Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bruce Springsteen news

Hot on the heels of the amazing "London Calling: Live in Hyde Park" live DVD a few months back comes details for the upcoming "Darkness on the Edge of Town" deluxe reissue set due this fall. It's going to be quite a whopper in terms of unheard songs and unseen footage. Bruce tramps have been anticipating this for quite awhile. Details from the press release follow. Photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media and Columbia Records.

Columbia Records To Release Bruce Springsteen's 'The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story' Nov. 16

Box Set Includes 3CD/3DVD Package Of Remastered Album, Never-Before-Seen Studio & Live Footage, 80-Page Notebook, 21 Previously-Unreleased Songs, And An Extraordinary Documentary Film That Will Screen on HBO Oct 7

Package Features Nearly Six Hours Of Footage, Including Classic 1978 Houston Performance, And More Than Two Hours Of Audio

Columbia To Simultaneously Release 'The Promise' Double CD Complete Songs From Darkness On The Edge Of Town's Lost Sessions

Columbia Records will release Bruce Springsteen's 'The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story' on Nov 16. The Deluxe Package comprises over six hours of film and more than two hours of audio across 3 CDs and 3 DVDs. The media contents are packaged within an 80-page notebook containing facsimiles from Springsteen's original notebooks from the recording sessions, which include alternate lyrics, song ideas, recording details, and personal notes in addition to a new essay by Springsteen and never-before-seen photographs. Containing a wealth of previously unreleased material, 'The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story' offers an unprecedented look into Springsteen's creative process during a defining moment in his career. 'The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story' will additionally be released as a 3CD/3 Blu Ray disc set.

The set will be available as 'The Promise,' an edition which consists of only the unheard complete songs on two CDs or four LPs, along with lyrics and the new essay by Springsteen.

The previously unheard song "Save My Love" and an excerpt from the documentary are now streaming at

The Deluxe Package includes 'Darkness on the Edge of Town,' digitally remastered for the first time.

1. Badlands
2. Adam Raised A Cain
3. Something In The Night
4. Candy’s Room
5. Racing In The Street
6. The Promised Land
7. Factory
8. Streets Of Fire
9. Prove It All Night
10. Darkness On The Edge Of Town

"'Darkness' was my 'samurai' record," Springsteen writes, "stripped to theframe and ready to rumble…But the music that got left behind was substantial." For the first time, fans will have access to two discs containing a total of 21 previously-unreleased songs from the 'Darkness' recording sessions, songs that, as Springsteen writes, "perhaps could have/should have been released after 'Born To Run' and before the collection of songs that 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' became."

Highlights include the extraordinary rock version of "Racing in the Street," the never-before-released original recordings of "Because the Night," "Fire," and "Rendezvous," the supreme pop opus "Someday (We'll Be Together)," the hilarious "Ain't Good Enough for You," the superb soul-based vocal performance on "The Brokenhearted," the utterly haunting "Breakaway," and the fully orchestrated masterpiece and title song "The Promise." All 21 songs have been mixed by Springsteen's long-time collaborator Bob Clearmountain. According to long-time manager/producer Jon Landau, "There isn't a weak card in this deck. 'The Promise' is simply a great listening experience."

1. Racing In The Street ('78)
2. Gotta Get That Feeling
3. Outside Looking In
4. Someday (We'll Be Together)
5. One Way Street
6. Because The Night
7. Wrong Side Of The Street
8. The Brokenhearted
9. Rendezvous
10. Candy's Boy

1. Save My Love
2. Ain't Good Enough For You
3. Fire
4. Spanish Eyes
5. It's A Shame
6. Come On (Let's Go Tonight)
7. Talk To Me
8. The Little Things (My Baby Does)
9. Breakaway
10. The Promise
11. City Of Night

The Deluxe Package also features "The Promise: The Making of 'Darkness on the Edge of Town,'" a documentary directed by Grammy- and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Thom Zimny. The ninety-minute film combines never-before-seen footage of Springsteen and the E Street Band shot between 1976 and 1978—including home rehearsals and studio sessions—with new interviews with Springsteen, E Street Band members, manager Jon Landau, former-manager Mike Appel, and others closely involved in the making of the record. Advanced word on the documentary is so strong that it was invited to debut at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival on September 14 and will make its television debut on HBO on October 7.


In addition, the set features more than four hours of live concert film from the Thrill Hill Vault, including the bootleg house cut (the footage that appeared on-screen at the concert) from a 1978 Houston show, and a 2009 performance of 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' in its entirety from Asbury Park. The special performance in Asbury Park was shot in HD without an audience and successfully recreates the stark atmosphere of the original album.

1. Badlands
2. Adam Raised A Cain
3. Something In The Night
4. Candy's Room
5. Racing In The Street
6. The Promised Land
7. Factory
8. Streets Of Fire
9. Prove It All Night
10. Darkness On The Edge Of Town

1. Save My Love (Holmdel, NJ 76)
2. Candy's Boy (Holmdel, NJ 76)
3. Something In The Night (Red Bank, NJ 76)
4. Don’t Look Back (NYC 78)
5. Ain't Good Enough For You (NYC 78)
6. The Promise (NYC 78)
7. Candy's Room Demo (NYC 78)
8. Badlands (Phoenix 78)
9. The Promised Land (Phoenix 78)
10. Prove It All Night (Phoenix 78)
11. Born To Run (Phoenix 78)
12. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) (Phoenix 78)

1. Badlands
2. Streets Of Fire
3. It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City
4. Darkness On The Edge Of Town
5. Spirit In The Night
6. Independence Day
7. The Promised Land
8. Prove It All Night
9. Racing In The Street
10. Thunder Road
11. Jungleland
12. The Ties That Bind
13. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
14. The Fever
15. Fire
16. Candy's Room
17. Because The Night
18. Point Blank
19. She's The One
20. Backstreets
21. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
22. Born To Run
23. Detroit Medley
24. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
25. You Can't Sit Down
26. Quarter To Three

For more info and to pre-order, go to

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dave Matthews Band concert review

A version of my review originally appeared in the OC Register and can be viewed here:

Photo by Christine Cotter, for the Orange County Register

Dave Matthews Band, Brett Dennen
Where: Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Irvine, CA
When: Aug. 21

Despite a tough concert season, with frequent cancellations and ticket sales down over 10 percent from last summer (according to music industry trade Pollstar), the Dave Matthews Band is recession-proof and continues to pack ‘em in.

