Friday, December 17, 2010

Garth Brooks

Last night marked the beginning of the epic nine show (in six nights) stand for Garth Brooks at the Bridgestone Arena. It started as a one-off benefit to raise money for victims of the million-year flood that Nashville endured earlier this summer, but when the tickets sold out in minutes, they eventually ended up with nine uber-sold-out shows and apparently millions of dollars to donate. Way to go Garth. Coming out of retirement to help out is a pretty cool move. I did my part by being the first to respond to a Craigslist ad for free tickets. Us Kemps have always been a philanthropic bunch, always willing to rescue unwanted, unused, and un-charged-for tickets.

I got to a seat in the middle of the opening set from some singer songwriter chick. I thought it was supposed to be Trisha Yearwood. Shows how much I know. Either way, it was a boring set from a boring country mare. She was cute, from a hundred yards away, but she just seemed to lack any kind of energy or stage presence. Lucky for me, she only played for about a half hour. Long enough for me to have a pretty heated debate with an elderly arena usher and have to find a new seat.

When Garth finally came out, the place erupted into an arm waving Wrangler fest in response to the "Hello Music City!" greeting. The entire arena was sold out, even behind the stage, and the crowd was super pumped to see their favorite hits that were, until recently, uncertain to ever see the stage again. He started off with my two favorite numbers, "Rodeo" and "Papa Loved Mama", which got me out of my "I hope this isn't a hokey waste of time" state and into a "this is gonna be awesome" groove. Even though there were a few opening night bugs in the sound, and the lap steel seemed to be coming from a Stratocaster, songs like "Two of a Kind", "Shameless", and the acoustic "Unanswered Prayers" were truly monumental. Another big moment was the version of "We Shall Be Free", complete with a collage of photos from the aforementioned flood. You could tell that Garth was back in his element, like he had never left, especially when he threw his head back and yelled "Man, I've missed you guys!"

Now, with this being an historical marquee event in Nashville, everyone knew that the possibilities of huge guest appearances were there. The only question was, who would it be? Resident Aussie country star Keith Urban? Maybe the habitual show crasher John Hiatt? Sadly and fortunately, respectively, no. This being the first night, we settled for a couple songs from Steve Wariner and a suite from Mrs. Brooks herself, Trisha Yearwood that included "She's In Love With The Boy". I guess it was cool, whatever. I was glad to see her leave. I can only assume that once Garth settles into the groove, he will bring the star power.

At long last, he dove into "Friends In Low Places", the penultimate 90's country hit/crowd pleaser. I won't lie, it was freakin' great, as was the set closer, "The Dance". I did however leave before the encore which turned out to be "Ain't Goin' Down Till The Sun Comes Up". I was slightly sorry to miss that one but I feel like I got my money's worth and it was worth it to beat the traffic, both outgoing and incoming for the second show of the night.

Not ever having been a huge fan of Garth's, I still enjoyed having the chance to see him live, complete with headset mic and starched button down. He is indeed a great showman. It was also great to hear him proclaim "This night is about laughter and raisin' hell!" I was especially content to have gotten to see the first show of this run. I can only assume that the inevitable law of diminishing returns will take affect and the pure emotion felt on this night will fade. Sure he will still put on a great show, but there's no substitute for the feeling you get when you play for 20 thousand for the first time in a dozen or so years, even if they are still wearing the exact same huge belt buckles and boots they were wearing to Hillsboro Middle School all those years ago. Hopefully, two guitars will get smashed together at some point, maybe when Hiatt finds his way onstage.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mile 8

Well, here we are again at Thanksgiving. For me, that means turkey, football, guns, and Mile 8 at Third and Lindsley. This year was the 8th annual, although not consecutive edition and it was one for the ages. The line up was again slightly altered but the spirit of Mile 8 was strong in the air. Jason "Dubbers" Williams from Old Union replaced Russell Wright on the bass, a role he has been taking on more and more regularly (in the Criminal Element) since Russ had a baby. Elsewhere, Jody Douglas and Chris West replaced Adam Livingston (from Boom Ticket) on sax. For whatever reason Adam couldn't get up for this one, whatever, I'll get to more of that in a minute. The rest of the core was there with Randy, Curt, Timmy and Bobby in their places and Caleb gracing us with his presence again on second guitar.

They started off with "Light" and the absent members were instantly missed. The bass was great, just different and the sax was, well, how much can you really miss sax anyway unless you're Dave Matthews or Bruce Springsteen, but the high vocals that Adam (from Boom Ticket) usually provided were noticeably AWOL, and that was the biggest shame. Timmy tried really hard to replace the parts, but his falsetto was no match for Adam's from-the-gut high harmonies. Moving on, I was surprised to see "Naked Christmas" so early in the show. I think it was about the fourth song, and it seemed like this one kind of fell flat on the still seemingly sleepy crowd, who apparently hadn't had enough booze to counteract the turkey. It's still always great to hear Mile 8's classic original carol. This was the feel of most of the first set, including "Afraid To Fall" and into the "Fog Juice"-"Touch Me" run featuring Bobby on vocals for the Doors classic and a set-ending jam section that kept peaking and peaking relentlessly until finally returning to the "Fog Juice" ending. This was one of the highlights for me, as this has always been one of my favorite Mile 8 songs. Randy was right, this crowd needed to drink faster.

They started off the second set with another annual tradition, having former member Neil Patrick Vance sit in on bass for the openers "For You" and "Leave The Woman". This prompted me to ask, "Why not ask Neil to play bass for the whole show?" Then I woke up and realized what a silly idea that was. The rest of the set was a mix between Timmy songs like "Collect" and "Stolen Song", and classic jam epics including a crazy seismic version of "Laugh On". That is, the rest of the Mile 8 portion of the set. After a delirious and manic version of "Elephlamingo", they took a deep breath and kicked off "Because", the opening number of the b-side of Abbey Road. Then they went into "You Never Give Me Your Money" and it became apparent that they were going to do the whole thing, and man, they nailed it. They rocked the rockers like "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam", they crooned majestically on "Here Comes The Sun King" and "Golden Slumbers" and they ended the set with, well, "The End". What a great display of the talent of these guys. The people who were there went nuts and the poor saps that left early really missed something special.

The encore was just about as much fun for me as one person should be able to have. Although it was one of my favorite Mile 8 moments, it's all a blur to me, mostly because I was joining Bobby on the percussion. The songs consisted of my all time favorite "Chester Copperpot" and "Waste Away", both of which have really fun drum parts and took killer drum breaks. Man, what an awesome time. The energy in the second set and the encore was heads and shoulders above that in the first set, and the band proved that they still have that special thing we've all been diggin' on for the last decade, even if they only practice 4 times and play once a year. Each time they play, you get that feeling like, "this could be the last one", this night more than ever, but they still kill it and they never appear to stop having a blast. Randy and Caleb are still Batman and Robin on guitar, and Curt and Bobby are still Butch and Sundance on the drums. Timmy also deserves huge props for stepping up his vocals and adding truly original songs to the catalog. If there are any more shows, there's no telling what the roster will look like, but at this point, I'll take whatever I can get.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Reverend Horton Heat

A few nights ago, after being the only fan at my own personal basement show, I headed over to the Rock Block for the much anticipated (by me) Reverend Horton Heat show at Exit In. I had seen them a few times, and I knew that they put on a rowdy party. What I wasn't quite sure of was what the openers, The Legendary Shack Shakers were like. I had heard of them but never seen a show.

When I got there, the Shack Shakers had just started and were already pounding the roomful of dark denim, leather jackets, and Betty Page lookalikes. Within the first few minutes of being there, lead singer Col. J.D. Wilkes was screaming "Normally I would play a screaming harp solo but I'm not doing anything till you guys get this ass hole outta here!" Then he jumped into the crowd and kicked the dude's drunk and disorderly ass before security gave him the Irish toss. All while I was still trying to get the bartender's attention. I could quickly tell that I was going to dig this. Col. Wilkes was a wild man up there like a mix of Iggy Pop, Johnny Rotten, and Elvis. He had a piercing howl and a menacing snarl and great stage moves like spitting loogies up in the air over his head and making devil horns with his hair. The rhythm section was like a machine gun with Mark Robertson on "The shit-house bass" and "Brutros Brutros Whitacre" on drums, looking like the youngster of the bunch. With pin-ups everywhere, a lawless mosh pit, and a blistering punk-billy band, I felt like I had already gotten my money's worth and that was just the opener. I am definitely a new fan of the Shack Shakers.

When the Reverend finally came out, he was a picture of underground rock supremacy. In contrast to the preceding band's no frills, white t-shirts and sweat, the Heat guys were pure class, with the Rev. in a vintage orange suit that matched his huge hollow bodied Gretch. They explained that they were celebrating their 25th anniversary and that the set would be in chronological order. They started off with an instrumental romp from the first album and continued on down the line. The Reverend's deadpan delivery is always fun to watch, the way he looks so serious, then flashes a cartoonish smile, then goes back to grim. After "Martini Time", they enlisted the aid of Ernest Tubb's longtime lap steel player for a couple of slow old-timey songs about Texas and then gave bass player Jimbo Wallace a shout-out with "J-I-M-B-O". At 1 a.m. when they said they were going to jump out of order for a few new songs, I was bushed and decided that I had had enough.

