Tag Archives: Black Sabbath

Summer 2016 Concert Round Up-Janes Dead Guns Bad Beatles Sabbath Ween n’ More…Around the World in Eighty Daze.

“My magnificent octopus” – S. Baldrick

As the Zombies almost once said, summers are the time of the season for concerts. From sheds to stadiums, folks pile into their vehicles to head out road trippin’ and space truckin’ for some full on outdoor Dionysian rituals. Some choose to make the parking lot their tailgating blow out (occasionally failing to even enter the show), others wait patiently in line to get into the venue early to drop $40 bucks on a shirt and absorb multiple beers at $11 a whack. But the gamut of summer concert behavior makes up one of the best seasons to see rock n roll in person– outside and under the stars. This summer was no exception. Below is a chronicle of the Carwreck adventures on the road from June to August this year.

   June 9-Joe Walsh and Bad Company

Joe Walsh and Bad Company, opening night for the summer season. I’d almost given this one a miss, even though I had tix in hand already. It was a weeknight, I was beyond tired. At the last second though I jumped in the car and flew to Great Woods (sorry, corporate logos change so quickly at these joints that we need to stick with the real names: The Meadows in Hartford, Worcester Centrum, Providence Civic Center, Boston Garden, Great Woods etc, who can keep track of which joint is the Xfinity Center anymore? And by next year it’ll be something different, you can TD bank on that). Aptly named the One Hell of a Night tour, this was one of the best shows of the summer. Going in, my expectations were low, but was I in for an eye opener. Joe Walsh is a pretty funny guy. If you’ve never heard him talk, you’d swear he was blasted out of his mind (which he was from the sixties until 1994)  Here is a pretty good example of him, courtesy of David Letterman in the late 1980’s:

Joe was in fine form at this show, introducing Life’s Been Good with the slurred quote “If I’da known I’d be playin’ this song for the rest of my life, I’da written a better song. But this is what we got, we’re stuck with it,  so let’s make the best of it…”. Long term band mate Joe Vitale gave the outfit a 70’s era Barnstorm feel. Walsh’s unit opened the show but easily could have headlined-Walsh’s distinct guitar lines warping reality like the James Gang used to.

Next up was Bad Company. Often thought of as the poor man’s Led Zeppelin, they were crisp on a pared down stage, serious and powerful. With Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke from the original band (bassist Boz Burrell passed away in 2006 and guitarist Mick Ralphs declined to do this US tour due to health reasons) they were fleshed out by long term second guitar Howard Leese of Heart fame and a temporary stint from Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes. Lean and mean, Paul Rodgers stalked the stage as the band delivered some of their tightest playing of their career. Notes I took at the show included the question “How the fuck can Paul Rodgers still be this good?” How the fuck indeed-Rodgers had started to really tear up venues with Free in 1969, and 47 years later hadn’t lost a step. I’d seen Robert Plant a few times over the last few years, and Roger Daltrey a dozen or so times in the last decade. Both are still vocal legends, but neither could hold a candle to what Paul Rodgers can still pull off in 2016. Hard to believe, but Paul Rodgers is the last man standing, the most powerful 70’s era vocalist in rock n roll today. Had there been a roof, Bad Co.would have blown it off.

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Yep, still got it

July 15 Fenway Park-Dead and Company

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Is that really made from a tablecloth?

Next up was Dead and Company. I had seen them in 2015 early in their tour and was decidedly underwhelmed, as noted here.

I’d been wary of this band since the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary last show ever ‘we swear we are done’ in Chicago was quickly followed by a fall tour announcement with Oteil replacing Phil Lesh, and John Mayer as ‘Jerry’. I wasn’t the only long term Deadhead to be a bit skeptical of a cash grab, as brilliantly portrayed here.

I was dragged nearly kicking and screaming to the show and protested heavily that I didn’t really want to go. But an outdoor show at Fenway seemed like it could overcome John Mayer being the focus of attention in the Dead, but still had very low hopes of them being close to good. . But like Fonzie once famously said, I was wrrrrowrrr..

