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March 6, 2014 / Jaded Bitterman

Zappa Plays Zappa As Good As Zappa

11mays.large2I consider myself a big Frank Zappa fan. Yet, just by looking over his discography, I realized that I am not that big a Frank Zappa fan. He has over 60 albums produced, hundreds of live shows recorded and released, tv performances, movies, etc. I would need three lifetimes of isolated listening just to digest (and understand) even half of his catalog.

So when I recently bought tickets to see Zappa Plays Zappa at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, I went into it fully realizing that I probably wouldn’t know half the songs they were going to play. So I cheated in order to tease myself: I went online and checked out some previous set lists from this tour and wouldn’t you know it, more than half of the songs in the list were ones I had never heard (I find it necessary to put a disclaimer in here right now because I know how crazy some Zappaheads can get: I am a Zappa fan, but not a fanatic. My preference when it comes to Zappa are more inline with his “serious” works vs. the “satire”, “improv”, and “humor” he often implemented into his music and shows. While I fully appreciate that aspect of his songwriting genius, I simply prefer(ed) to listen to him wail on the guitar while the Greatest Back-Up Band(s)-To-Ever-Walk-The-Face-Of-The-Earth went bat shit crazy behind him. Therefor, I am aware that my knowledge of his discography is limited yet still deeper than casual.)

I went to see a Zappa cover band a few years back (I won’t mention their name) and left after five songs. Not because they weren’t good (cause let’s face it, just being able to play one Zappa song–any Zappa song–makes you a pretty damn good musician in my book), but because it just wasn’t anywhere close to the real thing. It lacked authenticity. Dweezil Zappa heads up Zappa Plays Zappa, and Dweezil is as close to Frank as we as fans are ever going to get. It’s like watching Jason Bonham play drums: even if his last name wasn’t Bonham we’d still be impressed with his playing nonetheless. It just helps to alleviate any apprehension we have towards listening by saying to ourselves, “well, at least it’s his son playing!” While some children-of-famous-musicians go out of their way to avoid the shadows of their parents, Dweezil has embraced his legendary father’s music. Frank’s shadow is simply too long to avoid.

Right off the bat I knew the band would be good. How could they not be? I just wasn’t prepared for how good. Let’s start with Dweezil. Obviously we know the dude can play guitar (Franks Gibson SG to be exact). But come on, man, when did he get this good? (probably 20 years ago, I just wasn’t paying attention). I am rarely into the fast, shredding-type players (I appreciate Vai, Satriani, et al, but to me, it’s just dudes playing fast for other dudes to impress them with how fast they can play, dude.), but Dweezil inherited his father’s Coltrane-esque phrasing and sense of the musical moment. His guitar sounded sweet, he played it sweet, and he did his father’s music much justice. I thought during one of Dweezil’s (many) guitar solos, “Frank would be impressed.”

I’ve always said that you can take 8 bars of a Zappa song and any other band would make an entire song out of it. Within each song is basically 4-8 movements. The amount of concentration and memory it must take to perform a set of his music is mind-boggling. As a musician, when you watch other musicians that are this good, it makes you either want to quit playing altogether…or practice more.   I won’t list each member of the band here (drummer, keyboard, bass, two multi-instrumentalists/vocalists) because you don’t need to hear about how great each of them were individually. They were absolutely amazing in every sense.

The highlight of the show was an improvisational moment when Dweezil called up a young girl from the audience who couldn’t have been older than 7. He asked her, “do you play any instruments?” to which she replied, “the flute.” Dweezil proceeded to put his guitar around her shoulder and stand behind her as he helped her “play” it. The audience roared. He turned the distortion to ten, cranked out some AC/DC-type rocker riff and the band picked up behind them. This little girl was jamming onstage with the band and we, the audience, ate it up. It was classic Zappa showmanship. Once she was done–and the standing ovation died down–he asked her, “so…still want to play the flute?” You think that girl doesn’t grow up to join a band??? Let’s hope.

There were so many insane musical moments throughout the show that it’s hard to point out any one. It’s such a profound experience when you witness such great musicianship in a live setting. I have always known that Zappa’s music is not everyone’s cup of tea. It can be complicated and confusing to the average listener. The odd rhythms and weird instrumentation (and even weirder, often hilariously satirical lyrics) assured he would never have a #1 hit. Parts rarely repeat themselves. Shit, time signatures rarely repeat themselves. It’s not “easy listening” by any account. Dweezil and his band did a fantastic job of keeping the musical visions of Frank alive, and judging by the near sold out crowd and numerous standing ovations, there are still plenty of people out there that appreciate the Zappa catalog. As hard as that is to imagine, it gives me hope knowing that some music fans still want to be challenged by the artists they listen to.

February 6, 2014 / Jaded Bitterman

Lefties

I am right-handed. I throw a ball right-handed, when I used to actually use a pen and paper I wrote right-handed, I kick right-handed, punch right-handed, and play drums right-handed. But I play guitar left-handed. It’s odd, I know. When I was 13 years old and just beginning my excursion into learning the instrument the most common advice I received from other players was “practice” and “learn how to play right-handed.” I did the first, never bothered with the second.

At the time I didn’t understand why anyone would actually care if I played lefty or righty. Now I realize why: do you know how hard it is to find a left-handed guitar and/or accessory options? They are out there, of course, and I have obviously been able to purchase quite a few in my day. But walk into most any music store and you will undoubtedly see dozens upon dozens of guitars, 97% of which are right-handed (you might find a few lefties in the mix; usually shitty, low-level Strat and Les Paul knock-offs). You would think, considering some of the all-time great players have been left-handed, we wouldn’t be so ‘discriminated’ against. Is it wrong that I find some pleasurable ironic humor in situations where right-handed players are in my midst without their guitars and they can’t play mine because it’s “backwards”? Call it cosmic payback, musician karma, whatever. Come on, I can at least pick up a righty and throw together some chords. Probably because I have spent my entire playing life surrounded by you backward-ass right-handed players.

Which leads me to the reason I am even writing this post: to celebrate the influence that some of rock and rolls lefties have brought us. I bring you, what I feel is, a list of some of the most-influential guitar players of all time. And guess what? They are all lefties!

Read more…

February 5, 2014 / Jaded Bitterman

Selling Out: Who’s Buying?

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We are, in fact, only in it for the money.

This morning I was listening to The Howard Stern Show and he had 60′s icon/songwriter/musician Donovan on for an interview and some impromptu acoustic performances. Since it was Stern it was, of course, a great interview (say what you will about the man, but he is, hands down, the single best interviewer I have ever seen or listened to. Especially when it comes to musicians.). Donovan spouted off stories about his days hanging with The Fab Four, recording his hits with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones as session men (pre-Zep), and then  showed Howard how this one descending chord progression is used in tons of songs you know and love (he went on to play “Dear Prudence”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “House Of the Rising Sun”, and more to prove his point–they all use the same type of progression). Then Howard asked him questions along the lines of, “Does it amaze you that so many people know the lyrics to your songs and sing along? Were you aware that would be the case when you wrote them? How do you know when a song is good?” Donovan’s response was insightful. He told Howard, “the first thing  you need to do is please yourself. The second is impress your peers. The last thing you think about is the fans.”

