Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Dead, Phish and The Allman Brothers Band Touring This Year

The legendary original Grateful Dead lineup consisted of left to right:
drummer Mickey Hart, bassist Phil Lesh, guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir,
drummer Bill Kreutzman, keyboardist/vocalist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan,
and vocalist/guitarist Jerry Garcia

Last year it seemed like jam bands were on the decline after the 90,000-person hippie festival Bonnaroo, held in Manchester, Tennessee, featured Metallica and Pearl Jam as the main acts. It appears that a few bands I never expected to play together again are going to hit the road this spring.

To begin with The Dead have decided to tour starting this April 12, in Greensboro North Carolina. The tour will go until May 10, with a show in Mountain View, California. The Dead have not toured since 2004, when a bitter conflict between Phil Lesh and Bob Weir drove the band apart. From what I understand, the story goes that bassist Phil Lesh wanted to allow free Grateful Dead downloads while guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir was against it and wanted some sort of compensation for it. After this disagreement both Weir and Lesh did not speak to each other for a long time.

I was shocked last spring of 2008, when I attended a Phil Lesh and Friends show at The Warfield in San Francisco, and Bob Weir walked out onstage to join Lesh in a full performance of the entire self-titled Grateful Dead debut album in the first set, and then came back on to perform Anthem of the Sun in its entirety. It was hands down one of the best performances I had ever seen and it felt so good to know Bobby and Phil had finally buried the hatchet. Just seeing them go into an extended psychedelic jam in a song like "The Other One," or watching Weir chant, "Couple more shots of whiskey these Frisco girls start looking good," was an immaculate experience, especially because The Warfield is such a small venue, and even though I had seats on the balcony it felt close.

When I heard The Dead were playing for the Barack Obama campaign I knew there was a distinct possibility they could get back together and tour. Now my wishes have come true, and I do hope to attend The Dead's concert in Mounain View. The lineup for the tour will feature the four original members who are still living, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. Mickey Hart recently told Rolling Stone Magazine, "We woke up and said 'why aren't we doing this?' It seems like it was one of the things we enjoyed most in our lives. The idea was to let it rest and let it come back to life on its own without pushing it. This kind of music you can't make unless you like this guy." Hart also mentioned he hopes the tour helps the country's overall mood and also the economy. He assumes it will be a successful as most Dead tours have been, even without Jerry Garcia who was the heart and soul of The Grateful Dead for most of their existence. Still there is no doubt that the rest of the band still has plenty of talent, as Weir and Lesh have both written some of the most memorable songs in The Grateful Dead catalog including Lesh's "Box of Rain" and Weir's "Sugar Magnolia," "Let It Grow," "Looks Like Rain," and "Jack Straw." Nobody should forget that Lesh and Weir helped Garcia write The Grateful Dead anthem "Truckin" off their incredible 1970 album American Beauty. Other members to play with The Dead are keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and guitarist/vocalist Warren Haynes, also a member of Govn't Mule and The Allman Brothers Band. What a long strange trip it must seem to be at this point in The Dead's career. For more information on what both Phil Lesh and Bob Weir think of The Dead's reunion and also for a complete list of the upcoming concerts they will perform check out inquistir.com

Another great jam band that broke up in 2004 and has now decided to reform is Phish. Guitarist Trey Anastasio, drummer Jon Fishman, keyboardist Page McConnell and bassist Mike Gordon will reform also this spring by kicking off a tour on March 6th in Virginia. The last tour date is June 21st in Wisconsin. To my disappointment there are no shows booked on the West Coast thus far, but hopefully if Phish still feels comfortable playing together they will add more dates later this year. It's strange to think this band is getting back together when four years ago I remember Trey Anastasio saying Phish was over for good, he could only take playing a sixteen-minute jam like "You Enjoy Myself" so many times. It will be interesting to see what Phish's setlist will look like for a band famous for once performing The Beatles White Album in its entirety or The Velvet Underground's Loaded. I just hope they come out and play some of the classics like "Birds of a Feather", off Story Of A Ghost, or the bass driven "Down With Disease," off Hoist. For more info on Phish's reunion tour and how to score tickets to their first show in Hampton, Virginia check out this article on rollingstone.com

Phish: left to right Jonathan Fishman, Trey Anastasio,
Page McConnell, and Mike Gordon

