Monday, April 30, 2007
April 21, 2007
On the evening of April 21st, I witnessed with the music industry is in a freefall of failure, confusion and disarray. I caught Christina Aguilera’s concert at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL and I went largely for one reason; Christina’s pipes. This young woman has a weapon of a voice and in the last few years she has not only been utilizing this weapon, but has been attempting to prove to everyone that she is more than a bubblegum pop star. For the most part, Aguilera has shown growth as an artist by following her own muse and making her audience aware of where she truly draws her inspiration from (Billie Holliday, etc.). For all of this, I applaud her, however, I wish she or her management had more common sense when approving the opening acts for her most recent tour. The choices of Danity Kane and the Pussycat Dolls are shameful and embarrassing ones.
What I witnessed before Aguilera hit the stage was an atrocity of unimaginable proportions. Both Danity Kane and the Pussycat Dolls consist of attractive females who have limited musical talent. Scratch that…no musical talent. Aguilera has survived and thrived because she has been able to show the world she’s more than just a pretty face, but potentially an artist to keep our eyes on. Whether she was attractive or not is beside the point. However, the only thing worth watching during these opening sets were the perfectly sculpted bodies of these young women. Without these bodies, they would not have a career of any kind. I didn’t see a single ounce of musical talent and it was an insult to even have to witness it. The two performances combined lasted sixty-minutes; sixty-minutes of my life that I can never have back.
The music from both acts was completely forgettable and even worse; there wasn’t even the sight of a fake musician anywhere on the stage (although Danity Kane did have a DJ). They didn’t even try to cover up the fact that they are musical hacks. These two acts are prime examples of why the corporate record companies are in a dismal financial state. These acts will never have long careers and while some people do buy this music, it doesn’t inspire fanaticism where the fans will follow these artists for the rest of their lives. There is zero artist development here. Both acts are the equivalent of fast food; it may taste good going down, but when you digest it, it leaves you with a bad feeling and you immediately wonder why you enjoyed it in the first place. This music does not and will never resonate.
There was zero emotion or feeling in either performance. I love stupid guilty-pleasure pop music, but what I witnessed was nothing more than a plan hatched by executives sitting behind a desk attempting to make a slew of money by advertising nothing but sex. There was no heart or soul is any of this music. I can’t imagine anyone ever being inspired by these vapid women, let alone wanting to go out and actually fork over money for this music. Even though there was a generous crowd response to some of the Pussycat numbers, I doubt anyone will be telling their children about how this music spoke to them in a time of need in their youth. Instead, their parents won’t tell them anything as it will fade faster than a flower.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
The films opens with Hopkins character shooting his wife. What appears to be a shut and close case turns out to be anything but. The lawyer Gosling plays can not handle losing and as a result, we get a first rate mental chess game. A lot of attention is being given to Hopkins and he's completely entrancing while on the silver screen. As good as Hopkins is, Gosling is up to the task of taking him on and he delivers a great performance. He shined in last years Half Nelson, for which he received an Oscar nomination. He has controls of chis characters and the audience delves deep into his psyche with each of his characters. He is a actor to watch.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
The history behind Hysteria is enough to fill a book. If you truly want to inside story, check out wikipedia or their episode of “Classic Albums” on VH-1 Classic (which can also be bought on DVD with bonus footage). “Classic Albums” is a wonderful documentary that goes inside the makings of each album from a technical standpoint which makes you appreciate the album even more. Mutt Lange (the album’s producer) was truly the George Martin/Brian Wilson of this project. Besides Rick Allen’s tragic accident there were so many other obstacles this band needed to overcome to bring this album to life. In the end, after three different producers, Mutt Lange took the reigns and helped create the band’s definitive album, a greatest hits record within itself that had seven singles, six of which went top-twenty. Just last fall when VH-1 counted down the Top-100 songs of the 80’s, “Pour Some Sugar On Me” was at number two.
