‘by Ian Anderson’ any smaller?

Some think that Martin Barre left the band willingly. Many think he is still in the band. Barre said:

“I always hate to hear, ‘Oh, you’ve left Jethro Tull.’ I haven’t – Ian wanted to finish Jethro Tull, wanted to stop the band completely. It was a big personal shock to finish. Essentially the floor was pulled from underneath me, and I had a month to start from the beginning again.”

“Now there is not a Jethro Tull. Maybe there will be in five or 10 years, but probably not. It’s sad, because I see bands like Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles and Toto out there having very successful tours. They’re very special bands, and they’re enjoying a resurgence of interest from that era. But unfortunately we’re not part of that.”

This is where I have a problem, and the reason I so quickly refused to go see the band (along side with Ian’s worrying lack of vocal power). Anderson seems to be trading on the band name, and doing his damnedest to keep anyone today from knowing that Tull ceased to exist six years ago, and obfuscating the fact that the guitar sound of Martin Barre, a person integral to the whole ethos of the band, is no longer there. The guy that crafted the riffs that launched the career of one of the most popular bands in the history of rock ain’t in the band anymore, and it wasn’t his choice. The casual fan or lapsed Tull fanatic is likely unaware of this sleight of hand. The upcoming 50th anniversary of the band will soon be promoted, but a close read indicates that the there will be no reunion and the band will consist of all hired guns, plus Ian. Barre confirmed this in March 2017:

“I think that the one time it would have done would have been next year, which is the 50th anniversary of Jethro Tull, and I’ve heard absolutely nothing from anybody in five years. I think it’s on the shelf, but it’ll probably stay there.”

As Barre says above, there currently now is no Jethro Tull. Caveat Emptor my friends.

 

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Not Tull

 

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Tull

Jean Michel Jarre Played Live at Boston Harbor-World Inexplicably Unchanged

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Jean Michel Jarre played Boston last week. Let me say that again-JEAN MICHEL JARRE PLAYED BOSTON LAST WEEK HOLY FUCKING SHIT!! The earth shifted on its axis temporarily, the sun came up in the west and set in the east. Up was down, right?

Why get so excited one may ask? Well depending on who you ask, this was his first US show ever, and is akin to Led Zeppelin just showing up to do an unannounced reunion show at the Paradise. This was BIG news for progrock/psychedelic/electronic astronauts, yet many didn’t even know it was happening. (side note: this show, and tour, are criminally underpromoted-no word anywhere. I found out by accident ten days ahead of time. Not one of my long time JMJ friends had ANY idea he was coming). It was the first US show of his first North American tour ever, and the third show of the tour. Most fans had long dismissed any idea of seeing him live. Those with longer memories may recall a single show he did in Houston thirty years ago (more later on that), but many consider this his first US show ever. Why is Jean Michel Jarre such a big deal?

A big deal he certainly is. Jean Michel Jarre is one of the foundation pillars of electronic music. Words like ‘innovator’ and ‘pioneer’ get thrown around pretty frequently. Along with Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk (Klaus Schulze and Vangelis to a lesser extent), Jean Michel Jarre  fleshed out a group of musicians that single handedly created electronic music as a scene, and by proxy a ‘little’ genre known as techno, now one of the most popular scenes in the world of music today. His devotion to the synthesizer as an instrument of incalculable creative power cannot be underestimated. Tangerine Dream had a trio of dudes chugging away at the complicated and quirky keyboard beasts-Kraftwerk a quartet. TD, Schulze and Kraftwerk were all German–Jarre was the lone French entry into this uncharted and rarely chart-able music scene. The ability to create sonic tapestries alone, and then dare to try to reproduce them on stage was unique at that time. (a nod to Klaus Schulze here for his multitude of solo improvisational shows). Jarre was able to not only play some impressive shows, but shift some major units all over the world. And draw some impressive crowds.

Bastille Day 1979

On Bastille Day 1979, Jarre played the Place de la Concorde in Paris to one million people, the largest outdoor show at that time. No one had ever seen anything like this before-the city was the stage, as lights fountained everywhere. It was a mastery of live multi media performance where the city itself was the stage, and buildings the backdrops for projections and lasers. It was his first live concert. One million people. Wowza! (see above for most of the show). Jarre controlled lighting cues and somehow managed in the pre-MIDI era to keep everything running, playing Oxygene and Equinoxe in their entirety. It was hard to imagine where to go next.

China 1981

Nobody played China, nobody. Hell nobody WENT to China. But the country was opening to the west, and somehow Jarre got invited to do shows in Shanghai and Beijing. This was China’s first exposure to the west, and it as documented on the excellent Concerts en Chine live album. Electricity was scarce-sections of the city had to be blacked out to provide power for the lights and sound. Jarre became somewhat of a Chinese phenomenon. Hundred of thousands attended.