The Allman Brothers Band, another jam band that has had decades of success, were recently out of action in 2008, due to vocalist/organist Gregg Allman's battle with Hepatitis C. They will return to action this year on March 9th at The Beacon Theatre in New York to play ten shows to celebrate their fortieth anniversary as a band. It's been confirmed by drummer Butch Trucks that there will be guest musicians on the bill that The Allman Brothers have specifically invited to play. The musicians rumored to be picked are guitarist Eric Clapton and Boz Scaggs, who both played with The Allman Brothers original slide guitarist, the late Duane Allman. As for the other recent rumor that the other original guitarist of The Allman Brothers Band, Dickey Betts, will play again with the band, after being fired in 2000, has been termed "way off," by Trucks. Hopefully it will be a great set of shows and will feature classic Allman Brothers tunes like "Dreams" and "Whipping Post" both live favorites off their original self titled debut album. Also let's all imagine how great it would be to see Eric Clapton soloing to a song like the electrifying instrumental "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," while Gregg Allman plays the organ to compliment the beautiful sound. To read about the rumors swirling over who will play with the Allmans at The Beacon, and also hear what Allman Brothers guitarist Derek Trucks has to say about the upcoming shows check out this Eric Clapton site.

Gregg Allman of The Allman Brothers Band
playing guitar at Farm Aid, on Randall's Island,
New York, 2007.

Just thought I would add this great
Phish/Grateful Dead cartoon.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Moody Lyons of San Francisco

The Moody Lyons are left to right, Eric Olson, Robert Serviss, Matt Harman and Matthew Kelly.

Everyone should listen to the San Francisco band The Moody Lyons, who recently played a great show downtown. The four-piece band consisting of vocalist/guitarist Matt Harman, bassist Robert Serviss, keyboardist Eric Olson, and drummer Matthew Kelly, who all met at San Francisco State College, are now beginning to be very serious musicians. They all share a house in Daly City on the outskirts of San Francisco, where they have all their instruments set up to practice in the basement, where they play really loud.

The Moody Lyons have recently released an EP titled Broke, Busted & Disgusted that consists of four songs. The first one, "Sometimes I Just Want To Sit," reminds me a lot of The Ramones, who are one of the many bands the Moody Lyons worship. The band actually has a wide variety of influences that range from classic punk bands like The Clash, to glam punk like The New York Dolls, and then there is that 60s classic guitar rock influence like The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds.

"Sometimes I Just Want To Sit" is definitley a punk song with a lot of energy with the "Let's go! Alright!" chant sounding a lot like The Ramones "Blitzkrieg Bop," which has a similer tempo when they sing, "Hey oh, let's go." The verses sound punk mixed with a bit of a psychedelic rock sound as the background vocals go, "Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh," behind the main punk rock vocal melody. Robert Serviss also breaks down this song in the middle with a really nice bass solo, which leads into a shredding guitar solo by Matt Harman and then back into another bass solo, and then a drum solo by Matthew Kelly, displaying the wide variety of talent within the band.

The second song "Paint The White House Black" has a similar punk sound to "Sometimes I Just Want To Sit," but this time Eric Olson's keyboards come out a lot stronger to drive the overall riff in the song. This song reminds me a lot more of a rock song even though it has punk elements to it; you can see the influence of bands like The Rolling Stones.

"Cold As Hell" begins with clapping and progresses with some loud punk verses by vocalist guitarist Harman. The middle of the song has an interesting keyboard solo by Olson and some more nice riffs that are once again reminicent of The Ramones classic sound with Harman shouting, "She's cold as hell."

The final cut on the EP, the six-minute-plus "The Lyons Lament," is by far the masterpiece of the four songs. It sounds nothing like the other three in the sense that it has a lot more classic rock influence then punk. The song begins with a magnificent keyboard intro by Eric Olson that reminds me a lot of Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath." Then Kelly's drums come in leading into the beautiful guitar soloing of Matt Harman.The lyrics work fantastically with the song's bluesy guitar melody, "You keep saying, somebody save me. You go crazy, you go crazy. You get older, your life's colder." The song then breaks down with some more solid jamming between band members and comes to a close with more of Olson's keyboard fading out.

