Tag Archives: Alice Cooper

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

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-

 

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Microphone seeks escape velocity

 

 

 

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,  Steve Morse and Don Airey still provide a formidable line up for any vintage rock band in 2017-essentially not one replacement part: three  original members Morse 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.

 

 

 

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David Bowie-the Anti Chameleon: Will the Real Davy Jones Please Stand Up?

Rock stars seem to be dropping like flies lately. In reality, important rock personages have been shuffling off the mortal coil since the trifecta of Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison all pulled the curtain closed at age 27. But the one-two whammy of Lemmy and Bowie in under two weeks has left the rock world reeling. That the both of them died less than a week after their birthdays only adds an eeriness to the tale. Lemmy was the one that really hit hard, for many folks thought they had a bead on Lemmy-everyone’s fabled disreputable but lovable uncle. (just keep him away from your little sister and the liquor cabinet). But David Bowie was more enigmatic. Able to shed personalities like a snake shedding skins, the real David Bowie was very hard to pin down. The question is, did a real David Bowie exist under all those layers? Let’s see:

Which One Is Davy Jones?

Sometimes there’s just not enough room for two people in one place. Davy Jones and the Manish Boys were on track under Shel Talmy’s (the Who) guidance towards success-singles and selected high exposure gigs. Things weren’t perfect, but then in 1966 something happened, a US television show. Perhaps the meteoric rise of the Monkees in 1966 caught everyone unaware. But as Bowie wrote to an American fan in 1967: “In answer to your questions, my real name is David Jones and I don’t have to tell you why I changed it” ‘Nobody’s going to make a monkey out of you’ said Bowie’s manager.  The name change to David Bowie was necessary. (Of note is his 1965 encounter with session guitarist Jimmy Page. Jones/Bowie grabbed an unused riff from Page that he held on to for the perfect moment, resurfacing five years later on The Man Who Sold the World as The Supermen).

Glamming on to a Trend

                                     Alice                                            David

The glam movement was just getting started in the late 60’s. Guys started wearing make up and dresses, dropped hints that they might be gay, strapped on guitars, and rocked out. An early pioneer, Alice Cooper (first the name of a band, then later the name of the singer) had workshopped  the ‘guy pretending to be a girl thing’. In Britain, homosexuality was becoming popular (it had been illegal in that country until 1967). Though it took until 1972 for him to declare himself gay (possibly a publicity stunt to promote the bisexual character Ziggy Stardust that was his persona for the next two years), he embraced the controversy and the ink it generated in the music press. Regardless, the androgynous Bowie character went huge. Starting with the hugely influential Space Oddity single (which seems to have drastically higher production value than the rest of the LP, indications of the need to get an album out quickly), Bowie seemed to have the grand plan already in mind-space themes and dystopia with a hint of hippy pop.  The follow up,  1970’s The Man Who Sold the World found Bowie hitting a rough but powerful outline of what was to come next, with three quarters of the future Spiders already in place. Width of a Circle is a good picture of the imminent future, and a dystopian party it was going to be. The musicianship of the Spiders From Mars band-Mick Ronson, Woody Woodmansey and Trevor Bolder had a lot to do with this incarnation becoming the real life version of the fantasy. The combination of Bowie and Ronson was unbeatable at the time for spinning out anthem after anthem. 1971’s Hunky Dory brought in fans drawn to this guy who might be a hippy (Glastonbury Fayre appearance), might be a faux stoner trying to be cool (Davy Jones background), might be some half-alien spacerocker trying to get a cult together?  The latter choice  was closest to the truth. But fans gathered to the freak flag Bowie was flying, and the party was about to begin in earnest. The stage was ready for The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, Bowie’s acknowledged masterpiece. A loose rock opera of sorts, it is a dystopian tale with a hint of 60’s utopian optimism. Everyone should own this record.(The fictional glam alien pop star Ziggy that takes the world over was supposedly based on the name and persona of the over the top persona and groundbreaking ambiguous sexuality of Iggy Pop).

