King Richard the First… and Only

Last night I saw Richard Thompson live in concert at the newly refurbished Memorial Hall in downtown Cincinnati.

I’ve seen him a dozen or more times over the past quarter of a century. I originally opted to skip this show, mainly because:

  1. I had seen him so many times prior to this show.
  2. Tickets weren’t cheap and I’m trying to save cash.
  3. As a suburban 52-year-old with a job, a wife and 4 kids (two of whom I have to wake up at 6 a.m. every weekday) I can’t make as many shows as I’d like to.

But last week some friends of mine were talking about going, and I got the fever. One catch: the show was sold out. I checked StubHub and SeatGeek to no avail. On a last-second “what the heck” whim, I checked Craigslist, and lo and behold, another suburban dad had a pair of tickets that he had to unload because the concert conflicted with a Daddy-Daughter dance. Which is how I wound up at a Kroger parking lot on a Wednesday night, meeting a stranger for a ticket purchase.

The show was a typical RT show… which is to say, amazing. I don’t think you’ll find his rare combination of talents in too many folks:

  • virtuoso guitarist – I’d put him up against any teenage phenom. Even solo and acoustic, like last night, the dude can shred
  • phenomenal voice – so strong, even at age 68. And the acoustics in Memorial Hall did it justice.
  • fantastic songwriter – great, sometimes twisted lyrics and wonderful melodies. It’s no wonder his tunes have been covered by the likes of R.E.M., Elvis Costello, Bob Mould, Bonnie Raitt, Reckless Kelly, The Neville Brothers, Marshall Crenshaw and Dinosaur Jr. (that’s a festival lineup I’d like to see).
  • entertaining stage presence – that dry British wit is always in evidence. Last night after absolutely tearing up the solo on “Valerie” and getting much-deserved applause from the audience, he shrugged his shoulders and said “it’s easy.” He also referred to himself as a “folk rock dinosaur.”

I went with my neighbor/friend Mark, a true music fanatic (he’s been to hundreds of shows over the last 40 years, still plays in a local band, went to Cleveland a few weeks ago to see Patti Smith… you get the picture). Mark’s a longtime Richard Thompson fan, and saw him in 1986 in the same venue as last night’s show. The vast majority of folks in the audience were in the same age bracket as Mark and I are. (The show should be sponsored by a doctor who specializes in knee and hip replacements – he’d make a killing.) That’s a shame. Richard’s always been a niche artist, an acquired taste, a critic’s darling almost completely ignored by the mainstream. But he puts on a fantastic show every damn time. You whippersnappers should go see him – now get off my lawn!

Next time I have a chance to see such an amazing artist in a gorgeous venue, I won’t trust my fate to Daddy-Daughter dances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling Music

My wife and two youngest children are on a Spring Break trip out west, with our friend Heather and her two kids. Meanwhile I’m stuck in rainy Cincinnati with our teenage sons. (I’m not bitter.) The way my music-loving mind is wired, every time my wife sends me a photo of their adventures, it makes me think of a song.

They started their trip in Las Vegas (where my Raiders are moving):

So naturally that makes me think of “Viva Las Vegas” – but not the Elvis version, the Shawn Colvin version from the Doc Pomus tribute album (and The Big Lebowski credits).

Next up was the Hoover Dam:

I cannot hear the words “Hoover Dam” without thinking of Sugar’s song by the same name.

They spent some time on Route 66:

Then they headed to the Grand Canyon:

That’s your cue, Drive By Truckers…

They’ve been spending a lot of time in Arizona

That calls for a double-shot, twin spin:

 

Yesterday they were in Sedona:

Great scenery… great tune by Houndmouth too!

And tonight they’ll get to Phoenix.

 

Looks like they’re really enjoying their time way out west:

 

And I am too, vicariously, via the soundtrack in my head.

Rock & Roll Never Forgets… or does it?

Here’s a great article on NPR about Bob Seger’s presence (or lack thereof) in the age of digital music.

His influence appears to be diminishing (along with his sales and airplay) and his legacy is losing a bit of luster because you can’t find many of his albums and/or songs on digital and streaming platforms. So he’s missing out on a chance to gain new fans.

I found the article fascinating… and I was also fascinated by the fact that it was written by Tim Quirk, who was the lead singer of the band Too Much Joy, a group I remember from my early 90s days at 97X, mostly for their fun (and funny) songs like “Long Haired Guys from England” and “That’s a Lie.”

Check out the article. Then check your dad’s record collection for some vintage Seger.

 

 

 

 

Now hear this… and this… oh, and this too!