Matt Harman strumming an acoustic guitar

Overall The Moody Lyons seem to have a lot of potential to break through in the San Francisco music scene. They'll play in San Francisco at the Retox Lounge this Thursday, January 29th and their EP will be available to purchase. Another Moody Lyons show will be on February 12, in San Francisco at The Rockit Room. If you want to listen to their songs on myspace you should check them out.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Guns N' Roses Have Released "Chinese Democracy"

Axl Rose back in the late 1980s Appetite For Destruction era

By far the most anticipated rock album of the decade has been Guns N' Roses Chinese Democracy. It is the first Guns N' Roses album to appear since 1993's cover album The Spaghetti Incident? that marked the end of the classic line-up featuring Axl Rose on vocals, Slash on lead guitar, Duff McKagen on bass, Matt Sorum on drums, Gilby Clarke on rhythm guitar and Matt Sorum on drums. Now that Chinese Democracy is finally out. the big question is why is it not dominating the charts? The reason may be it was delayed too long and people have lost interest or they are just angry the album doesn't include Slash, Duff McKagen or original rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin. Some may have thought vocalist Axl Rose (who is the now the only original member from Guns N' Roses) would never release the album and just tinker with the songs for the rest of his life. This is an album Rose claimed would be released right after he played "Welcome to the Jungle," and "Paradise City" at the MTV music awards in 2002.

After the MTV awards Guns N' Roses went on tour with a new line-up that included electric guitarist Robin Finick from Nine Inch Nails, lead guitarists Buckethead and Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, and also keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who had played with Guns N' Roses on Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II, both released all the way back in 1991. The tour didn't last long as Axl Rose failed to show up at two concerts in Vancouver, Canada, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, sparking riots from the crowd and causing Clear Channel to cancel the remaining dates in fear more riots would occur. Riots at concerts were nothing new to Guns N' Roses as they had already sparked two major riots before the 2002 tour even began. On the Use Your Illusion tour, on a stop at the Riverport Ampitheatre in St. Louis, Axl Rose grew angry at a fan who was taking pictures of the show, and when the security guards wouldn't take the camera away from the fan, Axl yelled, "I'll take it god damn it," and jumped off the stage tackling the fan. He then jumped back onstage and said, "Thanks for the lame ass security, I'm out of here!" He then slammed down his microphone so hard some fans thought he had shot someone until Slash calmed them by saying, "He just slammed down the microphone, we're out." A huge riot erupted in St. Louis following the show, and Rose was accused of starting the riot but never got arrested until a year later as the band went on to Europe to continue their tour. Another Guns N' Roses riot occurred in Montreal, Canada, during a tour with Metallica when Metallica's vocalist James Hetfield stepped too close to the pyrotechnics and was burned severely, forcing .the band to cancel most of their set as Hetfield was rushed to a hospital. Guns N' Roses had the chance to save the day by performing a long set to ease the crowd but instead Rose refused to perform claiming his voice hurt, sparking the huge riot where fans overturned cop cars and looted nearby stores.

The original classic Guns N' Roses lineup with bassist Duff McKagen, lead guitarist Slash, vocalist Axl Rose, drummer Steven Adler and rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin.

This is part of the notorious legacy Guns N' Roses have left behind as fans awaited for Chinese Democracy to be released. Now the question should be asked was Chinese Democracy worth the long wait? Personally I think so, being a huge fan, even though Slash and Duff have departed and formed Velvet Revolver. This new version of Guns N' Roses still has potential. As Rob Sheffield from Blender Magazine recently commented, "It's like James Joyce taking 17 years to write Finnegan's Wake, which was also a follow-up nobody thought could live up to the hype." While Chinese Democracy is definitely not the same caliber as say Appetite for Destruction and the Use Your Illusion albums, it still will stand out as a solid recording full of good piano-driven ballads. It is clear that Slash's guitar is missing, as you don't hear those ear-splitting, bittersweet guitar solos found on earlier songs like "Sweet Child O' Mine" or "November Rain." Still songs like the single "Better" and "Street of Dreams" have that classic Guns N' Roses" feel with a modern touch to it.