“Well the bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar
You’re the blessed, we’re the Spiders from Mars”

Ziggy drew huge crowds wherever he went. Arenas and halls filled up across the Europe, America, Japan and of course, the UK. They played 174 shows from February 1972 to July 1973. They had conquered the world in fashion akin to what was accomplished recently by Led Zeppelin. This was far more than just a band-the whole trip promised was a lifestyle that fans wondering where the promise of the festival generation had gone had been waiting for- a glass asylum with just a hint of mayhem. The hippies, the glam kids, the new pill druggies, the sci-fi futurists–the optimists and pessimists of the post commune era had been searching for something to fill this unfulfilled dream. This was a utopia of sex, drugs and rock n roll as a way of living. Not a cliche,  but a real outlet from reality that you could stay in permanently, with Ziggy as their leader. Ziggy was becoming a reality, the messiah that was only words scrawled into an album coming to life-a real cult leader with a real cult following. But it wasn’t really clear where Ziggy started and Bowie ended. They started to fuse into one personality, which in a haze of drugs and decadence, must have been a little concerning.  When Bowie announced his retirement live in concert, there were gasps of disbelief in the crowd. Fans were aghast that he had taken off the Ziggy persona like a cheap Halloween costume and crumpled it in the corner, ending their dreams.

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

  US original cover and 1972 reissue

MWSTWUS2.jpgDavid Bowie - Hunky Dory.jpg ZiggyStardust.jpg

A Lad Insane?

You’d have to be nuts to walk away from the fame (and cash) that Ziggy brought in. His retirement? A publicity stunt. You see, only Ziggy was retiring, not David. Bowie’s next tweak wasn’t that radical. Aladdin Sane was huge in America, and those that missed the Spiders From Mars tour were sure not to miss this one. The next two albums did not stray too far from home. The lightning bolt became his icon, and glam burst full force in America, spawning bands from the New York Dolls to Kiss, signaling even the early Ramones to put on make up, wear dresses, act gay, and hope to get famous.

His decision on Diamond Dogs to not have a star guitarist in the band, and hold down guitar duties on his own was a hubris motivated mistake. His limited skills on guitar held back some fairly impressive songs from becoming full blown rock legends. Still, this album ranks as one of his best, and is the last in the trio that started with Ziggy. Rock n Roll was about to run its course for Bowie. The three album arc for an invented personality though? This was a format to stay on.  (Many Bowie fans point to these three albums as the essential Bowie, a point I essentially agree with).

Blue and Green Eyed Soul

Bowie’s next move puzzled many. Gone were the dresses, the futuristic sci-fi costumes, the make up, the platform shoes-the whole thing. Many fans were crushed when Bowie became the Thin White Duke: a cigarette smoking, smoky eyed soul singer. Demure zoot suit era costumes were modernized to fit in with his new ‘cool persona’ . 1975’s Young Americans kicked this off. R n B and Philadelphia soul? A natural for a skinny white boy from Brixton, right? Soul was huge in America, and though he had a solid fan base, radio hadn’t caught on until Young Americans. Station to Station continued the run, and the Ziggy kids were perplexed and pissed, feeling ditched by their hero who had laid out the blueprint of a whole lifestyle. Fame and Young Americans had supplanted the alien pied piper. Carlos Alomar came on as guitarist, but couldn’t get the things out of Bowie that Ronson could. Never again would Bowie have a muse like Mick Ronson.

Station to Station cover.jpg

Nothing says soul like being surrounded by black people,  and his appearance on Soul Train either validates his new persona or is uncomfortable in the extreme. Perhaps a little bit of both?

Krautrock Here We Come

The next trio of albums was started in Berlin. Krautrock had been noticed throughout Europe, and the flamboyant and odd Amon Duul II and equally strange Faust had left the playing field to the instrumentalists. Bands like Cluster, Harmonia, Can, Kraftwerk (see V2 Schneider from Heroes), la Dusseldorf and Tangerine Dream had been left standing. Mostly  instrumental, these bands had created a sound-they were stark and brooding-and ambient. Bowie saw and Bowie liked. He contacted ambient music pioneer Brian Eno to come to Berlin and absorb the vibes of a dark and brooding city, and make some music. Eno was essential to this new sound, and the new image-part performance art, part disaffected rock star, part coke head trying to kick a nasty habit. Many Bowie fans point to the trilogy of Low, Heroes and Lodger as his peak period, and perhaps the only view of the ‘real’ Bowie he allowed us to see.