While everyone knows the big hits (“Pour Some Sugar One Me”, “Animal”, “Love Bites”, “Rocket”), it’s side two that really leaves an indelible impression. “Gods of War” is still performed live today and is truly a classic album track. “Run Riot” would be the perfect concert opener and “Excitable” received a decent amount of airplay and was rumored to be the eighth single from this album. My personal favorite, “Love and Affection” is greatly overlooked and is truly a lost treasure. One can only hope the band digs into their catalog on future tours as there are five non-hit singles on here that are stellar.
The new deluxe Hysteria includes some stellar packaging. The double-disc set is much like the other Deluxe Edition’s from Universal. The inner booklet contains some great liner notes from Rolling Stone journalist David Fricke, who even wrote a book on the creation of the album back in 1987. He recalls the trials, tribulations and triumphs of this band while recording along with some precious personal anecdotes and stories. Fricke is a legendary journalist and it’s great to see a writer of his stature wax his poetic prose on a band that is all too deserving. The enclosed booklet has pictures from the legendary and brutally honest Ross Halfin, one of the best rock photographers on the planet. There is even a picture inside of the seven singles from the albums re-constructed to create a partial picture of the Hysteria album cover. All in all, it’s a stunning package giving fans everything they could want from their favorite album.
It was rumored in early 1987 that Def Leppard had finally completed recording on Hysteria and yet the album was not released until July 27, 1987 (the same day as another rock masterpiece, Appetite For Destruction). Why the long delay between completion of recording and release date? This can be summed up in one word: mixing. Mutt Lange took months, not weeks, to mix this album. He spent almost one month mixing “Women”, which he saw as setting the template for the remainder of the album. If anyone wonders if producing and mixing really matter, all they need to do is take a listen to the b-sides included on this new deluxe packaging. Lange did not add his personal touch to these b-sides and while they’re raw and full of revitalized energy (especially on “Tear It Down”), they lack to sonic stratosphere that Mutt Lange brings to his recordings.
My non-remastered Hysteria disc from 1987 still sounds better than many albums released in the last few years, so I was interested to see how they could improve on it. Mutt Lange was light years ahead of everyone when he mixed this disc, it may have been the first album destined to be played on cd. Despite this need for perfection, the album has an extra thump to it and the sonics are truly to be treasured on a first-rate stereo system with a crystalline mix. With mp3’s we’re living in times where the sound of music is lacking. For the most part, compressed quality is vastly inferior to the cd. Despite this obvious fact, many are not paying attention but if you want any proof, just listen to Hysteria on your mp3 player and then on a first rate stereo system and you will immediately recognize the missing dynamics from the compressed files.
The bonus material on this deluxe edition is a nice collection of previously released material. The best thing about this set is it contains all of the b-sides and remixes for this album in one spot. The b-sides included here are remastered and have never sounded better. It should also be noted that these songs are in their original configuration before the band began remixing and re-recording them for RetroActive in 1993 (“Tear It Down” was eventually re-recorded for Adrenalize in 1992). It’s fun listening to the innocence and spare production of these leftover songs. The irony is that many of these songs had the potential to be more complex and some like “Ring of Fire” and “Ride Into The Sun” harkens back to their 1981 album High N’ Dry. These songs don’t have the Mutt Lange slickness found on the album’s twelve tracks, but there’s something magical about these songs in their original immediate configurations. It would have been nice to have heard some of the original Hysteria tracks unmixed to show how complex the creation of the mixing truly was.
There are also five extended mixes on disc two which are great to have, but in the end are expendable. It’s nice for the completist fans, but they are by no means essential. Even the most die-hard fans will only listen to these versions once or twice.
There are a handful of live B-sides which are all fun; a cover of the Alice Cooper classic “Elected” and a great medley of covers performed during “Rock of Ages”. There is also a remarkable performance of the spare ballad “Love and Affection” which was dropped later in the tour and hasn’t been performed live since, which is a shame as it could have easily been the eighth single from the album. The album’s final track is the b-side “Release Me” which features their road manager Malvin Mortimer on lead vocals. It ironically made the top-ten in Greece. It’s a fun and off the cuff track that is by no means essential but a blast to have and it’s a rare find on cd.