I went into this show excited to the the Heat and maybe check out the Legendary Shack Shakers. It turned out that I had a blast with the Shakers and got a bonus dozen songs from the Reverend. His show was fun and entertaining, complete with playing a solo from atop the stand-up bass, but the rawness and fury of the Shakers hit the spot. You know, that spot in everyone that only spitting, moshing, and drinking Pabst can hit.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Brendan Benson

Tonight I was really just out to make my football picks at the Gold Rush. After a few beers, I got up some liquid courage and decided to go try to sneak in to the Exit In for the show. I have been looking forward to this show but having just bought a car this week, I needed a miracle. Luckily, I lent a lighter to someone who recognized my Tigers hat and he happened to have a plus one for the show and he hooked me up. Brendan Benson for free? Sure. Can I buy you a beer?

Now, I know Brandon from his work with the Raconteurs and a couple other random, only in Nashville connections, so I have had this show on the radar for a while. I knew that this show, as much as I wanted it to be, wouldn't be anything close to the Raconteurs, but I also knew that Brendon could bring it on his own. His band was a true example of how a band can be so much better when they are all friends and have a great chemistry together.

I have to admit, I'm not very familiar with the catalog of this band, but I know that each song was a Brendan original and his songs are poppy rock gems. They bring plenty of sentimental la la, along with just enough raw rock and stardom that makes Brendan and the "Bent Sons" stand apart from the all powerful "Jack White" stronghold. Each member of the band was strong. From the bass player who switched to keys, to the lead guitarist who switched to bass, to the solid freight train drummer, the Bent Sons were up to the task of making these songs sound awesome. Apart from the obvious musical talent, these guys also had an unmistakable bond with each other that made the show a lot more comfortable and intimate. Their interaction with the crowd was also comforting and well received.

I gotta hand it to Brendan for doing his own thing without any mention of the Raconteurs or Jack or anything else, which would definitely help his cause just out of name recognition. He is playing his heart out in front of a hundred people at Exit In, when he could just as easily be playing for a hundred thousand at Bonnaroo or five hundred in Europe somewhere. His own works stand for themselves in an intimate setting making for another great night at the Exit In.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Johnny Neel and the Criminal Element

I know I see this band all the time, and I usually don't write about every show I see, but this one was worth writing home about. It took place last Wednesday night at Melrose Billiards, one of my favorite places in town to hang out, as well as one of the coolest places in all of Nashville. Lately they've been having live music on Wednesday nights with bands setting up in the very back section amongst the ping pong tables and along side the shuffle board. Although it's not ideal to be out late in a smokey bar on a hump-day, the vibe and the music were worth it.

They started off in pure Criminal form, making up the first two songs and going right into their shuffle version of The Beatles' "Get Back". This was how most of the night went. There was a ton of good ole Criminal improvising including one called "It's Not About Love, It's About You", along with some of the more popular polished favorites like "Mikey" and "Playin On The Tracks". Another such run of Criminal song salad was the reggae suite with "Closing In On You" going into Stevie's "Boogie On Reggae Woman" and then into a make up song that sounded just like the maybe-so-maybe-not jam section of Phish's "Stash". They even got guest guitarist Luke Davis up and he made up a blues riff that would make Stevie Ray Vaughn tip his big feathery hat. The third set started with Johnny playing "The Gift Of Song", one of his most popular solo songs, and then one more long jam with the band, the name of which escapes me. It was late.

The best part of this show was the old school feel to it. For the past few months, Johnny, Curt, and Randy have been playing pretty much the same show, four or five shows running, with a couple of different bass players and a marked decrease in improvising. At the pool hall, they were able to make up several quality songs and although Russell's lack of enthusiasm was sometimes as visible as the great wall of China from space, he was there and he played pretty awesome for someone who's firstborn just arrived last week. Elsewhere, Johnny was feeling it all night, getting stronger as the night got later, and later, and later. If they could make up songs like this on the regular, there would be no need to record these shows for ideas. This night was a fresh breath of Criminal air that has been needed from the slightly stale song selections of late. I hope they play at the old Melrose more, that place gives them something good.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bob Dylan

Tonight was the night I've been looking forward to for a few weeks. Bob Dylan and His Band, not to be confused with "The" band, played at Nashville's old barn, the Municipal Auditorium. I've seen Bobby a few times, in venues ranging from big festival downtown, to small club in Detroit, to Starwood, but something told me I had to see this one. I'm glad I went.

I knew my usual ticket finding hustle would be hard pressed with the crowd being a little older, and boy were they, but I also know never to give up hope until about an hour after showtime. Luckily I ran into a friend with a college I.D. that was more than happy to get me a discounted student ticket. I was walking up to my seat in the upper deck when the lights went down and the Man was introduced, with words like Poet Laureate and Generation and so forth.

He came out big with "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" and the only song from The Band's era, "This Wheel's On Fire", which was the highlight of the night for me. I noticed right off the bat that this particular venue might not be the best to see this act. Being that you really had to focus on the lyrics and chord progression to figure out what song was actually being played, the muddy mix and all around echo chasm of the Muni, combined with Bob's gravelly delivery, made it hard to make out some of the songs.

After a men's break during "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again", it was "Just Like A Woman", which again took me until the hook to realize which song it was. Up next was an abbreviated "Tangled Up In Blue" and "Rollin' and Tumblin'", which rocked out pretty hard. The rest of the set, excluding "Highway 61 Revisited" and the closer "Ballad Of A Thin Man", were songs I didn't recognize, but were great all the same, as I got down to the front row for a few minutes. The encore consisted of "Jolene", which again I didn't recognize and I'm pretty sure wasn't the Dolly Parton hit, and "Like A Rolling Stone", which I'm pretty sure is the one of the biggest Dylan hits out there. Then they all lined up like bands usually do for a bow, but there was no bow. It was just them soaking in all the applause and then poof, they bolted. No bow. None needed. For the complete set list, click here.

Imagine going to a show put on by an act that you have been listening to in one way or another for your whole life. You know a huge amount of the catalog, but when the band starts playing, even your favorite songs, it takes you a few minutes to figure out which song it actually is, due to completely different arrangements and mumble-sang words. But you love it anyway because you've heard these songs a million times and a different take on them is not necessarily a bad thing. Then you catch the groove and you can kind of sing along and then you can say you saw Dylan play a Band song in Nashville. Even having seen Bob a handful of times, it was still an honor and a pleasure to see this living legend again. Whether he's playing his organ keyboard, harmonica, Strat, or just singing empty handed, he's still putting on a great show after doing it for damn near 50 years.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

J.J. Grey and Mofro

This year's weekly free outdoor concert series Live On The Green built on last year's solid foundation. With bands such as Dr. Dog, The Wailers, Five For Fighting, and Band of Horses, the scene got bigger and the crowds swelled. Sorry to say, I missed most of the shows but I did make it to the finale featuring J.J. Grey and Mofro and Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk. It was a perfect cool clear night for seeing free live music downtown.

With my backpack full of aluminum bottles that matched the beer vendors, I parked for free and walked the 8 blocks downtown towards the resonating funk. I arrived a few songs into Dumpstaphunk's set. This five piece from New Orleans was led by Ivan Neville, son of R&B superstar Aaron Neville. Their lineup included Ivan on B-3 and clavinet, Ian Neville on guitar, a bass player, a drummer, and a guy who switched back and forth between guitar and bass. I love the concept of two bass players. With Ivan on the clav, and both basses going, the funk meter, so to speak, was off the charts, which wasn't a surprise with that much Neville on stage. It seemed to come so naturally to them. I loved it when they introduced the next song as a "love song" and then busted into another complete funk fest instead of the usual slow sleeper. Then they went totally New Orleans when they invited about 20 ladies onstage for a number whose lyrics consisted mostly of "shake yo' sexy booty". This band was a lot of fun and in my mind, stole the show from Mofro.

That's not to say that J.J. and company didn't put on a helluva show. Grey came out with his usual saunter and played a really fun set, mostly consisting of songs off of his newest release Georgia Warhorse. The ever evolving lineup of the band included Derek Trucks' bass player Andrew Trube and the Hercules Horn Section. Daryl Hance was great on electric guitar but I gotta say that was the worst tone I have ever heard out of a Les Paul. I guess that's what you get when you run a Gibson through a Fender amp. I didn't think it was possible but that thing sounded less like a Les Paul and more like a Fender Strato-Tele-Mustang-caster, which is always a shame. The high end was ear splitting and the attack sounded like a kitten with a ball of string. Come on professional guitarists, get your gear straight. Anyway, the Florida based swamp rock driven by fat bass lines, a super-tight minimalist drummer, and heavy keyboards behind J.J.'s raspy voice and harmonica got the crowd fired up and into a sort of a "Mardi Gras meets Spring Break" atmosphere. Grey covered topics ranging from his "Gramomma's Cookin" to keeping development and high rises out of his home swamp land, two topics that I can totally relate to and support.