No surprise there.

A strong annual draw, it has moved more ducats than Springsteen, U2 and the Stones dating to 2000 (relatively modest prices definitely help). While walking through Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on Saturday, other artists’ struggles were evident. A couple dozen venue employees repeatedly shilled low dough lawn seats for John Mayer
and Zac Brown Band.

Watching a Dave Matthews Band gig when the weather’s warm is such a ritual among diehard fans that the group announced would be taking time off in 2011. Much like Phishheads and Deadheads, DMB enthusiasts are an extremely devoted lot, often following the tour around the country, recording and trading concert recordings.

DMB set lists change considerably and repetition is rare. Such was the case at the sold out Irvine performance, clocking in at just under 2 ½ hours. Only four of the 20 tunes were played the night before in Chula Vista. The riveting Orange County show was heavy on obscurities and deep album cuts, which delighted the faithful.

As is common during most DMB shows, this one was being taped by the band. Large microphone poles in various seating sections puzzled quite a few drunk, stoned and uninitiated people. Some asked if this writer was taking notes in conjunction with the device nearby; others stared or used it to balance themselves down the steps. Surprisingly, the thing didn’t collapse.

“Minarets,” from 1993 indie debut “Remember Two Things,” opened the proceedings on a haunting note. Boyd Tinsley’s scraped violin sounds, paired with Tim Reynolds’ moody electric guitar lines, Dave Matthews’ anguished howls and fierce acoustic guitar strums, resulted in a chillingly dynamic introduction.

Moving in a totally different direction was “Shake Me Like a Monkey,” the first of five songs taken off platinum-selling album “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King,” which debuted at No. 1 last year. The tune’s bright, punchy horn blasts were served up by sax man Jeff Coffin and trumpeter Rashawn Ross (the pair’s Dixieland-styled phrasings on a poppy “Grey Street” was among the evening's numerous highlights).

Coffin, also of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, has toured with the band a couple years and is a fine replacement for the late LeRoi Moore. Ross (sporting an old school California Angels cap) shined amid a soft solo on “Proudest Monkey,” while Reynolds did great slide work and Matthews’ voice gradually got louder as he made animal sounds. The singer has a fascination with primates and regularly incorporates them into lyrics.

Tinsley’s keening violin anchored the soaring, sway-worthy “Satellite,” where Matthews and always happy drummer Carter Beauford teamed up for some supple harmonies. Bassist (and Anaheim native) Stefan Lessard started the vibrant, politically tinged “Funny the Way it Is” with a new spacey effect.

Everyone locked into an extended instrumental groove during the jazzy “Lying in the Hands of God” (later, they’d get a similar vibe on “You Might Die Trying”). Matthews dismissively sang “save your sermons for someone that’s afraid to love” on “Lying” and did a primal howl.

“Don’t Drink the Water” found the front man, eyes tightly shut and drenched in sweat, going through a musical exorcism of sorts. It was dramatic and powerful as ever. Fans cheered wildly in recognition at popular older tunes’ opening notes and loudly sang along (the joyous “Dancing Nancies,” containing another frenzied Tinsley solo spotlight; the always exhilarating stomp, “Ants Marching”).

The encore segment included Matthews on solo acoustic guitar, emphasizing his raspy vocal timbre amid “Rye Whiskey,” a simple, traditional folk song recorded by Tex Ritter, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Twenty years on, Dave Matthews Band continues to be one of the tightest, intuitive and unique alt-rock bands in America.

Central California singer/guitarist Brett Dennen and his four-piece group warmed up the still arriving audience with an amiable 45-minute set. The smooth, laid back tunes (“San Francisco”) relied on tropical sounds (the Paul Simon-esque “Darlin, Do Not Fear”), in addition to some reggae and jazz/pop (“Make You Crazy”). But the red-haired, barefoot performer’s creamy vocals and scatting (think jazz chanteuse Billie Holiday) were definitely an acquired taste.

Dave Matthews Band, Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Aug. 21, 2010

Main set:
Minarets/Shake Me Like a Monkey/Proudest Monkey/Satellite/Funny the
Way It Is/Lying in the Hands of God/Write a Song/You Might Die Trying/Still
Water/Don’t Drink the Water/Sister/Dancing Nancies/Alligator Pie/Can’t Stop/Grey
Street/Black Jack/You & Me/Ants Marching
Encores: Rye Whiskey/Jimi Thing

John Hiatt concert review

A version of my review originally appeared in the OC Register and can be viewed at:

Photo by Paul Moore, courtesy of New West Records

John Hiatt
Where: Coach House, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
When: Aug. 19

It’s all about the songs.

Good ones can survive being adapted to fit any arrangement in any genre. John Hiatt should know – since starting a music career in the mid-1970s, more than a hundred artists have covered his compositions.

The list is eclectic, including Keith Urban, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and B.B. King, Jewel, Buddy Guy, Don Henley, the Neville Brothers, Iggy Pop, Linda Ronstadt, Roseanne Cash, Willie Nelson and Paul Abdul, among others.

