Tuesday, February 27, 2007
First up is melodicrock.com. The always informative web site is the definitive AOR website in the world. If you’re wondering what your favorite band big on melody is doing, look no further than this site. Site owner Andrew McNeice was kind enough to read two recent Bon Jovi articles I have written and posted links to them on his page. Thank you and to the new readers of this web page…welcome. Feel free to leave comments as the good and bad are both read.
The other bit of plugging I recently received was from Talking Metal. I became acquainted with Mark and John when I helped set up an interview with Lonn Friend upon the release of his book, “Life On Planet Rock”. I’ve continued to stay in touch with the guys since then and they were kind enough to ask me for an interview where we spoke for close to an hour about all things music on episode #130. You can download an mp3 of the podcast here or iTunes users can also subscribe to “Talking Metal” for free at this location (phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=78833595).
Sunday, February 25, 2007
I don't know about you, but I am jazzed that Warner Brothers is giving Chris Nolan another stab at the Batman franchise. Batman Begins is the film all other comics should be judged by and as he is gearing up for the next installment, The Dark Knight, more news is leaked about the already spectacular casting which now includes the versatile Aaron Eckhart.
From the moment Eckhart appeared on screen in the 1996 film, In The Company of Men, I knew this was a guy to watch. I remember Gene Siskel vying for him for a Best Actor nomination claiming that not even Robert De Niro could have pulled off the despicable character of Chad. Women who saw this film and then saw Eckhart in real life, walked up to him and slapped him. That is how deep his performance cut these people.
Eckhart will be playing Harvey Dent/Two Face...however, it hasn't been made completely clear if Dent will evolve into Two Face, but either way, there could be minimal action sequences in this film and I'd be there opening night.
1. The Prestige
No other film in 2006 enraptured me the way Chris Nolan’s tale of two magicians did. “The Illusionist” was a very good film but at its core was a love story, whereas the stakes are infinitely higher in “The Prestige”. Every frame of this film is essential to the story they act like building blocks and if one is removed the whole tower falls. However, one does not fully realize this until the final scene of the film. This is a magical (excuse the pun) tale that twisted my mind more than any other film has since “Memento”. Nolan’s direction is subtle but speedy and the magnificent splendid script (done with his brother Jonathan) should have been nominated for an Oscar. The acting across the board is exceptional and each and every scene binds the overall scope of this picture together. Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine and the ghostly David Bowie give extraordinary performances in this masterpiece. For some unknown reason, many critics overlooked this film when compiling their year-end lists. All I can say is that the second it was over I wanted to see it again. This is why it is at number one on my list.
2. The Departed
Let’s clear something up right from the get go, Martin Scorsese is ALWAYS in top form. The last film he made in which he was lacking focus was 1977’s “New York, New York”. Every film he has touched since then has been first-rate whether it has been deeply personal (“Raging Bull”), small budget (“After Hours”), epic (“Gangs of New York”) or just flat out sprawling (“Casino”). “The Departed” is no different as he delves into the pulverizing underworld of the Boston mob. Sure this is territory he has explored before but when a player hits his 500th home run does it mean it’s any less important than their first? Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg all give Oscar worthy performances in what truly is a first rate crime thriller based deeply on internal conflict. The complex characters, engaging script and riveting direction make “The Departed” an example of a Hollywood mainstream film at its best.
The biggest surprise of 2006, a highly intellectual film based around a high school murder is so much more than meets the eye. The rich dialogue in this film owes a debt of gratitude to Quentin Tarantino and David Mamet, but surprisingly, instead of attempting to sound like those two, the characters have their own distinctive voice. The world and characters he created was one I didn’t want to leave. While the drama is elevated, in truth, is that high school is dramatic and challenging and this is what makes this world so fascinating. Rian Johnson is a director to watch in the future.
4. Little Miss Sunshine
When I went to see this film, my wife turned to me and said “It’s a road trip movie, it has to be good!” She was dead on. You laugh, cry and feel deeply for each of these characters. Their lives may be turned upside down, but they bond together and find a way through with each other, with some hilarious high jinks along the way.
5. Pan’s Labyrinth
This film took me by complete surprise. I’m not quite sure I have ever seen another film quite like this before. It is set around the fascist Spanish of 1944, but with an element of the mystical thrown in based around a young girls mystical adventures. Either film on itself would have been a great film but the fact that director Guillermo del Torro was able to blend these two stories seamlessly is an accomplishment upon itself. The thought and imagination that went into this film is extraordinary, eerie and romantic. This film will be a classic in years to come.
6. V For Vendetta
It’s been eleven months since I have seen this movie and it still resonates deeply within me. The futuristic action film is full of ideas of how to tear down a fascist British government. The answer is given to the people by a freedom fighter named “V”. I see plenty of action films and always find them enjoyable but this film is so much more. There is a profound sense of hope and determination from these characters. In the end, it is a story of the triumph of the human spirit while helping the Wachowski Brothers (who were producers and writers) gain ground after the dismal “Matrix” sequels.