On "Better" Axl sings higher than we've practically ever heard him when he opens the song with "No one ever told me when I was alone, they just thought I'd know better." He goes on to paint a love-sick picture. The song may be the best ballad Rose has written since the early 90s, but who knows he may have written "Better" back in 1995 and just shelved it until now. The lyrics are very personal, as in many of Rose's songs; as Sheffield in Blender said, "He wails about Nietzschean existential despair." Axl sings, "So bittersweet, this tragedy won't ask for absolution. This melody inside of me, still searches for solution. A twist of faith, a change of heart kills my infatuation. A broken heart provides the spark for my determination." As the guitars start to crank and the song gets heavier, Rose screams with a fierce, venomous voice, "I never wanted you to be so full of anger. I never wanted you to be somebody else. I never wanted you to be someone afraid to know themselves. I only wanted you to see things for yourself."

Everything on this album sounds more synthesized and piano-driven than prior G N' R albums, but Axl Rose can still hit those high notes if he wants. This surprises even me, as I had heard that he had burned out his voice years ago from smoking cigarettes and frying his esophagus from all his screaming. The title track on the album may be the heaviest as it leads off the album with some of Buckethead's great electric guitar playing and Axl giving a good breakdown with his classic voice, "It don't really matter. Guess I'll keep it to myself. Said it don't really matter. It's time I look around for somebody else." "Chinese Democracy" as well as the second song "Shacklers Revenge" sound more new metal then anything Guns N' Roses have ever done in the past, which is interesting since bands like Korn and Staind are not nearly as popular as they were at the start of the decade. This makes me ask the question again, were these songs recorded way back in 1999 and just shelved until now? It seems like a real possibility! Maybe Rose, being the perfectionist he is, was just waiting for more material to be written and that material never surfaced.

The album winds down with some more good and synthesized songs, such as "Madagascar," with Axl singing in a burnt-out croon, "I won't be told anymore that I've been brought down in this storm. And left so far out from the shore, that I can't find my way back, my way anymore." The song is by far the most orchestrated sounding and is also one of the many ballads worth checking out on this album. The next song "This I Love" is even better with an incredible guitar solo by Bumblefoot and some of Rose's best lyrics about his feelings about how relationships have tortured and persecuted his soul. "So if she's somewhere near me. I hope to God she hears me. There's no one else could ever make me feel I'm so alive. I hoped she'd never leave me. Please God you must believe me. I've searched the universe and found myself within her eyes."

Some fans may be angry at Axl for cutting himself off from the outside world and taking fifteen years to release Chinese Democracy. His re-emergence from his retreat in the Hollywood Hills has most likely shocked some people who thought he would probably be a recluse the rest of his life and never relaese another album. Now that Axl's back, though, I'm seeing some excitement in people. Just the other day I was reading an article about Slash in Blender Magazine on a BART train going from Berkeley to San Francisco when some random guy sat next to me who was a huge Guns N' Roses fan. Seeing the article, he started talking to me immediately and showed me his G N' R tattoos. Then he talked about how fun it was seeing the new Guns N' Roses line-up in Oakland last year. "I hope they come thorugh again," I told him, "but you never know."

The new look of Axl Rose, onstage in the 21rst Century

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Neil Young Keeps on Rockin In The Free World

One man who must be happy with yesterday's inauguration of Barack Obama is folk legend Neil Young. After all Young is the one who organized Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's tour in 2006 and insisted they play most of the songs in their set off Young's solo album Living With War, all about the U.S.'s current unjust war in Iraq. The most controversial song on the album "Let's Impeach The President" was directed at President Bush, who Young can not stand after witnessing not only our problems in the Middle East, but also an economy that has fallen apart.

At age 63, Neil Young has been around since the sixties, when he pioneered Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills and Richie Furray. In that time he saw political unrest with the Vietnam War, and was part of Springfield when their antiwar anthem about paranoia while fighting in a guerilla war, "For What It's Worth" was released as the first single that launched them into stardom. Young later joined Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and wrote a powerful song, "Ohio" about the Kent State shootings. The song began "Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we're finally on our own. This summer I hear the drumming, four dead in Ohio. Gotta get down to it soldiers are cutting us down. Should have been done long ago. What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground how could you run when you know."