Part of the appeal lies in Hiatt’s knack for penning tunes with nuanced melodies, keen details and sardonic humor. Bonnie Raitt - who famously remade “Thing Called Love” on her Grammy-winning, multi-platinum “Nick of Time” in 1989 - has said Hiatt’s allure stems from a “real skewed view of human emotions, love and the world,” not to mention exceptional guitar playing.

Indeed. Quite a few inventive axes lingers have appeared on Hiatt albums and tours (David Lindley, Ry Cooder, Sonny Landreth), but the man himself can definitely hold his own on the old electric too.

While the Indiana-bred roots rocker’s album sales haven’t matched those famous clients above, a stellar, critically acclaimed late ‘80s/early ‘90s trilogy (“Bring the Family,” “Slow Turning,” “Stolen Moments”) and alt-rock leaning “Perfectly Good Guitar” (the biggest seller at nearly half a million copies) raised his public profile.

Hiatt snagged a Grammy nod for the stark, acoustic 2000 release “Crossing Muddy Waters” and continues to put out solid efforts touching upon blues, folk and rock ‘n’ roll music. Burned out by a quarter century of steady touring, the musician took a break and recently unveiled “The Open Road,” featuring timeless songs that revolve around compelling characters on the go.

During a rousing sold out Coach House show on Thursday night, the veteran singer/guitarist appeared invigorated and happy to be back on the concert trail. He was backed by a top notch trio (longtime drummer Kenneth Blevins, bassist Patrick O’Hearn and lead guitarist Doug Lancio). The latter, known for work with Patty Griffin and Jack Ingram, was a wonder to behold on acoustic and slide guitar, plus mandolin. Hiatt held off touring until Lancio could finish obligations with Griffin.

Smart move.

Many of the best known songs on Hiatt’s albums are bolstered by prominent backing vocals. In San Juan Capistrano, his gruff and soulful singing was mainly laid bare, save for a couple tunes at the evening’s end, when Blevins chimed in. The band kicked off the 17-song, 105-minute set with a relaxed, acoustic based “Drive South.”

“It’s nice to be back this-a-way; God knows I’ve been here enough,” said Hiatt - referring to previous Coach House gigs - before “The Open Road.” All picturesque words (“midnight fallin’ like a bag of bones/weighted down now the rest with stones/bouncin’ off a river the moon made steel/cracking off the chrome of a steering wheel”) and searing electric licks, it was an early highlight. A revamped and extended “The Tiki Bar is Open” was pure rollicking fun as Hiatt kicked his legs in the air, did some ad libbed vocals and each member took a solo turn.

Next came some trademark Hiatt humor. The tempered take on “Perfectly Good Guitar” – about bands needlessly smashing up their instruments - benefited from Lancio’s raw, Crazy Horse-type delivery.

Prior to a pair of bluesy numbers from the new album, Hiatt noted the band spent a few days at a nearby beach hotel. “It’s gorgeous out here,” he said, then pondered the wisdom of a 58-year-old trying to surf. The slow, lurching “Like a Freight Train” and feisty, sexual-themed “My Baby” got enthusiastic audiences responses.

Hiatt handled the soaring vocal of the mandolin-led “Cry Love” well alone as the band picked up speed and Lancio engaged in fine intricate picking. Recalling the ‘90s, when the song got AAA radio airplay, the singer remembered a time “when I had more of everything – hair, brain cells.”

Later, “Your Dad Did,” retained its sense of melodic sway, Blevins pounded the rhythm with authority and Hiatt sang and played with an amusing bug eyed grimace. The romantic “Feels Like Rain” found him displaying full-on soulful inflections, a little falsetto and even simulating the weather with Lancio’s quiet guitar effects. Truly amazing. “We’re really just kids at heart,” Hiatt quipped.

Fans yelling requests all night finally got their wishes granted when the band completed the main set with a boisterous “Slow Turning” and slinky “Thing Called Love.”

For the encores, the musicians excelled on the rockabilly styled “Tennessee Plates” (punctuated by John Lee Hooker growls), emotional ballad “Have a Little Faith in Me” (where Hiatt channeled Otis Redding; piano in the original wasn’t missed) and “Riding with the King” (as Hiatt impressively held a sustained vocal note).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bonus Q&A with Neil Finn of Crowded House

I've had the pleasure of chatting with Neil Finn, one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters, a few times in the past (for the albums "Together Alone," "Finn," "One Nil" & "7 Worlds Collide"). This interview was also illuminating. Here are more excerpts...

In the bonus DVD that comes with the new album, for “Either Side of the World” live in Auckland, there was a pair of ballroom dancers behind the band. Was that exclusive to that one performance or are you employing dancers during each show?

That was just the one off at the show. It being a hometown show, we put a couple special things together for that. And as you would have seen, the organ was lit up in a rather spectacular fashion.

You’ve been working on a new music video for “Either Side.” On the band’s website, you solicited fans to send in videos of them dancing to it. Were there any bizarre ones?

It will be all done [soon]. It’s going to be a real lively, fun video. There have been some good ones. I haven’t even seen them all because there’s been quite a few now. They are a component of the new video. There are other things we filmed of ourselves. It’s a pretty fun video, actually.

How did recording these songs evolve?

It’s always been a process of seeing what day you’re in and making music that seems to suit it. That leads you to a direction...You kind of end up recognizing things about the sound you’re making and going, ‘that’s what we should be doing.’ It comes from that really. Keeping your ears open and having a good presence like Jim Scott in the studio. Just sort of recognizing when the performance is going well.

Aren't planning on doing an album with your wife Sharon?

