Great reading while you’re listening
September 27, 2008
By Randy Otto
It’s October, and the stores are packed with everything for Halloween. But lurking behind the candy and decorations lurk subtle reminders that Christmas is just around the corner. They say it’s never too early to think about that Christmas gift list, and I have a suggestion I feel is the perfect gift for every music lover on your list. And it’s not even a CD or DVD!
In fact, it’s a just-released book called 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, from National Public Radio (and Philadelphia Inquirer) music critic Tom Moon. As the title says, Moon lists 1,000 albums (and some singles) he believes are absolutely essential. The list cuts across all musical genres, so you’ll find the Beatles alongside Pablo Casals (playing Bach cello sonatas), Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Afrika Bambaataa, and Frank Zappa. Each selection has a backstory (many are absolutely fascinating), along with other tidbits of information. For example, in one of several entries for Ray Charles, Tom Waits offers this astute quote: “If one’s music collection was composed of nothing but recordings by Ray Charles, he would still have a balanced musical diet.”
Of course, the real fun comes in browsing the book to see who made the cut, and I think you’ll be surprised to see how many actually are included. As an example, I thought Emerson, Lake & Palmer, never big critics’ favorites, would be omitted. But sure enough, there’s Brain Salad Surgery. And Led Zeppelin is here too, but is represented by Led Zeppelin II, not the more obvious Led Zeppelin IV or Physical Graffiti. And the Beach Boys’ all-time classic Pet Sounds is present and accounted for, but so is their single “Good Vibrations,” which Moon observes is “the highest example of the Pop Single as Art. It cannot be surpassed.” Like any work of this type, there will be arguments to be sure, but so far, I haven’t found one entry that doesn’t deserve to be included.
There are also indices in the back that break down the selections by genre (i.e., blues, folk, classical, country, etc.), as well as other fun lists like “Music For Road Trips.” Yes, indeed, this is a book version of a bag of potato chips. Once you pick it up, you can’t put it down.
For casual fan or music geek, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die makes for highly entertaining reading.
NOW HEAR THESE!
Solas at Shank Hall, Oct. 8. One of the standouts of the recent Irish Fest was the long-awaited Fest return of the great American Celtic band Solas. When I chatted with band members after their final performance, I asked them not to make us wait so long before their next local appearance. To which one member replied, “Don’t worry. You won’t.” Sure enough, they’re back, this time in cozy Shank Hall, promoting their just-released CD For Love & Laughter in what should be one of the year’s musical treats. More info at shankhall.com or solasmusic.com.
Tommy Emmanuel at South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center, Oct. 11. Following the release of a his live album Centre Stage, one of the world’s truly great guitarists performs right here in our backyard! And great as his CDs are, you need to see him live to get the full measure of the greatness of this artist. And you can’t beat that Aussie charm, either. Remind yourself that he creates all this sound on a single acoustic guitar (and hope he manages to fit his dazzling “Beatles Medley” into his set). More info at southmilwaukeepac.org or (414) 766-5049.
David Gilmour, Live in Gdansk. Speaking of great guitarists, David Gilmour concluded his 2006 tour with this special performance at the shipyard in Gdansk, Poland, the birthplace of the Solidarity labor movement that blasted the first hole into the Iron Curtain (A documentary on Solidarity is included with the deluxe edition of the album). For this concert, Gilmour and his band were accompanied by a 40-piece orchestra. A special stage was also designed with five video screens above the stage, each isolating on a member of the band. A great opportunity to enjoy a special musical moment, featuring Pink Floyd classics as well as Gilmour’s solo tunes. Ironically, it was also the final concert performance for keyboardist (and Floyd founding member) Richard Wright, who passed away Sept. 15, and thus, the album serves as a fitting elegy as well.
Ian Hunter, Old Records Never Die: The Mott the Hoople/Ian Hunter Anthology. At long last, a 2-CD collection that collects music from the great (and often overlooked) singer/songwriter who’s influenced everybody from Def Leppard to Alejandro Escovedo. From “All the Young Dudes” to “Once Bitten Twice Shy,” they’re all here, and they sound better than ever. Well worth the wait.
Alejandro Escovedo, Real Animal. Speaking of Escovedo, he recently wowed local audiences at Summerfest and as opening act for Bruce Springsteen’s show at Harley Fest. Featuring his great band (including violinist-and Wauwatosa native-Susan Voelz), and produced by veteran Tony Visconti, whose resume includes the likes of David Bowie and T.Rex, Real Animal is packed with great songs that also capture the energy of his great live shows. In a career filled with great albums, this is one of the best and, to these ears, a sure contender for Album of the Year. Not bad for a Hepatitis C survivor, eh?
Irma Thomas, Simply Grand. Irma Thomas isn’t called the Soul Queen of New Orleans for nothing. Following her Grammy-winning classic After the Rain, recorded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, she’s back with another winner. As the title implies, she’s joined by a number of pianists. And what a lineup…Norah Jones, Dr. John, John Medeski, Marcia Ball, Ellis Marsalis, Randy Newman, and more. The album’s filled with great performances, but it’s the closer, a wrenching version of Newman’s classic “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today,” that will stick with you the longest. Even producer Scott Billington says in the album notes that he placed it at the end of the album since “nothing else could have followed it.” And with the recent ravages of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, it’s especially poignant.