Houston 1986

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Houston gets weird

Now that he’d figured out how to really set up a live rig, Houston was the setting for the high point of Jarre’s live era. He took over Houston-the sky scrapers bore tarps as projection screens. The generally quiet city became a blueprint for the modern rave scene. A ten piece band hit the stage, and 1.3 million Texans were treated to a full on electronic thundering freakout. Once again, Jarre had to draw excess power from the city grid, browning out the local FBI. Ron McNair, a NASA astronaut was due to play saxophone live from space during the performance, but was killed months previously in the Challenger disaster. Fireworks, lasers, searchlights and hundred foot tall projections transformed the cityscape into the world’s largest stage. (A murky version of the spectacle is above). Highways were closed as cars pulled to a stop to watch the spectacle of a city under a multi color hallucinatory siege. TV reporters struggled to describe the largest urban spectacle since WW2:

 

Paris Bastille Day 1990- la Defense

Seven synthesists and two drummers led a musical charge unlike anything the planet had ever seen. 2.5 million crowded from the Arc de Triomphe to the district of la Defense (the skyscraper district a la Houston). A pyramid stage housed the musicians and singers for the largest performance ever given in history. (for synth heads: a couple of ARP 2600s and two EMS VCS3s were part of the arsenal). Paris was taken over completely in an explosion of light, sound and colour.

Egypt 2000-the Millennium Show

Jarre was asked to perform at the last surviving of the 7 Wonders of the World, the Great Pyramid at Giza for New Years Eve 1999-2000 by the president of Egypt. The logistics for this one were daunting. Sand + synthesizers is a bad equation (ask any Burning Man performer), plus electricity in the desert? Good luck. 120,00 attended.

(a quick aside: Many Egyptologists are aware that there are some difficult to explain anomalies associated with the great pyramid, and that it likely was not designed as a tomb, but as a device. What this device is–well, nobody is sure. Hints from ancient Egyptian texts speak of the ‘activating of the pyramid’ ceremony. The current pyramid is flat topped-the original had a large-ish  white marble scaled down pyramid to continue it to towards a point. This flat topped marble pyramid was topped by a gold pyramid that fit on top, topped by a crystal pyramid, and then the final piece, what they called the ‘mustard seed’. It’s anybody’s guess what this ‘seed’ refers to, the secret is still hidden to this day. Fast forward to 1999, and quietly the Egyptian government discussed the reactivating of the pyramid ceremony as something they might try for the millennium, helicopters lowering pieces into place. Blame it on the fog, blame it on some nervous Egyptian officials talking to Egyptologists who asked “what if this works? We don’t actually know if something might happen?” Discretion being the better part of valor, they-perhaps wisely-decided at the last minute against trying the ceremony)

Boston 2017

As noted above, it was fairly improbable that Jarre would ever tour North America. Fans had long given up any hope of him playing the States. Boston would be fairly low on my list of cities he’d hit, but nevertheless, his first US show of his first ever North American tour landed at the Blue Hills Pavillion, literally on the edge of Boston Harbor, show three of a nine city tour. Opening the show, a low key French DJ spun some Jarre-ish techno. His small DJ booth with no backdrop did not prepare the audience what came next.

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Kraftwerk got nothing on this

 

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Image result for jean michel jarre electronica tour

Image result for jean michel jarre electronica tour

Chain mesh curtains cast three dimensional images in layers, projections flickered everywhere, multicolored lasers fanned the audience. Pieces of the sonically familiar wove in with newer looks. (Like Mike Oldfield, Jarre seems bent on re-creating Oxygene several times. Tubular Bells VII anyone?). Pieces from Oxygene of all eras melted into Equinoxe and continued morphing from borderline techno then back to the classic electronic analog melodies that made his sound so original in the mid 1970’s. setlist here A head mounted go-pro camera gave us a look at his rig, which was fairly high up on a podium. Knobs and dials in bunches swirled by, ensuring us that he was playing this stuff (Kraftwerk in Boston 2015 was less clear about what-or who-was responsible for the sounds).

His session with the laser harp is usually a show highlight. Here in the somewhat weather susceptible venue, Jarre ventured “ok, I’m naught reely sure eef thees will work in zee outdoors, but less geev eet a try”.

Above is him giving it a go in 2016. He dons the gloves, tests the beams, and Boston Harbor shook in a fashion that suggested a Godzilla sized entity might be lurking under the waves somewhere offshore. He nodded: “ok eet works” and he was off. He beckoned to the less than half full audience to come closer to the intimidating stage area, and the crowd gathered closely to the stage.  He began to stick his hands into the laser beams as the crowd gathered ’round. Visually stunning? Sonically stunning?  The pavilion levitated a few centimeters as the earth shifted. It was one of the most literally breathtaking displays I’d seen in electronic music-a visual and audio sensory overload that warped reality. The founder of electronica came to the Boston shore to remind all the laptop and turntable jockeys-“don’t forget where this revolutionary sonic stuff all started…”   You hadda be there.

 

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You should have been ‘ere, oui?

 

When Critics Get It Wrong-“Flash Will Get Huge and Yes Won’t Survive”-A Blast From the Vaults of Rock Obscurity

It’s 1970, and one of the up and coming British bands tapped for success was Yes. The liner notes of their 1969 debut boldly quote Melody Maker critic Tony Wilson who declared that Led Zeppelin and Yes would be the two Brit bands most likely to succeed in 1969  (Nostradamus-wise, Zep perhaps being an easy call, Yes less so). Their debut album got some attention for it’s mash up of unlikely covers and burgeoning musical prowess, but in May 1970, disaster struck the band….