7. Thank You For Smoking
The most wicked comedy of the year. Aaron Eckhart is one of the finest actors of his generation and I can honestly say I will watch him in anything. Of all the Oscar snubs this year, this is the biggest, as his performance was electrifying as he delivered every line in this film with a crocodile smile. We know we can’t trust a word he says, but he wins you over nevertheless. Eckhart plays a brash and cocky representative for the tobacco industry who can spin almost anyone on his head. His performance alone almost guaranteed this film would be on my top-ten list. Credit must be given to writer/director Jason Reitman who balanced the tone for the film beautifully while spraying it with elements of witty and comedic dialogue.
8. Marie Antoinette
Sofia Coppola divided critics and audiences with her surrealistic tale of the 18th Century French Queen. She added a new wave soundtrack and took risks with the casting but I was deeply intrigued right from the opening scene. This film could have been a stuffy period piece, but instead Sofia Coppola breathed life into it and gave the period piece a new spin. While greatly underappreciated by most, this film will continue to find its audience in coming years and in the not too distant future will be studied in film schools for its inventiveness.
9. Children of Men
A bleak, menacing look into the not too distant future in a world where women are barren and no one has given birth to a baby in eighteen-years. This dark noir stayed with me for weeks. The haunting and disturbing imagery made me think twice about how much we take for granted on this Earth. Could one imagine a world without children or no future? Director Alfonso Cuaron has made a film I believe will be viewed as the “Blade Runner” of the 21st Century.
10. Rocky Balboa
I had zero desire to see this film when I heard it was going to be made. Why would Stallone revisit this series? Apparently Sly had unfinished business and all I can tell you is that I am thrilled he chose to make it. The film finds Rocky wanting to prove himself once again, trying to find meaning in his life. The parallels between Stallone and Rocky are eerie. Stallone went back to the first film and took all the heart in it and transported it thirty-years into the future. This story is as inspiring as any film that will come out of Hollywood and I can’t recommend it enough.
11. United 93 / World Trade Center
Two distinctly different films about the same day with Paul Greengrass taking the lead with the docudrama style in “United 93”. One is a shot like a docudrama and the other is a drama shot in a straightforward storytelling manner. Both are deeply profound and while some audiences are not ready for them today, they are important documents for future generations.
12. The Queen
An inside look at the Queen following the death of Princess Diana. The film is based on insider stories from people who witnessed these events. Helen Mirren gives the performance of her life (in what is already a remarkable career) as the Queen. She’s bone-chilling good and she inhabits a character the same way Anthony Hopkins does; you never once doubt that what you are seeing on screen is a live, vital and real person and not a movie star.
13. Casino Royale
The genre of action films will never get the credit they deserve, but this Bond film may take the cake as a definitive one. This was the film Pierce Brosnan wanted to make but they fought him for over a decade before he handed the keys over to his Aston Martin. Daniel Craig breathes life into the character and most importantly, the story of how James Bond became 007 is something I’m not sure if anyone thought they would ever see. Sadly one can only tell this story once so it’s unlikely future installments will be as good as this one.
14. Stranger Than Fiction
A sweet, melancholy film that was overlooked last fall with revelatory performances by Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal. It’s a simple but intriguing story of a character within a story. The Emma Thompson and Will Ferrell storylines do not cross until late in the picture, but every moment leading up to it leads to a bigger whole. Harold Crick’s transformation is one of the most joyous things I have witnessed on a movie screen in years.
15. Superman Returns
Is this film perfect? No, however, director Bryan Singer did the impossible he revitalized a franchise that has been dead for close to two-decades. I always loved the Superman stories and despite numerous attempts at trying to resurrect this franchise,
16. Notes On A Scandal
If Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett did not already have Oscars, they would be the front runners in this years Oscar campaign because of their otherworldly impassioned performances. This is a disturbing tale of friendship where these two actresses play off one another like they are playing chess, each moving subtly through the picture. Aside from “The Departed” no other 2006 features more tour de force performances.
17. Little Children
This film is a wildly involving emotional tale of two lost souls seeking solace and meaning in their lives who find it in the comfort of one another. Both are married and seeking a less complicated life away from their demanding and emotionally distant spouses. Director Todd Field (“In The Bedroom”) carefully wrote and directed this film and while it’s not a fast moving film, it is completely engrossing. Kate Winslet is nominated often for Oscars and I have to tell you, she has never been more deserving than this year. This is her most complicated and challenging role to date and yet she handles it with ease. Truly great acting is when it appears to be effortless. Another film that is full of astounding performances by Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly and Jackie Earle Haley.
18. Clerks 2
What can I say, Kevin Smith’s return to his roots made me laugh…a lot. It’s also sweet and more grown up than his first film twelve years ago. Smith is a director, who continually surprises me and while his humor is raunchy, he develops and grows with every film as a writer, actor and director.
19. The Good Shepherd
Yes this film is lengthy and big on minute details; however, I also had very low expectations for the film. Robert De Niro took the seat behind the camera as the director for the first time since 1993’s “A Bronx Tale” and he crafted a delicate yet extremely engaging and thought provoking film on the creation of the CIA. Matt Damon is one of the most underappreciated actors working today. By now he should have had Oscar nominations for not just this film but “The Departed”, “Syriana”, “Stuck On You” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. Like Kate Winslet, the greatest actors appear to not act at all and few people could have pulled off the bone chilling performance Damon gives here. This film also warrants some of De Niro’s lesser comedies of the last few years as I am sure he made those films as leverage to make this one.