J.J. Grey and Mofro have been around in one form or another since the late 90's. I've seen them a few times and every time was a blast. J.J. knows how to connect with his peeps, whether he's playing guitar, harp, or just singing, it's like he's playing a field party in the swamp with all his buddies and a keg. I never really got into his records but the live shows are always worth an eight block hike with a backpack full of beer.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chelsea Handler

Tonight I decided to go and do something I have thought of since I started my blog. See a comedy show. This show had been on the radar for a while, and I was interested to see what Chelsea Handler would do in an arena. It was especially difficult to get a ticket on the sidewalk with my normal routine, due to the overwhelming rush of sor-ostitutes and bachelorette party goers, the ticket finding was something totally out of the norm for me. After telling a girl she was an idiot for taking her extra ticket inside instead of selling it to me, I finally got one from a desperate scalper. It turns out that bimbo sold her ticket to that scalper and my seat was right next to her. Oops. I found another seat and settled in for the show.

The opener was a comedienne named Sarah Colonna, a regular on Chelsea's show on the E! network. She came out with a bunch of yuk about birth control, Oprah, dating, and how much she drank and had multiple sex partners. For a comedy show, I didn't really laugh as much as I thought I might. Of course, the floozy crowd loved it.

I liked how the opener went right into the headliner, with no delay. Chelsea came out and started right where Sarah left off. Anyone who's seen her show knows how blue and crude she can be. It was fun listening to her antics. She is like one of the guys, not afraid of any subject and willing to say anything for a laugh. Her subject matter was great, mostly calling out guys for things they do while dating, mating, and otherwise just being guys. She talked about her early teenage "experiences". She also talked about people she didn't trust, like people who clap when the plane lands. That was pretty funny.

The whole thing lasted about 90 minutes, and there was no encore. If I had paid full price, I would have felt ripped off. Full price started at 50 bucks and only went up from there. Even the Scorpions show was longer and more involved than that. However, the slags seemed to love it and cheered with every male bashing joke told. I guess the target audience was satisfied, but I could have gotten the same result with a cold beer and a DVD on my recliner at home. In a venue like the Bridgestone Arena, it was anything but intimate and I ended up watching most of it on the jumbo-tron. I had a couple of good laughs but overall, I might as well have watched E! and Comedy Central and argued with drunk idiot bimbos at my own house.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Black Crowes

Last night I capped off my weekend at the Ryman with a Black Crowes show. Getting there a little early, I must have asked a thousand people for an extra ticket before a guy finally came up to me and said "here man, take this." A free ticket. It was a miracle. The only extras I had seen were going for at least 60 bucks and it was after the show had started. Just goes to show, never give up on the ticket search.

I got to the balcony just as the Crowes were finishing their acoustic set opener, "Soul Singing", with the drummer playing a bass drum pep band style at center stage. I immediately went to my usual spot next to the light guy and focused my attention on the reason I really wanted to see this show. Luther Dickenson from the North Mississippi Allstars has been playing guitar for a couple of years and I knew this was gonna make for a good show. Not being a huge fan, I kind of knew what to expect but I had no idea what a show I was in for. The rest of the set was about as non-acoustic as an acoustic set can be. The guitar players played semi-acoustics and sat on stools, but the rest of the band played pretty full on. Even Luther played some rippin' solos. The set contained melodious versions of "Bring On, Bring On" and "Thorn In My Pride", and it was cool to hear the old hit "She Talks To Angels" as a set closer with Luther's flavor added in.

We took a long smoke break and missed the electric set opener, Joe Cocker's "Feelin' Alright", making it back to my seat in time for the last half of "Seeing Things For The First Time". It was clear that the band was ready to bring the boom with the second act. The guitar interplay between Luther and Rich Robinson sounded really natural with about a hundred different guitars throughout the night and perfect chemistry between the players. Sven Pipien was solid on bass and Adam MacDougal had the perfect rock key rig. The was a B-3, a clav, a Wurli and a Rhodes, and a stand-up piano. What else does a rock band need? As the set wore on, I was sure that every song would be the last one. They just kept on playing and the energy kept getting stronger. The last run of "Jealous Again", "Remedy", and "No Speak No Slave" were, in my opinion, the strongest of the night. The jam in NSNS peaked over and over again and they left the stage to a stained glass shattering applause. When they came back for the encore, it was no surprise when they played Eric Clapton's "Don't Know Why" and closed out with their staple hit "Hard To Handle". As they walked off the stage, Chris said "Thanks guys, we'll see ya' when we see ya'." I guess after this tour ends, so does the band, at least until they run out of money.

This show was almost like 4 shows in one. There was the incredibly righteous Luther Dickenson show, easily the highlight of the night for me. There was the Rich Robinson show, waiting with baited breath to see if he really was going to kill his brother or if he just looked like it. There was the Chris Robinson show, watching him dance around like a half velociraptor, half gay chicken, singing like only he can. And then there was the rest of the band show, with great keys, bass and percussion. There were even a couple of big legged women with plenty of soul singing back ups. But when all these things came together, the collective machine put one helluva sick mega-show. I'm glad I finally got to see these guys. They really are a great example of good ol' American rock and roll.

On a side note, I just wanna say how cool it is to be able to see two hall of famers in a row at the Ryman Auditorium. This place is a world-class venue. Sometimes it's easy to take it for granted when getting harassed by the senior citizen staff or waiting in the long bathroom lines, but seeing a show here creates a lifelong memory every time. Not to mention being able to cross the alley, sneak into the V.I.P party at Robert's Western World, drink free beer, and meet Patrick Keeler. Man I love this town.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Pixies

I can't thinka nothin...

If there is one band that could be credited with the sound of the 90's, it would have to be The Pixies. In a time where Guns N Roses, Motley Crue, and Poison ruled the rock waves, The Pixies came around with their version of what would eventually become known as "alternative" rock. This band left their unique stamp on music, influencing just about everyone from Nirvana, to Radiohead, Blur, and U2, while keeping a style that no one ever came close to duplicating, much like the Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash, etc. After an eleven year hiatus, they have been reunited since '04, almost as long as their original run. With this year being the 20th anniversary of the release of the classic album Doolittle, Black Francis and company have taken the record to the road, playing it in its entirety, B sides included. Apparently it was a good idea, as they sold out the Ryman so fast they had to add a second night.

Having already paid full price a few weeks ago for a ticket, I arrived in plenty of time to scope out my seat and wait for the openers to start. I wasn't too excited to see a folding table with a computer and a bunch of tweeky gear set up. When the F*ck Buttons (yep, that's right) started, I couldn't get out of there fast enough. With the intricate melodies and dynamics of the Pixies, don't give me a bunch of loud treble noise and seizure inducing strobe lights as a "supporter". I say, if they were going to go with an obscenity in their name, they should have gone with the Sh*t Buttons. This was a great way to empty the auditorium, totally flooding the smoking deck and merch lines, and giving me a chance to catch up with an old friend, the guy who actually got me into The Pixies.

After waiting for the F Buttons to end, then waiting for the crew to turn the stage over, the show finally started. Without turning down the house lights, the big screen started to show the Salvador Dali film Un chien andalou, about which "Debaser" was written, garnering a squeal from the crowd with the slicing of the eyeball. Then the lights went down and the band took the stage. They started with B sides from Doolittle, slightly confusing some of the fans. You could almost hear the collective wheels turning, as if to say, "wait, this isn't "Debaser", what's going on here?"

When they finally broke into "Debaser", the place went crazy. The band nailed every little sound and nuance from the record, and with two of the most recognizable voices in all of music, Black Francis and Kim Deal belted it out as only they can, while the rest of the theater sang along. Really, Kim Deal is one of my favorite singers in the world. Her voice is equal parts raspy and soft, perfectly complimenting Francis' screams and growls. As they rolled through the set, I could only stand and watch with awe. Joey Santiago was spot on with the lead guitar on songs like "Here Comes Your Man" and "I Bleed", and it was cool to see the band recreate all the noise on "There Goes My Gun" and "Silver". My personal favorites were "Mr. Grieves", "Hey", and the set closing "Gouge Away".

They came out for the first encore with more B sides. The slower U.K. surf mix of "Wave Of Mutilation" seemed to confuse everyone. Why would they play a song twice in one show? It was fine with me, as this was the only song I missed in the set due to a bathroom break. How often do you miss a song, only to hear it played again later in the show? Then they absolutely flooded the stage with smoke and gave a sick rendition of "Into The White", before leaving quietly again.

I thought the show might be over, but as the crowd continued to clap and the lights stayed down, we all realized that there would be a second encore. They finally returned and Kim coyly whispered "we also know some A sides." They tore into a run which ended with Bossanova's "Dig For Fire" and two of their most recognizable numbers from Surfer Rosa, "Where Is My Mind" and "Gigantic".

It was incredible. This band truly is one of the most influential bands in rock history. Seeing them play was something I will never forget, and will be a show to which all others are compared. My love for Kim Deal has only grown stronger, and the rest of the band just signed their application for the hall of fame. I hope they can stand each other long enough to celebrate 20 years of Surfer Rosa and Trompe le Monde. If they do, I'll be "one happy prick". Rock me Joe.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Laura McGhee

Tonight I went down to the Red Rooster on Music Row to see a fine lass play the weekly Billy Block show. Laura McGhee has brought her own version of Americana over from Scotland and has been sprinkling it over Nashville for about a month or so. I guess she is the first artist from Scotland to make the Americana top 40. That's quite the accomplishment. Tonight was the first time she has graced us with a full band since she's been here on this trip.