Little Feat, Join The Band. Once upon a time, there was a guitarist named Lowell George who desperately wanted to join Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. When Zappa decided George wouldn’t quite cut it in the Mothers, he suggested George start his own band. The result was the legendary Little Feat, the thinking man’s jam band. Although George is gone, the band soldiers on, and this new release is a celebration of the band’s legacy. Combining Feat classics with covers that are longtime concert favorites, the band is joined by a glittering array of guest stars who have been clearly influenced by Little Feat. Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Bob Seger, and Brooks & Dunn are among those on board. A major highlight is “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” featuring Dave Matthews on vocals, and absolutely stinging slide guitar from New Orleans legend Sonny Landreth.
Phantom of the Opera featuring the Alloy Orchestra, Oct. 29 at the Oriental Theatre. Just in time for Halloween, the silent movie classic starring the amazing Lon Chaney, but in a way you’ve never seen (or heard). Returning from last year’s performance at the regal Oriental accompanying the silent gangster film Underworld, the world-famous ensemble will dazzle you with their music. Although they feature a small number of musicians, you’ll swear a full-scale orchestra was performing in the theater. Come see why no less an authority than Roger Ebert has singled out this group for ebullient praise. More info at alloyorchestra.com. Tickets available at the Oriental box office.
Before I close, here is snapshot of the Springsteen Harley-Davidson concert written by a friend of mine.
The Boss and the E Street at Harley Fest 2008
Special to the Compass
By Steven Shea
My friend Chris and I went down to the lakefront to hear Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, the main attraction at Harley Fest 2008 on August 30th. On our way there, we saw a biker dude wearing a “No Elton” T-shirt. (This was reference to the Harley event of five years earlier when half the crowd walked out when Elton John was the surprise guest instead of the expected Rolling Stones.) Unlike Elton John, Bruce Springsteen actually rides a Harley. We went through the line. Supposedly the doors wouldn’t open until five, but we were already in at four. To our dismay and previously unknown to us, bracelets were handed out to those who got there early enough to get into a reserved section at the foot of the stage. We just missed getting there in time. Ouch!
It was the first time I had seen Bruce and the boys outdoors since 1984. The weather was perfect. We sat on the ground for nearly five hours through two opening acts. The second one, Alejandro Escovedo, saluted Joe Strummer and denounced George W. Bush from the stage. Nice.
There was still a huge chasm between those who got in with bracelets and the rest of us. At about 8:20 the dividing line was suddenly opened and we poured in and got much closer to the stage. Despite the frenzied rush, there was no repeat of Altamont 1969 or Cincinnati 1979.
At 8:45 Bruce and the band appeared dressed all in black. A revving Harley was heard over the speakers. The band revved up, “Gypsy Biker.” A 60-year-old biker dude standing next to me—wearing a black leather vest, bandanna, blue jeans, and belt with an oversized belt buckle; a waist-long, gray, braided, pig tail; and monster walrus mustache—and his blonde biker babe, wasted no time in setting off a reefer cloud.
Bruce said, “Hello, Harley-Davidson biker enthusiasts!” Next up, “Out in the Street” prompted the first crowd sing-along. “Radio Nowhere,” his usual opener on this tour, came next.
Before each Springsteen show, Chris and I to list all the songs we want to hear. I had asked for the next one, “Promised Land.” (Since Darkness on the Edge of Town was my first Bruce record—I got it when it came out back in high school—I have a special fondness for any song from that album.)
Bruce then went into Pentecostal preacher mode. He asked the congregation of the E Street Church, “Do you have the ssppiiiirrrrriiiiiiiiittt?” Next was “Spirit in the Night.”
When I first saw Bruce live, an eon ago, he literally jumped into the crowd and let himself be passed around on a sea of hands. He didn’t quite do that this time, but during “Spirit” he repeatedly leaned back over the crowd and let himself be held up by the fans. He sat down at the edge of the stage and when he got to the line, “She kissed me just right like only a lonely angel can,” he put his finger where he wanted one and a cute young lady in the crowd obliged right in time to the music. If that isn’t Springsteen nation at its best, I don’t know what is.
There were cameras at the front and the back of the stage. The person running the cameras and big screen projection was a genius. There were all kinds of shots between Bruce’s legs of adoring women looking up at him, as well as shots over his shoulders of a sea of humanity where Harley and Springsteen nations met. The funniest moment of the evening came when Bruce sat backwards at the foot of the stage with his arm around a woman, endowed with impossibly large breasts, in a spaghetti strap top. She made a nervous look directly into the camera as if to say, “I don’t believe this is actually happening! Do you?” Her huge expanse of exposed skin trembled in a mixture of joy and disbelief.