As the second Yes album, Time and a Word was undergoing final tweaks in post production and a tour testing the new material was underway-founding member Peter Banks was shown the door. Or quit, depending on who you  believe. Either way, this was looked upon in the industry as a death knell for Yes. After all, Peter Banks was generally considered to be the heart and soul of the band-fashion savvy, and with a personality and playing style that were open and daring–in marked contrast to the taskmaster persona brought by Jon and the aloof and entitled (some friends said condescending) views of Squire. He had named the band in 1968 when Jon Anderson’s suggestion of ‘Life’ and Chris Squire’s suggestion of ‘World’ were met with indifference. Peter suggested ‘Yes!’ (exclamation and all) as a holding action until they came up with something better. It stuck,  though the exclamation point was dropped quickly.(The less letters in the band name, the larger it shows up on posters noted Peter).  Banks also designed the first Yes logo.

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With a sound fueled by a Gibson ES-335 that was very difficult to define, Banks was able to fuse rhythm and lead guitar sounds simultaneously to make a jazz rock fusion that some said formed the original definition of  progressive rock guitar. Lester Bangs noted of their debut album both the good and the bad in his February 1970 review:

Because all of it is excellently done: brisk fuzz leads, whirring bass, a bit of the Beatles vocally, a touch of Wes Montgomery in the guitar solos—a definitive album, in fact, in the prevalent style of “hip” groups over the past two years. The only trouble is that there are hosts of American bands (and presumably British as well) who are into the same bag with equal facility and taste. The excitement of true innovation is missing—which may not be a valid criticism, since most rock is folk music anyway, but that’s what makes albums like this one so much less arresting than many others…Their version of the Byrds’ “I See You” is especially nice, although none of their own compositions are very memorable.

Image result for yes time and a word      Image result for yes time and a word

The second Yes album cover was hastily reshot for the US version with newly acquired guitarist Steve Howe on the cover, although he didn’t play at all on the record. Howe played a similar style to Banks and his Gibson ES-175 hollow body brought a similar sound to the band as Banks’ ES-335. Howe’s reputation on the circuit was as a low key but tastefully improving guitarist, but not a forceful and flashy personality like Banks. Time and a Word featured some fairly heavy handed orchestral overdubs which stepped all over Banks’ guitar in the mix, and rendered Kaye’s organ work nearly invisible. A short attempt to demo this live in  concert left Banks even more dissatisfied-and he was gone. But with a new guitarist under their wing, the band soldiered on to create their first mini masterpiece, the meticulously ‘assembled from little song bits’ lp the Yes Album. Recorded six months after Banks departure, it brought some new success to the band. But while on tour in 1971, the axe fell again-and founding keyboardist Tony Kaye was left curbside for pickup. Two founding members leaving in a year? Many thought Yes was in big trouble. This is where our story begins:

Flash (clockwise, from left), drummer Mike Hough, bassist Ray Bennett, guitarist Peter Banks and vocalist Colin Carter. 

There is little agreement on the facts surrounding Banks and Kaye’s ouster from the Yes. In one interview Kaye said that Anderson came in his bedroom while he was sleeping off a night out and profoundly hung over. ‘You’re out of the band” said Jon and Kaye later said “I just grunted, mostly relieved that he was leaving the room so I could sleep more”

An early 1972 Rolling Stone article noted the difference of opinions as to what had transpired:


Tony Kaye and Pete Banks have now come together and formed their own band, Flash, which is currently working its way around the club and dance hall circuit.  Their departures from Yes are explained by Jon:  “They didn’t leave- we decided to get someone else.  It doesn’t help them to say that.  We’ve always said that Tony decided to leave the band because it’d get him a better situation. The truth is that we blew them out because they weren’t really into what we were trying to get together . . . Peter was a bit lazy, that’s why. He liked his clothes a bit more than his music.  Tony had a marvelous mind, he was a great guy to talk to, but he didn’t have so many ideas.  He wasn’t willing to expound himself.”

Jon and Tony seem to agree that he was tossed, Peter however disagrees (from the same early 1972 article):

  Pete Banks still doesn’t quite see that things happened the way Jon described.  “I decided to make a move more than anything,” he explained one evening, sitting on the floor of his basement flat.  On the walls were reminders of his stay with the band – posters, photographs and an album sleeve.  “I only made the decision though after I’d given it a lot of thought. Luckily Yes were strong enough to get a new guitarist, rehearse and get it back on the road.”  From his point of view Yes had become a mechanical band producing music that was less than human.  He remembered the times when he and Bruford had gone through the motions of clocking in and out on live performances, and how it [was] really only half a joke for them. “We’d go on each night knowing we’d go down well,” he said.”We’d got things worked out to that degree.  Yes always went for the technique approach, whereas with Flash we’re going for the feel.  Yes tends to lack feel.  Sometimes it’s good to make mistakes to show you’re human and that it’s not being made by a machine.  I don’t think Fragile was human.  You couldn’t fault it in any other way though.”