I arrived just as they were finishing sound check, which, from what I could tell, should have been a little longer as you couldn't really hear much of Laura's guitar or awesome fiddle for most of the set. After an excruciatingly long and cheesy ramble from Billy Block about all the sponsors and media outlets and bad jokes, etc., Laura finally kicked off her show.

Off stage, Laura McGhee is a sweet young lady with an infectious smile and a loud laugh. When she steps on stage, she turns into a rock star. She belts out her self-written songs with a full voice and plays that guitar like Robbie Robertson, with the whole strum-point thing down to a science, especially when she covered the Band's "The Shape I'm In". The rest of her set, all songs from her current release "Celticana", included songs ranging from a pop sound, all the way around to a country twang. Songs such as "Radio Love" and "King Of Selfishness" have a poppy shine while "Memphis Crawl" has more of a country feel. A strong catalog all around, this girl is going to take this town by storm. We might as well coin a new phrase, Nashville-Poppi-Countri-Scotti-Rockicana. Look out Neil Young. There is another foreigner beating down your door looking to take your Americana kingship away. Unlike you, this one deserves it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

First Year In The Books

It just dawned on me that it's been about a year since I started this little hobby. All I can say is that it's been a great year. I have gotten to see so much live music. I have been to shows I've always wanted to see, some that I never wanted to see, and some that I didn't know anything about, all the while taking the new approach of documenting it along the way. There has even been a bit of controversy, which to me was hard to believe that anyone was reading, much less taking so seriously this little blog that I started.

The great thing about this blog is that it gives me an outlet for my opinion. That being said, just because it's my opinion, doesn't always make it right. One thing I've kind of wished for is more in the comment section. Come on people, if you agree, let me know. If you disagree and have a take other than "you're an idiot", let me know. Even if your take is "you're an idiot", let me know. Let's have a conversation and discuss our love of live music. Believe me, I'm no stranger to people disagreeing with me.

So here's to another good year. I'm looking forward to the Pixies at the Ryman next weekend and many more to come. I love doing this and I appreciate everyone who reads, and I hope that maybe I've turned someone on to something they've never heard of before.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lilly Hiatt and the Dropped Ponies

Last night, finding myself with nothing to do on a Friday, a friend of mine invited me to go along and see one of her friends play in East Nashville, the land of dark rimmed glasses and jorts. It turns out her friend was Lilly Hiatt, someone I've known since she was knee high to a Grammy, and yes, daughter of that guy we've all heard of, John Hiatt. The Family Wash is a little venue that reeks of pretension without effort, like the hipster who spends a half hour in front of the mirror trying to make his hair look like he just woke up. It appears to be for the young crowd but with the cheapest beer being four bucks for a Yuengling in a can and five bucks for a Fat Tire, your daddy better be famous if you want to tie on a buzz at this place.

I had seen Lilly play before, but never with a band behind her. Her sweet comedic charm was on display as she had the audience in stitches between each song, just by being herself. Her songs had just the right amount of country twang. They weren't overly "Nashville" country, more of a Cheryl Crow/Lisa Loeb sound that the Dropped Ponies pulled off to perfection. Their lead guitarist, Bethany Somethin', killed it all night. She played a really nice Gibson hollow body with P-90's and a Bigsby and she worked that thing like a pro. I haven't seen a chick play guitar like that in a while, not even Nancy Wilson. Her bass player, Jake, was one of those guys who sat on a stool and looked like he could fall asleep at any moment, which I guess was true, as I heard him telling someone after the show that he was sick and heavily medicated. I wasn't surprised to see them play Neil Young's "Down By The River", but I was impressed when they rocked it harder than Young or John Hiatt or any other overrated old gravel box could ever attempt. Beth's solos seemed to channel Mike Campbell and Lilly's pipes were the perfect opposite to Neil's dying cat whine.

Lilly's songwriting is heartfelt and wise beyond her years. With song topics ranging from her Granny and her favorite pies, to one called "Big Bad Wolf" about "big bad men", she rolled through her set with the audience in the palm of her hand. Her voice is strong and petite at the same time and her personality makes you want to pinch her cheeks and do a shot of Jack with her. Her obvious comfort on stage flows out to the seats and chairs making the crowd feel like they're sitting in her living room.

The Dropped Ponies are the perfect backers and Lilly is serious. She's not just an act that makes her living off of her dad's famous name (cough, Gill). She has toured in Europe and played some pretty impressive shows here in the states. As far as I'm concerned, next time I hear John Hiatt's name, my response will be "He's Lilly's dad, right?" Not the other way around.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Last night I got to cross another band off of my musical bucket list when Heart played at the Ryman. I have always heard that they put on a great show and I was ready to see for myself. I was really surprised when a ticket broker (read: scalper) actually sold me a ticket for only 20 bucks. Maybe those guys do have a heart, or maybe they just had too many extras and wanted to get while the gettin' was good. Either way I was in and I was pumped.

First off, I gotta say that a tight jeans wearin', Lenny Kravitz impersonating, teen aged four piece from Nashville didn't really seem like the right opener for rock legends such as Heart at the Ryman. They were alright, but their version of "Jailhouse Rock" just made me roll my eyes and go stand in the beer line. They would probably rock at the Exit In, but last night they didn't do it for me.

When Heart came out, I saw an all too familiar sight. Old fans stand up, wave their arms around for the first half of the first song, and then sit down for the remainder of the show. Whatever, I was standing in the back of the balcony and it was great. The sister Wilson ran through a mix of old ones and new ones from their new album Red Velvet Car. I felt like Homer Simpson at the B.T.O. show yelling "No new crap! Get to Workin' Overtime!" (or Magic Man as the case may be.) Then another familiar moment, banter about how lucky we were to be in Nashville with all of the musicians, and then, yes, a special guest. Lucky for us is was the angel Alison Krauss. That was pretty cool. That girl has just about the best voice in the world and combined with Anne-Cy, it was quite a treat. Finally, after way to much new crap including the title track from Red Velvet Car, and another one called "WTF", it was time for the real reason I was there. "Magic Man". I know it's hokey to go to a show only to see a couple of songs but I did pay attention for most of the time and really, the best time to see this band isn't right now, it's 25 years ago. Anyway, "Magic Man" was everything I'd hoped it would be. That fed right into "Crazy On You", with an extended intro from the hotty hot hot Nancy Wilson on guitar. With those two songs behind us, there could only be one song left for a set closer, and it was "Barracuda". It was good to see Nancy finally bust out a Les Paul and jump and kick around like a mid 20's punk rocker. Man she rocks. We were invited into space by Ann for the encore and were treated to "What Is and What Should Never Be" and "Love, Reign O'er Me". Ann's voice really made for great versions of these classic songs, even if half the crowd didn't recognize the latter.

Seeing Heart didn't exactly live up to my expectations. The other "members" of the band were adequate I guess, but they didn't blow my mind. The lead guitar player was a bit of a disappointment. All of the classic riffs should be no sweat for a professional rocker, except this guy I guess. It appears smooth cowboy boots and a leather vest aren't enough to win over everyone, some people want to hear the songs played right. That guy aside, "Magic Man", "Crazy", and "Barracuda" were totally worth the effort, even if the rest of the show wasn't.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Phish. Deer Creek

For those of us who love the festival atmosphere but not necessarily the chore of choosing which bands to see, walking a million miles, and putting your body through several days of debauchery and several nights of minimal sleep, the perfect solution is a summer stop on Phish tour at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Nobelsville Indiana, otherwise known as Deer Creek. It's the ideal situation, sort of like a mini festival, with only one band. You still get the insane people watching, just enough walking around, and everyone is there for the same mission: to see Phish.

Night 1.

After a little mix up regarding the time zone of Indiana, my big attorney and I arrived just as the crowd went nuts and the band launched into Runaway Jim. Our plan was to get some tickets in the lots before the show, so we found ourselves trucking to the cluster circus of a line for the box office, which was nothing more than a few salespeople at a table under a tent in the back corner of the parking lot. This little obstacle was responsible for us missing all but one song of the first set. I was crushed to miss "Cars, Trucks, and Buses", "NICU", and "Punch You In The Eye", but I wasn't going to let that ruin my night.

The second set started of with a bangin' version of the Who's "Drowned" that melted nicely into a "Gotta Jibboo>Bathtub Gin". This got my first Phish show in over a year off to the start I had hoped for but was robbed of a couple of hours prior. It was clear to see that the reviews I had been reading were right. The guys have taken the way back machine for a spin back to 1995 where the jams are quick and to the point and build up into a crowd crushing frenzy. This was a welcome change of pace for me, as I would tend to get bored with the spacey long winded jams of the late 90's and early 2000's, and my favorite jams have always been the hard hitters. The mid-set slow down for "Horse>Silent In The Morning" was a nice break and a beautiful couple of songs. I always love to see a "Harry Hood", but this one seemed to be sort of mailed in, not really one of the better ones I've seen. Thankfully is was saved by a set ending "Golgi Apparatus". When they came out for the encore, Trey picked up a megaphone, which to us seasoned fans, means only one thing: "Fee". The story of the little weasel was a rare, cool one to see, and only got rarer when they went into the craziest version of "Kung" I have ever seen live or heard on tape. I'm not sure if the helicopter with the spotlight was supposed to be choreographed with the sirens of the megaphone, or if it was just a coincidence, but it was pretty cool. The show ending "Fire" rocked what little socks we had left and worked up a huge appetite for the next night.