It reminded me of a conversation I had many years ago with some fellow musicians. We were ranting and raving about bands that “make it” vs. ones that don’t (including ours, which is why we were so bitter at the time). Then a sentence was uttered that has stuck with me ever since: you have to start making music for yourself.

Most bands and musicians start out with the goal of “making it.” And by “making it” I mean, in simple terms, being able to make music as your professional career, i.e. get paid to make music. Very few fulfill this dream.  When starting out, most artists are all about pleasing the fans, mainly, because they are trying to get some. But for those that  really hit it big (U2, Metallica, The Stones, etc.) they basically get to dictate their own careers once they do.  After Metallica’s Black Album sold a gazillion copies they essentially earned the right to do whatever the fuck they wanted. You think U2 cares if you think Zooropa sucked?

Growing up, the term “selling out” was one of the biggest insults you could hurl at an artist. This was mostly applied in the hardcore/punk/metal scenes. When Metallica came on in the early 80′s they were underground, dirt-bag metalheads wearing jeans jackets, ripped jeans, and sneakers while playing the fastest, most maniacal music on the planet. Now they play the Grammy’s and get mentioned on Good Morning America. Ozzy Osbourne was the devil incarnate back in 1982–now his music appears in car commercials. Does that mean Metallica and Ozzy have “sold out” or that a.) the powers that be are now people of the age that grew up loving these musicians so they are celebrating that love, b.) in this day and age you do whatever you can to get your music out there, or c.) there is no such thing anymore as “selling out.” (I think Ian MacKaye would disagree with c.).

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January 10, 2014 / Jaded Bitterman

Modern Man: A Night With Stanley Clarke

timthumbLast night the wife and I went to a local music/dinner club called The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. It’s a great venue with a great reputation that books acts ranging from jazz greats to blues masters to Americana roots rock. You walk in, grab a seat at a communal table, order over-priced but decent dinner fare, and watch the artists perform to a room full of attentive spectators.  It’s a music club for people who don’t mind sitting down while watching music. It offers you the ability to enjoy an artist without the distractions that come with most rock clubs.

That is why I was somewhat amazed last night on a few levels. We went to see the legendary (and way too under-appreciated) Stanley Clarke. If you don’t know who he is, well, go find out. Before the show I knew of Stanley Clarke, “heard of him” but never actually listened to any of his music knowingly. He’s done work on movie soundtracks, played with some of the all-time jazz greats, and is generally well-regarded in the musical community. He’s a bass player that transcends classification. A true “artist” of his craft. Funk, jazz, blues, rock, hip-hop, salsa, etc. etc. etc. Stanley Clarke has played it and played it better than 99.99% of anyone else that ever has.

What amazed me first and foremost during the show was his scaled-down band: Stanley on bass, a drummer, and a piano player. I thought, “Ok, this is going to be ‘good’ but probably end up repetitive and boring as the set goes on. I mean, how much can you do with a trio like that?” Of course I was wrong (it’s happened before and depending on whom you ask the numbers vary). The drummer was 19 and the piano player (from the Republic of Georgia) was 17! Let me say that again: 17! (As of this posting Stanley Clarke is 62).

I think it’s pretty wise for an old-timer like Clarke to select young, extremely talented musicians to surround him. They brought an exuberance that helped keep the set fresh and improvisational. They were both spectacular at their respective instruments. The drummer’s arms on some of his solos looked like humming birds wings and the piano player played with a passion and soul you seldom find in someone so young. They both received more than one standing ovation.

Read more…

December 8, 2013 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

Top 20 Best Albums of 2013

I’m still an album guy. Not necessarily vinyl, but Albums with a capital A to mean a body of work consisting of a group of songs. I’m mostly a digital consumer of music, on MP3 and yes I still sometimes rock CD’s in the car.

It seems nowadays we talk more about how we listen to our music, instead of the actual music itself. We flash badges on social media to signify that we’re with Pandora or Spotify, we subscribe to iTunes or (in my case) Amazon MP3. We see flashy commercials for $200 headphones and share playlists between our phones and auto-post our current listening pleasures on Facebook and Twitter. And I guess it’s assumed most people are listening to their awesome playlists of trending tracks, on random of course.

But I still listen to full albums. I never throw a bunch of songs by different artists into a queue, I listen to each “album” straight through. I’m not saying it’s any better and I’m not here to rant on how things have changed. But lost among the technology discussions and the hand wringing over digital rights and the business of music and the allegedly dying Music Business… let’s remember the actual music. And, for me, The Music comes not in the form of the Hottest Track of The Summer or Latest Trending Single.

When I talk about The Music, I want to talk about albums. The Best Albums of 2013, in fact, according to me and based on what I liked listening to the most. Here are my Top 20 Albums of 2013:

20. Atoms For Peace – AMOK
Flea’s famous funk sounds a bit buried among the Thom Yorke/Nigel Godrich production that mostly sounds like a continuation of Yorke’s first solo album. But the subtle rhythms by not just Flea but percussionists Joey Waronker and Mauro Refoscodo reveal themselves through repeated listening. It might be a better Tide-You-Over-Til-The-Next-Radiohead album than the last the Radiohead album was.

19. Hiss Golden Messenger – Haw
Catchy folk recommended for fans of Dawes and/or Dr. Dog.

18. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
Was never really into NIN when they first peaked, but have grown to dig on some recent Trent Reznor projects. And surprisingly this new one is quite “accessible” (which is what critics say when they want to let you know it isn’t just noise… there are actual hummable songs and hooks here).

17. David Bowie – The Next Day
I was never a massive Bowie enthusiast. A casual fan. The best-of’s and hits collections were enough for me. I respected him but admit I was never well versed in the depth of what’s considered all of the best albums. I actually don’t think much about David Bowie. But then with little notice he came back out of left field and what was assumed to be a likely quiet retirement and graceful aging if health permitted. And the album was a rockin’ and infectious gem or a record that I was kinda addicted to listening to for several weeks there. Even if you’re just a little Bowie-curious, definitely worth checking out The Next Day.

16. Inspectah Deck w/ 7L & Esoteric – Czarface
7L & Esoteric have a knack for pumping out modern-day “90s Hip-Hop Classics” if you know what I mean. Their basic production value and overall aesthetic is a direct descendant of the Guru & DJ Premier pairing that gave Gang Starr it’s mass appeal. The catchy beats come in waves as the smilies and metaphors surf atop them effortlessly. On 2013′s Czarface, they’re joined by Inspectah Deck a microphone master and unsung hero from the Wu-Tang Clan to inject even more energy into mix.

15. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push Away the Sky
On Push Away the Sky we get mellow and creepy Nick. And somehow it’s every bit as effective, affecting, and addictive as rocking and creepy Nick was on Dig Lazarus Dig!

14. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
At times gimmicky and pastiche, these robot dudes really do know how to make some great-sounding music. Niles Rodgers incomparable guitar work is the MVP here, even if after a while the whole funky 70s vibe does eventually lose some of it’s luster. But beyond the “Get Lucky” sheen there’s a variety of tracks here, including some spoken word by Giorgio Moroder, with the subtle standout being “Instant Crush” featuring a lead vocal by Julian Casablancas of The Strokes. Daft Punk may never pull off those helmets, but somehow they managed to pull off making the robots sound human and the humans sound like robots. And you can dance to it.

13. Black Sabbath – 13
OK if they couldn’t work things out with original drummer Bill Ward, at least they got former Rage Against the Machine beatmaster Brad Wilk to crush these classic-sounding riffs. Considering what a debacle a comeback album like this could have been, it’s a downright enjoyable and rockin’ return to form (of sorts). And yes of course I switched them around so they’d be #13 on this list. \m/

12. Leif Vollebekk – North Americana
Oh, look: It’s this year’s “Haunting, sparse acoustic production meets Dylanesque phrasing” album. And it’s a good one.

11. Avett Brothers – Magpie and the Dandelion
Tremendous live band, and on record they remain sad but true. It’s such bummer music, but you believe every word and the harmonies are so good that you have to keep listening.

10. Clutch – Earth Rocker
If you know Clutch, you know they are the best relatively unknown hard rock band in America. If you’ve never heard of Clutch, you need to get with the program. And this new effort is as good as any place to start. Maybe I’m blinded by the shiny newness of the crunching riffs, but Earth Rocker might every bit as good as previous Clutch classics like Robot Hive Exodus, the self-titled album from 1995, or whatever you think is the Best Clutch Album. By the way, these guys wont just rock your face off, they’re also underrated songwriters. Dig in.

9. Vampire Weekend – Vampires of the City
That rare breed of “critics darlings” who actually live up the hype. Incredibly well-crafted album that may have marketed as a new sound actually succeeds by combining the best features of their first two albums. Cinematic and precise, and somehow still fun.

8. Jason Isbell – Southeastern
Stunning singer/songwriter strips it down, with sensational results. If you think you hate country music, think about checking out this (and every) Jason Isbell album. Short on twang, but long on songs.

7. The Roots & Elvis Costello – Wise Up Ghost
It’s weird. It’s like people are stalking the weird thoughts in my head. Not even that, cuz I never dreamed of putting the Roots and Elvis Costello. But I’ve loved them both very much for a very long time. And yet even I found word of their collaboration to be odd. But hot damn if this isn’t a great set that finds E.C. In his usual whine, but the songwriting and the rich tapestry of grooves of Questlove and the band make this one of the most enjoyable records from Elvis in a while. And, along with their Wake Up! Collab with John Legend in 2011, it’s yet another funky notch in the belt of the Legendary Roots Crew.

6. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt
I don’t throw them on here lightly. What I mean is this isn’t a “career” award or anything like that. Their new album is GOOD. Really good. Not that the last two were bad, but they were okay/good. Like at the time we knew they were sorta Pearl-Jam-By-Numbers generic “good” but we convinced ourselves they were actual Good. But Lightning Bolt is Good. Really good. Pearl Jam good.

5. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Apologies to Jay-Z and his buddy Kanye, but as far as megastar rappers who can still put out a great album and rip the mic to shreds to the point that he’s murdering the English language… Eminem sits atop the throne. His more famous counterparts might have bigger social media strategies and yachts and famous wives, but hip-hop has always been mostly about LYRICS. Jay-Z is an iconic rapper but he no longer has anything to say. Kanye’s always been a good producer and still makes incredibly interesting music (the beats and backing tracks) but he’s never been a good rapper. On The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Eminem proves that he still has plenty to say and the astounding verbal dexterity and unparalleled flow with which to do it. Instead of boring us with stories of champagne and caviar, Marshall Mathers doesn’t mind showing us he’s still hungry.

4. Killer Mike & EL-P – Run the Jewels
Probably my favorite hip-hop album of the year. While El-P has a reputation as a space-age futuristic producer (and he is that), he also drops some seriously old-school beats and bangers that rival the best producers in the game. And oh by the way, on this set he harnesses his frenetic flow on the mic and more than holds his own next to his buddy Killer Mike, who again brings his hard rhymes and booming vocal style. This logical progression from last year’s R.A.P. Music album (credited to Killer Mike, and produced by EL-P) find the pair once again proving the “Hip-Hop Is Dead” doubters dead wrong.

3. Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork
This might be the most perfect record of the year. Josh Homme has picked up his axe and this time he’s brought Dave Grohl’s thunderdrums along on a bunch of the songs, and even Elton John (!) shows up. Perfectly crafted rock’n’roll music, Like Clockwork is a timeless classic. [Speaking of Sir Elton, this seems like a good place to throw an Honorable Mention to John's fine new album The Diving Board.]

2. Jonathan Wilson – Fanfare
Oh, I shoulda made this album #1. Perhaps my favorite album of the year in that this record makes me want to use the word exquisite. It makes me think of words like beautiful and even meticulous. For such an organic and classic analog sound, it’s still so pristine… in the way that poets probably once wrote of pure art. (I guess. I’ve never read much poetry.) It’s the kind of album that demands and deserves a lot of attention. On Fanfare, singer/songwriter and underrated guitar whiz Jonathan Wilson reminds us of his extraordinary gifts as a producer. He was the man behind the boards for well-received albums in recent years by Dawes, Father John Misty, and Roy Harper… and now working for himself he allows his amazing songs to blossom beyond the Laurel Canyon laid back jam vibe and constructs an Album with a capital A. That deep shit that makes guys like me write this stuff singing their praises. His guitar tone. The deep sound he captures off the grand piano. His gift of voice. OK, I need to stop. Just know that this guy is making some very special music.

1. Portugal The Man – Evil Friends
For many years I stopped writing about music. Writing as a “Music Critic” for the student paper throughout high school and college had eventually turned me off for the obvious and predictable reasons. Why are we trying to describe music? Who are we to decide what’s “good” when music is so subjective? And then when albums like Evil Friends would come out from bands like Portugual The Man, I would try to rewrite some form of disclaimer about how it’s silly for us to try to explain what something sounds like. I cant tell you who or what Portugal The Man sounds like. (In fact, their real name is Portugal. The Man, with that period in the middle. Probably just to piss off people like me who write about music. Everyone hates music critics.) But I can tell you that this album is awesome. It might seem a little weird at first, but it’s a grower.

I won’t tell you how to listen to it… or on what platform… just listen. You wont be able to stop.

November 7, 2013 / Jaded Bitterman

Interview With TrampStamp Record’s Mick Longstein

As I enter TrampStamp Record’s downtown New York City office building I am immediately greeted by a man named Bruno. Bruno is well dressed, in his early 30′s, slender, and fit. He’s wearing a $3000 Armani suit. Black. He is wearing Ray Ban aviators inside the building. A little wire is dangling off his ear and down the side of his neck. He leans his head to his left and speaks to his shoulder.