Peter seemed to reverse himself  and took a more distanced view of what happened in a 2006 interview:

Peter: I was kicked out, simple as that. I’ve never really found out why, to be honest. I think it was mostly musical. We hit a really bad period where we had quite a lot of work and rehearsals. I think the musical reason was, and I’m kinda guessing here, I think I lacked a certain amount of structure, and Steve came in to replace me, he was a more structured player, where my approach always has been really, I don’t like to play the same thing twice.

Obviously you have structure within music, but if someone says ‘I like what you played last week can you play it again?’ chances are I probably won’t, I’ll go out of my way to play something different, with a new spin on it. If you’re a lead singer, that kind of puts lead singers out. I think that might have been a reason but I don’t know.

I think Jon mentioned in a recent interview, where he was talking about Yes guitar players, he was very frustrated that I never played the same thing twice. Same with Bill, us two were a bit of a loose cannon. Because we were playing the same things night after night after night, we would like to screw around with it.

Rolling Stone in their review of 1971’s Fragile also took note of some of the complaints Banks had pointed out about Yes’ shortcomings:

  Some problems remain, however: They’re good and they know it, so they tend to succumb to the show-off syndrome. Their music (notably “Cans and Brahms” and “We Have Heaven”) often seems designed only to impress and tries too hard to call attention to itself. Is anyone really still excited by things like “Five tracks on this album are individual ideas, personally arranged and organized by the five members of the band..etc.”

Melody Maker echoed this in 1971: ‘Fragile’ does not seem to go anywhere or have any theme except displaying Yes’ technical ability …   It’s all a little too much like exercises, clever and beautifully played”.

 (A quick aside: Jon wasn’t averse to taking some dodgy chances with Yes-like recording around this time, as a Faberge commercial was recorded during the sessions for the studio version of America:     Another project which was waiting to be recorded when “America”  finally reached the can was a 60-second commercial for Faberge-
Put a little music on and hear it play/ Put a little music on from Faberge.
They’d even got a nice little arrangement for the band to set the lyrics to, but Jon wanted to it his way. He decided to use the same technique he used on “We Have Heaven” on the Fragile album, where they overlay vocal tracks from their own music. ” I think it’s worth it,” said Jon.”Not for the money we’re getting, but because it’ll be a nice little song when it’s done the way I want it. I didn’t want a dinky little song. Anyway, the more people that hear our music the better.”)

Whatever the facts were, two important founding members of Yes had joined forces in 1971 to create a band that echoed the early sound of Yes, but emphasized feeling over technique, and playing for the sheer joy of creation over the construction of things far removed from the emotional immediacy of rock n roll. People were excited.

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Although he is listed as a full member on their debut album, Tony Kaye was always viewed as a sideman in this project according to both Kaye and Banks (there were high hopes he’d stay on) Still, this fact escaped the music press, and Flash were viewed as a back to roots version of Yes, something that is less evident as desirable today as it was back in 1971. With the guitarist and keyboardist who’d provided most of the musical ‘sound’ to the parent band now in a new project-who could say which one would come out on top?

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https://ronkanefiles.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/flash_new.jpg?w=1440&h=712Their debut album in 1972 was decidedly Yes-like. Band members Mike Hough on drums, Ray Bennett on bass and the noticeably Jon Anderson-ish Colin Carter on vocals made up the quartet. Bennett had some prog-cred even in his teenage years: he’d been in a band with Bill Bruford at age 15, and rubbed elbows in bands with musicians who ended up in Gentle Giant, Man and Gun. The album cover by Hipgnosis was ambiguously created to impart a sauciness when viewed in the racks, but entirely confusing as to whether it was a front or rear shot when folded out. Small Beginnings, the first single, charted on both sides of the pond (top 30 in US Billboard) and things looked bright.

Children of the Universe, another highlight, accentuated the Yes vibe. Diddits and rahoovyahs straight out of The Yes Album were the frosting on the dexterous and constantly changing instrumental underpinnings. Banks was able to knit together some impressive runs that challenged the depth of his earlier work with Yes. His runs became even more jazz-like than in Yes, approaching a territory the Robert Fripp had dipped his toes into during the early days of King Crimson, yet Banks created a more successful hybridization of rock and jazz stylings. Although this album didn’t make the waves some critics were expecting, it did well enough to warrant a second album release, and many Yes fans snapped this up instantly. In retrospect, this was a fine response to  The Yes Album. Fragile? Well there was no challenger to Roundabout here, but the earlier notation by Banks that Fragile was hampered by sterility of playing shows the difference of opinions that led to his departure. Besides, Fragile only contained four actual songs.

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Fully keyboard-less, the band delivered their sophomore effort, just as strong as their debut. Titled Flash in the Can, a name that punned on  the sophomoric cover. Like the first album, this one also flaunted the ‘sex will sell this album, dammit!” as it likewise folded out to a more salacious version. Despite the word flash meaning ‘fancy and cool’ in British slang, the record company was intent on another meaning of flash for the public to grab onto. One thing was sure at this point-Flash could jam live.