While this package does an “A” grade job of gathering all the released b-sides and mixes from LP, CD singles and imports…it does not give die hard fans anything to chew on aside from improved sound. It would have been nice to hear a few of the raw demos and early versions of some of the big hit singles, unmixed songs and left over jams. However, Def Leppard and Mutt Lange have never been one to look to the past, especially after months and years worth of work went into making this melodic masterpiece. However, it would have been nice to get something unexpected from the vaults as it may have improved the overall sales of this “Deluxe Edition”.
Two-decades down the line Hysteria still sounds as if it was recorded weeks ago and those monster sledgehammer riffs still sound staggering. If you have any doubt, then you didn’t witness the band’s magic over the last two summers where they played no fewer than seven songs from Hysteria nightly. Def Leppard still has the ability to shock and awe twenty-thousand people night after night with these classics. When people talk about defining albums of the 80’s they often mention London Calling, Purple Rain, The Joshua Tree, Thriller…and hopefully in not too distant future, they’ll mention Hysteria as well.
I love Todd McFarlane, he has created some of the coolest toys ever...and his line of rock n' roll legends is uber cool. I remember back in 1997 when he unleashed his set of KISS figures and every person who collected action figures wanted these figures, whether they liked KISS or not. Since then McFarlane has continued with further collections including a Shout At The Devil era Motley Crue, other Kiss collections, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Metallica, Eddie (from Iron Maiden), Angus Young, Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, Ozzy Osborne and a slew of others which can be found here.
Now, if you click on that link, you will see they have only one musical artist planned so far for 2007; Bon Jovi. You will not find a bigger Bon Jovi fan on the planet than me. I grew up with them and still listen to them. Also, I don't care what anyone says, when they want to be, they can still rock a stadium better than 99% of the acts today...and on a worldwide basis. However, when I heard about Jon and Richie being molded into action figure history, I knew the molds would feature the band's current look rather than their 80's heyday. While I don't have an issue with this and I am sure Jon had final say on the molding, I'm not sure if this was the wisest move. While the pictures below are nice, will anyone other than Bon Jovi fans buy these? Who not have different accessories like different guitars? Different hair? Even better...why not a removable chest plate for Jon Bon Jovi show he could showcase his hairy chest (pre-1996) and his nicely shaved chest (1996-present)? I would have had fun with these and regardless of whether the band is proud of their 80's look or not, it is what made many a women fall in love with them.
If you wanted to see how I would have made these figures...check out this youtube link.
PS: Where are Dave, Tico and Hugh?
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
April 2, 2007
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?
One year ago this week, I was sent an advance of Eyes Open and it knocked me to the ground. The soaring symphonic melodies and the cathartic lyrics found their way into constant rotation in my Ipod. Being a writer I have dozens of albums sent to me monthly and why I choose to listen to any of them depends on luck, but I listened to this one because of my friend Kevin. Snow Patrol was in my memory from a phone call Kevin made to me a few years back. He raved about Snow Patrol’s presence as a live act. Just this past week, I was able to witness myself the live majesty of this band. Arriving on stage to a swirling array of red lights with an anxious sold-out crowd that was nearly four times as large as the last falls Chicago show. The band opened with “Spitting Games” from their 2003 album, Final Straw and reigned over the stage like veterans. Despite having an enormous hit, this crowd came to see more than just “Chasing Cars”. They came for an experience. As the evening progressed, they continued to showcase all but one song from Eyes Open and most of Final Straw. Even though the middle section of the show found many mid-tempo numbers performed back to back (“Shut Your Eyes”, “Somewhere A Clock Is Ticking”, and “Make This Go On Forever”) the band was so engaging I never once looked at my watch or anxiously waited for the next song. The five members of Snow Patrol oozed confidence and charisma from the concert stage, especially vocalist Gary Lightbody. I’ve seen dozens of acts who did not have the proper flow or sequencing of songs to perform a live show and sadly these shows wound up leaving me with a negative impression.