“He’s here.”

Pause.

“Ok.” he says to his shoulder.

“Follow me.”

One awkward elevator ride later I am sitting in the waiting room of a posh multi-million office decorated with hallways of gold records, photos of famous musicians, and one fantastic gold plated door that leads to the office of the man who made all of it possible. That man is none other than the legendary Mick Longstein.

Bruno leads me in.

“How you doin?” Mr. Longstein asks.

“I’m good, how are you Mr. Longstein?”

“Please, please. Call me Mick. This ain’t no Wall Street bank aight?”

Moments later, after some small talk and the usual pleasantries I am finally able to get to the reason I am here: to interview a master of the arts.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did TrampStamp Records get its start?
Mick Longstein: 
When I was about 18 years old a few of my associates and myself took over a little night club in Brooklyn. Well, once we had it up and runnin’ we need somethin’ to, you know, draw the people from the neighborhood in to start spending their hard earned cash..with us. I had a cousin who started a little rock and roll/do wop outfit, The Dick Ritchie Valens Quartet, so we booked ‘em to play 7 nights a week, 6 shows a night. Well, a few years later and we got all this cash flowing through the club but, you know, we ain’t gonna play Uncle Sam any of that cut. So we started a, umm, a subsidiary. Yea. That’s it. And we figured, hey, let’s expand our empire into this music business. So we started TrampStamp Records.

Let me get this straight, so TrampStamp Records was originally a front? A place to launder your cash?
ML: Hey buddy, who said anythin’ about laundering money huh? I got no fuckin’ clue what you mean by that. Next question!

Ok. Who was the first artist you signed?
ML: Let me think about that one, cause, you know, my memory ain’t too good no more. You know, it was Blue Lou Boyd & The Chesterfields.

Who had the big hit “Am I Lying?”
ML: Yea, that was a big hit for sure. We made our first million off a that one. I bought my first wife a mink coat with those proceeds.

Read more…

August 24, 2013 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

Three Crazy Snubs From Grantland’s Best Song of the Millennium Contest

Grantland has posted a “Battle for the Best Song of the Millennium,” formatted as a tournament bracket of course, culling 64 songs for all of us to vote on. I’m still an album guy, so “singles” and playlists are not really my thing. I can admit to being just old enough that I haven’t heard of a good chunk of the songs they picked, and that’s okay, I’m not in tune with all The Big Hits or whatever moves the radio dial these days.

I’m less concerned about what made Grantland’s list than what was snubbed: 3 of the songs that I would probably pick if I had to pick just the 5-10 best songs of the millennium, “Seven Nation Army” (The White Stripes), “Crazy” (Gnarls Barkley), and “Welcome to Jamrock” (Damian Marley). I’m sure narrowing the last 13 or so years down to 64 potential “Best” songs was a daunting task. So much so that they’ve already posted a reaction to the reaction: 20+ more songs they acknowledge shoulda-coulda made the list. Only “Seven Nation Army” made their “songs that just missed the cut” list, “Crazy” and “Jamrock” were snubbed there too.

From Grantland’s Mark Lisanti:

Not to pull back the curtain on our selection process… but “Seven Nation Army” bit the dust because of the dreaded “marching band penalty.” You know: If you can play it at midfield with tubas and French horns and socially awkward people in hats that have that weird strap that hangs down below the nose, it can’t possibly be a good song. It’s a Jock Jam. It’s halftime entertainment.

That’s sound reasoning if you want to vote against it once the tournament starts, but there’s 64 (SIXTY-FOUR!) slots… how do you not include this song ?

Read more…

June 25, 2013 / Jaded Bitterman

The Russian Incident

“Two and a half years!”

I am sitting with Gringo Starr, former drummer for Jackie & The Treehorns as he sips an espresso, noshes on a fish taco, and tells me his story.

“Two and a half years I spent in that gulag. Because of him.”

The “him” Gringo is referring to is known simply as Jackie. While many have written about him, few actually know the man.

‘Shady, elusive, arrogant, slutty’ are some of the words Mr. Starr uses when describing Jackie. Then he pauses in quiet contemplation and continues.

“But he’s also a genius.”

In what he now calls his “previous life” Gringo Starr was the drummer for Jackie & The Treehorns. A world-renowned rock group with an enigmatic frontman. While on tour in Russia with the group, Starr was arrested for indecent exposure after being caught receiving oral sex in an alley from a fan. He was sentenced to three years in a Russian gulag. While reports vary and rumors have swirled around the music industry and State Department for years, Gringo claims that only he and Jackie know what actually occurred that night.

“It’s simple. He left me. I was backstage with this super hot Ukrainian chick–cause Jackie always had hot international chicks around–and we were getting down. Well, she was going down I mean. Next thing I know, I’m skinning goats for Siberian farmers in the dead cold of a Russian winter.”

The story goes that while Gringo was encouraged by Jackie to partake in his post-show activities, once in the act, Jackie instructed his tour entourage to leave the venue, essentially deserting Gringo in an unknown land which led to his eventual arrest and incarceration.

“I mean, if he wanted me out of the band, he could’ve gone about it another way. That was kinda harsh, no? I hadn’t even finished yet!” says Gringo while inhaling a filterless Camel cigarette.

He continues, “Remember that scene in Almost Famous where the tour bus leaves the rest stop and Jason Lee’s character chases it screaming, ‘oh, it’s okay, it’s easy to leave me. I’m only the lead singer!!!”, well, that is what I felt like. Then I realized, shit, I’m only the drummer!”

“The Russian incident…it was tragic.” says Heshel Treehorn, Jackie’s long time manager.

“But it paved the way for Jackie’s amazing concept album The Russian Incident. It’s a story of one man’s struggles to cope with being a stranger in a strange land. But it’s kind of like Gringo’s sperm that night: it never got released.”

Jackie himself has refused to comment on the incident leaving his fans and the media with only speculation about what really happened that night.

“I’ve called, emailed, faxed, tweeted, and facebook-friended the U.S. State Department about this and they won’t return my calls.” says über Jackie fan Clarice of the band Clarice & The Lotion Baskets.

“I even put in a formal freedom of information request, but they keep telling me they have no ‘Jackie’ in their records. How is that even possible? Who doesn’t know Jackie?”

Gringo and Clarice will soon get a chance to tell their sides of the story in the upcoming Worthy Bros. documentary The Jackie Movie, which is scheduled for a Fall 2013 release.

“I am looking forward to exposing Jackie to the world for whom he really is.” says Gringo.

An interesting choice of words considering his history.

June 6, 2013 / Jaded Bitterman

Revisiting Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath
One of my earliest childhood memories was not of learning to ride a bike or my first day of school or the first time I walked into a professional baseball park. It involved something much less childlike in nature. It was my discovery of Black Sabbath. In particular, the opening notes of the song “Iron Man.”