[pause] There are things that started off as a way to spend time together and have become a body of work that I think is going to be coming out at some point.

Weren’t you playing drums and she was on bass and you thought there was something worthwhile in what you played?

That’s the way it started, which is quite a fresh way to approach anything. I’ve never done it that way before. We’re really even matched on drums and bass, so it’s working out real well.

Your son Liam added guitar to two tracks on the new album. As a father, what has it been like to see his solo career blossom?

Oh, I’m really proud because he’s become a very individual and quite adventurous performer. He writes a good tune; he always did. He takes it totally seriously and is in it for life.

Keeping with previous Crowded House covers, Nick designed another memorable one this time. Was it his idea to have the band’s names used as anagrams and crossing out song titles to add other words?

He and Sharon Chai, an art designer in London, came up with some really good notions. It was kind of keeping with the idea of The Intriguer and screwing around with things, causing trouble.

How has the popularity of Facebook and Twitter in recent years affected how you interact with fans?

I’m not really active on either of those fronts, but we wanted to create a [fan friendly] website. We have a wonderful and capable guy with us on the road who is keeping an eye on everything.

What’s on the horizon for you when the touring cycle for this album ends?

This will take us to the end of the year. I’m making music on a couple fronts. [As we discussed,] the album from my wife and I is called "Pajama Party" and will be out sometime early next year [likely Down Under]. There will be another album with Tim at some point; we just have to work out the right timing.

Crowded House interview

A version of my interview originally appeared in the North County Times and can be viewed at:

The band performs at Amoeba Music in Hollywood on Thursday, Club Nokia at LA Live on Friday and Sunday at Humphreys. Photo by Cybele Malinowski, courtesy Big Hassle Media.

Neil Finn once opined about the seductive power of music and how it should address deep thoughts lurking under the surface to forge a deep connection.

For the past 30 years - first as a teenage member of New Zealand art-rockers Split Enz, then as frontman for pop/rock band Crowded House (among Australia's most successful, acclaimed entertainment exports emerging from Down Under during the mid-1980s), the singer/songwriter/guitarist has done exactly that.

Crowded House made inroads Stateside with its 1986 self-titled platinum debut, which spawned the Top 10 singles "Don't Dream It's Over" and "Something So Strong." Sophomore disc "Temple of Low Men" went gold and notched a Top 20 mainstream rock radio hit in "Better Be Home Soon." Equally engaging albums "Woodface" and "Together Alone" were more popular abroad, but Crowded House retained a large cult following in America until calling it quits in 1996.

The intervening years saw Finn put out a pair of acclaimed solo discs and two with older brother/former Enz bandmate Tim. After Crowded House drummer Paul Hester died in 2005, Finn and bassist Nick Seymour were drawn back into a creative partnership. While working on Finn's next solo album, they decided to morph it into a resurrected Crowded House, invited latter-day member/multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart back into the fold and found timekeeper Matt Sherrod. The result was 2007's somber yet blissful reunion effort, "Time on Earth."

Now they're back with atmospheric rock album "Intriguer," highlighted by future melancholy classics "Twice if You're Lucky" and "Archer's Arrows." Neil Finn and Jim Scott (Wilco) handled production duties. Singer/guitarist son Liam, studio/music whiz Jon Brion and violinist Lisa Germano are among those making notable guest appearances. Neil Finn checked in this week from his home in Auckland.

What can fans headed to the SoCal shows look forward to?

We mix the set up and change it every night so it's not a set piece. We're reasonably responsive to the whims and fancies of the evening and deviations from the script.

Are you still playing fan requests via the band's website?

Yeah. I can't do them all because we're getting more songs than we have time for in a set. Some fans are dead set on the most obscure things they can think of, which are sometimes impossible for us to remember. But it's guiding my hand when I'm writing a set list. There's usually room for two or three obscure choices or special requests. A lot of the songs we do anyway.

Recall any particularly memorable gigs around the San Diego area over the years?

We've had some fantastic shows there; it's always been a great place for us. It's where we met Eddie Vedder for the first time - at a Crowded House show way before he was in Pearl Jam. Humphreys is a really good venue.

What inspired the album's "Intriguer" title?

There's a cartoon on our website done by my friend Michael Leunig. ... It's a character that he and I had been discussing for years. We attribute a lot of large twists, turns, mysteries and troublesome, but interesting events to the Intriguer. There's a mythological aspect to it. He makes life interesting.

Nick has said the new album it is a better example of the current lineup's chemistry together than "Time on Earth." Would you agree?

It is, in real terms, the first time we've began the process with this lineup from the beginning. So everybody was involved in rehearsing and finishing the songs. I think it's got a more cohesive presence. Although on the last album Nick and I were physically involved in most of the songs, the other guys didn't come in until near the end.

From a rhythmic standpoint, what has Matt added to the band's sound?

Matt has a very positive presence in every capacity - physically, mentally and spiritually. His drumming has become far more attuned in the last year because we've recorded more together than when we first started. I think he's got incredible buoyancy in the way he drums; it's really solid.

When you started recording the album, did you have any set goals on how you wanted to approach the sound?

I don't really strategize or conceptualize too much about what the sound should be.

Did it take any coaxing to get your wife, Sharon, to sing her lead vocal part during the dreamy "Isolation"?

Not much in the studio. She's been doing it live now and ... she's absolutely nailing it. There's a real musical integrity because she just delivers it so well.

There's a samba rhythm on "Either Side of the World." Isn't that a first for Crowded House?

Yeah, I don't think we've ever approached anything resembling a samba. The reason the new video we're (finishing up) is probably going to have a good life to it is because we were able to work on a good danceable groove.

That one would make a great club remix.

