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.