I thought Dead and Company were a pale imitation of the real thing, and that there was no way they could even come close to the Grateful Dead’s power.(I was wrong). The band started out the night with a jam that took a while to lead into Jack Straw. Jams to start a show? This was new. Donna Godchaux, a polarizing vocalist from the Grateful Dead from 1972-1978 showed up for a rare appearance, and brought a decent mid 70’s vibe to the setlist that drew heavily on her era of studio work. The first set finished with Help On the Way->Slipknot->Franklin’s Tower, something usually held out as a second set centerpiece. I wondered if this was going to be a long single set show and we had strayed into the second half. Nope. Second set started with St. Stephen->Dark Star. This was a mind bending way to begin a set. Combine that with the follow up of TerrapinStation/Drums/Space/Terrapin/Morning Dew–this  would have sizzled synapses and popped craniums had it been played in the 80’s or 90’s, leaving many Deadheads quite different people than they are today. But make no mistake-this sounded VERY much like classic Grateful Dead of the late 80’s early 90’s. Mayer popped a couple of song choices over Bob Weir’s strummed introductions to something different. Mayer overruled Weir? Twice? What was going on? With a Casey Jones that sped up each successive pass through the chorus, the Dead finished with a lighting fast version that sounded like they’d been injected with some of Heisenberg’s finest blue.(read up on Phil Lesh allegedly inventing cocaine suppositories for the band in the 80’s so they didn’t have to stop to blow lines in between songs when you get a chance).  Weir in particular threw Mayer slightly worried glances as they sped up to a tempo never heard before in any era of the Dead canon. As they approached light speed, Weir and the drummers eyes bulged at the exertion and looked as if all three might pass away right in front of us while Mayer hopped up and down gleefully strumming full speed.

A rare double encore to finish what has been said to be the best show this unit has ever played? Sublime. Though never a Donna fan, her addition combined with some pretty inspired playing from Mayer made this so close to the Dead that I have fooled several knowledgeable people playing them the soundboard from this show. (highly recommended for purchase while you can). Oteil deserves a mention for finally figuring out how to get genuine dinosaur-like Phil Lesh bass  runs pounding underneath. Great show, and I’d go again in a heartbeat. These guys are becoming musically dangerous on stage, and though it pains me to say this,  John Mayer might consider dropping his career to do this full time.

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July 17 Fenway Park-Paul McCartney

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Uh oh,  I see a drunk guy headed for the stage

Found some cheap tickets to McCartney on StubHub and jumped in the car once again. I’d seen the giants of the 60’s bands: Rolling Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, the Animals, Traffic…but never seen an actual Beatle.  Once again the rockers on their 50th or more anniversary tour fill up the stadiums. McCartney looked ageless (he’s actually 75), and has overcome some vocal problems that have plagued his recent tours to deliver a 38 song set that covered his whole career. The show started with a surprise for Sir Paul. Everyone had a card under their seat with instructions. Which resulted in this:

Crowd members held up cards welcoming Paul McCartney to Fenway Park Sunday.

From the opener Hard Day’s Night the band was off and running. Pretty much every Beatles song you’d ever want to hear combined with some excellent Wings era material made for a show that seemed short even though it pushed nearly three hours. Tributes to George Martin and George Harrison and stories about meeting a Russian defense minister who told him that his first album was an illegal  Beatles album, and that the Beatles had nicked For the Benefit of Mr. Kite off a Victorian era circus poster nearly word for word made McCartney seem very reachable and real. Another highlight was Bob Weir-still in town from his two day stint with the Dead at Fenway the previous night- coming onstage to join McCartney for Hi Hi Hi (of course).

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We’re gonna get high high high…

Then during Helter Skelter, with Weir still on guitar, the stage was charged by a drunken Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots. As he mugged for the audience, Weir gave him a look like he wished Gronk would spontaneously burst into flames and burn to a crisp onstage. It would be nice if someone could emulate the Seinfeld episode where he goes to a heckler’s job to screw with them. A rocker should show up at a Pats game and start yelling signals at Gronk behind him to see if he’d get the point. Doubtful. Even hard core Pats fans were pretty dismayed at his embarrassing drunken roofie worthy stunt (He is likely immune to roofies though):

Other highlights were the fireworks laden Live and Let Die (the first of two I’d see this week) and a peek at the earliest work of McCartney and (mostly)Lennon-In Spite of All the Danger from the 1957 era pre-Beatles, the Quarrymen. A real cool night that ended with a blast.

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Live and Let Live? Live and Let Die!
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Green Monster with the real score

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July 21-Jane’s Addiction, Dinosaur Jr, Living Colour