I think it could. We've been trying to work something out on that front. There's a couple irons in the fire.

You mention exotic locales on "Falling Dove" and "Amsterdam." Were those songs inspired by your travels during the "Time on Earth" world tour?

I was working on finishing those lyrics at the time, so it had an influence. We'd been to Amsterdam before, but Russia was a new place, so it had a certain romance to it. We took the midnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg, and that was a really great experience. These things resonate (with you).

Mark uses a bow to play his electric guitar on "Falling Dove," while there's some electronic manipulation of your voice on "Saturday Sun." Does unusual instrumentation inspire you while recording?

Of course. Every time we cut a record together and tour, we look at ways to make it fresh. The synth (vocoder) for me was a big innovation. ... It's such an easy machine to use and so much fun that I enjoyed the change. I didn't even know Mark could play with a bow. The idea is to make sounds that work rather than being a technical exercise. It adds a lot of atmosphere.

Crowded House started to stretch the sonic boundaries on the first incarnation's last album, "Together Alone."

That's right. Certainly live now, there's a psychedelic aspect to some songs that we really enjoy. I think the audiences have been getting off on it as well. I think it adds a layer of excitement and interest to the show, not just performing songs at rote like a pop band. There's a little - dare I say it - jam band aspect that people are not particularly expecting.

Your website has a lot of interactive elements for the fans.

We want to create a good experience for people in whatever domain they try and look for us. We're aware that's a really important interaction. We want it to be soulful and meaningful rather than just something the record company puts together as a token thing. We're exploring the territory. That's why we invited people to send in videos of them dancing or doing vocals for a track. We're just as likely as anyone to find new ways to interact, and we're no wiser than anybody else in terms of it. I think reaching out to people and having them feel like there's a personal connection is important.

The charity album "The Sun Came Out," whose proceeds go to Oxfam International, found your entire family joined by members of Radiohead, Wilco, KT Tunstall and more. It's still getting college radio airplay here a year after its release. Why did you decide to do a sequel to the excellent 2001 live release "7 Worlds Collide"?

I had conversations with various people from the first "7 Worlds" (project) in the year leading up to it. There really seemed to be an enthusiasm for doing something else. We thought it was worth trying something different rather than a series of concerts ---- although that would've been enjoyable and perfectly acceptable. It was pretty ambitious and turned up being a double album.

You sure had plenty of people to bounce ideas off there.

It was fantastic from that point of view. We've got a studio here, and we had three rooms set up. People were moving from one to the other. It was my dream to fill the building up with music and have people involved with everybody else's work, That's exactly how it turned out. (Radiohead's) Phil Selway was writing songs on the stairs.

In Belinda Carlisle's recent biography, "Lips Unsealed," she mentions how the Go-Go's once partied with Split Enz in Hollywood. Could you guys hold your own in the partying department back then?

(Laughs) I think they were wilder than we were, to be honest, in terms of partying. We were strange New Zealanders. We stood awkwardly in the corner.

Bonus Q&A with Hot Hot Heat

Here is more from my interview with Steve Bays...

Not only is the "Future Breeds" album more experimental sonically, but it also harks back to your Sub Pop debut "Make up the Breakdown" in many ways.

A lot of people have been saying that, which I’m totally cool with. There’s definitely a freedom and rebellion [type] feel to that album. Then we got to combine it with a more bizarre production style, which I really like...We like being involved with everything from interacting with fans online to making tour diary videos that we upload every week. We just did the fourth one last night on our YouTube channel. It’s super fun. Once you get the ball rolling, you just want to keep going.

Some of the new songs utilize either cello or sax. What prompted you to recruit random people off the street for those?

That’s the thing: when we talk about the album now in retrospect, it’s like, ‘I don’t know why we did that.’ So much of the album was just us getting excited. We were working on it for a long time. Along the way, weird things would happen. On “Bizinezz as Usual”...I hadn’t even finished writing the lyrics. It was almost improvised. It had a really cool feel to it. For the sax on “Zero Results,” there was a guy playing outside. We brought him in and he just soloed away for awhile. The next day, I just chopped it all up and treated it more like a collage of sound than a performance.

Was the rickety old piano your fiancĂ© gave you as a gift used on any of the album’s songs?

Yeah, it’s on “Times a Thousand,” “What is Rational,” “Bizinezz as Usual.” A lot of those songs, we’d try recording a bunch of different instruments and at the last second, we would mute a lot of them or bring them out for a certain section. We always like the idea of sounds coming in for only one short point in the song, then never coming back.

At one point you, put thumbtacks in that piano. Why?

In the saloons back in the day, to get the piano to be loud enough over the top of the sound of people yelling and screaming, people would put thumbtacks in there. I’ve always loved that kind of saloon sound.

Regarding the album title and song, what are the “Future Breeds”?

It’s a way of referring to future generations. Thinking about whether or not we’re breeding a better or worse generation. I don’t know.

You took a different songwriting approach this time out – doing the lyrics first and using observational viewpoints. Did it make the whole process quicker?

I didn’t have to be in a place where I was thinking about myself. Also, I think I’m more confident as an observer. It’s a lot easier to talk about other people than it is yourself. I don’t think I’m as interesting as other people are. Also, with us making these tour documentaries, you film a 10 minute conversation and can edit it down to an incredible 20 seconds where you actually point out something funny, profound or shocking that you wouldn’t have [otherwise] noticed in that 10 minutes. I just really enjoy listening to people and watching people and pulling out the interesting things that maybe they don’t even know are there.

“Goddess” is really your first romantic tune ever?