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Banks reveals anti-gravity guitar solo effect

The second album contains what many consider their finest musical moment, There No More. Overall, this album hangs together better than their debut, despite the lack of a proper keyboardist. The first two albums are definitely essential for any Yes fan. Critics weren’t so sure that a progressive rock band could cut it without keyboards, but Banks fretwork here ups the ante from the debut. Check out this:

Despite being perhaps even more overtly Yes-like (albeit an early version of Yes), their second album didn’t get the attention it deserved.Songwriting credit for Banks was limited to a half a song, as Ray Bennett was revealed as the principle songwriter-Banks crafted his guitar in and around songs. Maddeningly,  despite a full US tour spending a large chunk of  1972 in the States with the likes of Foghat, Savoy Brown, Wishbone Ash, Three Dog Night, Beck Bogert and Appice, Black Sabbath, Genesis, Alice Cooper, Mott the Hoople and Humble Pie, the band’s fortunes only slightly crept onward. A second US tour in December of 1972 did see them headlining many of their own shows, and a full billboard graced the streets of Los Angeles next to the Whiskey-A-Go-Go.

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Their 1973 album, Out of Our Hands continued the ‘boobs n butts’ theme, with hands and knuckles cleverly taking the place of arched backs and bums. The band had been sued for their name, forcing the record company to call the band ‘Flash featuring England’s Peter Banks’, much to the consternation of his hard working band mates. Sure Banks was still the draw, even three albums in, but his musical mates chafed at the change. They  played at least 65 US shows on an arduous tour from early August to mid November, finally imploding on November 17, 1973 with seven shows remaining to the tour-which all had to be canceled. Dissension and fatigue combined with the inability to get to the next level to finally destroy the band. According to Bennett, the problems 
all came down to Banks: “He
 was almost entirely to blame for the early Flash breakup, and for a major 
amount of friction and unrest in our
 camp — and not just with the band
— almost everyone around us, too:
 manager, producer, Capitol Records
 and others. I’ve restrained myself
 from just saying it bluntly in the past,
 but Flash didn’t just ‘implode on the
 road’. We’d had enough of Banks.”Some information on their dissolution can be found in an interview with Carter and Bennett here.

Banks takes a more distant, but similar view of the break-up in 2006, acknowledging he might have been a problem:

 We didn’t last long, but we were very creative, we made 3 albums in 2 years. But business things were very bad, we needed new management, I was very unhappy. What turned out to be our last tour was very Spinal Tap, I wasn’t even traveling with the guys, I would show up sometimes 10 minutes before the show, and I  probably acted like a real asshole at the time.

We broke up in New Mexico with 4 more gigs to go, very unfortunate thing to happen. I tried and I tried after that, because it was like a divorce. For 2 years we’d been working so intensely, we were getting better but the audiences were dropping off. We were playing with bands we shouldn’t have played with.

I had wondered about some of the bills they had been booked on during the US tour. They had more success here than in the UK, and it made sense to try to capitalize on the buzz created by the first album and single, but really…Three Dog Night and Flash on tour together? Grand Funk? Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show? A gig is a gig I suppose, but a more concerted effort to get them in front of an appreciative audience by  their management is perhaps the biggest spike driven into their possible success.
An easy example-Genesis was in the States in 1973, and Flash would have been the perfect opening act on that bill. Perhaps they were trying a bit too hard to shake the perception that they were a junior varsity version of Yes and were their own band by playing with folks not even close to their more technically adept stylings.

  Image result for peter banks flash

Image result for flash colin carter   Image result for flash ray bennett

In retrospect, it’s easy to see that Flash wasn’t going to hit the same level as Yes. But in 1971, things weren’t as easy to predict. Half of Yes strikes out on their own, leaving only the singer, drummer and bassist? You can see how those paying attention might be wont to plunk their ducats on the dark horse in this race. To this day, the first two Flash albums stand up extremely well against their peer group of B-division progressive rock bands of the early 70’s, (hell it even stands up fairly well against pre-Close to the Edge Yes.)  And the world would have to wait a few more years for the next even more  derivative Yes clone band to hit the floorboards, (though lacking the cachet of real Yes members)…..Starcastle.

But for now, let’s just ruminate on some small beginnings with large aspirations. One more pass through with Flash on US TV in 1972:

New Year’s Eve 2016 Beacon Theater NYC-Where’s My Mule?