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In a tent on the waterfront of Boston Harbor two days later, this triple threat of 90’s heavyweights lit up the night. I’d been a fan of Living Colour since day one-my Vernon Reid fan-dom even tracing back to his stint in jazzer Ronald Shannon Jackson’s highly demanding Decoding Society in 1984. Always hard to pin down, what exactly is their sound? Funk, jazz, metal and pop synthesize seamlessly into a literally unique sound. Hitting the stage early, the seats were only about 20% filled. But no matter, vocalist Corey Glover (sans Bodyglove wetsuit) played it like it was a full stadium. The band has become even tighter in the last twenty years-Vernon Reid crackling on guitar like a rampant electrical storm, Doug Wimbish moving air with devilishy complex bass runs, and the spectacular Will Calhoun pounding out poly-rhythms that made Dinosaur’s drummer Murph comment backstage: “he’s a monster!”. Not bad praise coming from a drum legend himself. During their major hit, Cult of Personality, Corey ventured deep into the crowd-running down empty rows back and forth until he settled directly behind me to sing the final notes “per-sunnnn-al-it-teeee!” all about a foot from me. Holy living fuck! I’d been lucky enough to have backstage passes for this one, and quickly shuttled to the backstage area. Jane’s Addiction were holed up with tattooed, pierced and needle scarred mini skirted hangers on, but both Living Colour and Dinosaur Jr were hanging in an outdoors area backstage entertaining the handful of hangers on. (this was a home game for Massachusetts based Dinosaur Jr). Living Colour stayed in the main open area backstage to chat with fans and take photos. I had a long conversation with Vernon Reid, reminding him that I’d seen him play at Newport Jazz Festival opening for Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck in 1984. Took a bit for him to remember until a mention of the minuscule statured pianist Michael Petrucciani jogged his memory. He stayed and chatted for about a half hour, very affable and generous with his time. This set was one of the highest energy sets of the summer, with Vernon Reid spitting molten notes out on top of the most ferocious rhythm section I’ve seen all year. Breathtaking shit, really. I said to Vernon that they should be headling this bill. “you gonna have to talk to somebody else ’bout that I’m afraid…” was his wry observation.

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Dinosaur Jr came out pumping with Lung from their 1987 second album, and didn’t let off the gas pedal until the final notes of Just Like Heaven, a Cure cover also from their second album. Start Choppin’ from 1993’s  Where You Been got people up out of their seats and jumping around until the end of the set. I’d seen them several times over the years, and in 2016 the band is a well oiled machine. Murph’s drumming syncs with Lou Barlow’s bass to give a perfect platform for J Mascis’s unique wall of sound country inflected punk rock assault. Dinosaur Jr can be volume monsters in a smaller venue, but open air can tend to absorb much of this power. (As an aside, I’d seen J play in a Stooges tribute band recently, and his raw Les Paul through a Marshall was the best sound and soloing I’d ever heard from him in the twenty odd years I’ve seen them. ps-he was deafeningly loud. )

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Headliners Jane’s Addiction were what the crowd came for though. I’d seen them on the first Lollapalooza tour in 1991, but hadn’t seen any of the reunion shows until 2011. A sober-ish Perry Farrel (peripheral ya know) held down the madness, and guitarist Dave Navarro was a whirlwind of motion, spitting out blistering solos that simultaneously ripped large holes into songs and melodically stitched them back together again by the end of a run. Maybe the five years of touring has taken a little lustre off the silver spoon, but this show wasn’t quite as energized as the 2011 and 2013 tours. (in 2013 I witnessed Navarro nearly punch out his guitar tech right on stage when his acoustic guitar kept failing during Jane Says). Still, a so so Janes Addiction show is much better than 95% of the bands out there. 2013’s vintage stag films were replaced this year by something definitely more chilling. Girls hung and swung from the lighting rig like they had in the past. But when you looked closer, you could see they were fetish style hung from meathooks through their skin. You heard that right. I saw them backstage before the show, and they exuded a….ummmm….different vibe. A video below captures the painful action from the front row. (not for the squeamish)

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Overall it was an amazing triple bill. Living Colour, although on the undercard billing, took the night hands down. The nineties, updated and backdated-and fully syncopated. All three of the bands are headliners in their own right.

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July 22-Guns n Roses/Lenny Kravitz- Foxboro

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The next night it was in the car once again and off to Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots. Labeled the Not in This Lifetime Tour ( a reference to an interview Axl had done recently when asked about the chances of a reunion of the original lineup), this was an unexpected event. I definitely didn’t expect any sort of reunion of the original line up, especially Slash. (Technically, without main songwriter Izzy Stradlin or founding drummer Steven Adler, this isn’t the original line up). Knowing their proclivities for legendary train wrecks on tour, I waited to buy a ticket until the last minute, not convinced that this uneasy detente between Axl and Slash would actually hold. A reunion of Slash and Axl was certain to bring people out of  the woodwork, yet would they make it far enough through the tour to get here? Witness Axl breaking his foot on opening night and doing several full shows sitting in a huge throne. (Dave Grohl’s super throne actually). I had my doubts.