Drummer Max Weinberg then pounded out a beat while Bruce spent a few minutes collecting cardboard signs with song requests written on them from the crowd. He inexplicably collected dozens of signs. One of them even had “London Calling” on it. (Bruce and Little Steven played it with Elvis Costello at the Grammys after Joe Strummer died.) After putting all of them down on stage, Bruce picked one. “Any bar band worth its salt has to know this one,” Bruce said. “I like the artwork.” He turned the sign to the crowd. It was a well-drawn picture of a bull with some cotton pasted to the bovine. At the top it read, “WOOLY BULLY.”
One of the things I appreciate about Bruce is that it doesn’t make any difference whether it is one of his own songs, a 19th century folk song, or a bar band warhorse. He plays them all with the same energy. When he led off—”Uno! Dos! Tres! Quatro!”—one would have thought he was launching the Mexican space program. The band sounded great. Clarence was particularly effective with his deep background vocals, “woolly bully, woolly bully, woolly bully.” Danny’s replacement, Charles Giordano, got to play a solo.
Bruce made his customary denunciation of Bush administration policies from the stage. He said he was glad it would soon be over. (We are right there with you, Bruce.)
Bruce Played On:
“Darlington County,” “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch),” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “Youngstown,” “Murder Incorporated,” “She’s the One,” “Livin’ in the Future.”
The good Reverend Bruce returned to the stage. He told the congregation, “Meet me at the River of Love, the River of Hope, the River of Joy, the River of Life, the River of Faith!” That brought “Mary’s Place.” Then came “Working on the Highway.”
Bruce dedicated “Racing in the Street” to the godfather of Harley Owner’s Group, Willie G. Davidson. Then came: “The Rising,” “Last to Die,” “Long Walk Home,” and “Badlands.”
I thought “Badlands” would be the end of the main part of the show as it was for his St. Patrick’s Day show at the Bradley Center. Instead, they continued with Moon Mullican’s “Seven Nights to Rock.” Bruce said to Steven, “People got to go to church in the morning.” Little Steven replied, “I think we are in church now!”
The band left the stage. The crowd was still going wild. Even though there had been another song in between, people were still singing the chorus from “Badlands.” The band returned. Bruce said, “Jason, would you come to the stage?” Bruce grabbed one of the cardboard request signs and set it at the foot of the microphone. It read “Play SANDY for DANNY.” Bruce said poignantly, “This is the first tour we have ever ended without our good friend Danny Federici. We dedicate this song to him, and to help us play it is his son Jason Federici.” Appropriately, Jason looks like a generation-younger version of his old man. Holding an accordion, Jason looked like he was about to cry. (“Fourth of July, Asbury Park,” a.k.a. “Sandy,” was the last song the band played on stage with Danny before his recent, untimely death after a long bout with cancer.)
They then played what I call “The E Street Story Song.” All it takes is the opening notes and lines and any Springsteen fan is in E Street heaven. The crowd sang along:
“Tear drops on the city
Bad scooter searching for his groove
Seem like the whole world walking pretty
And you can’t find the room to move
Well everybody better move over, that’s all
I’m running on the bad side
And I got my back to the wall
Tenth Avenue Freeze Out…”
When Bruce starts off the third verse:
“When the change was made uptown
And the big man joined the band”
and Clarence hits his notes it is as if one is walking the Boardwalk in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
Then came: “Glory Days,” “Born to Run (“B to R” in Springsteen shorthand),” “Rosalita.”
I thought that crowd favorite might be the end of the show, but no…”Bobby Jean,” “American Land.”
I then thought “American Land” would be the last song since it was the last of his St. Paddy’s show, but he still wasn’t done. Bruce grabbed yet another request sign that read, “Don’t send me asunder without Thunder Road.” He obliged.
Then came “Dancing in the Dark.” Bruce lifted a 16-year-old girl out of the crowd to dance with him on stage. Unlike Courteney Cox from the video, she seemed too intimidated to dance, but Bruce glided her across the stage.
Ultimately, Bruce said, “We can’t leave without playing this one.” They played Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.” Whenever Bruce got to “Fire all your guns at once and explode into space,” the crowd would stick their arms in the air and fan them out as if exploding.
At the end Bruce said, “It had to be done folks. It had to be done.” After three and a half hours of nonstop playing, the crowd gave adoring applause and, of course, let out the inevitable, “Brruuuuuuuuuuuucccce!” As this was the last concert of this tour and after the death of a founding member, one had to wonder if this would be the last E Street show ever. On cue Bruce said, “Don’t worry folks. We’ll be back again. This band is just getting warmed up!” Phew!
As we walked away my friend Chris said, “After the first 20 minutes, Bruce’s clothes were soaked through with sweat. Over three hours later, he looked fresh as a daisy.” Indeed, Bruce looked as if he could have played for another three and a half hours. Either he switches off with an identical twin or this nearly 60-year-old man has superhuman stamina. He played every song Chris and I hoped he would play except for “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” and “Cadillac Ranch.” The considerable time and expense we had to pay to attend this show was worth every minute and penny of it.
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