Night 2.

After the debacle at the ticket counter the night before, my huge attorney and I decided to get tickets earlier in the afternoon, leaving us time to get back to the campsite to get our mind right for what was sure to be the show of the tour. We had a few (several) beers, met a fun guy, and discussed the songs we hoped to hear. This time, we were on the lawn, ready to go when the lights went down.

From the opening notes of "Chalkdust Torture", I was worried this would be one of those slower, more laid back shows, usually saved for the third night of Deer Creek. "Chalkdust" was a little slower and didn't live up to it's usual face melting status, and a lot of the first set followed suit. That is, of course, until the run starting with "The Ballad Of Curtis Loew", followed by "Wilson" and ending the set with my all time favorite rocker, "Possum". In those 8 or 9 minutes, it was just me and Phish and "Possum" on the earth and it was great.

After what seemed like the longest set break ever, Mike started off the Bop Bob ba Chingo of "Haley's Comet" which was fun to hear but more fun to see jump off quickly into a run of songs that eventually ended up at my other big time favorite, "Maze". This particular version was pretty awesome. Page's B-3 solo had a couple different layers before Trey pushed him over the edge. Then Trey took over the solo duties and built the place into a frenzy before he completely blew the roof off. The lights and the crowd made it the highlight of show for me. I'm pretty sure my sister enjoyed it too. After another couple of Phish classics, they started off yet another one of my favorites, "Julius" to end the set. The encore was a rare "Contact" and a beautiful weekend closing "Slave to the Traffic Light". Wow, what a great show.

It doesn't happen very often where you talk about the songs you want to hear before the show and they come through and play every single one you mention. More often I've found that even hoping for a song means they will almost surely bypass it. I guess this one was my lucky night. Not only did they play all my favorites, they avoided the ones I really didn't want to hear. That's the life of a Phish fan. You go to the show, having bought the ticket, and ready to take the ride. You know that no matter what they play, even if it's not the ones you want to hear, you're still at a Phish show and nothing else in the world matters.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sir Paul McCartney

A few nights ago, I was one of the lucky thousands to be graced by the presence of Sir Paul McCartney, the reigning king of all things popular music. I got to see him last summer so I sort of knew what I was in for, but I also knew that the Bridgestone Arena would be a much more up close encounter than the huge field in Atlanta. Boy was I right. After selling a few organs, sending out numerous false graduation and marriage announcements, and holding a 24 hour telethon, I was able to afford a pretty decent ticket which allowed me to see a legend up close and personal. It was totally worth it (my apologies to that sucker who bought my lung). This was one of those shows that you never forget, one that you tell your nephews about when they are teenagers.

From the moment the lights went down to "The End", I was on my feet and loving it, much to the dismay of the squares behind me who really, really wanted me and my crew to sit down. They weren't just irritated, they were pissed. I don't know how you can be at that show and sit down, much less expect younger, more excited people to sit down on your command too. I told them, "When 68 year old Paul sits down, I'll sit down." Eventually the situation was resolved when they complained enough to the ushers to get moved to better, more cry baby sour pants appropriate seats and everyone was happy. Other low points of the show include the subliminal Obama worship song and the retarded Mexican kid that got onstage with an egregious sign and ruined "Get Back" for the rest of us.

Now on to the good stuff. Sir Paul rolled through all parts of his catalog, from Wings, to the long nameless solo career, and of course the Beatles stuff. The "Let Me Roll It" rocked so hard I almost couldn't stand it. Abe Laboriel Jr. seemed like he was going to put that huge kick drum right through my skull Vincent Vega style, and that was just seven songs into a roughly 35 song onslaught of rock favorites. Really, if I could write out a setlist for this band to play, it would pretty much match the actual one. All of my favorite fab four hits were involved. The show was stacked with runs like "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", to "Back In The USSR", to "I’ve Got A Feeling", to "Paperback Writer" all in a row. We even got an impromptu little version of Pee Wee Herman's dance song "Tequila" which only Sir Paul could pull off, although he should have saved that for the talentless dunce that he pulled out of the front row. The touching tribute to George Harrison started with a bouncy ukulele version of "Something" that ended with the full band blasting out the rest of the song. The John Lennon tribute was alright too, with a "Day In The Life" that cheesed into an arm waving "Give Peace A Chance" love fest. Neither of these was as cool as the Jimi Hendrix tribute that included an instrumental "Foxey Lady" and a little story about Jimi and an old buddy Eric Clapton. Ending the set with an explosive "Live and Let Die" and the obligatory "Hey Jude" set up the encore, for which I was very excited after reading previous night's setlists. All of my favorites like "Lady Madonna", "Get Back" and "Helter Skelter" were in the double encore which ended exactly like it should, with "Sgt. Peppers" into "The End".

In many ways, this show was similar to the one I saw last summer. That one was great because it was my first time and it was huge. This one was also great, mostly because it was smaller and I could actually see the man and his band. The way Sir Paul bounces around the stage and makes his classic pucker up faces is a lot cooler when you don't have to watch it on the huge screen. Being able to see the band members, as well as their beautiful Gibson, Gretch, and Vox gear was also a real treat. This band really takes the show over the top. The vocal harmonies are top notch and they nailed every song perfectly, all while appearing to have the time of their lives. Really, who wouldn't be geeked beyond control to be in the band supporting the biggest rock gawd alive? I know I would be.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Criminal Element

Last night was another gig with Johnny Neel and the Criminal Element, but not just another gig, a show at the Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar on Printer's Alley downtown. This place is kind of like the honky-tonks on Broadway, but hidden away in the dark alley. It's sort of the place that the out-of-towners go after they've visited Nashville three or four times and think they've found a good local spot. It's a New Orleans themed bar with live music every night and beads and such. There was a great vibe, friendly staff and a cool layout with a balcony that made me feel like I was looking out over Mardi Gras itself.

The Criminals seemed to be right in their element, so to speak, with the demands of a tourist dive. They found the perfect mix of originals, covers, and songs made up right on the spot. The crowd seemed to like it, even if it wasn't exactly what they might have expected. The songs they made up were everything from swingin' New Orleans style shuffles to deep bluesy blues, and the originals spanned each of the three volumes. It was clear that they were having fun. While they knew the crowd would clamor for a certain amount of recognizable covers, they were still able to put their own spin on such classics as "Get Back" and "Whipping Post". They were also able to space out and jam which always delivers some of the best C.E. moments.

This the other unique part of the weekend. Along with Old Union the night before, this was a show from a band I see a lot but under different circumstances. To me it felt like an out of town gig. One where we show up to the bar (for the first time ever for me), get to know the staff, and play to a room of complete strangers. By the end of the night, everyone who was expecting just another honky-tonk country cover band was in love with this crazy, funky, wild-ass hurricane that blew through this little boogie bar.

Old Union/ Last Straw

This weekend was a fun weekend for shows. Although it was bands I see on a regular basis, the circumstances were unique thus making the shows different. Friday night was the Old Union and Last Straw co-headlining gig at The Mercy Lounge.

I have recently started working with Last Straw as their light guy. The last time I saw them play a show it was opening for Old Union. I believe I said something along the lines of "They were a band that heard O.U. and said they could do that too". I guess that's what happens when I catch a half a song from the bar and the rest of the set from outside. Although this show was a complete blur and I don't really recall any of it due to the extreme focus it took to operate a light rig I had never used before, I can say it was better than just Old Union wannabes. These guys are the real deal. Their dual guitar attack and solid drummer are just a couple of the parts that make the whole great. I love a good slide player and the lack of any Fender products always gives a band points with me. They write great rock songs and jam them out live like a band possessed. Due to the fact that I'm going to be working for them, I probably won't write much more about them but I wanted to give them the props they deserve.

Old Union played yet another jewel. After fixing a broken kick drum head in the third song, their set rolled on and rocked us out. It was pretty much another run-of-the-mill O.U. show, which have become consistently awesome. Johnny Z and Spotty Dog are great guitar players and J Dub plays the hell out of that bass and on and on. I will say that these guys need to take the next step. They belong in front of a much bigger crowd. If their satisfied with playing for 60 people in a club then, in the words of Bobby Brown, that's their prerogative. But with a little luck and work, they should be touring and hitting the festivals and playing for the masses. I'm not one to share a good secret thing, but these guys need to hit the big scene. As far as I can tell, they have everything it takes, except maybe for that annoying aggressive "won't take no for an answer" attitude that distinguishes the good from the successful.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ned Zeppelin

Tonight I went East of the Scumberland river to see Duncan May and the Resonators at the 5 Spot. They had an early slot and I was excited to see them tear it up. It so happens that they were opening for a Led Zeppelin "tribute" band. I was pumped. Led Zeppelin tribute? I've seen some good ones and I was hoping this one wouldn't disappoint. I'll get to that in a minute.