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New Year’s Eve at the Beacon Theater in New York City is a New Years event that flies under a lot of people’s radar, but is one of the strongest traditions for Mule heads for their ‘gather from everywhere’ end of the year party.  And what a year it was-it seemed like about 10% of all rock stars departed the planet this last year. Starting with Lemmy’s departure right after XMas 2015, opening your computer to the news page was a hazardous adventure for music lovers in 2016. A who’s who of rock legends passed away in 2016: 2/3 of ELP with Keith Emerson and Greg Lake (perhaps leaving the official band now as just “and Palmer”), David Bowie, Prince, Paul Kantner, Leon Russell, Leonard Cohen, Glen Frey (perhaps even George Michael might get a mention as a ‘rock star’).  Even famous sidemen shuffled off in droves: Buffin Griffin (Mott the Hoople drummer), Scotty Moore (pretty much created rock lead guitar as Elvis Presley’s  guitarist from 1954-1968), Bernie Worrell (keyboardist for not only all the Funkadelic and Parliament recordings, but keys on the essential Talking Heads live stuff as well), Rob Wasserman (acoustic bass player and sideman with Jerry Garcia but more well know for his long stint in Bob Weir’s Rat Dog). And this was only a partial list of the departed. While the usually cagey Mule always left the fans guessing until a couple of weeks before the show as to the guests and the theme, this year they stayed tight lipped right up until show time. An examination of the above logo did seem to contain some hints-the Bowie style lightning bolt on the ‘2’, the Prince-esque swirl on the ‘1’. A top hat and what appears to be a flashlight seemed to signify Leon Russell, and perhaps the flashlight was Bernie Worrell? Beyond that- nobody was talking.

The hints given were spot on, as the set list reveals:

 

New York, NY
2016/12/31

SET ONE
01 New Year’s Eve [a]
02 Larger Than Life
03 Thorazine Shuffle >
04 Funny Little Tragedy* >
05 Thorazine Shuffle (Reprise)
06 Child Of The Earth
07 Which Way Do We Run >
08 Brighter Days
09 Birth Of The Mule** [b]
10 Sco-Mule*** [b]

SET TWO
01 Maggot Brain**** > [c,d] Funkadelic cover
02 Flash Light [c,d,e] FTP Parliament cover
03 Red Hot Mama [c,d,e] FTP Funkadelic cover
04 Tight Rope [c,d,e] FTP Leon Russell cover
05 Delta Lady [c,d,e] Leon Russell cover
06 Take It Easy [e] FTP Eagles cover
07 Already Gone [e] FTP Eagles cover
08 100 Days, 100 Nights [d,e] FTP Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings cover
09 Midnight Rider [c,d,e] Allman Brothers cover/Sharon Jones
10 Lucky Man [d,e] FTP Emerson Lake and Palmer cover
11 Hallelujah [f] Leonard Cohen cover
12 Bird On A Wire [d,e] Leonard Cohen cover
13 Angel Band > [e]
14 Mama Tried [e] FTP Merle Haggard cover
15 Shining Star > [c,d,e] FTP Earth Wind and Fire cover
16 Getaway [c,d,e] FTP Earth Wind and Fire cover
17 Descending [c] Black Crowes cover (keyboardist Eddie Harsch died in November)
18 All The Young Dudes [d,e,g] FTP Mott the Hoople/David Bowie cover
19 Rebel Rebel [c,g] FTP David Bowie cover
20 Kiss [c,d,e,g] FTP Prince cover
21 Let’s Go Crazy [c,d,e,g] FTP Prince cover
Encore
22 Encore Call
23 Purple Rain > [c,d,e,g,h] FTP Prince cover
24 All The Young Dudes (Reprise) [c,d,e,g,h] FTP Mott/Bowie

* w/ Message In A Bottle lyrics
** w/ Hottentot tease
*** w/ Smoke on the Water tease
**** w/ Auld Lang Syne theme
FTP = First Time Played
[a] Warren Solo
[b] Oz Noy, Guitar
[c] Marc Quiñones, Precussion
[d] Chronic Horns
[e] Jasmine Muhammad & The Sweet ’16 Singers
[f] w/o Matt Abts & Jorgen Carlsson
[g] Jimmy Vivino, Guitar
[h] Marcus King, Guitar

Note: Chronic Horns: Pam Fleming, Jenny Hill & Buford O’Sullivan; Jasmine Muhammad & the Sweet ’16 Singers (Tamara Jade, Tesia Kwarteng).

Let’s tally that up:

Funkadelic/Parliament-3

Prince- 3

Earth Wind and Fire-2

Bowie (and Mott the Hoople) -2

Eagles-2

Leon Russell-2

Leonard Cohen-2

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings-2 (if you count Midnight Rider, which she covered)

ELP-1

Black Crowes (their keyboardist Eddie Harsch died in November)-1

Merle Haggard-1

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card given out at doors
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the list of the fallen-with disclaimer

Set One started sparsely with Warren’s solo spot “New Year’s Eve”, one of many songs debuted by Mule this night. The set crackled along with some additional energy from guest guitarist Oz, culminating in a fairly hard charging one two punch of Birth of a Mule -> Sco-Mule. Set one ended on a real high point. The big question was what would the second set bring?