Low (album).jpg  

Scary MTV Monsters

The follow up to Lodger didn’t exactly light up the charts-it was a frightening thought to have a 1980’s Bowie for many. Robert Fripp and the then new instrument guitar synthesizer played by Chuck Hammer tried to fill the gaping hole left by Eno’s departure. It spawned the classic tune Fashion, but others noticed the album was filled with references from his past, especially an update on Major Tom.

A three year layoff and a huge new record contract with EMI (as he jumped ship from RCA) led to an unexpected renaissance. Let’s Dance, released in 1983 garnered a lot of attention, and the rise of MTV gave it a boost that no one could have predicted. With the relatively unknown Stevie Ray Vaughan on lead guitar, and the ultra slick disco era Chic’s Nile Rodgers as a producer, a streamlined dance floor ready MTV icon was created. The guitar work of Vaughan kept some of his older fans in the fold while new fans flocked to the banner in hordes. The album went straight to number one in the UK, and scrapped its way to number four in the States. Following the pattern of three, it was followed by the generally inferior Tonight in 1984 and the generally ignored Never Let Me Down in 1987.

David-bowie-lets-dance.jpg Tonight (album).jpg Never-Let-Me-Down.jpg

In the mid sixties, Bowie had said that all he wanted to do was be Mick Jagger. In 1985, his dream came true in the magnificently horrific ‘Dancing in the Streets’ duet with Jagger. A video so amazingly ill advised, the US animated television show Family Guy showed it in its entirety, without comment. That moment in a show that never used live footage said more than any words could ever say -a unique combination of awe and disbelief for mid 80’s cocaine decisions:

Folks rightfully thought it was over, and Bowie was generally put into the ‘where are they now’ category. For those puzzled by the duet with Bing Crosby, this duet was viewed as the nadir of his career. He needed something to revive his flagging prospects.

I Am a Musician In a Band, Not a Pop Star

Tin Machine was a surprise in 1988. Bowie was no longer an MTV star, poster fodder for tweens bedroom walls. Though his reputation was headed towards  ‘fading former video icon’, he was now a musician in a band, Tin Machine. With Reeves Gabrels as the guitar hero for a musical foil, and Soupy Sales’ kids-Hunt Sales and Tony Sales as a rhythm section, this unit seemed headed for stardom. Bowie trying to get his rock cred back, twenty years after Space Oddity? Sure, I’m in. Trying to ditch all of the unwanted fans that Let’s Dance had created? Admirable. But there was a problem. Perhaps due to an inability to write a single good song, the seriousness with which this was presented sank like an overloaded freighter presented with a large ocean wave. It sank agonizingly slowly. The follow up was met with even more disdain. Apparently Bowie was not ‘a musician in a band.’ An admirable failure.  (the live album is mildly entertaining).

Tin-machine album.jpg The European album cover, showing 4 greek Koroi statues and the name of the band Tin-machine oy.jpg

Revisiting the Past to Nine Inch Nails Here We Come

Black Tie White Noise brought Bowie into the 90’s. Released in 1993, Nile Rodgers was back on board. So was Reeves Gabrels from Tin Machine. Add in a cameo by Mick Ronson from the Spiders From Mars and you have a two decade reunion on one disc. It hit number one in the UK, but barely made the top 40 in the States. It was scattered and showed that Bowie might be grabbing at any ideas he had left over. The next albums did little to dissuade anyone leaning towards this theme. By 1995, techno and industrial music was huge. Former underground bands like Prodigy, Nine Inch Nails and Ministry had developed large followings, and new tastes were trending towards raucous electronics. Bowie sniffed the wind and adjusted accordingly. Outside in 1995 and Earthling in 1997 felt like he was being led by the trends a bit more than actually writing from the heart. Eno had shown up for Outside, a dystopia revisitation of Diamond Dogs themes-right down to the spoken word pieces, ominously subtitled “the Ritual Art-Murder of Baby Grace Blue: A non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle”. Computers were called in to randomize proposed lyrics in a scissors cut and paste method, and sampling became a parallel cut and paste technique. The album got mixed reviews and did not crack the top 20 in the States. Bowie toured with Nine Inch Nails for this tour, and the blurring of who created what was suddenly right on the same stage. The release of I’m Afraid of Americans – a stand alone single featuring Trent Reznor further cemented the NIN/industrial image. The follow up, Earthling in 1997 brought more current trends to bear. Prodigy, Nine Inch Nails, club techno all collided with technology to create a full on digital computer based product. Drum n bass fans were miffed at this less than original appropriation of their generally underground scene. Older Bowie fans thought a weak copy of a Nine Inch Nails album might signal the end of the line. The follow up, Hours, did little do dispel this notion. A contest to get fan lyrics on the album(!) and a video game theme song were the highlights and the signpost that the train might be hitting the last stop. Heathen from 2002 called upon guests: Pete Townshend, Tony Levin from King Crimson, Dave Grohl, Jordan Rudess from Dream Theater to give a mish mash of leftovers a fresh coat. Neil Young and Pixies covers gave this a patchwork feel, but it was a slight return. Not as overtly derivative of others, he now was mining his own career for nuggets, semi-successfully. As one reviewer said “I’m tired of attending funerals for David Bowie’s career” when appraising Bowie’s last decade of work.