20. I Know I’m Not Alone
My favorite documentary of the year and virtually no one knows of it. Michael Franti is a musician who chose to go to a number of war torn countries and show the other side of the story not being shown on network news broadcasts. He merely spoke to people and wanted to show the human element of war.
It’s not “Rocky” but this inspiring true tale of someone who becomes a player for the Philadelphia Eagles performed with great ease by Mark Wahlberg who continues to prove cynics wrong with his acting. It’s straightforward Hollywood fare that amazingly feels true without manipulating the audience’s emotions.
22. The Notorious Betty Page
Gretchen Mol gives a career defining performance as the first superstar pin-up girl. The film looks deep into her psyche. Instead of some twisted sex tale, the film is more of an exploration of one’s soul and how she comes to reconcile her image. Mol was determined a “has been” by Hollywood before her career even took off and she owns this role and sadly, come award time, it was overlooked. She isn’t just playing Betty Page, she exudes her sexuality and her goody too shoes innocence at the same time.
23. Shut Up & Sing
I just saw this film last night and it’s an intense look over a three-year period in the lives of the Dixie Chicks. The good, the bad and the ugly is here on display here showcasing their warts, triumphs and tragedies. The film was released with little fan fare but it’s an important document of the group’s outspoken manners and the media backlash due to some infamous comments. The film carefully showcases that these women are far more vulnerable than they would ever appear in an interview segment, but at the end of the day they may have the final laugh as they just swept the Grammy’s. There are great moments of humor, sweetness and horror on display here.
Steven Soderbergh’s return to independent film with an engrossing murder mystery filmed with non-actors and released to cable, theaters and DVD simultaneously last winter. Despite no big names in the film, I promise you that you will have a hard time not being sucked in by the story.
The most surprising film of the year which offended as many people as it entertained. Surprisingly, it is more than a gross-out comedy. It is a social commentary on how close minded, conservative and ignorant large parts of America truly are. In many ways, many of the people Borat encountered were far more ignorant than he ever could be.
Twenty other films worth seeking out (In no particular order)
A powerful and evoking film that isn’t perfect. While I greatly admire the film, it relies on three distinct pieces to flow together. However, one of the three stories, while deeply emotionally wrenching, does not fit with the other two at all. For that reason alone, I can’t put this at the top of my list.
Ryan Gosling deserves his Oscar nomination as a drug using teacher, however, I wanted to love this film but it did not evoke the emotional response I had hoped for.
An Inconvenient Truth
If this movie had come out in 2000 Al Gore would have easily won the presidential election. The film truly impacted my life as I immediately went around my house unplugging outlets and looking for new ways to recycle. Also, it’s an engaging two-hour film that will make you think twice before you throw out a soda can again.
Who Killed The Electric Car
This is a fascinating and frustrating documentary about the invention and demise of the electric car. You will be livid upon the movie’s completion.
Letters From Iwo Jima
I’ll be the first to say this film is overrated, but it is a fascinating and brave look at “the other side” of the story. Ken Watanabe gives a career defining performance in this heart wrenching film. What it does show is that no matter what country one lives in or what side of a war one fights on, we are all humans with families, dreams and hopes.
I’ve never been a Penelope Cruz fan and will admit to criticizing her acting almost every chance I get, but she is dynamite in this film proving that she is capable of a tour de force performance in her own language.
It’s a downbeat film with depressing topics, but Maggie Gyllenhaal is spectacular as a former addict haunted by her past actions and addictions. Not the easiest film to watch but one that should be seen for Maggie’s performance.
Conversations With Other Women
The dialogue driven film is a showcase for Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter who are former lovers who meet at a wedding years later. The film is edited and shown with split screens and makes for a captivating watch along with a stylish script and two performances that are bustling.
Here is yet another example of Hollywood making a great commercial film. It’s a genuine script and Queen Latifah is wildly entertaining giving her best performance to date. There is nothing flashy about the Wayne Wang’s (“Smoke”) direction but the film hits your emotional core and like “Invincible” and “Rocky Balboa” is profoundly inspiring.
This is hands down the most disturbing film of the year about a religious camp for young children. I consider myself spiritual and religious but this film will shock you more than any horror film or any story on the nightly news.
The Pixar team makes their films so effortlessly that we often take them for granted. “Cars” is not quite as good as the films that have preceded it, but it’s still quality entertainment and will continue to be watched generations from now.
Some people have a hard time watching Spike Lee films but this is easily his most digestible film to date. It’s a first rate thriller and mystery with an A-list cast that is incredibly enjoyable and intriguing.
The Last King of Scotland
A powerhouse performance by Forest Whitaker is what most takes with them when seeing this film but there is so much more to it. It’s not one of the defining pictures of the year but it still an important and engrossing film rooted in a social reality we all too often tend to not want to know about.
Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor are a dream team in this simple and engaging film about Beatrix Potter, the author or “Peter Rabbit”. It’s a charming and wonderful film that sadly too few people saw when in theaters.
This is a small film based around a thirteen-year-old Asian boy who goes through his growing pains in his family owned motel. An unexpected elder rents a room and befriends the young boy and shows him the inside track to life’s many questions. It’s a small film but also incredibly enjoyable and remarkable despite no familiar faces.