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Axl unexpectedly finds himself on the throne of the Seven Kingdoms

Fans scooped up the overpriced tickets quickly, perhaps too quickly. But the promoters made a large miscalculation in booking two nights in Boston and tickets on Stubhub plummeted in price. 75 dollar tickets slipped to 17 bucks a pop. When coming through the turnstile, I was directed towards another ticketing area for a “free mandatory upgrade”. Choices were simple: “Do you want floor seats or lower bowl 100 level loge seats?” My 24 dollar Stubhub ticket for a 64 dollar face value ‘cheap seat’ in the nosebleeds was now a 104 dollar loge seat. The upper bowl 300 level was roped off and empty. Half of the stadiums’ 200 level was likewise roped off, and the 100 level loge was only about 80% full. Someone took a large financial bath on this particular show. Although Billboard reported a 92% of capacity ticket sale for Foxboro, the numbers they reported don’t add up, as they used a 35,000 capacity figure for a stadium with a listed 69,000 seat concert capacity. This show didn’t have more than 25,000 people scattered thoughout the bowl and floor. (More GnR lies?)

Its about the music, not the money. Right?

Opener Lenny Kravitz kicked off the evening in style. I’d thought it an odd pairing until I found out that Slash and Kravitz had gone to high school together, and he had jammed together with GnR in 1992. A seven song set seemed short, but nobody was here for Lenny.

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One question many people had was ‘Will they go on before midnight?’ as Axl was notorious for coming onstage literally hours after showtime. There must have been a strongly worded clause in their contract involving forfeiting pay, because the band came onstage before 8:30 pm. Axl looked good, no longer the beanpole, sinuously serpentine, but also not the beer inflated parody he had begun to turn in to. (in comparison, Slash is starting to increasingly resemble Howard Stern circa 1995). He kept a leather cowboy hat on over his omnipresent bandana (to cover the bald spots). Strong in voice, he had definitely worked to get his end of things solid. It’s So Easy kicked off the night, and three of the first four songs included Mr. Brownstone and Welcome to the Jungle. Wedged in there early was Chinese Democracy from their latest incarnation, and Slash must have wondered why the fuck he was doing playing on something he not only hadn’t written, but actively  disapproved of. He wandered a bit aimlessly during this song. Further Chinese Democracy material combined with some questionable tracks from the Use Your Illusion albums to bog the proceedings down.But though this unit may not be a ‘real’ band, they are nothing but professional. Slash, resplendent in a ‘Mickey Mouse boning Minnie Mouse doggie style’ shirt kept mostly to himself. In fact, the stage was so huge, Slash and Axl could have actually not violated a restraining order and still played the show on the same stage they stayed so far away from each other all night.

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Mickey and Minnie bonding
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Axl  and Slash in separate zip codes yet on same stage

There were some unexpected highlights. An instrumental version of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and a cover of the Who’s the Seeker were a couple of ‘out of left field’ moments. Live and Let Die (my second in four days) has never lived up to McCartney’s version, but was still a highlight. My largest shock was a surprisingly fleshed out version of November Rain. Axl tapped timidly on the piano (Elton John is in no danger here) while the band rose up in a powerful crescendo. I was amazed that this fairly weak song was transformed into perhaps the highlight of the evening.

The grand finale, Paradise City brought everyone back to life as the whole end of the stadium literally exploded.(Axl either intentionally or accidentally sang over Slash’s iconic guitar solo introduction here. Puzzling)  We were ushered out into the wild before 11:15, a time usually reserved for their coming ON to the stage. In retrospect, though this was a nearly three hour show, it did illustrate the fact that this band doesn’t really have the material to sustain a show of this length. Sometimes less is actually more. But the band did defy predictions of imminent implosion and make it through the tour successfully without any fights onstage, prolonged hissy fits, three hour delays or crowd members being attacked by Axl  (hello St. Louis). I wasn’t blown away, but was very glad I went.

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Long stick goes boom

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August 21st  Ween Philadelphia

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Well, this one wasn’t a home game by any stretch of the imagination, but it was for Ween. But a Ween reunion isn’t something one needs to split hairs about. If they are playing and you can physically drive there in a reasonable less than six hours time? Go.

Ween had been off the road for a while. Gener’s meltdown in Vancouver in January 2011 signaled that-if not the end of the band, a long hiatus was needed.

The power of the Boognish is strong though, and when Ween announced three shows in Colorado for February, the tribe gathered once more. (Personally I’d wished they’d opened that run with Bumblebee part 2, but What Deaner Was Talking About Made a similar point)

A 90+ song setlist for the three days there showed zero repeats of a single tune, a difficult feat. But they had announced very few shows. Were these it? Soon we knew there would be a three night run in New York City at Terminal 5 in April 2016. They were impressive there, delivering another 100 songs over three nights. Spot dates were announced here and there for the summer, and the whole tour seemed very tentative, likely depending on how Gener’s new found sobriety held up. The idea of seeing them on the waterfront under the stars in Philadelphia was definitely appealing. So once more out on the road. What was less appealing was a forecast for torrential rains, 100% guaranteed. Somehow upon arrival, the sky cleared, and though the venue was a bit of a mudfest in spots, the rains abated for the whole evening.