Maggot Brain was mind melting, with an extra ‘fuck 2016′ tape loop playing under Funkadelic’s spoken word intro, as Warren’s guitar poured liquid fire lines tantalizingly slowly through the theater. Then….things changed. With “Flashlight, Mule took off on a gospel/r&b/funk jag for most of the rest of the night.  The  beautiful a capella Hallelujah from Leonard Cohen has been a part of their set from time to time, and though expected, was powerful in Warren’s solo delivery, and a break in the big band vibe. But overall looking at the set, that’s a mighty funk/r&b heavy set for a year that lost some mighty big rockers. Keeping in mind Mule’s psychedelic jam roots as one of the big three of sixties psychedelic bands who could really stretch it out: Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers-one wonders where the fuck was any mention of Paul Kantner, leader of Jefferson Airplane?  Any bone to throw to Garcia and Weir sideman Rob Wasserman? Instead we get TWO Eagles songs? (overheard at the theater as they entered their second consecutive Eagles tune “I’m going to have to go backstage to speak with Warren ’bout this shit…”). A double shot of Earth Wind and Fire in tribute to Maurice White was a slightly odd choice, as was a double shot from the relatively unknown Sharon Jones. Where was ‘Young Man Blues’, a song they’ve done before and made famous by the Who, for Mose Allison? At this point I was quietly hoping for a short Motorhead cover to set things right, but no. Although the six horns/back up singers and one to two guest guitarists per song gave an overly busy sameiness to the arrangements, the crowd was fairly delirious throughout the whole thing.   I thought it was a definite improvement over the AC/DC flub two years ago, but a Mule was a bit penned up as a funk/r & b outfit.

Maybe it was a matter of ‘too much frosting isn’t always the best thing for the cake’ syndrome. Some of the specialness of Mule is the interplay of the quartet, with large areas left for Warren to…testify via electric guitar. When there’s ten to twelve people onstage at all times, something has to give to keep things from degenerating into undifferentiated musical mayhem. And hey, I like frosting….

 

 

And yet…

Like the 2014 New Years show as AC/DC, it felt amiss somehow. Certainly not as adrift as that show was, as chronicled here, where Warren had painted himself into an artistic corner pretty quickly, and was reduced to an overly talented AC/DC tribute band with no room to jam out songs, this show was quite different: a possible array of amazing tunes to choose from with the theme of ‘recently departed’ as the unspoken thread holding the night together. (btw, where was the Star Wars tease, Warren?)

Mule New Year’s shows can pull out some of the most amazing music in their rather large repertoire, and can be known for some Page Six worthy name dropping of guest stars. Robbie Krieger sat in for a whole Doors New Years set in 2013, Corky Laing from Mountain in 2010, Toots Hibbert from Toots and the Maytals, Gregg Allman, Bill Evans from Miles Davis’s 80’s band, David Hidalgo from Los Lobos, Myles Kennedy as lead singer in 2014 (the last singer for Led Zeppelin after Plant left in 2007), Ron Holloway (who’d played with Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and Freddie Hubbard)….. if ever there was a year that was ripe for some star power, this was it. With the list of departed bands to pick from (anyone from Prince and the Revolution, any of Bowie’s bands, anyone from Funkadelic, Joe Walsh from the Eagles, someone from Jefferson Airplane (or Starship)..hell Carl Palmer fercrissakes? Instead we get fairly under the radar session men: Jimmy Vivino from the Tonight Show Band, Oz Noy (an Israeli guitarist who got his US chops with Will Lee and Anton Fig of David Letterman’s Late Show band), Marcus King (guitarist who debuted last year on Warren Haynes’ own label) and Marc Quinones from the latter day Allman Brothers. Huh? Talk show band guys in a year of all star departures? This wasn’t exactly the star power one might expect for a show honoring so many departed artists. No offense to the above guests, but if the statement at the end of 2016 was, to paraphrase Dylan Thomas-‘Rage against the dying light’ (of original old school rock n roll that is,) then it left one wishing a bit more work had been done on gathering some surprise guests to generate a little more musical rage.

Overall, not a noble failure, but very close. I’d had a blast, Mule had shown a side that we rarely get to see, but somehow I felt a little empty at the end. In a year of rock departures, Mule chose to pull a gospel/funk/R & B trip out.  I know it’s not easy to get musicians to fly in from across the world to hitch their wagon to someone else’s horse, but on the way out a pontificating drunk guy summed up what many were thinking  about too much gospel and the lack of full on rock power in the show, yelling loudly to no one in particular:

“Where’s My Mule?”

As the tape for Maggot Brain said:  “Fuck 2016”. Let’s hope for a better year this year folks. Rock on-carwreck.

 

The Best Bands You’ve Never Heard of: Van Der Graaf Generator: “Camps of Panolply and Majesty-Meet Tortured Soul and Refugee”

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Van der Graaf Generator is another band that is criminally unknown is the common era. Even among neo-prog twenty somethings, their name usually elicits blank stares. It isn’t until you hit rock kids that are tipping in at the late forties early fifties end of the spectrum will you be greeted with knowing nods and slow smiles. Because those people still know what has now become a bit of a secret-Van der Graaf Generator were one of the most challenging and influential bands in the world in the early and mid 1970’s. One of the big ones. But they seem to be slipping from the zeitgeist of musical gatekeepers. This needs to be addressed.

Name checked by a wide variety of artists (John Lydon of the Sex Pistol/PIL, Marc Almond of Soft Cell, Graham Coxon of Blur,Mark Smith of the Fall, John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden and Julian Cope of general psychedelic fame. Even Geddy Lee of Rush mentions them briefly in an interview) Van der Graaf made an imprint on rock in four very short years from 1969-1972 that is still reverberating through music today. How could a band this unknown have influenced such a wide variety of bands, and how have they seemed to have flown under everyone’s radar?