The evening had many highlights including the pensive “Chocolate” whose performance was precise with an unrelenting back beat by drummer Jonny Quinn. Many in the audience, including myself, were reintroduced to the song last fall in the Zach Braff film The Last Kiss. The song is featured prominently in the film’s opening title sequence. It truly is amazing how different artists, including filmmakers and video directors, can breathe new life into a song by merely showcasing it in a unique distinctive manner. “Headlights” found a breathtaking array of colors and strobes complimenting the soul searching lyrics. Tom Simpson’s piano and Nathan Connolly’s guitars act more as a rhythm tracks with enormous symphonic sounds I didn’t think any band had a chance of replicating in concert, but they did!
When the band began the opening chords to “Chasing Cars” the audience shrieked screams and sung every lyric. Their voices encapsulated the ballroom which besieged the band by the look of surprise on their faces. In this rare and wondrous moment, they basked in the rapturous applause of the sold-out crowd. I give the band props for playing “Chasing Cars” early in the set and not making it an all too predictable encore song. A song this deep in the public’s consciousness could have been the evening’s climax, but there were plenty of highlights which followed. Snow Patrol succeeded where most other bands fail, by building on the crowd reaction to “Chasing Cars” with a perfectly sequenced set list appealing to not just the hardcore fans but the casual ones as well.
“Set the Fire to the Third Bar” is a luscious duet with Martha Wainwright on Eyes Open but in concert the band picks a fan to assist with the languid duet enrapturing the audience. I looked around and not one but hundreds were singing along to every word. Devotion on this level is atypical. Snow Patrol is finding themselves in a unique point in their careers where they can leave an indelible impression or cash in on their one hit. So far they’re more focused with their ongoing musical journey than worrying about whether or not Coke will pick up “Chasing Cars” for a series of commercials. Here is a distinctive band that is poised for bigger things and yet somehow, I don’t feel alienated by this. The acts that are able to attain their coolness while increasing their fan base ten-fold are few and far between. Only U2 has truly managed to succeed at this, but don’t count Snow Patrol out. The level of fan devotion this band warrants is stirring.
The perfectly paced show had no moments of self indulgence or extended solos. The fusion of the bands instruments along with the spectacular light show occupied the audience for the entire ninety-minutes. Here is a band that wisely chose a succinct set list and even during the few moments which lagged, they were equally betrothing because of the eye candy perfected by their lighting specialist. The one-two set ending punch of “Run” and “You’re All I Have” were met with thunderous applause. There are concerts where crowd participation comes about because they know the song and other times it’s because it is in their DNA, Snow Patrol fans have a DNA connection.
The encore was equally prevailing with the final three songs being so ostentatious the band could have swapped them with the opening trio and had the same effect. “Final Straw” fluently segued into the riveting “Open Your Eyes” which as every song that preceded it continues to take the audience higher and higher until the evening’s finale; “Hands Open”. When they sung the lyric “Chicago bursts to life” the crowd was already intoxicated, alive and completely seduced. Snow Patrol is clearly a band in command of their destinies and who should be headed for an arena soon. They are not a one-hit wonder walking through the motions thirsty for fame and fortune but a defiant act who believes in making devoted followers of their fans. The only difference between them and many other acts on the verge of mass love is that they are going to be ready for it with the hands, hearts and minds open.
and we'll play your favorite song
"Chicago" bursts to life and your
sweet smile remembers you, my
Hands open, and my eyes open
I just keep hoping
That your heart opens
Photo by Amie Mayes and courtesy of Unrated Magazine
Monday, April 16, 2007
I was fortunate to catch Butch Walker last week at Chicago's House of Blues on Tuesday 4/10. Look for the review coming soon on Unrated and antiMusic. In the meantime for those of you who are always hearing me rave about this man's live shows...look no further than this clip from Boston last month. Make sure you get to the four-minute mark.
In honor of my wedding anniversary here is a video of one of the songs we placed on our mix cd. Enjoy!
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Being a writer has a lot of perks; however, it also has a twisted flipside. I can’t tell you how often I’m asked to give a critical opinion on an up and coming artist or a local band. I hate doing this, as many of these talented individuals are still finding their way and they don’t need someone like me informing them of their shortcomings. Being in a band is tough and requires hard work to be a cohesive unit without anyone being judgmental of the art. I’m always hesitant when friends ask me to review a CD or show because the first thing that goes through my mind is, “what if they suck?” Trust me, not all of those acts out on MySpace are good, but some of them have extraordinary talent…like the Chicago based foursome Farkus.