Under a bridge downtown…

A setlist that delved heavily into Chocolate and Cheese (they had to play Freedom of 76 in Philadelphia, right?) combined with deeper cuts (the Thin Lizzy-ish Gabrielle) to make an incomparable 31 song set. Buenos Tardes Amigos closed out the evening in a large group sing a long. Seeing Ween in their home state? Pretty amazing experience.

Foolishly I decided to give their Boston show two nights later a miss. Deaner ended up posting online (something he doesn’t usually do) that the Boston show was the best one of the 2016 reunion and was one of the top 25 Ween shows ever. Fuck. A listen to readily available bootlegs of the show confirm they were pretty off the hook that night. I’d heard more recently that Lockn Festival crowds were questioning why Ween was on the bill, which makes one wonder about the state of jam band audiences these days, and a quick read of the comments on the Lockn forum shows some pretty calcified brains flickering towards flat lining. Sorry folks, there’s life beyond Phish (who actually love Ween). Or, as someone posted “I’m sorry, Umphrey’s fans opinions just don’t really count”. These people haven’t been even exposed to Frank Zappa or the Mothers of Invention, never mind the Tubes or 10cc or Sparks (all precursors of Ween’s ability to jump genres and parody social culture), so there’s a learning curve of musical literacy out there that many  have missed. I could go on a soapbox rant on the increasingly limited musical awareness populating the twenty somethings in the festival scene, but lets move onward to something far heavier…

August 25 Black Sabbath-Great Woods

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Four days after Ween, the concert-mobile trekked out once again. Back to the venue where this whole summer started, 80 days and a weighty daze later we’ve come full circle back to Great Woods.

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Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends?

Black Sabbath has declared this to be the final time on the road. With Tony Iommi battling lymphoma at age 66, the end of the ride has been more forced upon the band than any internal band decisions. I’d seen Sabbath twice on the “13” tour in 2013, and although the word uneven comes to mind, many of the strengths that made this band a legend already forty five years ago were still on display. That album hearkened (with obvious intention) back to the glory days of Master of Reality and Volume 4, and the new material in concert wasn’t half bad (even prompting Ozzy to say ‘hey I’m starting to LIKE that one”). Constant ice water baths over his head kept him conscious. He reminded me of grandpa at Thanksgiving  finding out there’s only one beer left in the fridge  as he scurried shuffling across the stage. This year the baths were minimal, and Ozzy seemed far more energetic and in better voice. (On the 2013 tour he was frequently out of key by the final two songs Dirty Women and Children of the Grave) With this the final tour, there was no time for newer material-it was full on retrospective time. Black Sabbath, Fairies Wear Boots, After Forever and Into the Void opened the show. I had received a coupon for $16 lawn seats for this show and grabbed em up. Deciding to keep on the  move and remain directly behind the arena seats, I had a great view of the whole show (and from every angle to boot). Here’s the start (cribbed from Omaha):

Iommi seemed to have lost a step or two in his trademark brittle cascading solos, but what the hell, he almost expired last year. Ozzy’s inexplicable improvement compensated for this small trifle nicely. Geezer Butler remains the thundering ball of rumbling bass energy that he has been for 47 years in the band. Former Ted Nugent and Rob Zombie drummer Tommy Clufetos held down the rhythm seat. His overly histrionic drum solos tend to detract from the overall feel, but I do understand that this band needs a dependable workhorse to let Butler and Iommi lay their magic on top of. I personally would love Bill Ward’s free flowing improvs underneath, but as Ozzy said: “I’m not going to be responsible for killing one of my best friends by making him tour!”

This is Your Captain Speaking, Your Captain Is Dead

There were a couple of shows I intentionally missed this summer. The first was Yes. They were continuing their album showcase. This time it was Drama and half of Tales From Topographic Oceans. Here’s where I had a problem: Drama was a vehicle for Chris Squire primarily in the wake of vocalist Jon Anderson’s departure in 1980. But with Chris Squire’s untimely death, Billy Sherwood stepped in and donned the long coat to give the impression that Squire’s ghost might still be flickering around. It isn’t. Another large part of that album is Alan White, who has dropped off the tour with a bad back. So let’s take attendance: Jon Anderson? No. Chris Squire? No. Rick Wakeman? No. Alan White? No. Steve Howe? Yes, the last one standing. With Tales From Topographic Oceans being such a creation of Jon Anderson collaborating with Steve Howe, and Ritual in particular being a vehicle for Squire’s legendary bass solo, I’d have to agree with the  many reviewers who have said that the band should have postponed the tour until Alan White healed up. Although people said it was a fun night, it is getting perilously close to being a tribute band. (In a current Steve Hoffman website poll, 88% of respondents pick Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman as the authentic Yes compared to 12% for the current Howe-led Yes). I didn’t want to tamper with the decades of awe inspiring Yes shows programmed in my brain with a severely diluted version. Squire is just too integral to not only the band, but these two albums in particular.