Outsidebowie.jpg  Earthling (album).jpg Bowie Hours.jpgHeathen.jpg

Ironically, it was in the last two years that Bowie mystified his critics. 2013’s The Next Day surprised many. Those who thought he was lingering in retirement gave their kudos. Recorded in secrecy, many of his associates and even his label were unaware this album was being recorded. The album shot to number one in many countries (number 2 in the States) and was by far the most successful and original piece of work in three decades. Housed in a perplexing sleeve (Heroes, reworked), it gathered praise everywhere. Rock n roll had returned, and most of the songs on this would not be uncomfortable on a late 70’s Peter Gabriel solo album-a minor classic, and so unlikely this late in the game. His 26th album was even more paradoxical. The release of Blackstar, two days before his death in January 2016,  confounded critics and was viewed by initial reviewers even more favorably  than its predecessor. Was he mining the little heard skronk territory of music to glom onto a new vision? (Much of this still sounds like Peter Gabriel filtered through the second side of Heroes, only much darker). Or had Bowie, realizing the end was near, finally become able to reveal his true self to the world? Only time will tell, but the concurrent Lazarus theater project is ironically symbolic. The chameleon may have shed the multi layers of skin he had grown over the past fifty years.

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Picking Up the Pieces

It should be noted that Bowie was an artist, first and foremost. Rock star, screen roles, theater, visual art-check out his Dada inspired collaboration with Klaus Nomi on Saturday Night Live in 1979:

Also, before we finish-let’s not forget that Bowie single-handedly saved the careers of both Mott the Hoople (he gave them All the Young Dudes, slated for Ziggy Stardust, as a career changing single), and Iggy Pop- the inspiration for Jean Genie and Ziggy himself. The amount of money Iggy took in for co writing China Girl was not insignificant. (It could be argued he saved Lou Reed too by producing Transformer with the groundbreaking single Take a Walk on the Wild Side). Three hugely influential rock icons might have shuffled off had it not been for Bowie.

Well, What Was Bowie-Gifted Copycat or True Genius?

The definition of a chameleon is something that changes its colors to blend with the background. But Bowie was an anti-chameleon. He changed his colors to match the background not to hide, but to become noticed. Like Madonna, Bowie’s real strength was in having a good radar for what is currently popular, identifying musicians that were good at the particular genre, and then exploding on the scene with a new full blown persona-masquerading as the figurehead of a scene. Also like Madonna, musicians and music writers were well aware of this appropriation of what others had started. Unlike Madonna, Bowie’s legacy is much harder to pin down. He became so influential in the rock world for two decades that the chicken and the egg question becomes relevant-which was more important, the innovators or the copyist? His nose for popular trends was unerring, but the question remains-how much originality was involved? In the long run, it might not matter. David Bowie touched so many lives since Space Oddity quietly scraped the charts some 47 years ago. And in the long run, that is what really matters. Lazarus will rise. One thing you can say about Bowie, he was a survivor.

Someone to claim us, someone to follow
Someone to shame us, some brave Apollo
Someone to fool us, someone like you
We want you Big Brother, Big Brother