The bands name is inspired by the bully (Scott Farkus) from the classic movie A Christmas Story. When I was asked to review one of their shows a few months back by a close friend, I was immediately apprehensive but agreed to catch a few of their gigs in January. To my great surprise, they gelled as a unit, showcasing not just immense talent but strong songwriting skills and most importantly…chemistry. Farkus formed a little over a year ago but only recently started playing live as they were hesitant to give anything but a unyielding performance that would leave an impression. They honed their craft working non-stop on their songs and their musicianship. When I first caught a glimpse of them in early January, this did not appear to be a band who just formed a mere eight months earlier or who had just a handful of live shows under their belt. This was a band who felt like they had a long and storied history behind them. It turned out they did.
The seed that sprouted Farkus was planted when singer-songwriter Tony Maguire and guitarist Brian Gillham bonded back in high school on the north side of Chicago. Late last spring Maguire began asking Gillham for his thoughts on some music he had been writing and before they knew it, they were jamming and performing with drummer Dave Durdov and bassist/vocalist Matt Kircher weekly. The plan was to not make a debut until they had full command of their material. When seeing their energetic and endearing show, I never would have imaged that it was only their fifth show in front of a live audience.
I never expected to see four musicians so full of energy and spontaneity. They packed a big punch with the slow, steady and sexy rhythms of bassist Kircher and drummer Durdov. Primary singer and songwriter, Tony Maguire, suavely blends the vocal stylings of Jim Morrison and Ian Asbury of the Cult while maintaining his own unique whispered vocal styling. Guitarist Brian Gillham adds a golden touch, complimenting the soaring harmonies of these whimsical songs. He is simultaneously Stone Gossard and Mike McCready (of Pearl Jam) as he segues between the rousing and intricately crafted melodies and supercharged rhythms. On the languid and gorgeous song “Wash”, Gillham surprised me as he genteelly interchanged his playing style making you feel as if there were two of him. During this number, all eyes were on his fingers while all ears were on the mesmerizing vocals of Tony Maguire. I watched a handful of young women approach the stage entranced as they hung on every lyric. The live performance of slow building “Wash” had an extended jam which led to a “Baba O’Riley” crescendo, completely captivating the crowd.
Categorizing Farkus’ sound is difficult as it has small dashes of pop, metal and punk with a large underlying sound forged from early 90’s alternative bands like Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam. Their four-song self-titled EP is represented at every one of their shows and each of these songs has a steady beat with dramatic shifts in tempo and tones. As much as I enjoy these songs on the EP, hearing them live is where the music truly came to life. “Chance” is a driving rocker with guitars upfront and took off when performed live. “Believe” is a melancholy ballad with a radio-ready chorus, while “Angeline” is the bands signature song with its slowly building melodies climaxing in a full out jam that enraptured the audience. “Angeline” is one of those songs that gives your body an undeniable jolt of joy.
While the demo (which is available for free download on their MySpace page) is endearing, the live performance encompasses a deep understated urgency. You really believe these guys feel the music and are not just running through the motions. They are creating music because they need to; it’s in their system and there is no drug that can cure this disease. All too often we see bands performing who merely seek fame and glory whereas I’m happy to say Farkus does this because they love it. If I had any bit of advice for them, I would recommend bringing a more physical presence to their shows, especially towards the end of each set. Interplay with the crowd is essential to a truly unforgettable performance. They have the skill, talent and charm and forcing the crowd to physically engage will differentiate them from other acts. The future of music will live and die with a band’s live shows. Farkus is already a damn fine band with the potential to be explosive.
Tony Maguire: Vocals/Guitar
Matt Kircher: Vocals/Bass
Brian Gillham: Lead Guitar
Dave Durdov: Drums
Photographs courtesy of Matt Schragal.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Even if this film were green lit today, I have a feeling the earliest we would see this movie would be 2009. Until then we'll just have to settle for searching for the truth...