NPR Music’s “First Listen” allows you to stream entire albums prior to their official release date (usually about a week in advance). This week, it’s a sonic smorgasbord of tasty tunes, featuring new releases from:

Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator

Alynda Segarra, a.k.a. Hurray For The Riff Raff

 

The Magnetic Fields – 50 Song Memoir

(it’s one song for each year of Stephin Merritt’s life, NPR streams the first 20)

Stephin Merritt, not a UPS driver.

Valerie June – The Order of Time

Valerie June, not Medusa

Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives – Way Out West 

(produced by Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers)

They sound as good as they look.

First Listen also features an original Broadway cast recording, an Afro-Cuban album and the new release from Jay Som, a 22-year-old indie rock artist from Oakland who plays every instrument on the album. Get your ears over there now, add them all to your listening queue and have a harmonious Hump Day.

Don’t be a stranger. On second thought, DO be a stranger.

An article about Craig Finn’s living room tour is on Salon.com, and the writer was in attendance at the show at my house (fondly referred to in the article as “a stranger’s living room somewhere in Cincinnati”).  So I’m a stranger, but an internet-famous one.

It’s a nice interview, and there’s an interesting video diary too.

Hat tip to Professor Joe Sampson (who  attended the show) for sending the link my way.

I’m ready for the next show…

Yo Adrian… Belew

Adrian Belew is one of the most inventive guitarists ever. Don’t take my word for it, just ask anyone who has ever seen him play. Way back when, he toured with Frank Zappa and David Bowie. He was a member of King Crimson. He’s also played with everyone from Talking Heads to Nine Inch Nails to Paul Simon, and put out several solo albums, as well as albums with the brilliant but overlooked power-pop group The Bears.

Adrian Belew is also one of the nicest rock stars I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. He’s from Covington, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, and back in the early 90s when I worked at 97X in Oxford, Ohio, our paths crossed quite a bit. My friends and fellow DJs Ric and Dave agreed that his nickname should be “The Nicest Guy in Rock.”

Last night, Pixar’s Piper won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short (it really won, there was no confusion), and Adrian Belew did the score for it… his first movie score ever. Nice to see a nice guy finish first for a change.

You can read more about Adrian’s work on the movie, as well as his contributions to Bowie and Zappa tributes, here. Another interesting interview is here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

L.A. back in the day

I recently finished reading the book Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk by John Doe (of the band X) and Tom DeSavia. 

The book features several chapters written by John Doe, interspersed with single-chapter reminiscences from many other luminaries from the L.A. punk rock scene of the late 70s, including his bandmate and ex-wife Exene Cervenka, Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Gos, Henry Rollins of Black Flag, Mike Watt of the Minutemen and Dave Alvin of the Blasters. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire book, but the penultimate chapter from writer Kristine McKenna (one of the first mainstream journalists to chronicle the early L.A. scene) really sums things up nicely:

By the time the Sex Pistols released their first single, “God Save the Queen,” in May of 1977, the LA scene was already percolating, so we found our way to the mountain without a map. We weren’t copying anybody else, and from the start there were things that distinguished LA’s punk scene from the scenes in other cities. The first generation of LA punk was literate and really smart, for starters, and each band had its own sources of inspiration. Much of the punk that came in its wake wasn’t very smart at all, nor was it particularly original. A tremendous amount of diversity coexisted under the rubric of early LA punk too, and there was a surprising degree of parity between men and women—it was not a sexist scene, and women were treated as equals. Latinos and gays were welcome too, as were old people: your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? It was that way for a brief spot in time.

Later, she points out a key difference between a “scene” back then and now:

All kinds of people materialized, and anybody who’d gone to the trouble of showing up had a right to be there. It took a while for all this to start cooking, though, which brings me to the scourge known as social media. LA’s first punk community took a while to get up to speed because things didn’t “go viral” then. The jungle drum of word-of-mouth was how information got around, and measured against the lightning speed information travels today, LA’s first punk community coalesced at a glacial pace. People had to physically be in rooms together and talk to one another to learn about things then, and that world was intimate and tactile and visceral in a way texting can never be.

And I loved the way she described the innocence and optimism of youth:

We’re all like trees, and the leaves that are the people we love flutter to the ground one by one. Time is a brutal, devouring force, and until it’s begun to do its handiwork, it’s impossible to comprehend how very beautiful it is to be young, how privileged and innocent it is. You may think you know the score when you’re twenty-four years old, but you never do, for the simple reason that you can’t: life lobs curveballs that are unimaginable at twenty-four. We believed we were dangerous and subversive back in the day, but in fact, we were babies, yet to rub the fairy dust from our eyes. Time takes a heavy toll on ideals, and looking back, it all seems unbearably idealistic and sweet.