A well intentioned film by Emilio Estevez who proves he’s no joke as he wrote and directed this film. You won’t see more stars in a single film this year and while it’s not a revolutionary film, it is enjoyable and worth seeking out.
Mike Judge’s completely surreal bizarre comedy where Luke Wilson is frozen in a military experiment and awakens 500-years in the future to find he’s the smartest human on Earth. It’s funny, scary and potentially a very relevant social commentary.
X-Men: The Last Stand
While not quite the masterpiece the middle portion of this trilogy was, it’s still highly entertaining comic book fare with some of the best characters to inhabit the silver screen.
Art School Confidential
I put off seeing this film and when I finally did watch it, I found it jubilant and appealing despite how it was marketed. This film is incredibly funny and often questions what truly great art is. Not every film on this list will get a second viewing from me, but this one definitely will if for no other reason than the hysterical portrait of an art teacher, performed flawlessly by John Malkovich, who is merely a frustrated artist who is not taken seriously.
I would caution most people from seeing this futuristic thriller by the dazzling director Darren Aronofsky. The story behind making this film is as epic as the story. The problem is that this film probably requires a dozen viewings to find it’s true meaning. I can’t tell you how much I admired this film, however, unless you have the patience for a surreal adventure where you may have more questions at the end then at the beginning, I wouldn’t suggest this film. However, despite what people say, I imagine that this will be studied, debated, loved and loathed for decades to come.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
I opened my email later today and received an email from the Bon Jovi camp to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of their landmark album, “Slippery When Wet”. For a few seconds, I became intrigued as I thought an overdue deluxe reissue of the album would be announced. Instead, I saw the following pictures:
Over the last few years Bon Jovi has been criticized by numerous factions of fans (including myself) for caring more about money than art. Now, I want to be the first to say that I believe every artist...heck every human on this Earth deserves the right to make as much money as they possibly can. I see nothing wrong with it and the truth is we all sell-out every once in a while even if we don’t realize it. We all make sacrifices to live certain lifestyles; however with Bon Jovi…I love them, admire them and want to write about their immense talents. However, they have made my job the last few years very difficult. I want to praise them…they are one of the greatest live bands to ever grace a concert stage and even when I’ve lost faith in them, they redeem themselves when they hit that stage. Alas, I’m growing tired of trying to justify this band and their actions.
Let’s start with the 20th Anniversary of “Slippery When Wet”. It was originally released on August 18th, 2006 and a proper anniversary release would have made sense last fall. However, “Slippery” was the number one selling album of 1987, so I won’t fault them for what is a footnote. But…why hock crappy merchandise? I got into music in 1987 and the second album I ever bought was “Slippery”. I didn’t get into this band because of how they looked or for their merchandise but because of the music. The music is truly what matters. A special Dual Disc was released in 2005, however, the Dual Disc is all but dead and the band should properly celebrate the anniversary with a deluxe edition of this landmark album.
What to include? I have a bunch of ideas:
#1 Include the b-sides “Edge of a Broken Heart” and the currently unavailable “Borderline” at the end of the original album since there is thirty-five minutes of unused disc space. Then on the second disc, why not release the complete and full sixteen song demo originally heard by the pizza parlor jury in early 1986. This copy has circulated in bootleg circles for years, albeit in poor quality. “Livin’ on a Prayer” was a hidden track on the bands 2004 box set and it sounded great so I know they have the tools to bring the other fifteen tracks up to speed. Many of these songs are alternate versions with different lyrics and it even includes a lead vocal from Richie Sambora on “Never Say Goodbye”. It would also give “Too Much, Too Soon” an official release. This was a song Jon and Richie wrote on the same day as “Wanted” and the band has talked about it from time to time in interviews. The 2004 box set did not feature any of the “Slippery” tracks (aside from the hidden track “Prayer).
#2 Include an in-depth documentary on the making of the album and NOT the crappy VH-1 “Ultimate Albums” special from a few years back. Bruce Fairburn may no longer be with us, but release a 2-hour DVD showcasing the evolution of this album, early mixes, the original album cover and the impact the album still has two-decades later.
#3 Release “Slippery When Wet-The Videos” on DVD. The band has not released any of their old home videos on the DVD medium, for reasons I could only imagine but my gut feeling tells me that they are embarrassed by how they look and sounded back then. These were all guy in their 20’s burned out by the demands of the road and they looked it. However, even Bruce Springsteen overcame how he looked and sounded thirty-years back and eventually released a in depth documentary on the making of “Born To Run”.
#4 Release a live home video from the era. Hell will freeze over before this happens as Jon Bon Jovi has been very vocal about his dissatisfaction on how his voice sounded on this tour. It was strained and I believe the shows that were professionally filmed towards the end of the tour so any chance of these seeing the light of day is unlikely.
#5 Release an official live album of the tour. See item #4 for an explanation as to why this will never happen. However, the band did broadcast a radio broadcast from Cincinnati in March of 1987 where Jon’s voice wasn’t as strained as it was later in the tour.