My brothers and I shared one of those every-school-had-one old school tape recorders. It was the portable audio device of its time. Built-in tape deck, built-in speaker, a little handle to carry it around with. The original boom box. One day, in it, I discovered one of my brothers tapes. Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. I had no clue who this band was, what they sounded like, or why my brother even owned the tape. I brought it into my room, sat it down on the floor, put myself next to it, and hit the play button.

Thump-thumb-thump-thump–dddrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-dddrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

I AM IRON MAN!

Holy fuckin shit I was floored! I mean, my mind was literally blown. I wish I had a photo of the expression on my face when I first heard Ozzy’s techo-fuzzed voice. I immediately rewound the tape and listened again.

I AM IRON MAN!

Repeat 13,736 times.

I had never heard anything like it before in my life, and my life was forever changed by it. I couldn’t care less about the rest of the song. That fuckin’ intro was so amazing to my adolescent mind. It’s still amazing to my adult mind. What does that say about my mind?

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May 21, 2013 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

Farewell Transmission

I guess it’s sadly fitting that Jason Molina would turn into a ghost before he reached the horizon.

He was a severely underrated and sadly under-appreciated musician and writer who recently died at the age of 39.  Even if you’ve never heard of the late singer/songwriter known for his bands Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co, please visit the Steam Engine music blog to read our farewell transmission remembering Jason Molina by clicking here.

 

 

May 6, 2013 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

The WHO? Pop-Culture Shock at a Pizza Place

It certainly wasn’t my first old-guy moment. It probably won’t be the worst one I’ll ever have; in fact, it wasn’t so much an old-guy moment as it was a case of pop-culture shock.

On my way home from work on a recent Friday, I stopped into a nearby location of the regional pizza franchise PizzaBoli’s to pick up a couple pies I’d phoned in. The young girl at the counter, dead-eyed and slightly confused, says, “What does your shirt mean? I don’t get it.”

the who logo shirt“You don’t get it? Oh, it says The Who,” and I point out the lettering which is black on a dark background so I thought maybe she didn’t notice it and just saw the target and arrow up.

“What’s that mean? I don’t get it.”

“It’s the band, THE WHO.”

And she’s saying “Oh I never heard of them” while I was already babbling on about how “it’s kinda hard to see the lettering… or… were you confused by the arrow as if it was supposed to be pointing up at me like Who is this guy?”  Like I was trying to let her off the hook for not noticing what it said or something and then I realized that she really had never heard of The Who and probably thought I had on some random shirt of my friend’s band or some other “Never Hearduvums” and so I just had to ask….

“Wait, you’ve never heard of The Who?”
“No… sorry…”

I figured, okay she’s pretty young and so I turned to her PizzaBoli’s Teammate, I wish I’d gotten his name, he was a mousey lookin’ fella, very short reddish hair with a tightly trimmed matching mustache, let’s call him Chet. He certainly wasn’t as old me, but at first glance he had to be at least 30ish, but even if he was only 25 I figured it would balance out the possibly 16-year-old cashier. So I asked him…

“You’ve heard of the The Who, right?” Now I’m kinda point-framing the iconic logo as I leaned over the counter so he could see it. “The classic rock band? The Who?” I asked, certain that he was about to give me the “Oh yea, The Who. What about ‘em?”

But he just shook his head sheepishly. “No, sorry…”

“You’ve never heard of THE WHO?”
“I’m really not much of a music guy.”
After a dumbfounded pause, I somehow managed to keep my composure. “Okay, fair enough… uh, you’ve heard of The Beatles, right?”
“Well yea…”
“Of course, The Who aren’t quite The Beatles, but I just thought you’d…”

…and I just trailed off. I knew I couldn’t go all DFENS on ‘em like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, though a part of my brain wanted to. And I’m not even that much of a Who fan!

It’s not like I was wearing my Replacements shirt; The Who aren’t exactly something obscure, I mean I got the shirt at fucking Target! And it’s also a pretty iconic logo. I wasn’t asking them to sing or name songs. I could understand the young girl, but the other dude… They did play the Super Bowl a few years ago, they show up at every 121212 Sandy Relief 911 Concert for NY type event, awards shows, wherever they can get out there and have Roger Daltrey show us his Ken-doll plastic, oddly buff orange chest while Pete Townshend does 20,000 windmill moves to the point of self-parody…. Like ‘em or not, and I realize they aren’t quite as well-known as the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, but….. WHO THE FUCK HAS NEVER HEARD OF THE WHO?

Meanwhile, The Who aren’t even from my generation, pardon the pun. I was born in 1970, after the Beatles broke up, and month before Jimi Hendrix died (yet somehow I’ve heard of them).  Told ya this wasn’t really an old-guy incident.  Seriously, this isn’t about me being too old.  You can stay on my lawn. If I was 70 and some kids never heard of Frank Sinatra, I would just assume they’re too young… but this felt different. It was just odd… it was actually quite shocking on some level.

I love The Who. I’ve often considered writing something about them, and it sucks that it had to happen like this. Even though I was always much more partial to John Bonham and Mitch Mitchell, drummer Keith Moon was an absolute monster. I actually think Tommy and Quadrophenia are a bit bloated and could be intimidating for most listeners. Go crank up Who’s Next and picture feeling that kind of rock’n’roll power putting that record on for the first time way back in 1971. Those intros to “Baba O’Reilly” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” musta blown people’s minds back then!

Anyway, I wish I’d stayed to check if they’d heard of Hendrix, the Stones, Zeppelin and a couple of others. Maybe next time, because I do like PizzaBoli’s, who I’ve now mentioned by name three times in hopes of getting free pizza when this article goes viral.

So I walk out with my pizzas, and echoing through the shopping center is the familiar sound of the Rolling Stones (in the case, the song “Shattered,”) blasting from a speaker outside the Radio Shack. Yes, the Radio Shack. With Mick Jagger imploring me to look at him, he’s in tatters, I’m not even sure what planet I’m on. The economy’s been in the toilet for like 6 years and somehow Radio Shack is still in business selling little fuses and plugs and batteries and bullshit that nobody needs and I just met two people who never heard of The Who.

May 5, 2013 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

The Flaming Lips Bring the Noise

Basic RGBEvery time I listen to a new Flaming Lips album, I question if I really enjoy listening to vacuum cleaners faxing each other.

Considering the Flaming Lips never sound like they are in, or of, the real world, there are times on their new album when the “music” sounds like alarms going off and welders working in machine shops.

The oscillating fans drop their front cages and fall crashing down to grind their blades into the carpet when singer and Flaming Lips mastermind Wayne Coyne starts singing “ooooh… aaahhhh….” I’m not sure I heard any lyrics. These aren’t so much songs as they are fleeting droning dreams, or perhaps nightmares given the album title of The Terror.

None of this is surprising, given the Flaming Lips history of at-times brilliant albums that are also sometimes too weird for their own good. These Lips have always moved faster than our brains. So I was giving The Terror another listen… and at one point wondered “is this still the intro?” and so I clicked over to check and I was 24 minutes in.