The Resonators played one of the best shows I've seen them do in a long time. I think the difference here was the size of the crowd. Unfortunately, most of Duncan's shows are played to five, maybe ten people, the same ten people every time. Tonight there had to be at least 50 or 60 folks in that little club and the band could clearly feel it. Songs like "Over and Under" and "Sweet Thing" reached a whole new level and the crowd reacted accordingly. It was great to see people appreciate this talented band, as well as seeing the guys get fired up for an actual attentive audience.

During the change over, we got a mini set from local songster Daniel Lawrence Walker, who played a few of his own Keller Williams inspired originals as well as, as one friend put it, "every cover song you shouldn't play".

You see, there is a clear difference between a tribute band and a cover band. A tribute band dresses up, plays the part, and even uses false accents to almost make you feel like you are watching the real thing. A cover band is a bunch musicians who learn their favorite band's songs, and do their best just to get through them without screwing up too bad. Ned Zeppelin was clearly the latter. This five piece, yes five piece, was about the worst cover band I've seen. Even with two guitarists, they still didn't get close. I knew I was in for the bush league when I saw them setting up Stratocasters on stage. The singer struggled to sing like Plant, which is understandable, but there were also obvious shortcomings like no wah to be found in their version of "Dazed and Confused" and lack of a slide in the "What Is and What Should Never Be" solo. And the drums? This guy made me want to get up and bang them myself and then pull a Keith Moon on his set. He didn't even attempt to do the "Bonham" thing at all. It was a pretty pitiful thing to watch all around. Imagine a Journey cover band, (which these guys also are) playing your favorite Zeppelin songs with all their Journey gear and Journey voices and wearing a Skid Row t-shirt.

Now, I can give these guys props for getting up and playing in front of people. It's not easy to emulate your idols in front of a big crowd, granted, and most of the East Nashville cretins in the crowd lapped it up. I even heard a fan yell out "Hell yeah No Quota!" at the beginning of "Dazed and Confused" so I guess it was good enough for some. But if you're not going to go all out, then please, don't bill yourself as an "Ultimate Zeppelin Tribute", bill yourself as "Headlining The Kappa Delta frat party with Zeppelin songs" because some die-hard fans are going to be disappointed. Go ahead, have your fun, and I'll try not to be surprised when a five piece Zep tribute from Seattle sucks. Rock fans, do yourselves a favor and go see Zoso next time they come to town and enjoy the 15 minute "Moby Dick" and the spot on "Stairway". Leave "Dancing Days" to the amateurs.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Scorpions

Last night I got a wild hair and went down to the thunder dome Bridgestone Arena for a little novelty from the 80's. It was a back to back arena rock attack from Ratt and the Scorpions. I guess the Scorpions are going on their swan song farewell tour, supposedly lasting until 2012 or 13, barring any unforeseen suture incidents. Knowing little about either band other than their few hits on the local classic rock station, I thought it might be fun to see how aging classic rockers get down. I guess I got exactly what I expected, from the bands, as well as the crowd. It was a sea of Affliction gear, mullets, and pear shaped rock mommas in their favorite old Ratt t-shirts. Definitely a crowd I could get down with.

After buying one half of a fan's radio prize because his "old lady didn't wanna come", I got in and found a spot in one of the many empty seats right as Ratt was finishing their first song. My first impression was that this stage set and act overall was smaller than I expected. I guess they were the opening act but it seemed to lack a little bit of the assault I was looking for. I guess it also didn't help that the singer kept saying he "wasn't out here jackin' around because he didn't wanna tear [his] stitches". I thought that was funny to hear from an aging rocker. Probably not the line they gave the groupies in 1988. I couldn't help but wonder where the stitches were. A hernia maybe? Appendix? I'd like to think it was a big gash from laying down a Harley in a hotel lobby but it's probably more like stepping on a bottle cap on the Holiday Inn balcony. They treated us to some apparent old favorites as well as some new ones from their cleverly entitled latest release "Infestation" including "Eat Me Alive" and the older "Loving You Is A Dirty Job". Ratt was fun, they looked a little tired but they put on a fun show. The bass player was the most entertaining, bearing a striking resemblance to Metallica's Robert Trujillo. He had lots of energy and played like he had absolutely no pesky stitches to worry about. They ended the set predictably with their biggest hit "Round and Round", and headed straight for the oxygen tanks.

After changing seats during the 45 minute changeover break due to the worst smelling person I have ever sat behind, the Scorpions hit the stage like they had some really good stuff in the green room. Everyone but the singer Klaus Meine that is. It took him a couple of songs to get going but the drummer James Kottak and the lead guitarist Rudolf Schenker had an energy seen usually from rockers who could be their grand kids. As they settled in for the unplugged power ballad portion of the show, complete with an acoustic Gibson Flying V, they brought on the yawns with new selections from "Sting In The Tail" like "The Best Is Yet To Come" and older bores like "Send Me An Angel" and "Holiday". After a few more old Scorpion favorites, they went to the much needed solo portion of the show. This seems to be common in the older classic rocker crowd. I guess it gives everyone a break to re-up on some of that green room goodness and/or Metamucil. The drummer came out and played his solo along to a psycho nightmare style video on the big screen complete with crowd screaming sound effects and recorded song tracks. The act was interesting but the drumming itself was less than impressive. Really any monkey with a double kick pedal could have pulled that off, including slamming of the beer and yelling "and now, REALLY FAST!!!!" like a kindergartner on a merry-go-round. The drums led into a song, which led promptly into the Nigel Tufnel-esque guitar solo, again complete with video and sound effects. At this point, I was really ready for this show to be over. With a couple more songs that sounded just like the rest, they finished with "Big City Nights", one of the more recognizable numbers. Then they spent a couple of minutes running around waving their arms and posing to thank the crowd. This seemed to go on forever. Really guys, take a bow and get off stage. The beer is cheering, not fans who want to see silent staggering around. After a short break, they came out and introduced their biggest power ballad yet, "Winds Of Change". When they started the whistling intro, I couldn't take it anymore. I had to leave. I can only imagine that they finished the whole thing off with a rousing version of "Rock You Like A Hurricane", but I'd rather hear it on the Rock than sit in after show traffic with those drunk yahoos.

If I had been as drunk as 95 percent of the crowd, I would have had a blast. I just wasn't feeling it. That's not to say that the rest of the audience didn't love it. From the middle aged screamers to the kid covering his face so as not to inhale any pot smoke, I couldn't believe how many people love the Scorpions. Most of them knew every word and played every song, air-note for air-note. It made me wonder what kind of stir they must have created in their hay day. It gives me hope that in 40 years I might be able to see Kings of Leon play their old favorites for aging hipsters or write snarky comments about Dave Matthews' 3 year reunion/farewell tour. These guys were huge in their prime, thus proving that there is something for everyone, and anyone who doesn't have something will gladly lap up whatever the radio feeds them.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Maz Metrenko Band

Yesterday afternoon I got a call to help my friend get his gear down to 3rd and Lindsley to sit in with a British rock/blues trio named the Maz Metrenko Band and I was more than pumped to oblige. A British blues/rock trio? At 7 on a Monday? I could be home at a decent hour and still see a show? You got it.

Maz Metrenko, the singer/guitarist/leader of the band shredded through his solos like a blues maniac. He played slide like I hadn't really ever seen before, with a pick and little to no muting from either hand, but it seemed to work for him and rock for us. (Side-note: I hate to see anyone play slide on a Stratocaster but unfortunately I can't just buy everyone a Gibson so I'll just quietly cringe and move on.) Paul the bassist was your classic tall, lanky, solid bass player and was pretty perfect the whole night. He wasn't anything fancy or flashy but he kept the grind going, he was a really nice guy, and he appeared to have supplied his own pint glass. The drummer, Paul, was the focal point for me for most of the set and most of the rest of the audience. I was told he replaced John Bonham when Robert Plant recruited him for Zeppelin. Whether or not that's true I don't know but I do know this guy was pretty great. His ability to wait until the last second to make a move and his Bonham-esque fills were a joy to watch. It looked like every single muscle in his body was flexed but his groove was right on. It was one of those things that made you laugh when he would do something asking "where did that come from?".

They started off with a few originals that were very Stevie Ray Vaughn-y. It was songs about the blues and having the blues and playing the blues. It was pretty generic lyrically but their mazed playing made up for that. Dougie Jones hopped up for a couple of songs on the blues harp in the first set and added his distorted pipes making it all the more soulful. After a short break, Johnny Neel got up on his own and sang one of his newest songs, "Thank God The Good Lord Knows How To Play The Blues", which always makes me shiver with some of those lyrics. With the conclusion of that one, the band returned, along with Dougie on guitar. As per usual, Johnny and Dougie pretty much took over the show and blasted through a few of Dougie's songs and really rocked out. Even with two pretty good guitar players on stage, Johnny ran circles around them playing his synthesized "slide" from his TS-10 keyboard. They ended with a Zappa tune and left us satisfied by about 9:15 which is great on a Monday night.

It was cool to see these Brits playing their version of the blues. I like to see someone be so enthusiastic about something that I sometimes take for granted. They were on a tour of the U.S. that they totally booked and funded themselves, just out of their love of the music. I gotta give them props for doing things on their own terms and having a blast at it. It might not have been the sound of the dirty delta but it was fun and these lads were pretty canny.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

H-Beam Extravaganza

Last night one of my favorite places in town, Melrose Billiards, was magically transformed into a live music venue and H-Beam invaded it with all their weird might. I'll get to the show in a minute. First there is some business to attend to.

