Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Scariest Elf in Prison

Below is the recent mugshot of a well known person. Can you guess who this is? Hint: he once pointed a gun at John Lennon (but he's not the guy who shot him, of course).

A Sign That It Is Time To Retire

I had tickets for a co-headlining show featuring Jeff Beck and ZZ Top in Houston for earlier this month. I'm a fan of ZZ Top circa 1972-85 or so, but obviously I got the ticket to see the still amazing Jeff Beck. I was all set to go to Houston and meet up with my friends to go to the show when I get an e-mail from ticketmaster stating that the show had been postponed nine months. Researching online, I discovered Dusty Hill (bass player for ZZ Top) had tripped on the tour bus and broken his hip.

I ran into Dusty once many years ago. I was at Dolce and Freddo (gelato place) in Houston one evening, and he walked in wearing a dark suit, shades and his trademark beard tucked into his shirt. On his arm was a busty, blonde, scantily clad 20 year old (or so).

ABOVE: Dusty es viejo

’75 vs. ’78 Boss and Amazon Shenanigans

In Bruce Springsteen bootleg circles, the debate rages whether his finest live year was 1975 (Born to Run tour) or 1978 (Darkness on the Edge of Town). As one of the greatest live acts in rock history, you cannot go wrong with either year. The difference? Both years feature shows of unbridled energy, new discovery (in ’75 he was on the brink of breaking out, in ’78 he had just won freedom after a prolonged legal battle with his first manager), marathon performances. I would say that there is more joy and fun in ’75, but more intensity in ’78. I personally go for ’78 as his finest touring year.

I researched various lists of “the best Springsteen bootlegs” (Rolling Stone magazine even has a Top 20 Springsteen Bootlegs list). Springsteen, like many artists, has had a complicated relationship with bootleggers over the years. At times he has fought them (sometimes in court), but like many prolific artists, he has grudgingly accepted their existence and activities. In fact, on several of the more available bootlegs out there (like from radio broadcasts of shows from both ’75 and ’78) he even addresses them. From a ’75 show before he launches into a rare song, he even says “alright bootleggers, get your tapes ready…” and from ’78: “I am sure this will be available via bootleg.”

In a sense, bootleg music serves the artist. Loyal fans want everything they can get, and I don’t think these recordings cut into the artists’ sales. One who buys Springsteen boots is also going to buy whatever next studio record he puts out. I, for one, would happily buy these shows from Bruce and Columbia Records if they would put them out. But other than the Hammersmith Odeon London ’75 concert, they have not. There are some bands that have completely embraced bootleggers. The Grateful Dead, for instance, famously reserved a section at their shows for bootleggers to sit where they could get the best sounding recordings, and actively encouraged the trading of Dead tapes. Bruce was never that generous, but I think he has accepted their existence. He has had more of a problem with the bootlegs containing unreleased studio tracks vs. live shows. I can understand that. Bruce has also had a much more vicious battle with ticket scalpers (who are true scum bottom feeders) as opposed to bootleggers.

Anyway, I own probably about a dozen Springsteen bootlegs of varying quality. My prized possessions, though, are the ’75 and ’78 shows. The ones to get are:

1. ‘Live at the Main Point,’ 1975: Small club show that was broadcast on the radio, so the sound quality on most boots of this show is superlative. Highlights include a gorgeous piano/violin opener of “Incident on 57th Street,” a blazing and swinging version of “Kitty’s Back,” a stunning 20 minute “New York City Serenade” (notice this is a peak for tunes from his sophomore record, my favorite of his) and the first live performance of what would become “Thunder Road” (here called “Wings For Wheels,” with substantially different lyrics). It is funny to hear the crowd get much more excited when he launches into tunes from his first two records than from the new one. Usually the “new songs” at concerts are a time to go get a drink, right? Songs like “Thunder Road,” “Born To Run” and “Jungleland” are just new tunes to sit through while waiting to hear “Rosalita” and “Spirit in the Night,” and not the institutions that they are now. ***** out of *****.