One reason is the lineup– having no guitar player in a rock band in the late sixties or early seventies was not something that would play to your benefit. Electric guitar is the heart of rock, right? How about no bass player AND no guitarist? Unthinkable. So the line up of the classic quartet of Peter Hammill, Guy Evans, Hugh Banton and David Jackson? Piano, drums, organ and sax.  What? But the people who were watching music closely (ya know, the folks who could correctly tell you King Crimson was a much more advanced proposition than Yes or Genesis, and why) could tell you that this band was something special.

Iconoclasts in philosophical bent, lyrical bent and certainly in musical ideas-Van der Graaf was a loose collective of ever changing musicians trying something new in a field of musicians currently defining what new was. Rock was really changing big time in early 1967 London-Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Cream, Traffic? You could walk into clubs and see them playing to crowds of a hundred or so. A Beatle or a Rolling Stone or two might be in that crowd. Pop fluff was being scattered to the winds, and an intellectual wave of literature, philosophy, drugs, mysticism, ufo investigation and science fiction imagery had bubbled into rock. The Hammill led band proceeded in an organ driven Arthur Brown vein, but the next two years saw them shuffling line ups, guitarists, bassists, hiring session men who would become band members, getting signed to Charisma (future home of Genesis), and putting out a solo Peter Hammill album out as a Van der Graaf Generator lp…they stopped to assess things in 1969. Band equipment stolen, contract hassles with labels (Mercury, Charisma, Polydor)-things needed to settle. With the departure in 1970 of Nic Potter, Banton began bashing away on bass with both feet on organ pedals while using both hands to create most of the meat of the song-saxophone and drums barking in reeling consonance.

Image result for pawn hearts inner sleeve

Image result for pawn hearts sleeve

The quartet era of the band from 1970-1972 is the stuff of legends. (their 1975 reunion is also worthy as is their work up until this day). Their master piece, Pawn Hearts in 1972 is the quiet cousin  of King Crimson’s better work. Fripp actually dips in for some of his most inventive session work in his career for these guys The inner sleeve of Pawn Hearts was something I didn’t see for a while (the US version wasn’t gatefold), and it is unsettling in a dada-esque tableaux. An unsettling vocal jazz version of a King Crimson-esque approach to music supported by drums, organ and sax is an unlikely combination for a band that could inspire riotous fan behavior, but this band certainly did, especially in Italy in 1972, where three tours supported this album. Hugh Banton playing bass with his feet on organ pedals upon Nic Potter’s departure, Peter Hammill a genius of vocal histrionics, and able to twist the throat of a phrase and make it spit out some truth was worthy of the poets of a brit century ago, hey stir in some eloquent piano and slashing acoustic guitar as well.

A good introduction to the band is with their last work with their bass player Nic Potter in 1970, Pioneers Over C, all 12 minutes of it:

 Van der Graaf Generator are also one of the big finalists in the ‘best side long song ever’ -prog rock is usually understood here-among the best of the best. Close to the Edge? Supper’s Ready?
The third choice is usually A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, side two of Pawn Hearts. Never performed live (except once in pieces and repieced for Belgian TV right before they broke up). Below is that Belgian appearance of Plague (I urge you to watch this in its 24 minute entirety to understand how this song is one of the big ones-
Nice epitaph to a civilization teetering on the edge of breakthrough from 45 years ago in Manchester. These guys are one of the best of the best, yet somehow have slipped through many cracks. You like Yes? King Crimson? Magma? ELP? Genesis? Area? PFM? Freaky pre-goth vocals okay? I might have your band right here. Lyrically, there’s more angst in a single Van der Graaf song than two full Nirvana albums. This is an overload of powerful psychic outburst that might fry the fragile subwirings of delicate millenials, yet showed up in 75% of their core stuff. Insanely essential rock band, one of the best of the early seventies by a long shot.
             Image result for the least we can do is wave van der graaf          Image result for h to h van der graaf     Pawn Hearts (Van der Graaf Generator album - cover art).jpg
Get all three of those albums, immediately. If King Crimson scared the Moody Blues out of signing them to their label in 1969 as reported, then this is the only band that could scare King Crimson.
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This is the stuff of legends, legends that some now haven’t even heard of, which is disturbing. One more time:  grab all THREE of these albums right now. Sure, there was a 1975 reunion, with Godbluff and Still life in 1975 and 1976 respectively nearing the bar set so high in 1972. But this article is about the big three from 1970-1972.  More angst than how many Nirvana albums? In a field of bands that are almost literally undefinable in sound, this band defies description. You up for a challenge in your listening diet? This kind of band is what happens when you actually pay attention to everything that has come before, a quantum leap in creativity can create a break with the predecessors.

Camps of panoply and majesty, what is Freedom of Choice?
Where do I stand in the pageantry…whose is my voice?
It doesn’t feel so very bad now: I think the end is the start.
Begin to feel very glad now:
ALL THINGS ARE A PART
ALL THINGS ARE APART
ALL THINGS ARE A PART.