In the past couple of weeks, it seems that J-Po has become re-annoyed with Raul Kemp and Shows Big and Small, and in his spare time, has made it his mission to expose my identity to the world and bring my whole operation down. He spent his own free time researching and finally discovering that yes, it is indeed one Jesse Meeks writing this blog and proceeded to reveal his findings in the comment section of EVERY post I have done as well as threaten to sue me, and someone has been calling from an unidentifiable number and hanging up. First of all, it's funny that he is the only person in Nashville that didn't already know this little nugget of information. Second, I'm pretty sure you can't sue someone for putting their opinion of your "band" on the internet. It's the internet for Pete's sakes. So yes, it's me, Jesse Meeks, Chepano, fan of H-Beam, Mile 8, and Old Union. So freakin' what. I'm still gonna use Raul Kemp because I like the name and, as I've stated before, it's my blog and I'll do what I damn want.

Now that we've covered the petty high school bully bull shiz section of this post, I'll get to the blast I had at Melrose last night. I arrived right on time with moonshine on my breath and my blind buddy on my arm. The band seemed to have a more relaxed approach to this show, playing more covers and jamming a little more than usual. They played a great version of Phish's "Birds of a Feather", Keller William's "Tweaker By The Speaker", and even a stripped down version of Mile 8's "Alien", which brought a huge smile to my face. Johnny Neel sat in for most of the first set which gave these songs, as well as the H-Beam originals, a welcome boost. Also joining the Beam on rhythm guitar was Rick from Uncle Milty. He seems to have found a place for himself in this band, bringing his own oddball songs like "Truck Stop Date Rape" to the mix, along with some pretty good guitar playing.

Another fortunate occurrence for this band is that they are the most recent group to enlist the drumming of Curt Redding, to go along with his bass guru, seasoned Beamer Russell Wright. By seasoned I mean he's been with them for a few months now, a feat that has become rare with H-Beam members. Anyway, when these two play together, they can make any band sound good, and often they do. Curt brought it with his own unique non-stop assault and made it sound like he had been H-Beam's drummer for years, even though this was only his second gig with them.

Even though I had to leave after the first set, I loved this show. Not necessarily for the music, which was good, but for the atmosphere of the venue. Melrose Billiards is classic old school Nashville. It's smokey, dingey, and the keg beer in plastic Solo cups is the best in town. At any given time, you could run into a celebrity (I'm pretty sure there were at least 2 people there last night who have been on the Tonight Show) just hanging out and enjoying not being hassled. I had never really heard of this bar having live music before, but I sure hope that they decide to keep it going. It was like the second Windows on the Cumberland with 10 more pool tables and a small P.A. that didn't split your brain. Being there reminded me that I definitely need to go there more often.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bellevue Flood Benefit

I'm not sure how many other Americans are aware, but Tennesseans and Nashvillians know that we got hit by a pretty serious flood at the beginning of May. Although some things are starting to return to normal, lots of property and homes are still seriously effed up. John Odom, the nice, intelligent, friendly civilian behind the alter-ego of Nashville's (what's the opposite of) favorite numb-skull garbage band J-Po and the V.A.B., put together an all-star lineup of Nashville bands past, present, and future for a Memorial day benefit, complete with free delicious food and a silent auction.

The day started with a light-hearted set from Ballhog. They were missing Craig, the banjo player, but they played around this handicap giving us favorites such as "El Fandango", "Bottom of a Hole", and their newest hit, "East Nashville Lullaby". This set was a good way to start off a marathon day of music.

Next up was Nashville troubadour Duncan May and the Resonators. Lately they have been filling their shows with new material from their latest release, Carnivale. Duncan is still one of the best bassists in town and his rapid fire guitar player, Scott Hall, will straight up blow your mind with his solos. He is one of the few players that has the ability to play a million notes per second with a soft-spoken soul and feeling that most machine gun players lack. This new batch of songs was some classic Duncan, with starts and stops that reminded me of RUB, and funky rock that has become the norm from this outfit.

The matinee set came from our favorite weirdo psych rockers H-Beam. Even with only 45 minutes to play, they still packed in a couple sketches, a valley girl-guy character, and some really sick rock and roll. With allstar drummer Curt Redding rounding out the rhythm section with Russell Wright, a duo that would dominate most of the night, the Beam smacked us with some goodies like "Naked Ladies Dot Com" and "The Girl's Gone Wild" along with the ode to the "Love Panda". Matt Whalberg was on and they put on a full psychedelic freak out at 4 o'clock on a Monday afternoon that got the night moving in a more full-blown direction.

The next set was part Jack Nasti, part J Po and the V.A.B, part (cough) MC Vivid, and part me doing everything but listening to music that was on the big stage at 12th and Porter on Monday, around 6 o'clock, May 31, 2010. I grabbed some of the great food, saw some old friends, killed a beer or three, went out to my car for a fresh pack of smokes, read a few articles in the Scene, and just stood still outside for a while. It was a great hour.

Up next was the "past" portion of the night, a short set from old Nashville jammers Mile 8. As their shows move ever increasingly from "farewell" to "reunions", they still give a crowd a good time. They were missing their sax player Adam Livingston (from Boom Ticket) as well as their percussion guru Bobby Knowles, also from Boom Ticket. Unfortunately the Ticket had scheduled some studio time they could not rearrange so the show had to go on without them. They went on with a sax replacement but no vocal stand-in for Adam, two percussionists who tried to come close to filling Bobby's shoes and the rest of the most recent lineup. Mile 8 gave us a tour through their history with a couple old ones, a couple covers, and "the last song we ever wrote", "Sky Driver". The "Chester Copperpot">"Elaphlamingo" suite was magnificent and the bluegrass version of "Mr. Brownstone" was downright silly but still a lot of fun. Can't wait till Thanksgiving.

Johnny Neel and the Criminal Element came on to round out the event and played a mix of old and new stuff including Volume 3's "Wouldn't That Be Nice" and a debut of their version of "When the Levee Breaks". They also played a beautiful version of the Beatles' "This Boy", totally nailing all the harmonies, producing a moving moment in the midst of an otherwise criminal set. It seemed like their most celebrated rockers such as "Toasted" and "Funk Pump" were a step or two slower than usual, which could have been blamed on the fact that Randy, Curt, and Russell had played a combined 14 sets on the day and might have been a little gassed. Johnny played a helluva show, being that it was his only of the night, and the contributions from Old Union's Spotty Dog on guitar and Jesse Meeks on percussion filled out the sound.

This event was a complete success, raising over six thousand dollars for flooded families and giving over two hundred non-boat-owners something fun to do on Memorial day. Kudos to John Odom and everyone else who made this happen. With musicians and friends in a community like this, I say as bad as the natural disasters may be, there isn't one we can't overcome with a kick-ass party and a whole smoked pig.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Boom Ticket

On Wednesday night I shuffled over to the rock block to catch Boom Ticket at The End. This is the Exit In's little step-brother club that can surprise you with some pretty good shows, but is usually a starting point for local bands. Much like the last time I was here for Heavy Trash, I spent a couple of hours waiting through some pretty crappy crap to get to the good stuff. I was glad to pay the cover and help out some of those who didn't make it on the ark, and the company was good so I didn't mind listening through the wall to the opening bands.

The first band was a pretty songwriter boy who was a mix between Bruce Springsteen and and a sack of crap. His set was brought to us by the letters G, C, and D and his 5 different arrangements of these chords were just another example of a Nashville hipster donning a leather jacket, naming his band after himself, and rocking his acoustic guitar with the strings waving off of the end of the headstock, thinking he is the next big thing. I didn't catch his name but I wouldn't be surprised if it was Boss Jr. It was pretty bad.

The second band, again whose name I didn't catch because I didn't care, was a little bit System of a Down, a little bit Metallica, and a little bit "please someone drive wooden stakes into my ears because that would be better than this crappy crap" garage band. Thank God they limit theses people to 30 minute sets.

Boom Ticket hit the stage and started off with a couple of familiar tunes, but the sound was brand new. They have taken their lineup from a dinky trio mostly driven by drums and really loud bass lines to a five piece, adding Chris Mac on an extra guitar and Lucas Ketner on percussion, making the songs we all know sound a lot fuller and more mature. The congas were cool and it went well with the drums but some of the cowbells and wood blocks kind of sounded out of place in a prog/rock band in full overdrive. Bobby Knowles is still the driving force on the drums, appearing much more comfortable on his kit and really commanding those crazy drum lines he wrote. He's really starting to come into his own on the skins. Jeff Collett has proven to be a great replacement on bass, although I can't help but crave his funky slap from some of his previous bands. He may be overqualified for this band, but he fits in well and is definitely an asset. He has added his own style to Mark's old lines, and is a true compliment to Bobby's riot back there.

The few new songs of the night were a sign of growth from the Ticket. Guitarist and lead singer Adam Livingston (from Boom Ticket) has continued to grow in his stratocaster-ship, as well as his songwriting. There were a few times when his vocals fell a little flat due to his focus being more on his new guitar parts, but with a couple more outings, these songs are gonna shine. The addition of Chris McElroy on guitar gave the old tunes some cool new layers and made the new ones sound like a band that has found their stride and figured out where they're headed.