Def Leppard released a great 2-disc set celebrating “Hysteria” late last year and I don’t know why Bon Jovi won’t do the same? I have no issues with artists plugging and pushing merchandise, but respect your fans and give them something that they can chew on. A pair of hot pants with the “Slippery” logo is a lousy way to celebrate an album whose worldwide sales are over 20 million. This band has so much sitting in their vaults, why not release it and capitalize on it while simultaneously celebrating this milestone?
I love this band…I really do but between stuff like this and future appearances on American Idol, it makes my job trying to convince others of the bands talent that much harder.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Monday, February 19, 2007
House of Blues
I know I'm far away from home but I know I'm not alone
-“I Know I’m Not Alone”
A few months back a friend and colleague told me of Michael Franti and called him the “Modern Marley”, which automatically made me cautious. While I’ve always admired reggae, I have found every artist who has followed in Bob Marley’s untimely death (including his own sons) have had a hard time reinventing the wheel. They come off as carbon copies of the godfather of reggae. Despite my suspicions, I went out and bought “Yell Fire” and to my great surprise, the praise my mentor threw upon him was more than well deserved. Franti and his group Spearhead is this generation’s Bob Marley. I’m not really sure what how one would define Franti’s genre of music. It has elements of reggae, hip-hop, ska and rock, but in my mind, all that matters is this is an artist with soul. His music is inspiring, uplifting and socially conscious. Little did I know the “Yell Fire” record was merely a footnote in this man’s legacy.
In 2004, Franti decided to go to Iraq and other war torn countries with his guitar to see if he could make sense of the daily violence around them. The resulting film, “I Know I’m Not Alone” is playing at special screenings, film festivals and is available on DVD and may very well end up on my ten best films of the year list for 2006. It’s a compelling and invoking film which does not criticize governments, but merely raises questions. It puts the people of these countries at the forefront who live life day to day struggling under harsh circumstances most of us could not fathom. This is one of those films one will not forget anytime soon. The human spirit soars in this film and reminds us that many of the obstacles we encounter in life are insignificant compared to the struggles of those featured in this film.
Michael Franti and Spearhead rode through Chicago to the House of Blues the Saturday before Halloween for what would turn out to be an astounding performance. Even before a note had been performed, the mood within the room was thrilling with a West Coast Grateful Dead aura encapsulating the audience where everyone appeared at ease and ready to be moved. Franti and Spearhead were at home and in their element mixing gorgeous pop sensibilities with reggae flavor right from the evenings opening notes of “Time To Go Home”. The crowd was entranced as they shook back and forth mimicking Franti as he preached his form of peace through his music. Not only did Franti entertain, but his performance was all about exuberant joy and elevation. For anyone who entered the music hall with repressed emotions, they were able to unleash them as they swayed to the music. The album’s title track, “Yell Fire” showcased Franti’s message of hope with a visceral power that found the crowd on the brink of losing it, and it was only the evening’s second performance. The show was heavy on material from their most recent album, “Yell Fire”, an evangelical collection of hymns which are compelling and high-spirited. The show was like a revolutionary peace rally where the music expanded and improved on the magnanimous record. The audience hung on every note sung by Franti as they were ready to follow him anywhere.
Girls and boys hear the bass and treble
Rumble in the speakers and it make you wanna rebel
Throw your hands up, take it to another level
And you can never, ever, ever make a deal with the devil
The biggest accomplishment of this evening was that Franti and Spearhead delved into political topics, yet this was not an evening about the left and the right. Never once did Franti drown his audience with speeches that alienated his audience. He didn’t bash any politician by name or political affiliation, merely letting his music do the talking without insulting anyone. It was refreshing to see an artist be compassionate about topics that truly matter who at the same time didn’t offend anyone. “East To West” promotes a message of tolerance, peace and being free. This was something that was not lost on the crowd. One must admire for Franti not being afraid to take political subjects head on, while being able to break it down to a human element. This is why his music unifies rather than divide. This is where politicians fail time and time again.
The band cued up “I Know I’m Not Alone”, a bold song with a U2 influence which fused the 1,400 in the audience with an unyielding force for the encore. A great performance engages and inspires the audience and “I Know I’m Not Alone” did just this. Music is more than being about celebrity, ego and image. It’s about lifting your spirits and inspiring you to live a better life. It’s about helping you through trying times in your life and making you believe in yourself when the world is against you. This is what Michael Franti and Spearhead are all about. They are an unconventional hip hop artist with the spirit of reggae flowing through their veins. Franti’s physical presence is rousing as he conducts the crowd with his movements and music giving the crowd a deep sense of empowerment. Franti and Spearhead delivered their fusion rap-rock-ska-reggae music to a near sold-out crowd which not only elevated their hearts and minds, but their souls as well. They proved that despite our inner struggles, the communal feel of music will ensure that none of us are alone in this world from Baltimore to Bagdad to Israel to Ireland.
I was fortunate to spend some time with the gifted Franti post-show. What I found was an artist who merely wants to make a difference in the world. He wasn’t standing on top a pulpit preaching but merely talking to each and every person as an equal looking to share a common interest. He’s not concerned with money, ego or the trappings of success; he’s merely concerned with making a bond with people and lifting their souls, showcased magnanimously on the track “Everyone Needs Music”. In a world of impending doom, it’s refreshing to see an artist attempting to elevate hearts and minds rather than overloading them with unnecessary posing. He sings very simply about peace, love and freedom. The world may be a very sinister place full of evil characters and wars, but one must admire the romantic sincerity of Franti’s message makes us all feel like we’re not alone. As long as Franti continues on his mission to make music, I know I will never fully be alone.