I’ve written love songs, but they’ve always been bitter. In retrospect, I’ve been referring to something from the past, whereas this is an actual positive love song about feelings I still maintain to this day. I never really felt I could justify writing a positive, uplifting love song. It couldn’t really happen until it felt like a sincere thing that didn’t feel like I was trying to write it. In the past, I’ve been in relationships, where they’ve said [adopts feminine voice], ‘why don’t you ever write love songs about me?’ And I would always say, ‘I don’t know why.’ I don’t know why it didn’t come naturally and to be honest, I couldn’t help but question maybe this isn’t the right relationship if I don’t feel compelled to sing about you.

I have to say: The big pull out lyric sheet with the CD is a cool touch.

I think the lyrics are a fun part in it. Lyrically, it’s my favorite record we’ve done because I was having a lot more fun than I have in the past.

There’s an Anthony Bourdain quote in the liner notes. Who in the band is a foodie?

That’s Paul, our drummer. He’s obsessed with food and cooking. Right as we were about to email the lyrics to [art designer] Keith – that’s his handwriting – Paul thought it would be funny if we included the quote from Kitchen Confidential to see if anybody noticed. Keith called us and said, ‘I have that book on my desk right here in Toronto.’ We thought that was a sign it should be in there.

You make a point to mention the album was proudly made independently in Vancouver. Do you often give props to your current city of residence?

Definitely. Since "Make up the Breakdown," I’ve always been vocal about how it’s important to love and respect where you’re from and the neighborhood you live in. A lot of people want to feel anonymous, but I think it’s important to have a good community. These days, most albums are still made in the major cities, so if you get to make it in a smaller one, I think it’s cool.

Was the band involved in any Winter Olympics festivities earlier this year?

We played to a few thousand people for the Olympics and it was an incredible free show. It was totally packed and one of the most fun shows we’ve played in a long time. The city was crazy. I live right downtown and it was shoulder to shoulder. You could hardly get anywhere. They had to close down the liquor stores because people were so rambunctious.

Hot Hot Heat interview

A version of my interview originally appeared in the North County Times and can be viewed here:

The band performs Saturday at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. Photo by Darren Ankenman, courtesy of

A slip of the tongue can get expensive. Just ask Hot Hot Heat.

The Canadian quartet expects to shell out some dough soon. Earlier this month, singer/keyboardist Steve Bays let a few profanities slip during a live webcast performance at the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach.

“The band that played the day before us cursed nine times and got fined $5,000. It’s weird when you get up in front of that many people. All the sudden, you can’t think and then act. It’s like somebody else is behind the scenes controlling you,” explained Bays, in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

Watching Hot Hot Heat in concert is like an adrenaline rush. Their frenetic music serves as the perfect background for Bays, a live wire known to strut across the stage like a young Mick Jagger when he’s not banging on the keys with one hand.

For the current tour, the emphasis is on “being a big dance party and just having fun. Every show, I feel it gets a little better.”

Upon the recent release of fifth studio effort “Future Breeds,” Hot Hot Heat did selected residencies at venues across America for the first time. “The big thing with this album was to treat it like we’re a brand new band. Everything from songwriting and the online presence to our approach to touring, needed to be a fresh new thing. I’m trying to make sure we maintain that spirit we had when we were younger,” said Bays, 32.

Formed in Victoria, B.C. in 1999 and currently based in Vancouver, Hot Hot Heat first garnered major attention here with its New Wave-leaning Sub Pop Records debut “Make up the Breakdown” in 2002.

Initial singles “Bandages” and “Talk to Me, Dance with Me” received heavy airplay on modern rock radio, especially in Southern California. Follow up album “Elevator” was also successful on the strength of minor alternative hits “Goodnight Goodnight” and “Middle of Nowhere.” So far, the band has sold over half a million copies combined.

“Future Breeds” finds the dance rockers back in quirky form and taking more sonic chances than on 2007’s “Happiness Ltd.” Returning to its indie label roots following two releases on Sire Records, the extended down time was partially due to Bays assembling a studio in a downtown Vancouver office building built in 1903.

“I spent a year doing that and teaching myself how to engineer. We were also trying to redefine the musical direction of the band; there was a lot of experimenting.”

Originally earmarked for a side project between Bays and founding drummer Paul Hawley when bassist Dustin Hawthorne left the group, the adventurous new music reverted back to the Hot Hot Heat moniker because “we missed working with our guitar player Luke [Paquin] and…liked the idea of getting a reaction from people.” At times, the sound recalls such disparate influences as Sparks, Muse and Arctic Monkeys.

Bays found handling the technical and creative aspects of the latest release a little overwhelming. “The motivation and excitement was there, but if I knew what a big undertaking it was going to be, I may have thought twice before I dove in head first. It was really intense.”

Still, he has “always enjoyed the relationship between the left and right sides of the brain. I find they’re mutually beneficial. I like working in a logical realm while we try to tap into that eccentric part of the brain.”

Without pressure from a major record company, the musicians were able to add occasional free jazz and musique concrete elements into their trademark spastic sound while Bays yelped away. “If you’re just making music and nobody is there to give you feedback - good or bad - you’re more likely to go down the rabbit hole in search of a weird idea.”

Hawley crafted the odd sound collages on days when Bays turned up late to the studio. “I think [those things] create a chaotic feeling where it gets your brain thinking and you don’t really have time to process everything. It gives you a slight sense of anxiety.”

Some tense guitar work on “Times a Thousand” was done by early Hot Hot Heat member Dante DeCaro, now in Wolf Parade. He was in town for a visit and checked out the band’s new studio one day. Since the song was already written, DeCaro put a jam section over the top. “It would be cool to have him on one of our projects again,” admitted Bays.

The claustrophobic illustrated art design of “Future Breeds,” sporting robot men in a factory making various contraptions, is one of the year’s best album covers. Artist Keith Jones is a childhood friend of the band. “We had his artwork up in the studio while we were making the album. I feel like it inspired some of the music.”