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Find the real Yes member in this photo

While on the topic of tribute bands, I also declined tickets to go see Kiss. Now this is a band that has crossed the line from rock n roll, to an actual stage play being put on with actors playing the part of Kiss. Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer don Peter Criss and Ace Frehley’s make up each night and pretend to be them. Sure, the Dead have John Mayer in as ‘Jerry’, but they don’t strap a pillow around his gut and slap a fake beard on him, do they? Sure it’s entertainment, but let’s be real-it’s a choreographed show with rehearsed dialogue, not a rock band anymore

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Don’t tell me this isn’t the real Ace and Peter

In conclusion, this was quite a parade of talent on view, and a highly recommended summer diversion. Get out there, highway star….

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-Eleven bands, seven shows, five venues, 225 dollars total in tickets, 1585 miles traveled.

Manowar: “Death to False Metal”-The Good, The Bad and….The Sublimely Ridiculous

So, you are watching the first Conan the Barbarian movie. Conan is brought to town early in the film, and the market is crowded with suspicious merchants, thieves, vagrants, broken wizards and prostitutes and the detritus of a sword and sorcery society. In the background, four men are in a straw covered corner, dressed in fur loin cloths and swathed in chain mail armor banging on guitars and drums and pounding out slow anthems to heaviness and glory undreamt of…..

Conan-the-Barbarian

No, this never happened, but that imagined scene gives the uninitiated a pretty good idea of what Manowar are about. And In retrospect, they would have done a helluva job on the soundtrack to that movie, Alas an opportunity squandered….

Manowar are fairly unique in the annals of Heavy Metal. Before death metal, black metal, speed metal, thrash metal, there was Manowar. Since their inception in 1980, they have plowed ahead with a singular vision: being the loudest sword wielding metal band on the planet, bent on the destruction of every band except those who play true metal.  Their dedication to the ideal of true metal fuels their drive, and is their zeitgiest. What exactly defines ‘true metal’ is rather nebulous…even the metal masters themselves are unclear on it. In one radio interview done circa 1983 (the golden age of Manowar) they claimed they listened to no rock music at all, only classical. An incredulous DJ asks if he heard correctly. Then, suddenly realizing they are on the air, and that they had toured with Black Sabbath, they quickly added: “We like Black Sabbath a lot!” (They also allowed that their current tour partner Ted Nugent was okay too.)  So they are on record as saying they only listen to:  A. Themselves B. Classical Music C. Black Sabbath. This keeps their minds clear for their Beowulf era sword slash sorcery sagas of honor, killing, revenge, killing, metal, and killing. Other frequently visited topics for lyrics are ‘we are the best band in the world’ (about a dozen songs fall into this category) and railing against ‘false metal’. Add in a dollop of Norse mythology and you pretty much have it.

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Manowar sprang into being in 1980 during Black Sabbath’s ‘Heaven and Hell’ tour. Joey DeMaio, founding member and brain trust of the band was working with their lighting rigs and supposedly handling the pyrotechnics end of stage productions. “i got to blow things up on stage, THAT is metal” he said in an interview. He had an epic voiced partner in Eric Adams from his hometown of Auburn, New York that had the pipes to give life to DeMaio’s self penned tales of swords and vengeance . But the necessary pieces were not quite assembled yet. That tour proved fruitful, as Joey encountered Ross the Boss of Dictators fame playing guitar for Shakin Street in the opening slot for Sabbath. They compared notes on what each had in mind for the perfect band, and finding common ground and common minds, a plan for world domination was hatched. (We met on English ground, In a backstage room we heard the sound, And we all knew what we had to do… -from the song Manowar from debut LP, Battle Hymns.)  Back in the States, an advertisement for a drummer who’s ‘heart was black’ yielded the Rod’s drummer Karl Kennedy (Canedy) and then quickly his replacement, Donnie Hamzik. This quartet recorded the debut album, released on Liberty Records in 1981. The album sank without a trace, and was vigorously ignored by press on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet some gems are in there. Most notably, the inclusion of Orson Welles in the narration of the epic Dark Avenger. An extensive quote of the narration is needed to understand exactly what these guys were about

“Let ye not pass Abaddon–Return to the world
From whence you came And seek payment
Not only for thy known anguish But to vindicate the souls
Of the Unavenged” And they placed in his hands
A sword Made for him
Called: Vengeance Forged in brimstone
And tempered By the woeful tears of the Unavenged
And to carry him up on his journey Back to the upper world..”