Everyone deserves music, sweet music
Even our worst enemies Lord, they deserves music, music
Even the quiet ones in our family, they deserve music
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Saturday, October 29, 2005
I got a suitcase full of empty dreams
A guitar with broken strings
A busted heart that longs to sing the blues
Great shows begin and end with a bang. They capture the hearts and minds of the audience and never let go even after the music has faded into the night. During the encore of Will Hoge’s recent appearance at the Park West in Chicago, he played one lone number, “She Don’t Care About Me”. On paper this may appear to be an ordinary ending to an extraordinary evening. Sure, the encore was one song; however, it was a ten-minutes plus jam in which Will Hoge and his band took this simple rock number to mythic and grand proportions. In this extended jam, the band took a straightforward song and augmented it for a truly illustrious moment as “Midnight Rider” was incorporated throughout “She Don’t Care…” and even though the track lasted over ten-minutes, each and every member of the audience was spellbound by the remarkable performance and no one dared to head for the door. With the effortless wave of a hand, Will brought it all back home for a forceful finale while the audience watched closely just as children would watch a magician wave his wand waiting for their next trick. There was no fooling anyone in Chicago, what occurred was magical as the band impressed everyone. Bruce Springsteen once sang, “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night…” and if your city is lucky enough to have Will Hoge pass thru, there will be more than magic, but power, perseverance and preservation of the thing I call rock n’ roll.
I had just completed an article on Will Hoge the week he came to Chicago for a headline gig at the Park West. I had two tickets reserved for me at will call, but I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous. I had seen Will open for Marc Broussard eight months earlier and the performance was riveting. However, how would he handle a headline slot? At 9:30pm on the head, Will and his band took the stage and plowed through “Secondhand Heart”, “Let Me Be Lonely” and “Doesn’t Have To Be This Way” in succession. The musicianship during these first three numbers was nothing short of spine-tingling and luminous. Each band member feeds off the other and the song arrangements have hurdled leaps and bounds since they were first recorded. Will Hoge may be a solo act taking his show on the road but the tightness and musicianship of this opening trio of tunes showcased that for Will Hoge, rock n’ roll is a band thing. Throughout the course of the evening, Will’s persistence and spirit rose above as the crowd, as they watched him surprise them song after song. New and old songs alike won the crowd over as the band tore through a set full of energy, emotion and soul. Will and the band rode through their set with confidence and determination usually the best headliners only have. Here is an act that one night is opening for ZZ Top and the next will be playing a festival and then headlining a club the next. They move from gig to gig like midnight riders delivering their brand of rock n’ roll with willpower and a vengeance no matter what the size of the venue or audience is.
As the evening progressed, Will lacerated the strings on his guitar as he whisked up the opening chords of “Better Off Now”. The break up rocker struck a chord with me as it was written from the heart and I could put myself into a time and place in my life where I felt just like the lyrics (“Ghosts of you would come back to me whenever I was alone”). “Ms. Williams” followed in a shotgun like fashion as the driving bass beat kicked in while voices from the crowd sung in unison. Illustrious artists should do more than just entertain, but they should inspire and strike chords within your heart. Early in his set Will grabbed mine, just like he had eight months earlier.
Being a road warrior, Will is not afraid to try out new material on a crowd. Tonight was no exception, he ran through a number of tunes which will be on his forthcoming album coming out in early 2006. “I Wanna Be Strong” was first up and the soul wrenching anthem is one Otis Redding would have loved. As I watched Will perform the song, his intensity could be seen as he did not open his eyes and yet you could feel the yearning and despair in his voice while at the same time feeling like it was your own experience he was singing about. “Highways Home” (dedicated to Hank Williams), “Pocket Full of Change” and “Hearts Are Gonna Roll” further demonstrated the band is no fluke and that their new material is potent and can potentially be truly tremendous in concert once fans become more familiar with it. The material ranged from rocking to soulful and if these songs are any indication, Will’s next album may be one of 2006’s best. Let me pause for a second and talk about the voice. Will has one of the most soulful and intense voices I’ve heard in years. It’s not so much the strength of the voice, but the resolve with which he uses it. It is an instrument and he uses it brilliantly on his soulful serenades.
The stage and club had no glitz, no glamour- just the pure essence of rock ‘n roll. No fancy posters or backing banners hung on stage, there was just a band who believes in their music and getting it out to as many people as possible. During the encore, Will was speaking to the crowd as he tuned his guitar and joked about how one day, maybe they’ll be big enough to pay someone to do it for them. I for one pray they hit the big time sooner than later because I can’t think of a single performer I’ve seen in the last few years that deserve it more. When seeing Will live it’s more than just a concert but a life transforming event. You always hear about seeing classic artists like U2, REM, Pearl Jam and Nirvana in small clubs like the Park West before they made it big. People speak of it in legendary terms that are almost mythic. I feel the same way about Will Hoge, each and every lyric sung, bass thumbed, cymbal crashed and guitar strummed I feel time slipping away from me to a time where Will Hoge will no longer be just “my” cult artist. He’s a determined and compelling live performer who has the material to back him up and I believe it’s just a matter of time before he’s no longer just my little secret. He’s not a pop star or even a rock star; he’s simply Will Hoge, a first rate musician who believes deeply in his mission of making music will bring about a relationship with his audience.