Read more…

May 4, 2013 / Jaded Bitterman

Total Satisfaction: The Rolling Stones at the Staples Center, Los Angeles, May 3, 2013

Occasional correspondent and BumsLogic contributor Darryl Walter went to the Stones concert in L.A. so you wouldn’t have to. Here’s his review:

“Who would spend that much money for a bunch of old aging rock stars?”

“They haven’t put out anything of value in decades.”

“Mick and Keith hate each other.”

I heard these and other comments about the 2013 Rolling Stones “50 & Counting” tour but when I found out that I would be in Los Angeles on business, I knew I wanted to see this show. After all, they are the undisputed “World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band. No other band, NO OTHER BAND, has been rocking out for half a century.

One of the things that make the Stones special is the riffs, Keith Richards has created some of the most notable riffs in music, it only takes a few seconds of hearing the first chords of “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Satisfaction,” or “Brown Sugar” and you know what is coming.

Rolling Stones

Photo courtesy of Filth Mart, West Hollywood.

Before the concert started, the UCLA Bruins Marching Band performed “Satisfaction” while marching and grooving on the floor of the Staples Center. A video montage that contained clips and quotes from fans throughout the years preceded the Marching Bruins.

The show opened with “Get of My Cloud” and then the band tore into “The Last Time.” Mick thanked the Los Angeles crowd and acknowledged the backlash for the high-priced tickets by asking if it is really just Beverly Hills, Brentwood, and parts of Santa Monica that were at the show.

Mick and backup singer Lisa Fischer went to school on “Gimme Shelter,” followed by special guest Gwen Stefani coming out for a duet on “Wild Horses. Gwen probably should have stayed in Orange County rather than embarrass herself trying to follow the powerful vocal prowess that Lisa Fischer had just displayed on “Shelter.”

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March 18, 2013 / Jaded Bitterman

Existian – Molly Album Review

Molly: To know her was to love her.

Molly: To know her was to love her.

I have always tried to live by the motto that music is not a competition. As a  fellow musician once said to me, “it’s not like there is only one record contract out there.” Battle of the Bands and the like were never appealing to me. Why spend your efforts trying to “beat” another band? It creates the opposite of a music “community.”

However, musical challenges are another story. Recently, a friend sent me a link to a record he had just recorded. But it wasn’t your regular ole recording. Well, it was a recording, an album actually, but this album was produced for something called The RPM Challenge via NPR Music. The gist was this: you had one month–February 2013 (28 days)–to write and record a record of all new music.

My friend (whom I must disclose I played in a band–The Black Hand–with a few years back) goes under the moniker of Existian and he recorded a “concept/tribute” album about his recently deceased and beloved dog Molly. It’s a sad and beautiful album at the same time.

With song titles such as “Sweet Molly (I Still Love You)”, “Molly”, “Molly, My Dear”, and “You’re Not There Anymore”, you understand the head space this album will put you in. Anyone that has ever owned and lost a pet knows the heartbreak it can bring. While the world has heard thousands–if not millions–of songs written about love lost between humans, I don’t think the loss of a pet ever touched the sketch pads of Roger Waters or Pete Townsend for a potential concept album idea. Lucky for us, Existian beat them to it.

The record starts with a few retrospective, delicate acoustic numbers before kicking into second gear with folk rocker  “Molly, My Dear”, one of the few tracks that contains drums and bass. Next up, “You’re Not There Anymore”, contains psychedelically panned distorted vocals and PJ Harvey-esque guitar lines. “Fort Belvoir, VA” spins tales of Existian and Molly’s time together and acts as the albums clap-along campfire tribute. The instrumental “Molly vs. Maynard” is a mid tempo, organ-laced rocker that sequences into the sad tale of Molly’s last moments in “Through The Glass”, where Existian speaks of seeing her sad face through the window and whispering his last words to her. The album closes with “Stay”, a downbeat, final declaration of love and apologies to the fallen canine.

Molly lives on in the heart and mind of Existian and his record explores the various emotions that come with loving and losing a pet. It’s a dramatic homage that takes the listener down many paths but always maintains an uplifting outlook. It’s not so much about the loss of Molly as it is remembering their good times together. The songs celebrate her life instead of agonizing over her end.

Listen and download the album below:

February 7, 2013 / Jaded Bitterman

What Are You Listening To?

Mixtape

A Random Mixtape

Human curiosity is…curious. I, for one, find myself becoming more and more interested in the methods by which people engage with their music. In the past, purchasing music was somewhat of a ritual: You heard about your favorite artists upcoming album, you saved your money for it, waited for it’s release date, went to your local record store, and bought a physical package that contained the music. Now, one can download and be listening to Michael Jackson’s entire discography within a matter of minutes and share it between multiple devices in an instant. As Det. Thomas ‘Herc’ Hauk once said, “Isn’t technology the bomb?”

Recently, while I was riding the metro into work, I looked around at the various co-zombies on my train. Most everyone was connected to some sort of mobile device and most everyone had headphones on. I wondered: what are all these people listening to? I suppose as a musician myself I am curious about people’s listening habits. That same morning I came into the office and randomly asked some co-workers what song they just finished listening to.
Read more…

January 31, 2013 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

Guest Column: What’s a Cleveland Sports Fan to Do?

By DARRYL WALTER

Another Super Bowl is upon us. Another year that the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, and Houston Texans won’t reach the Mt. Everest of professional sports. While Detroit and Houston fans can cry in their beer that they have yet to be in a Roman numeral football game, at least those cities have celebrated other sports championships over the last 47 years.

In Cleveland, where you can take the boy out of Cleveland but you can’t take the Cleveland out of the boy, generations of fans have yet to see a championship parade. Sure we got close in the 97 World Series and let’s not talk about The Drive or The Fumble (I was at both games*), but enough is enough. I want to know what it’s like to win a championship. No city with three major league sports teams has gone this long without a championship.

Which brings us back to Super Bowl XLVII. This year we have the Baltimore Ravens vs. the San Francisco 49ers. No Cleveland sports fan with any sense of dignity can root for the Ravens. People in Charm City can complain that the Colts were taken from under them, but two wrongs really piss me off.

It just pains me that the Ravens have been so successful since their arrival. One of my favorite players, Ozzie Newsome has done a wonderful job as General Manager. (I was at Newsome’s first game when he scored a touchdown on an end-around.) To make matters worse, my adopted state of Maryland, where I have lived in for the past 20 years, bent over backwards to build a stadium for them. Hell, I’ll never buy an instant lottery ticket in Maryland since that money goes to pay for the stadium. (Disclosure: I did finally step into that purple stadium two years ago to see U2.)

Blame it on the San Francisco Giants. What does the San Francisco Giants have to do with this discussion about the Super Bowl? Easy, it goes against one of my rules: you can’t root for a team where the city already won a championship in another sport in the same year (call it hostility since I don’t know what it’s like to win just one championship in a year). The Giants just won the 2012 World Series, so, sorry Colin Kaepernick, I can’t root for you.