Orson-Welles

Picture the stentorian voice of Welles, dripping with gravitas,solemnly intoning that one. In one song, the ethos of Manowar is laid bare. Yet few in the world took notice. They were promptly dropped by Liberty within months of the album’s release. Manowar, realizing the world was against them, closed ranks and declared war on…..well pretty much everyone. The path to success was clear: not the way of commerciality, but to get even weirder and more uncompromising. One piece was missing though.

That piece was drummer Scott Columbus, a former plumber. In an interview regarding his entrance, DeMaio said “He literally pounds metal for a living, what more could you want for a true metal drummer?” What more indeed? With a drummer with a heart black enough to propel this motley sword wielding crew towards Valhalla, Manowar sought a new label.

The new label was the US indie Megaforce.  Formed in 1982 to put out Metallica’s debut, Kill ‘Em All, they were home to early Anthrax and Raven releases as well. (all three begrudgingly declared true metal by their new labelmates). Manowar was willing to do anything to succeed. In the aforementioned interview, they said “we will play anywhere with anyone! I will personally hang up posters for any show! But nobody will tour with us, they are afraid!”  Ross jumps to the radio mic and yells “their hearts are filled with fear, their hearts are filled with fear!” They were deadly serious. I, however nearly wet myself in hysterics. This was a band that was dead set on entertaining, although perhaps unintentional humor was rising to the top.

manowarintogloryride

Into Glory Ride, released in 1983 set a new standard. The album cover showed them dressed in fur loincloths, wielding swords. Yet unlike other metal bands, one got the impression that they would actually use these swords.  A quick aside: In late 1983, they had scheduled an interview with the British magazine Sounds. They asked the reporter to meet them in a field at dawn. He sat in the grey morning alone, thinking ‘Damn, I’ve been had by these Yanks, they got me to get out of bed and sit here like an idiot.”  And then..a thrum thrum thrum in the distance became audible. The sound reconciled as horses hooves. As the sun rose in the distance, Manowar crested the nearest hill on four horses, with swords held high, thundering down the plain towards the disbelieving journalist. They circled his car, threw their swords point first into the ground around him, and announced “We are Manowar!” and dismounted for the interview. Perhaps the best promo stunt in the history of rock, although the writer was not so sure they were kidding. As were their legion of growing fanbase.

 

manowar 

Manowar meets the enemy

hair metal

Into Glory Ride upped the insanity quotient quite a bit. With no commercial considerations, all bets were off, and the killing could begin in earnest. False metal was a large target for the band’s vengeance plans. By 1983, hair metal ruled MTV-Cinderella, Poison, Motley Crue, Winger, Bon Jovi, Quiet Riot, Ratt….and Manowar was pissed. “True metal people want to rock not pose, Wearin’ jeans and leather, not cracker jack clothes…” -Kings of Metal LP.

More than most songs, the surreal epic Gloves of Metal from Into Glory Ride continues to hone in one most of what the band was about:

“Hear the pounding army of the night
The call of metal summons us tonight
And gather we on this site
To behold the power and the might
We wear leather, we wear spikes, we rule the night

The sound of metal so loud it cracks the beams
Played by warriors called the Metal Kings.
A hero’s welcome for those who heed the call.
We are together, we are all.
With hands high fists fill the air
Against the world we stand.
Hands high forever we’ll be there,
Gloves of Metal rule tonight.”  – Gloves of Metal

This album got them noticed, especially in England. A tour with Mercyful Fate had them opening for the first leg, but their overwhelming stage presence and deafening volume pushed them to headliner status. From the radio interview:  “we are the loudest band in the world. Everywhere we play, every theater, we drop plaster. Chunks of ceiling crash to the floor from us.”  True to their word, they were included in the Guinness Book of Records in 1984 as the world’s loudest band, a record they have broken twice since then.

hail to england

Album sales in the UK were healthy, and a full blown tour of England was planned. To accompany the tour, they put out a British only release, with the subtle title of ‘Hail to England’. Considered their masterwork by many, this proferred homage to the country they hoped to conquer contained some of their strongest material to date. Blood of My Enemies cruises along at half throttle, but though the bpm are down, the power soak is set to scorch. And it contains some of their catchiest riffs and some of the most unedited stabs at lyrics yet:

“Three sons have I, and they
Ride by my side. The fierce,
The black, and the wicked are
their names-we ride down my
enemies on their half-hearted flight.
No voice of mercy-no evangels of light.” -Blood of My Enemies

Run berserk-spreading fear and pain
Black shield and weapons, black our chain.
None can harm us-not their fire-
Iron or steel-for we have the
Will to power-with power we will
Kill

Kill with power-die die
Kill with power-die die” -Kill With Power

The last one there is actually kind of catchy. Which is an important point, despite the inane and adolescent bent to their philosophy and lyrics, some of their songs are damn appealing, catchy as hell. As is their paean to their fans, Army of Immortals.:


“Metal makes us strong
It makes us
Metal makes us strong
It makes us stronger, stronger, stronger, stronger…
Stronger, metal makes us strong

In our eyes you’re immortal
In our hearts you’ll live forever
In our eyes you’re immortal
In our hearts you’ll live forever more.”