There is something about the connection between the listener and the artist, it’s an ongoing relationship. One wonders why I hate and despise one-hit wonders on the radio today and my answer is what would you rather have; a cheap fun one night stand or a ongoing nurturing relationship that will nourish you and help you continue to grow and evolve as a person? I'll take the later. Will is an artist with a mission, the type of artist who makes you feel connected to where you have been, where you are now and where you are going.
Will is an artist of conscience who makes a bond with his audience. Sure, he’s a rock n’ roller who leaves a pint of blood on the concert stage every night, but beneath the blood, sweat and tears is an artist of considerable significance. He’s no fly by night artist who will be here one moment and gone tomorrow. At the end of the day, it is the power of his prose that distinguishes him from others, as he is reaching deeper from within to tell stories. These are more than boy meets girl stories, but ones with a social impact. Look no further and “Washed By The Water”, a profoundly powerful anthem for those in need and those who need shelter from the storm. The song was written in the aftermath of Katrina’s devastating effects this past summer and Will posted a live MP3 of the song to his website shortly thereafter. This song for Will is the equivalent of “Blowin’ In The Wind” to Dylan, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” to U2, “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen…these were all important songs, to the respective artists, where they made a decision to take their audience on a journey that involved alternate routes and crossroads. I am glad I caught the train early and can’t wait for further life lessons with Will Hoge. Desperate times call for great artists to heal…Will Hoge is one of these artists who touches our hearts, engages our minds and replenishes our souls. Now that’s magic.
Monday, February 12, 2007
As for the other categories, there are some impressive feats here and in the coming weeks I'll focus on a few of these films on my "Best of 2006" list which I usually publish right before the Oscars.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Got a thousand miles to go
Do another show
In some town that we don't know
The Double Door is a small club tucked on the corner of a long city block and the backstage area is…well there isn’t one. When an artist usually leaves the stage they head out the back door to their bus. This was the way the Stones did it when they performed a one-off club show in 1997. Ironically, I had just seen the Rolling Stones ten days before this show and even though these two artists are playing to much different crowds, they both have commanding live shows which immortalize and crystallize them within our memories. One of the things I love about the Stones, which most people don’t realize, is that no two shows are ever identical, even if set lists are identical. The advantage of having a core group of musicians who have rocked the world for the better part of a half century is they know each others every movement and have the ability to feed off one another. Guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood ensure no two performances of “Satisfaction” and “Jumping Jack Flash” are ever alike as they duel with one another continually turning on a dime switching tempos and textures. The last time I saw Will Hoge and his band of troubadour’s was in Milwaukee eight months earlier and needless to say I awed with their breathtaking abandon on the small stage. A new live album (“Again Somewhere Tomorrow”) is on the horizon and those who think it will cover the same ground as the masterful “During the Before and After” are mistaken. The current incarnation of this band is tighter (if that is even possible) and more revved up machine who are attacking this material with reckless abandon. I was bowled over by how seductive these songs could be with minor arrangement changes while still holding their endearing narrative drive.
Will leaped onto the stage directly from the rainy sidewalk as the band soared into “The Man Who Killed Love”, the title track from his most recent release. Will’s harp playing was magnificent as it set the tone for a bluesy evening where all bets were off. What I love most about Hoge and his band is that they’re not trying to be different or stand out in the crowd of other wannabe’s but merely view every show with a tour de force attitude. They leave those who witness their magic wanting more. It is one thing to give killer performances night after night, town after town, but it’s another to reinvent your show every few months. I’ve followed some of the biggest stadium acts in the world and many of them fall into a habit of keeping the same basic structure for decades. The Will Hoge band is arguably one of the most seasoned on the touring circuit. They take these songs to new heights every night with epic performances as they reach into your soul and leave you wanting more. There may be more virtuosic performers out there, but great musicians don’t make great bands. Will Hoge has an illustrious band whose performances come off as effortless. Leading the group is bassist Dean Tomasek, whose suave rhythmatic playing makes the songs lean while simultaneously complimenting Hoge’s love torn vocal melodies with a backbeat so strong it’s haunting. Dean is to Will what John Entwistle was to the Who, an indispensable ingredient who can single handedly captivate the audience.
These songs have taken on a new life with fresh and innovative arrangements which should be showcased with a smoky sweet exuberance on the new live album. The band continues to reinvent all of its material, featured most beautifully on the melancholy flavored “Hey Tonight”. Here is a song I don’t even feel is among Will’s best, but seeing it live makes me realize it was always a great song buried under unnecessary production. Will even brought out the rarely performed “Sunshine Burn”, a song from his first band (Spoonful) written almost a decade back. Most bands give up on songs that are not immediate hits, but Hoge and his band continue to attack this material until it’s put into the proper context. One may not be happy with how a song turns out on an album, however, if you stop performing it, you have been defeated. Will Hoge has no desire to lie down and be defeated which makes these performances all the more enthralling to watch.