2. ‘The Bottom Line, 1975. Also a club gig that was also broadcast on the radio. The boot is fun too because you hear the DJ’s interject between songs and they are just slackjawed at what they are hearing and witnessing. It starts good, but about halfway through the first disc (of two) it kicks into classic territory, when he goes into a groovy, lengthy, playful “E Street Shuffle.” **** out of *****.

3. ‘The Roxy’, 1978. Absolutely legendary show, about 10 tunes from this show ended up (in edited form) on Bruce’s Live 1975/85 box set. Bruce is particularly talkative here, with long narratives before and during songs, some very humorous. Highlights are many, but a spirited “For You,” a fiery (and rare) “Adam Raised a Cain,” an emotional “Backstreets” (here about 15 minutes, a six or seven minute edit was on Live 1975/85), and a rumbling, primal “Mona” into “She’s The One.” Essential. ***** out of *****.

4. ‘Winterlands,’ 1978. Holy grail for me. The greatest live recording I’ve ever heard. Three and half exhausting hours that are superhuman. Almost the whole thing is a highlight, a blistering “Streets of Fire,” swinging “Spirit in the Night,” epic “Jungleland”, “Racing in the Street” and “Backstreets,” joyous “Rosalita,” definitive versions of “Candy’s Room” and “Because the Night,” a killer rarity like “The Fever,” and the pinnacle of Brucedom, the 15 minute “Prove It All Night” that has more energy than any live recording of any song I’ve ever come across. (How did he not put a version of that on his box set from his ’78 shows?!? Idiot.) It just does not get better than this for live rock and roll. ****** out of ***** (that’s right, six out of five stars!)

The funny thing is that a few weeks ago I found all of these for sale on Amazon.com. Now, you couldn’t find them on the first or second page of Bruce items. But once you clicked to about the 16th or 17th page of Bruce stuff, way into the muck of old t-shirts and bumper stickers, lo and behold were a bunch of bootlegs onsale. Now they were not labeled as “bootlegs.” They were “imports” of quality “soundboard recordings.” Bootlegs. And they were onsale for about $20 a piece. I have seen these go for $60 or $80. Too good to be true. I ordered about four of them (already owned Winterlands, but got a better sounding version. Also picked up Roxy and Bottom Line. Also a 2007 show when he closed Giants Stadium right before it was leveled and played the Born in the USA record from start to finish…that is still on the way). They have been all that I had hoped.

Looking back a couple of days later I found this, no other way to describe him, tool of a guy who had given all of these boots one star reviews raving that his wife had ordered these live records for his birthday and they turned out to be CD-R discs that wouldn’t play on his ancient stereo. He was shocked, shocked! He complained to Amazon and Amazon told him they were “investigating.” He said there is no way that Bruce authorized these to be released. He was very proud of himself, looking out for the “unsuspecting customer.” I went off on the guy. I told him if he was really “unsuspecting” he was one of the dumbest music listeners I’ve ever come across. I wrote responses and counterreviews to every one of his reviews (and there were about ten of them). The description said “sound board recordings” and said CD-R! He had to be an idiot if he did not know what these were! Of course they were illegal. But these were a treasure trove at unbelievable prices, and if Amazon chose to sell them (even though they shouldn’t), he needed to keep his trap shut and let the fans get the Bruce that they need. I quickly placed more orders. As I feared, within days, all of these “imports” were taken off Amazon. I got lucky, because I had already received the “your orders have been shipped” e-mails before they were yanked.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Should Scotland Vote For Independence?

Should they break up the UK? Bowie says no. Sean Connery says yes. What do you think?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dez Reviews U2's Songs of Innocence, 2014

First let's dispense with the circumstances of the release. As I posted Tuesday, I opened iTunes and saw a big ad for a new U2 record. I clicked it and the album was there, available for download for free. Since then, I am now aware that U2 was a part of Apple's annual 'Here's All of the Amazing Stuff That You Will Not Be Able to Live Without' convention. They performed their new single, and then announced, with typical Bono drama, that their new record was available on iTunes RIGHT NOW!!!!! For free! It is for the people! I heard that supposedly it was automatically added to everyone's iTunes library? Didn't happen with me, I had to click to download. If that was the case, I am less pleased that Apple and U2 decided that everyone wanted it in their library. Again, though, so U2, right? Of course all 12 gazillion iTunes users want the new U2 album. So we'll save you the trouble and just insert it in your library. I guess it is the next step in surprise releases. Bowie came out of retirement and announced a record coming out the next month. Beyonce put her record out one day without any warning. Now U2 does it and gives it away for free. They have been working on this record for several years (it was to be titled Songs of Ascent, but the sessions have been troubled, and most people did not expect a new record until next year).