Recently Neil Young has wrapped up a tour in support of his most recent album Chrome Dreams II. As has been Young's habit, he is composing a lot of new material that has yet to be released, such as the song "Dirty Old Man," while also playing some of his older classics like "Cinnamon Girl," "Cortez the Killer," and "Cowgirl in the Sand." Some of his old songs like "A Man Needs A Maid" off Young's only number one album of his career Harvest have been played at all thirty-one shows. Also Young never shies away from performing obscure songs in his catalog like "Ambulence Blues," off the album On The Beach, which was out of print on CD until only a few years ago. He also performed one of my favourite songs, the politically driven "Campaigner" off his Decade album. The lyrics are great, "Hospitals have made him cry,
but there's always a free way in his eye, though his beach just got too crowded for his stroll.
Roads stretch out like healthy veins, and wild gift horses strain the reins, where even Richard Nixon has got soul. Even Richard Nixon has got soul."

On December 17, 2008, Neil Young graced the cover of The New York Times art section after performing at Madison Square Garden with Wilco and Everest. The review was possitive and talked about how Young played a set with some of his best songs off Harvest like "Heart of Gold," "Old Man," and his heartbreaking accoustic-guitar-driven lament about heroin addiction (which claimed two of his best friends, former Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry) "The Needle and The Damage Done." Young closed his Madison Square Garden performancet with "Rockin in the Free World," a song off his 1989 comeback album Freedom. After years of subpar albums, Freedom seemed to take Young back to his roots of electric rock, while he also returned to his folk rock roots with 1992's Harvest Moon a few years later, as many considered it his best accoustic work since the original Harvest was released in 1972. Overall it was a very successful tour for Neil Young, and now he can go back to his 1,500 acre ranch in La Honda, California and rest up until it's time to work on another new album.

You might enjoy watching archival footage of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young performing live on lyrics.com.

If you like statistics on how many times Neil Young has performed one of his songs from his setlist, you might like to visit Numbers On the Site: The Neil Young Tour Statistics. Or, if you want, here you can read all of his lyrics.

I also read an article by Russ Walker on WashingtonPost.com on Neil Young that has good information and links.

A youthful Neil Young. A new live album Sugar Mountain:Live At Canterbury House 1968, with this picture on the cover is now available to purchase at most record stores.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Led Zeppelin Reunion Is Off

Led Zeppelin when they ruled rock n' roll in the 1970s.
Left to right; John Paul Jones, John Bonham, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

The most saddening news in the rock world in recent months has been vocalist Robert Plant's announcement that he no longer wishes to record an album or tour with the surviving members of Led Zeppelin--guitarist Jimmy Page, basssist John Paul Jones, and also the replacement drummer Jason Bonham, who is original Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham's son.

The story took a turn when John Paul Jones announced to Rolling Stone that the remaining members would try to find a new singer to replace Plant but would no longer call the band Led Zeppelin since it would now only have Jones and Page as original members. After an audition with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler as the possible replacement vocalist didn't go well, the remaining members did what they probably should have done when Plant announced he was unwilling to tour or record with Led Zep because of his commitments to recording and touring with folk artist Alison Krauss... they threw in the towel.

Jimmy Page's manager Peter Mensch made the announcement that the reunion minus Robert Plant is now officially off by stating bluntly, "Led Zeppelin are over! If you didn't see them in 2007 you missed them. It's done, I can't be any clearer than that." This is saddening to those die-hard Led Zeppelin fans like myself, who were willing to wait two years or more for Plant to finish his commitment of working with Alison Krauss and possibly reconsider opening one final chapter in Led Zeppelin's legendery musical vault. If just once I'm sure many of us wish we could witness one of those killer live performances Led Zeppelin would have with Jimmy Page smacking his violin bow into his guitar on "Dazed and Confused" or hear Robert Plant ponder those words, "It makes me wonder" in "Stairway To Heaven." Now it seems our nostalgia will only grow to see Led Zeppelin playing like the hammer of the gods they were.

If only the best bands in the world could just get along better. After witnessing reunions with Cream and Pink Floyd end in the bitter remorse between band members that originally drove them apart, it is all too familiar to see it happen with Led Zeppelin. The problem with bands this talented is that the members all seem to have such big egos that they can't communicate and remain a cohesive unit. Who knows, though, as David Gilmour guitarist of Pink Floyd said, he is not even considering a reunion, since he already has more money that he even knows what to do with.

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page: Have they already performed together for the last time as Led Zeppelin?