Eight months after its release, the material off of “The Man Who Killed Love” continues to evolve. Will’s vocal on “Woman Be Strong” knocked me to the ground with an emotion spewed forth that was awe-inspiring. This is from a guy who sings his heart out at over two-hundred and fifty shows a year. No one’s voice should sound this good after this much strain. All of this brings me to what an indelible album this truly is. Great rock n’ roll records feel like cinematic masterpieces which present a wide canvas of stories, feelings and emotions which make ordinary lives feel like they are extraordinary. Great art inspires and makes you realize there is heroism in facing your demons. “Pocket Full of Change” finds an artist at a crossroads willing to face his detractors head on with a peek-a-boo vibrancy. The horn arrangements and simplicity make the album one that will be cherished decades from now. There are more hip albums released this year and others who receive more airplay, but time will show that “The Man Who Killed Love” is hands down 2006’s album of the year. One can only hope this album will find an audience eventually because even more important than this one album is the discovery of an artist who may accompany them on their continued life journey. What differentiates Will from numerous other singer songwriters is his soulful romantic voice. At his core, Will Hoge is a rock troubadour who is a romantic, something few artists have been able to truly pull off since Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen debuted over three decades ago.
If I have ever seen one fault with Hoge and his band, it’s been with the length of the shows. I’m a Springsteen fan to the core, so I don’t want to leave a show until I feel that an artist can’t even stand once they leave the stage. However, it’s also unfair of me to think and feel this. It’s one thing to demand it of Springsteen, U2, Aerosmith and Bon Jovi…who never play more than two shows in a row, travel via a jet to the gigs, stay in first class hotels and have tickets priced above $100 and it’s another to demand it of a band who plays club after club, six nights a week, showers in rest stops and then takes an hour after every show to talk with fans and load their gear before heading back out on the road to the next city. Hoge’s Chicago show was just shy of two-hours and I just heard reports that his recent Milwaukee show was just shy of three-hours with an unheralded twelve song encore. This is what differentiates Will Hoge from the other gazillion artists in the myspace generation. He doesn’t seek fame or fortune, but pours his soul into performances and records because it’s all he knows how to do. This is an artist on the brink of greatness. Heck, he is great, it’s just a matter of time until others find out…and if you’re smart you’ll seek him out soon before it’s too late.
Upon an initial look at the set list, if I had not been at this show, I would have viewed it as a letdown. Many of the songs performed I don’t view as Will’s top tier material. Songs like “King of Grey” and “Hey Tonight” I view as “B” material, even though Will’s “B” material is “A” material for most other artists. The performance of these songs tonight proves why Hoge and his band of rogue road warriors may be the best live band on the road today. They elevated these songs to heights I never imagined possible. This is what differentiates Will from the other artists of the myspace generation. The live performance is where you can allow your material to grow and nurture and more importantly, this is where you can prove your critics wrong. If you stop playing certain songs, the battle is over and you might as well be flying a white flag. Not Will Hoge, he continues to defy the standard music industry rules pushing himself further as a musician. While most other acts are concerned with how many albums they have sold, how many videos they can make and how many late night shows they can get on, Hoge is focusing on what will truly give him longevity; musicianship.
As the evening continued “Ms. Williams”, “She Don’t Care”, “Hearts Are Gonna Roll”, “All Night Long” and “Pocket Full of Change”, “Not That Cool” and “Sweet Magdeline” were unlike any other versions I had ever seen or heard live before. It wasn’t just a few minor differences in the way these songs were played, but for the most part new arrangements that made me feel like I was hearing these songs for the first time all over again. Great arena bands take their biggest hits and expand them tour to tour so they don’t grow stale. Will Hoge’s material is anything but stale and continues to remain fresh and invigorating by his continual desire to make every show revitalizing. In short, I can’t wait to hear the new live album.
There are hundreds, dare I say, thousands of talented musicians in this world. But there is only one Will Hoge. There’s something poetic about his albums and concerts and never do I walk away from one without feeling I witnessed something distinctive and extraordinary. No other artist out there today is as dedicated to his craft as Will Hoge. He and his band are not looking for any kind of iconoclastic praise, but mere do what they do to make a connection with their audience. The music industry has so few acts like Will today. Here is an artist who music comforts me. What I admire and love is this is not a guy seeking celebrity or iconoclastic praise, but one who wants to have a career, no matter how small, a decade from now. One can only wish that there were more Will Hoge’s in this world. There is such a profound impact while listening to this music, I often find myself lost in his stories and often discover something about myself in the process. In life we don’t always have the answers to every struggle we encounter. However, if you look hard enough and are blessed to encounter an artist like Will Hoge, then they make the fight to live life easier to deal with. Can you say the same about the Pussycat Dolls? I didn’t think so. These are merely five musicians, but on their best nights, like the one at the Double Door, they break boundaries giving an ambitious performance. Nights like these that remain in your memory days, weeks, months and years later.
I Got a pocket full of change
But everythings the same
A man can go insane
Trying to make it in this game
I got a pocket full of change
-Pocket Full of Change