As goofy as that sonnet is, there is a strong undercurrent to the song, and that is that they believe 100% every word, and it is a genuine heartfelt message to the fans. That is something rarely put to disc.Then, a bass solo I think.  Black Arrows is a bass solo…or is it?

“Let each note I now play
be a black arrow of death
sent straight to the hearts
of all those who play false metal”

This pitch bent demented speech is followed by a scream, and a frenzy of notes from a piccolo bass. Melody? Nope. Structure? Nope. Black Arrows of death were sent to dispatch the literally thousands of hair metal bands across the planet, those bands festooned with colorful bandanas randomly tied to their legs, and strategically torn spandex tights. And at 120 notes per minute, one can assume they put a solid dent into the legion of the false metal hordes with said arrows. Did they conquer the British Isles as planned? Not really.

A 12″ single, Defender, brought back Orson Welles once again for a narration. (It was re-recorded for the disappointing Fighting the World lp). A move to Ten Records was preceded by the shameless and ill advisedly titled single, All Men Play on Ten. Although musically solid, the lyrical content (heavy on the Odin this time) was getting silly. Folks began to wonder if the band had pumped the creative well dry. But this is the central paradox of Manowar. How can a band that kicks so much ass instrumentally be so goofy lyrically? Do they actually believe all of the self praising ass kicking Nordic god stuff? No good answers are available.

220px-ManowarFightingtheworld

A jump to Atlantic forced some compromises. Efforts to create a single on Fighting the World were embarrassing, Blow Your Speakers and Black Wind Fire and Steel began to seem inexplicably self mocking, yet it was clear they were serious, despite the comic book cover. The fighting the world theme, once a call to arms in 1983, was now a tired mantra. By 1988, it seemed over. But the band had one last trick up its sleeve.

220px-Manowar_kingsofmetalsalbumcover

Kings of Metal, their sixth album marked the last with Ross the Boss and Scott Columbus.But what a farewell this thing is. Wheels of Fire, Kings of Metal, Blood of a King, Hail and Kill….many of their masterpieces which grace their set to this day come from this album. A ten minute narrated story is also included. This is one of the essential albums, and is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.

Gonna keep on burning
We always will
Other bands play – Manowar kill
Other bands play – Manowar kill

Even the cartoon cover is grim, with only the US flag still standing, the last unconquered nation. For you see, America never came to grips with Manowar. No radio play, no press, no notice. They stay ignored in their homeland for the better part of two decades of existence.

The departure of Ross the Boss and Columbus signaled the end of the magic. Triumph of Steel, with its Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts, weighing in at a half  an hour in length, signalled the end of the game. It became apparent that Ross the Boss had brought a melody and swing to the band that was now gone. Bereft of ideas, the band died on the vine. Several more lackluster albums led into the 21st century. Re-recordings of Battle Hymns and Kings of Metal now pass as their new albums, as the band finally admits that yes, the creative well has gone dry.

I will finish with some personal stories. In 1983 they were due to play in New England. Their sound and lights showed up at the theater in an 18 wheeler. No sign of the band though. The crew waited, waited, then pulled out. Half an hour before showtime, the band showed up. Fans were confused, mad, and felt cheated. One called and left a message on Manowar’s listed phone number. He let them know what fans thought-the band were chickenshit and acted like babies pulling out. Weeks later, the phone rang at a suburban Boston house at dinner time. Mom gets her 22 year old son to the phone “Joey DeMaio’s brother is on the phone honey”  He got an earful. “How dare you call us pussies? We will play anywhere anytime anyhow!”  The fan calmly noted that they hadn’t played a booked gig the past week, which sent the Manowar messenger into a berserk fury.

I finally saw them in the early 2000’s in a bowling alley. The ceiling was low, the lanes were closed, and an air of Spinal Tap pervaded the evening. The band had thrown a shit fit when witnessing what the venue looked like, but regained composure, turned the amps to twelve and proceeded to drop ceiling tiles in lieu of plaster. Drinks flowed like streams overflowing their banks, and the crowd was generally pummeled by the end of the show. 130 decibels, beers and shots, bodies started to drop. Exiting the bar as the dust settled, a large guy staggered into the night with a passed out girl thrown haphazardly over his shoulder. I yelled out “We will avenge our fallen!” Everyone laughed, everyone knew. Cuz we are Immortals.