Friday, August 13, 2010

John Mellencamp album review

John Mellencamp
No Better Than This
Grade: A

Over the past decade, veteran rocker and activist John Mellencamp has been on a creative roll, crafting some of the most compelling work of his 30+ year career. The concept behind No Better Than This is just as intriguing as the songs. While touring last year, Mellencamp used days off to record tunes he’d written in historically and culturally significant music locations down south. The album was done in two weeks at the renowned Sun Studio/Memphis, First African Baptist Church/Savannah and Gunter Hotel, Rm. 414/San Antonio, where Robert Johnson did signature blues tunes in 1936.

Mellencamp and producer T Bone Burnett made an authentic folk, rockabilly and blues-infused album just like the good old days. Recording in mono without overdubs, they used a 1955 tape recorder and vintage ribbon microphone which a core group – notably longtime guitarist Andy York and violinist Miriam Sturm, plus session guitarist extraordinaire Marc Ribot - huddled around.

The highly impressive results are like taking a trip through a time warp. Both the title track and “Coming Down the Road,” with thumping upright bass and clean guitar lines, steamroll by like fellow Sun clients Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.

“Don’t Forget About Me” is simple, yet effective. Try not hanging on every word to “Easter Eve,” a riveting folk narrative that involves a father and son who encounter big trouble while out to dinner. Meanwhile, haunting electric guitars on the city in ruins tale “The West End” fit the singer’s dismissive tone perfectly and Sturm’s countryish fiddle work dominates “Right Behind Me,” where Jesus and the devil have prominent roles.

Joan Jett/Cherie Currie concert review

Jett photo by Kelly Swift, courtesy the Orange County Register.

A version of my review originally appeared in the OC Register and can be viewed here:

(A great photo gallery can be viewed on that site as well)

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Cherie Currie
Where: Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, Calif.
When: Aug. 11

If anyone needed a refresher course about women in rock music history, there have been numerous opportunities lately to catch up with one band in particular: The Runaways.

Led by lead vocalist Cherie Currie and singer/guitarist/co-songwriter Joan Jett, the influential LA quintet released a handful of studio albums during the mid-to-late 1970s that never became commercially successful, but were big in Japan. Still, The Runaways set an early standard for gals – especially teenage ones - playing guitar-driven, hard rock music in a male-dominated field.

Both Jett and Currie were at the Orange County Fair on Wednesday for a rare local performance.

Exiting The Runaways for a solo music and acting career, Currie appeared in both film and TV (“Foxes,” “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” “Matlock,” “Walker: Texas Ranger”). Jett stepped into the spotlight until the band broke up and later stormed the pop charts throughout the ‘80s. With the Blackhearts, she racked up several top 40 singles – most notably “I Love Rock N’ Roll,” which spent nearly two months at No. 1. Runaways lead guitarist Lita Ford also notched a few pop/metal hits and a platinum album toward the end of that decade.

Meanwhile, Currie put out the autobiography “Neon Angel.” Initially geared toward young adults, she expanded it with more mature content about her longtime struggles with drug, alcohol and sexual abuse in the 2000s. The publication eventually served as the basis for “The Runaways,” a biopic starring Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart and Michael Shannon, which arrived in theaters this past spring. Jett was executive producer.

The engaging film received generally positive reviews, yet a lack of proper marketing led to a modest box office gross (the release is now available on DVD and Blu-ray with ample bonus material). Currie’s fascinating book, finally republished in March, landed on the LA Times bestsellers list.

A revamped Jett and the Blackhearts “Greatest Hits” collection contains new versions of the Runaways’ “School Days” and “You Drive Me Wild,” plus a Jett coffee table photo book by fashion designer Todd Oldham, also emerged this year. Next month, gamers can find Jett and Currie’s newly re-recorded take on their best known Runaways tune “Cherry Bomb” in “Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock.”

Judging from various young girls’ ear piercing shrieks and overall excitement level, the crowd was definitely amped to see Jett and Currie perform on their first OC bill together since the Runaways days.

Fans decked out in punk and glam rock attire (studded belts, wigs, platform shoes, plenty of black leather) dotted the sold out Pacific Amphitheatre, which allowed a small overflow crowd in the lawn section for the third time this season. Actress Scout Taylor-Compton, who portrayed Ford in “The Runaways” and John Easdale of Dramarama were among those in attendance.

Jett’s 75-minute, 18-song set got off to a somewhat sluggish start with slower-than-usual versions of “Bad Reputation,” “Fake Friends” and “Light of Day,” but heated back up on Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah),” thanks to some fun call and response action. The punk-pop “Change the World” – the first of five songs from Jett’s impressive 2006 disc “Sinner” - was pure energy as spiky haired lead guitarist Dougie Needles pogoed around and added fine harmonies. (Selected tracks were augmented by longtime Jett collaborator Kenny Laguna on keyboards and backing vocals).

“This is for those of us who like to straddle the lines a little bit,” explained Jett before her laid back, almost countryish cover of the Replacements’ “Androgynous,” about sexual orientation. Needles did a wicked solo on The Runaways glam stomper “You Drive Me Wild,” which Jett noted was “the first song I ever wrote while sitting on my bed.” Suddenly, the band was on a tear (“Backlash” – another one penned by Paul Westerberg, “French Song,” “Love is Pain” - where Needles displayed some windmill motions).

“I Love Playin’ with Fire,” retained The Runaways’ original sensual, menacing rock thrust (sans the jailbait connotations) and that band’s “School Days” was a fun singalong in the Blackhearts’ hands. “I Love Rock N’ Roll” seemed routine, but Jett’s tender, breathy vocals amid her hit cover of Tommy James & the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover” was a real standout moment.