They announced their last song, which was five of Bobby's best minutes of the night, then, before the crowd could beg for more, Adam said, "alright, we'll play another one", like we were pounding the pews at the Ryman. It was funny to me. I'm glad they did play another one, it was great, but after my 10 hour work day and my two hour crap ingestion, I was ready to head out. It was good to see this lineup finally, as I had been stymied out of the last two shows by a snowstorm and a bad situation in Franklin. It's clear to see that they have been working hard and have a clear vision of where they want Boom Ticket to go.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Jimmy Buffett

Last night I decided to brave the worst rain storm in recent history and go to my first Buffett show. The rain let up long enough for me to walk around amidst the grass skirts and flower shirts and find a ticket in the upper level. While I was making my way up the stairs and to my section, which Jimmy described as the "indoor lawn", I saw everything from guys in bikini tops to old ladies with Margaritaville t-shirts and fanny packs. There was one common theme that ran through the building though, everyone was hammered. I had heard that the parrot heads like to throw down but I guess I never imagined the range of ages and different walks of life that come together to celebrate sub-par beach tunes sung by a barefoot frat boy in the local hockey barn.

The high demand for booze stranded me in the beer line when the show started but I made it in to hear "License to Chill" and "Schoolboy Heart" as the man with the bartender's ear got the crowd going in the early stages with their beach balls and glow sticks. As the show went on, there were songs I recognized like "Cheeseburger In Paradise", "It's 5 O'clock Somewhere", and "Come Monday", which got a huge reaction from the crowd. It was also fun to hear songs I had never heard but seemed to be equally as popular like "Penciled In Mustache" and "If The Phone Doesn't Ring, It's Me", which was requested via beach ball. They did one song about Elvis, written by Gillian Welch, that just didn't really fit in with the rest of the set. It was a little too new-school country, as was the guitar player's cheesy "Back Where I Come From" ballad. The between song banter reminded me of having a drink on the beach with an old buddy, then would cleverly lead into the next song. He praised the Parrot Heads for their undying loyalty and made the atmosphere very laid back as he joked with my old friend, keyboard player and longest tenured Coral Reefer, Mike Utley. We were even treated to an island version of The Grateful Dead's "Scarlet Begonias" to "Bring the Parrot Heads and the Dead Heads together".

The Coral Reefer Band did a pretty good job backing the Bob Dylan of the beach. Everyone from the Randy Owens lookalike on guitar to the pedal steel player to the one man horn section got into the groove and played like they were at a little dive in the Keys. I have to say that the percussion player was a sorry, bush league, weak sauce display of the old "let's get some dude to stand back there and look like he's adding something" method of auxiliary drums. I'm tired of these acts, especially a so-called "island" Jimmy Buffett band, having inept percussionists whose drums can hardly be heard and whose contributions are slim to none. It looked like he was barely hitting the congas and completely out of time, but doing a good job of imitating a tourist from Topeka enjoying a Margarita on St. Pete beach. At least they knew better than to waste any time giving him a solo. The actual drummer was as good as he needed to be for this band. You know, no Dave Grohl, but I guess there's no need for that much power in this group. On the other side of the stage however, was the steel drum player and Mike Utley on keyboards. These two melded their instruments perfectly to create the trademark sound that we all know from the C.R.B.

The show came to an end with our favorite number, "Margaritaville", being sung by 20 thousand sloshed Parrots. Being that an ark-worthy storm was raging and I didn't want to be surrounded in traffic by an arena full of sponges, I left before the encore. I'm sure it was great. They usually have a formula that they follow and it's a integral part of the show but having already heard "M-ville", my Buffett glass was full and I was ready to get out of there.

It was a fun experience to see this show. I have always heard about the riot that ensues when Buffett comes to town, especially in the old Starwood Amphitheater days. The Parrot Heads were such hardcore fans, it had me asking "where are all these people for the other 364 days of the year?" I just don't know anyone who puts in Havana Daydreamin' on a road-trip or blasts A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean on the Hi-Fi at a party, or even rocks a Buffett t-shirt for that matter. I guess you're more of a fan of a way of life than actual music because if you think about it, the music is kind of silly but the attitude makes life a little easier to take. More power to Jimmy, a true American original who has carved out his niche and invented an entire culture. I guess it's going to take more than a hundred-year storm to keep these heads away, there were very few empty seats and you would have never known that a natural disaster was occurring just outside. But like he said, "At least it's not an erupting volcano".

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Old Union

Last night was the Old Union show that is to be made into their next live album. I know I've seen them a few times already this year but a) I love this band, b) I knew they were going to bring it for the record and c) I wanted to make as much noise as I could. They played at the Exit In and had a really full, amped crowd.

Local minstrels Ballhog! were the openers and apart from a few new songs, it was pretty much a typical show. The new one about East Nashville was pretty funny. I need to hear it a couple more times because it was hard to follow with such a seemingly complicated chord progression. Maybe I just had trouble focusing, either way, I liked it. I can't remember the names of the other new ones but they were pretty cool too. It looks like the Hog has started to cash in on the chemistry between the Randys, Boen and Russell. The rest of the set contained some usual favorites, "Diesel", "Pickin' White Gold", and "Don't Be Sad" to name a few, which are always fun to hear.

Old Union came out and thanked the crowd and explained what was going on and then wasted no more time getting to it. They launched into "Jericho" and never took their feet off of the gas. It was everything you could hope for from an O U show. Spotty and Johnny Z's guitar's locked in, the rhythm section tight as ever, and Chuck with as much gravelly soul as you can possibly get out of a VK 7. They bombarded us with O U strongholds like "Last Chance" and "Traveling Show", along with some good covers, one of which was a Zeppelin one whose title is on the tip of my tongue (little help in the comment section anyone?). Overall the show was great. I can't wait to hear the record.

I was interested to see how this band would handle making a live album. I've seen bands before that try to make one and get so caught up in the recording that the show suffers. Sometimes the players get into their own heads and play a tight, uncomfortable show, but not these guys. They came prepared like the professionals they are and used the "pressure" of the live recording, along with the jet stream of energy from the crowd to play a really good show. It was a good night for the combination of local music, cold beer, and good friends on the Rock Block.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hank Williams Jr.

Last night I got to see a living legend do his thing. Hank Williams Jr. played at the newly renamed Bridgestone Center, the local enormo-dome. As I walked through the parking lot full of Grave Diggers, Calvin stickers, and Stars and Bars, I wasn't sure how my ticket buying technique would go over with this crowd. It sure was rowdy, as if the Hillsboro Middle School and FHS auto body garage had a reunion downtown, a scene I am all too familiar with. No more than five minutes after I started looking, the nice lady at the radio station tent gave me a ticket. So, this review is brought to you by the letters W, S, M.

Getting a ticket so early left me some time to pregame the only appropriate way, by bellying up to the sticky bar at The Wheel on Broadway and catching some tunes from The Jukebox Junkies. They played some songs about how bad country radio is and a couple of old classics including "Kawliga", the old Hank Sr. song about a wooden indian. They also quoted Jesco White which gave them instant country street cred. The Wheel was a great place to get a couple cheap beers and a shot of Jack and get ready for the hoe down.

I went into the show as they were setting up for opener Jamey Johnson (not to be confused with the pretty-boy 3-time NASCAR champ). He came out and put on a pretty good show for what seemed to be a pretty interested crowd. His songs contain a lot of lines about smoking and growing pot, drinkin' whiskey, and other such red-neck activities that are so much fun. These references always get a good reaction from this sort of crowd. There were a few too many slow ballads for my liking but overall, he was a good opener for Bocephus.

The lights went down for Hank and the screen lit up with pictures of him and Sr. and a video introduction from Merle Haggard. There was also some talk about the Monday Night Football intro, which I thought was unnecessary. Then he came out a rippin' and a tearin' and started off with "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound" and then went right into Skynard's "Workin' For M.C.A". The night was filled with great moments. In his version of the aforementioned Sr. classic "Kawliga", he played a hot fiddle solo. At another point, he got on the piano and told a great story about Jerry Lee Lewis jamming at the house and "teachin' me to boogie", and then played his version of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On". The acoustic set included a Dukes of Hazard theme sing-along, a "Tear in My Beer" sing-along and a campfire version of "A Country Boy Can Survive". The band came back out for the last few songs and ended the way you might expect, with everyone, including Jamey Johnson and the rest of the rowdy friend openers hollering "TO GET DRUNK! TO GET STONED! TO GET LAID!" in an all inclusive version of "Family Tradition", with Sr.'s "Hey Good Lookin'" tacked on for good measure. Then Bocephus strutted around the stage, left, and it was over. Boom, no encore. Kind of a disappointment but understandable from someone who doesn't play many shows anyway.

I'm glad to have gotten a chance to see Hank Jr., especially under the shadow of his huge banner on the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was cool to see that he was proud of his heritage and his family line. He loves his dad and all that goes along with the name. There was also no question of his political views with the huge banner stating "I'm keepin' my guns, my money, and my freedom, you can keep the change." draped across the stage. It truly was a good Nashville experience and another one off the bucket list.