She does end on a redemptive note:

So the scene is gone, and many of the people who created it are gone too, and I suppose that’s how it’s meant to be. Great art is immutable and eternal, though. I recently attended an X show where I watched young people—yes, they were young—crowding the lip of the stage, mouthing the words to “White Girl” and “Year One.” The music continues to mean something to those who need it, and those who need it will continue to find it.

If you’re an oldster like me who enjoyed (and still enjoys) bands like X, The Blasters and The Minutemen, this book is definitely worth a read.

 

 

Japandroids new album

Japandroids have a new album coming out in a week, and NPR is streaming it now.

David Prowse (drums/vocals) and Brian King (guitar/vocals) of Japandroids

I love this guitar-and-drums duo from British Columbia, and thought their last album, Celebration Rock, was a pure, unadulterated burst of brilliance and the best album of 2012. (If you disagree, you’re wrong.)

The new album showcases a more expansive sonic palette, but it still rocks. Put your ears on it now, and pick up Near To The Wild Heart Of Life when it comes out on January 27th.

 

More Living, Less Room

It’s hard to type the words “Craig Finn played my living room last night” without feeling like I’m writing a work of fiction. Craig Finn… the Craig Finn. Lead singer of The Hold Steady.  He was in my living room last night, playing an acoustic set, taking questions from the 60+ people who were crammed into the living room, craning their necks from the dining room, peering around the corner from the front hallway, angling for a better view from the stairs.

I could gush for hours, nay, days, about how amazing it was, and what a brilliant singer/songwriter/poet Craig is. But mostly what I’m feeling today (besides a bit tired) is grateful.

Grateful for Craig Finn… for sharing his words and music with us. For opening up his heart and baring his soul.

Grateful for Liz Felix from WNKU-FM, who did a fantastic job as the evening’s MC.

Grateful for Undertow Music, the company that organizes these living room tours… they made it incredibly easy to play host.

Grateful for Craig’s faithful fans, who came not just from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area, but from hundreds of miles away… from Louisville and Lexington and Indianapolis and all points in between. To a person, they were fun, kind and gracious.

Grateful for my wife, who didn’t bat an eye when I told her merely a week ago that we’d be hosting Craig’s gig, and that more than 40 strangers would be coming into our humble abode. We’ve been married long enough that she’s used to my off-the-beaten-path, indie rock music tastes, my trips to way more concerts than a 52-year-old father of four should be attending… but hosting a living room concert takes it to a whole new level.

Grateful that many of my music-loving friends  were able to attend. We come from all walks of life, but music is our common bond, and it’s always more fun to share a show with other aficionados.

Grateful for a chance to see an amazing musician in a one-of-a-kind setting.

“Even if you don’t get converted tonite you must admit that the band’s pretty tight.” 

 

Here’s a great quote from Craig about why he chose to do a living room tour, from an interview in Columbus Alive:

What made you want to do a living room tour?

“There’s all kinds of reasons people go to a rock club. It’s not always to listen to the music. To do a living room show with new material where it’s just me and a guitar, people are there to hear it. And they haven’t heard the songs before, so it’s nice that the lyrics are able to cut through. They’re able to understand it in a way they wouldn’t be able to with a loud rock band in a different environment.

On a more political level, the way we communicate through the internet, and the fake news that’s come up in the past year, getting people together in a room is more and more important. I think that’s how things move forward – getting together in real time.”

My friends and I, just hanging out with Craig from Edina on a Wednesday night.

Craig Finn’s third solo release, We All Want The Same Things, comes out March 24th, and is available for pre-order now (with bonus content also available) via PledgeMusic.

 

How a resurrection really feels

Long-time blog readers (all three of them – Hi Dave, Jacqui and TC!) might recall that a few weeks ago I threw my hat into the ring as a potential host for a Living Room Tour show by Craig Finn. (Original post is here.) Craig is the lead singer of The Hold Steady, one of my faves, and his solo stuff is pretty tasty too.

His third solo album, We All Want The Same Things is due out March 24th (and now available for pre-order with bonus goodies here). Here’s the first track off the new album:

About a week after I volunteered our home as a concert venue (without telling my wife – “better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission” right?), I got a rejection email from the company organizing the tour. No harm, no foul. I still bought a ticket to the show, which was supposed to be at an art gallery about five minutes from my house.

This afternoon, I got this email:

Yes, he misspelled my name… but wait, there’s more, he sent a follow-up email two minutes later:

Do you even have to ask what my reply to their request was?

So, one week from today, Craig Finn (and 40 or so of my new best friends) will be filling Casa de Dubbatrubba with music and merriment. I can’t wait. Join us if you’re a fan and you can make it.