Main set closer “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” found the band electrified mode, which continued through the encores (“A.C.D.C.” - a humorous bisexuality tune, originally by the Sweet; Sly Stone’s “Everyday People,” contained a great tandem Jett/Needles solo. The fact that Jett didn’t join Currie onstage (or visa versa) was a major missed opportunity.

Currie came across like a panther let out of a cage in Costa Mesa. Her way-too-short half hour set proved she still has the vocal chops and assertive performance prowess despite spending recent years as a noted chainsaw wood carving artist. Clad in black leather pants and vest with a fox tail hanging from behind (and sporting gorgeous long blonde locks), Currie amazingly looked every bit the vixen at 50 that she was at 15.

Launching with The Runaways’ aggressive rocker “Queens of Noise” and continuing on a hard-hitting trail with “California Paradise,” “American Nights” and “C’mon,” Currie truly owned the stage. Occasionally, her vocals were mixed too low to rise above powerhouse drummer Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Rose, Velvet Revolver) – no easy task – and it never became detrimental.

“This is my idol,” beamed the singer, before a crunchy rock take on David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel,” where her 19-year-old son Jake (from a marriage to actor Robert Hays) proved his mettle on guitar. Later, before a slinky version of Nick Gilder’s glam era “Roxy Roller,” she enthused, “I can’t believe I’m reliving a dream I gave up so many years ago.” Her signature song “Cherry Bomb” proved to be an exhilarating finale. Let’s hope she puts out a rock album in the near future.

Sammy Hagar concert review

A version of my review originally appeared in the OC Register and can be viewed here:

Sammy Hagar and the Wabos
Where: Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, Calif.
When: Aug. 4

“We’re gonna break all the rules if we haven’t already,” said Sammy Hagar, toward the start of his exuberant Wednesday night show. It wasn’t an empty boast.

With a career that spans nearly 40 years through stints in Montrose, Van Halen and more recently, Chickenfoot (the hard rock supergroup comprising Hagar, fellow former VH member Michael Anthony, Joe Satriani and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith), the man still knows how to party down.

Since the mid-1990s, when Hagar left Van Halen (and later returned for a 2004 reunion tour), the singer/guitarist has released six albums. None matched the success of 2009’s “Chickenfoot,” which went gold.

During Hagar’s 2010 Pacific Amphitheatre Concert Series stop, his Cabo Wabo premium tequila and cantinas (the newest location opened at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas last year) were ubiquitous. The brand logo could be seen on longtime drummer David Lauser’s kit, a large backdrop and an umbrella that covered a bartender positioned stage right. Two young scantily clad ladies sported cowboy hats and stood nearby, ready to serve Hagar glasses of the blue liquor on request. Keeping with the alcohol theme, a male and female worm and limes adorned the amps and speakers.

An introductory video montage projected on two screens featured archival performance clips and footage from the flagship Cabo San Lucas cantina where visiting rock and country musicians routinely join Hagar for his annual October birthday bash festivities.

In Costa Mesa, the band opened its rambunctious 95-minute, 16-song set with - appropriately enough - a supercharged “There’s Only One Way to Rock.” Lead guitarist Vic Johnson played some impressive lightning speed licks, while Hagar paid close attention to dozens of his fan club members perched on a platform behind the drums. Grinning from ear to ear, he continually worked both sides of the stage and made sure everyone was having a good time.

Signature song “I Can’t Drive 55,” driven by Hagar and Johnson’s squealing guitars, was dispatched early and had enthusiasts singing along loudly. The frontman handled a fair share of guitar solos, like the lengthy shredding on “Three Lock Box.” A sizzling medley of Montrose tunes found Hagar, 62, seated on the drum riser for a bluesy metal lap steel guitar solo during “Rock Candy.” (One woman in front of me got carried away by the sexual lyrics and lifted off her top so her male escort could snap photos. This prompted an admonishment, but not an ejection, from Pac Amp security.)

Alongside Johnson and bassist Mona, the three band mates huddled together for a vigorous jam at the end of “Bad Motor Scooter.” Each time they’d do a VH tune (“Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Best of Both Worlds”), the crowd's energy level increased.

Hagar told a humorous story before searing rocker “I’ve Done Everything For You” about initially putting out the single and watching it flop. Then Rick Springfield did a version and reached the top 10 in 1981. “I asked why his was so successful and he (joked), ‘dude, it’s because I’m better looking than you.’ Well, I’m aging better than him now.” That's debatable, but...

Nobody could deny Hagar’s guitar chops, which were on full display amid a Led Zeppelin medley which included bits of “Whole Lotta Love,” “Kashmir” and blues standard “Back Door Man.” It went on a little too long, especially the Robert Plant-styled howls. Some ‘80s pop metal radio hits dependent on high flying harmonies (“The Girl Gets Around,” “Your Love is Driving Me Crazy”) came off raggedly as Hagar mixed it up with the audience.

Best buddy Anthony joined in on bass and all the musicians traded vocals on fist pumping anthem “Heavy Metal.” Gary Glitter-inspired stomp “Mas Tequila” also had many people in the venue chanting along.

That was followed by an extended, laid back take on VH’s “Right Now.” Anthony did a bass solo and Johnson added hypnotic guitar sounds. Hagar likes to chat and the slinky “Finish What Ya Started” had a lengthy explanation about the lyrics’ real sexual connotations. Listening to Anthony’s great harmonies here made me wish he could’ve done the entire show. Finally, the evening concluded with Chickenfoot’s feisty “Sexy Little Thing.” The Red Rocker definitely didn't disappoint in OC.