ABOVE: Bono and The Edge unveiling their new record along with Apple's new phone and watch

Anyway, on to the actual music. This is unlike any other U2 record. It is far and away the most personal and autobiographical lyrically. Although all lyrics are credited to "Bono and The Edge," in many ways it feels like a solo Bono record. It is a loose concept album, and thematically comparable to The Who's Quadrophenia (if not comparable in grandeur and kick-assedness). Many of the songs explicitly deal with Bono's growing up and the early days of the band. "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" recalls the teenage U2 sneaking into a Ramones show in the late 70's that was supposedly a crucial moment in U2's early formation and bonding. (In a bittersweet irony, "The Miracle" is about U2 being born, in a sense, at a Ramone's show while it is a widely reported fact that the last song Joey Ramone listened to before drifting off into the Great Beyond was U2's "In a Little While"). "California (There Is No End To Love)" recalls U2's first visit to California on one of their first tours. "Song For Someone" is an ode to Bono's wife, whom he met as a teenager, while "Iris (Hold Me Close)" is about Bono's mother who died when he was also in his teens. The terse "Raised By Wolves" recalls a bombing in Dublin that occurred on a street that Bono traveled almost every day at the time, and "Cedarwood Road" shares the name of the street where Bono lived growing up.

To me, all of this would sound promising. Unfortunately, the music is a letdown. Where the hell is Edge? This is the least guitar that I have ever heard on a U2 album. I do admire that Edge strips away almost all of his effects and plays with a more straightforward sound than we've heard since War. But, there is precious little guitar, and more importantly, Edge-y textures, to be heard. Sonically, they do seem to be traveling that same road that they have been on since 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind. What was nice in 2000 has by 2014 gotten pretty formulaic and old. As one review that I read said, "the new U2 record is absolutely gorgeous and absolutely boring." Agree.

There are a couple of highlights. "Every Breaking Wave" and "California" have the modern U2 single sound down of soaring and melodic choruses, plenty of "woa woa's" that will translate nicely in arenas, crescendos of emotion in all the right spots. They sound like U2 trying to be The Killers, which makes sense, since The Killers really want to be classic U2. There is only one song that echoes the thrilling experimentation of the early to mid-90's, and that is the brooding "Sleep Like a Baby Tonight."

There are no bad songs here. But no truly great ones either. Each song flows into the next with those emotional swoops that U2 can by now do in their sleep. While I appreciate the personal lyrics here, there is no adventure or stretching in sound. You listen to it and it all sounds good and nice while you are listening, but then when it is over you cannot pick out any individual song that really stands out from the rest. It sounds like middle of the road Coldplay or Killers. I like Coldplay and Killers, even middle of the road Coldplay and Killers, but I've always expected more from U2.

By the way, in the files of the absurd: this is the second U2 record in a row that Rolling Stone magazine has given *****, their highest rating, stating that "...even by the standards of transformation on 1987's The Joshua Tree and 1991's Achtung Baby, Songs of Innocence...is a triumph of dynamic, focused renaissance..." Uh huh.

*** out of *****

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

This Is Cool

Go to iTunes today and out of the blue...you can download the new U2 album for free. That's interesting. No warning, no build-up. It is just there. And did I mention it was free? I guess they were trying to up the "surprise" stakes, trying to outdo the Beyonce and Bowie surprises earlier this year. Haven't listened to it yet, just downloaded it. Oh, it's free, by the way. Songs of Innocence is the title. Review soon.

Sunday, September 7, 2014