So what am I going to do Sunday? Well, I can tell you I will have a few beers and not pay too much attention to commercials that cost more than the GNP of some small countries. I will likely play some squares so I have something to root for each quarter, and if push comes to shove, and I really need to root for a team, I will be cheering for the team coached by Harbaugh. Okay, it is the team coached by Jim Harbaugh. Because there is no way in hell I will root for those Ravens stolen from my beloved Cleveland.

*Worth Hoarding: “Below is a picture of the vendors license that my friend and I got the week of the Browns-Broncos game in Cleveland. We got vendor licenses and they gave us hats and aprons to sell food. When we got into the stadium, we tossed the stuff in the garbage in a bathroom and found 2 seats in the 80,000 seat stadium. They only had something like 86 no shows that day so we were pretty lucky to find seats. The ticket stub is from the Browns – Broncos game (The Fumble) the following year in Denver. Another friend had met these girls in Europe the summer before and we went out to visit them at Steamboat Springs. We came back into Denver that Saturday night and bought tickets for the game from a scalpers Sunday morning.” –DW

January 3, 2013 / Jaded Bitterman

It’s The Perps!

ThePerps

For the past dozen years or so I have been collaborating on numerous projects with various musicians, film makers, photographers, and writers. These projects have mostly taken recorded musical form while some ended up as full-fledged bands that many of you might already know about or have seen play live.

Recently I was sifting through my “digital archives” to discover that many of these recordings were never officially “released”. And by released I simply mean they were never made available for any of my friends and family to enjoy (or ignore). This is mostly due to the nature of my inability to ever feel that a creative project is “done”; that it can always be enhanced even further (anyone who mixes music can attest to this). Over time, your self-critiquing slowly subsides and eventually you are able to enjoy listening to your own music. Sorta.

That time, for me, has come in 2013.

I am extremely proud (as are many of my collaborators) to announce that I have created a project that I am calling: 12 FOR 13. At the beginning of each month throughout the year 2013 I will be releasing one of these projects online for free. It might be a full album or it might be a single song. It might be an actual movie or it might be a soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t even exist.  It will cover most every band that I have played in from 2000 through today as well as other projects I have worked on over the years.

First up: The Perps 

The Perps are a duo made up of Bill Resh and myself. Bill and I played in a band together for 7 years in the 90′s called The Circle Six (he was the rapper, I was the guitar player). After that band broke up we started recording together in my studio between the years of 2000 – 2011 and produced close to 40 tracks. We have chosen what we feel are the strongest of those songs and presented them to you here. The best part: it’s 100% free. All you have to do is click, download, listen, and (hopefully) enjoy.

Ladies and gentlemen:

December 31, 2012 / Jaded Bitterman

3 Albums I Am Looking Forward To In 2013

PTSA_CoverFar too often we think of the past. Especially this time of year. Best of emails, lists, ideas overwhelm the blogosphere and news shows. What were the best movies, singles, albums, tv shows from 2012? You know what? As much as I love myself some lists I have decided I am going to look forward instead. So I bring you my list of 3 albums that I am looking forward to in 2013.

  1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push Away the Sky (February 2013)
    Their past two albums (2004′s Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus and 2008′s Dig, Lazarus, Dig) have been incredible. An example of a band that has aged like a good wine. They just seem to get better with each album. Seeing The Bad Seeds perform at the 9:30 Club during the Lazarus tour I realized just how incredible this band is not only on record, but live as well. If you want intense musicianship, witty lyrics about death, religion, and sex, then look no further. What I have come to expect with each new Bad Seeds album is to not expect anything. From one to the next they seldom sound the same, yet, sound the same if you know what I mean.
  2. Queens Of The Stone Age – Title/Release Date Unknown
    You could argue that no rock band this side of the pond has had a better run of consecutive great albums in the past decade than Queens has. From 2000′s Rated R through 2008′s Era Vulgaris they have not put out anything short of mind blowing. Though they have had some pretty big hits (“No One Knows”, “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer”) QOTSA have sorta flown under the radar or been labeled “that band that Dave Grohl played drums on…for one album.” But if I know anything about band leader Josh Homme it’s that he seldom repeats himself and always surrounds himself with incredible musicians. A great songwriter, producer, and guitarist in his own right, the new album supposedly will contain guest spots from Dave Grohl (on drums of course), Trent Reznor, and Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters. Queens have always been a communal band and one of the few non hip hop acts to embrace guest musicians on their records.
  3. Atoms For Peace  – AMOK (February 2013)
    This “supergroup” and step brother of Radiohead have already done a tour and the live shows have been available online for some time. Though I was not as into Thom Yorke’s solo record as much as I thought I would be, something tells me that him stepping outside his Oxfordshire brethren might open him up some. With Flea on bass and Nigel “how great has my career been” Godrich in tow, I don’t really see how this album won’t at least be listenable.
December 24, 2012 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

Best Albums of 2012: Not Just a List!

I knew when the Fall new-album schedule had Bob Dylan, the Avett Brothers, and Patterson Hood releases on the same Tuesday morning that it would be the best September 11th ever.

Sure enough, none of them disappointed.  Bob Dylan returned with Tempest, a gritty and at times scathing stew of blues and folk serving as an amazing reminder of the late-career consistency he’s shown on record in the new century. Great Bob Dylan records are the reason people like me make lists like this every year.

Whether willingly or unconsciously, the Avett Brothers and Patterson Hood (lead driver and navigator of the Drive-By Truckers) are indeed disciples, descendants, and torchbearers of the folk-rock tradition personified and perfected by Dylan. And neither act seems to cower from the challenge, even if they’d scoff at my assertion that they belong in the same sentence as the legendary Dylan.

Seth and Scott Avett are blessed with much sweeter voices of course; and the songs (from the Beatlesque harmonies and tearjerkers to the more rockin’ numbers) on The Avett Brothers’ The Carpenter are perfect showcases for their natural talent.

phood-hlritdPatterson Hood’s Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance might actually be his best album to date. Fronting the Drive-By Truckers, Hood had already built a career as a gifted storyteller and master painter of pictures, and now the solo Heat Lightning flashes it right in our faces. There’s one scene where he shows up just after midnight at a liquor store in the next county cuz it’s Monday now and the liquor laws allow them to start selling again. It’s sad and lonely, but then Hood’s protagonist sees some “friends.” Even sadder, there’s already a line of “zombies” there when they flip the sign to open. This all transpires within the first verse of the first song.

From that first track on, it’s apparent that this will be a strange and telling ride, from that bleak scene at the liquor store in “12:01” all the way to where it “winds around dead-man’s curve where the lady from the Sunbeam bread wrapper was killed in that head-on” in “Untold Pretties.” Easily one of my Top 3 Albums of the year.

The other two were Chuck Prophet’s Temple Beautiful, reviewed here, and Jack White’s Blunderbuss (which I wrote about over the summer in this Heavy Rotation column). Other albums that I blurbed about in the first half of the year that make this Best Albums of 2012 list are:

Dr.John – Locked Down
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth
KRS-One – The BDP Album
DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles – Kolexxxion
Father John Misty – Fear Fun

soundgarden king animal artOne of the most pleasant surprises of the year was Soundgarden’s King Animal. They were always a good band, and made a few great records back in the day. But after such a long layoff, I was only expecting a shell of a bland Soundgarden-by-numbers album. I was wrong, this album really is great. The first two tracks might fit that bill of as-expected uninspiring rockers, but from track 3 through the end King Animal sits right up there with the bands’ finest moments from their Badmotorfinger-Superunknown peak.

At the end of the year, December saw the release of an album called Carry On, by a guy named Willy Mason. Never heard of him, but started noticing some good reviews so I checked it out. Really glad I did, as this album is both instantly likable and a slow-burning grower. Terrific songwriting meets production that ranges from trippy and atmospheric to stripped down and raw. Think Beck meets Daniel Lanois. Or just forget my half-assed attempts at catchy descriptions and just go buy Willy Mason’s Carry On right now. It’s like a secret gem. An out-of-the-blue underdog landing on my list of Best Albums of 2012.

The Rest Of The Best:

Jimmy Cliff  Rebirthjimmy cliff rebirth
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill

Jason Isbell – Live in Alabama
Led Zeppelin – Celebration Day (reviewed here)
Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
Various Artists – Country Funk 1969-1975
Bonnie Raitt – Slipstream
Bill Fay  Life Is People
Band of Horses Mirage Rock

Rush – Clockwork Angels. That’s right, I’m risking what little credibility I might have by putting the polarizing RUSH on this list. Fact is, or my opinion is, this new Rush album rocks. There’s no synthesizers or cheesy electric drums. It’s not just guitar-driven, but the guitars actually sound like guitars. I realize most people hate the sound of Geddy Lee’s voice, and I’ll admit I can only take it in small doses. But this is a solid showing by the aging-but-legendary trio from Canada. I know it’s not cool to admit liking Rush, that’s why I hid this part all the way at the end.

December 7, 2012 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

Celebrating Zeppelin

led zep art

“The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.”

― French poet Charles Baudelaire, a quote later immortalized in the movie The Usual Suspects.

The greatest trick that Led Zeppelin ever pulled was not reuniting. Okay, it’s not a perfect analogy, but poetry, cinema, and a satanic reference…. It just seems so Zeppelin.

The greatest reunion that Led Zeppelin ever played, a 2007 one-off gig in London with Jason Bonham on drums, is now available in the recently released amazing CD/DVD set Celebration Day.

It’s become a semi-annual ritual to speculate on the various rumors concerning a possible Led Zeppelin reunion tour. Maybe they’ll play the Super Bowl, fans think (and TV executives pray), and then launch a massive world tour! And yet every year it never happens, and Robert Plant puts out another acoustic-based album with Alison Krauss. Now, from all reports, including word from Jimmy Page in recent interviews, we’re all getting used to the fact that a Zeppelin reunion tour will never happen.

But a funny thing happened on the way to what is and what should never be: the Mighty Led Zeppelin have somehow managed to satisfy us by not coming back at all. Confused? Well, a Led Zep tour would likely feature ticket prices in the $100-250 range and even if you could afford it, I’m sure the internet machines would tell you they were all sold out a minute after they went on sale, while Stub Hub and all the eBay “ticket brokers” magically managed to land all the good seats. So, none of us would actually get to attend a Led Zeppelin concert anyway.

By releasing Celebration Day, from their stunning performance as part of a show honoring the late founder and president of Atlantic Records Ahmet Etregun, Zeppelin is basically letting us all have the best seat in the house for a mere $15-20 (the cost of the regular CD/DVD set available now, and probably what you would have paid to park at the Led Zeppelin reunion concerts that aren’t happening). Thanks guys!

We don’t have to lament that we missed the tour or had to settle for the DVD… cuz there is no reunion tour. And while Page, John Paul Jones, and Bonham have all sounded like they’d be game to do it, I have to respect the refreshing honesty of Plant, who’s leaving millions of dollars on the table because he admits that his heart wouldn’t be into rehashing the glory of his younger self as part of some massive cash grab. Bummer for hardcore Zeppelin fans, but good for him. (I think his quote was something about no one wanting to hear a man his age singing about juice running down his leg.)

Meanwhile, the forests are echoing with laughter perhaps to the point of tears. Because listening to this set (I haven’t even watched the video yet, but the audio has been in heavy rotation), it’s obvious that this older/wiser version of Led Zeppelin, more-than-capably driven by late drummer John Bonham’s son on drums, put some real rehearsal time into just a one-night only concert. They are absolutely bringing it on every tune, proof that IF they had ever done a full tour they would have blown all expectations out of the water. There wouldn’t have been any cries of over-the-hill disappointment. They would have kicked our asses and melted our faces, just as they still do every time some unsuspecting 14-year-old discovers them.

And that’s what’s so brilliant about this set: it shows and proves that “Hey, we made sure that we would NAIL it for a one-off gig… so imagine how good a reunion tour would’ve been? That’s right, we woulda killed it… but we’re not doing it. So for less than $20, you can see/hear it in all its glory. You’re welcome.”

Page and Jones are as vital as ever. Page has always been a legendary rock god and guitar hero, and still sounds the part. Jones was always been underrated, and his versatility and subtle musicality are on full display here. The older, gentler Plant sounds great; he’s still in fine voice but knows his limitations. He’s not my-ma-MY-my-my-my-ing his way through every single line of every song.

As for the kid on drums (who I think is 40-something years old by now), Jason Bonham is just ON every one of these songs. He is simply badass, in that he knows when to tip his cap to his father’s famous fills (often) while still providing the rock-solid backbone these legendary songs demand and deserve. I assume (and it sounds like) this dude has studied this stuff inside out his whole life, knowing that if/when called upon to sit on daddy’s throne, he’d have to be ready. (Seriously, I’m not sure if being Bonzo’s son makes it easier or harder. Imagine the sheer weight of this assignment.) And it’s not just the drum parts, he’s obviously well versed enough in all the nuances of the other three guys’ parts that he can interact and complement them in the live setting, not just try to recreate the original versions.

To keep with the movie analogies, this is not some bland sequel or terrible remake. If you prefer a sports analogy, this isn’t Johnny Unitas on the Chargers or Michael Jordan on the Wizards. (Speaking of sports, just as the game-day stadium and arena experience has priced most of us out, and huge TV’s and the RedZone channel have made watching at home more enjoyable, perhaps getting the Led out in hi-def in our basement, sad as that might seem, has become the modern concert experience.)

As for the songs, all the usual suspects are here, from the hits to the deep cuts, including one that Plant mentions is a first attempt in public, the crunching “For Your Life,” from the criminally underrated Presence album. At one point you can hear Plant admit between verses, “it still feels pretty good up here.”

In a previous column lamenting the brutal murder of Led Zeppelin at the hands of Classic Rock Radio, I wrote that a Led Zeppelin reunion tour was #1 on my Top 10 Awesome Zeppelin Things That Can’t Be Killed. Well, it looks as though it’s on life support, and yet it’s still cause for celebration.

So, to Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham, in the words of one song title not included here: “Thank You.”

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