Archive for September, 2009


Tribute Bands? Do we need them?

dumb_tattooFirst all whoever would get this tattoo needs to find a better way to spend their money, and second of all I’m sure it got your attention.  I was noticing that a Zeppelin tribute band is making their rounds on a U.S. Tour and wonder if anyone has ever seen any tribute band for that matter; furthermore, if you would recommend spending the money?

I went to check out the website of Hammer of the Gods, who is appearently THE Zeppelin cover band currently.  Back in my day Physical Graffiti was the Zeppelin reincarnation; I don’t know if they are even around anymore.

I must admit that it’s crazy how much Hammer of the Gods as pulled themselves off (that doesn’t sound right) to look like Plant, Page, Jones, and Bonzo.  But you can’t call yourself a tribute band unless you go all the way, right?  I notice that tribute bands don’t like to compare themselves as impersonators, “tribute band” is far more acceptable..and perhaps respectable.  Whatever your opinion is about tribute bands, they do fill a need for the publics insatiable appetite to see the bands they either never got to see, or simply don’t want to let go.  I wonder if tribute bands have groupies?

To their credit, Hammer of the Gods do have a sample radio applet on the website so that you can hear their cover tunes, and they are actually not too bad.  These guys seem to have their Zeppelin down, no easy feat I’m sure.

I did notice that they were coming to play in my city, but the ticket prices are $40.00  yikes!  I think Zeppelin in their heyday never even got that at their shows.  Personally, if tribute bands want to bring me back to the glory days of the 70’s and 80’s also recreate the cheap ticket prices too.


Ma, Meyer, and, O’Connor – Appalachia Waltz (1996)

Appalachia_WaltzAppalacia Waltz was an album recorded over the course of 3-days between 3 very well respected musicans: Yo-Yo  Ma (cello), Edgar Meyer (bass) and Mark O’Connor (fiddle).  This album will satisfy both the classical enthusiast and back-country folksy Americana lover.  Many speculate the title and theme of the album are inspired by Aaron Copeland’s Appalacian Spring  and the joining of classical music and contemporary Americana. 

My wife and I recently travelled to southwest Maryland and while there decided to travel even further into northwestern West Virginia during peak fall color; this album was a compliment to the ride.  I had played this album during a trip to Colorado as well during a drive though Rocky Mountain National Park and it was just as good.  Clearly if you are looking for a Ken Burn’s documentary soundtrack to go with your drives this is it, trust me. 

The album is not bluegrass or classical music, but more a culmination, dare I say a “fusion” of bluegrass, celtic, classical, and folk styles which inturn creates a very pleasing unique result.  Although Ma, O’Connor, and Meyer are respected artists, none take center stage on this album but rather work together as an ensemble.  Some songs are upbeat and others mellow, the passions required to play music with both fury and ease can be reflected many times over . The track choices for the album are well placed and flow together thus revealing each musicans talent. 

This album was followed up in 2000 with Appalacian Journey.  This album is a nice compliment to Appalachia Waltz and is a bit more improvisational, thus allowing the artists to explore and take this sound in some new directions.  Appalacian Journey offers guest appearances by both  James Taylor and Alison Krauss. 

Appalacia Waltz gets 4 out of 5 stars, great album!


Gorillaz – Demon Days (2005)

demon_dayzIt would seem that there are some musicians that no matter what project they get involved in it’s successful; Damon Albarn is that musician.  Albarn had made a name for himself with his first  band Blur in 1989 finding great success.  Blur was instrumental as a defining sound of the Britpop movement; their success lasted until the mid 90’s. Albarn’s second project Gorillaz was founded in 2001 and the ride has been equally successful. 

Demon Days is the second Gorillaz album and is a strong follow up to their self-titled first album released in 2001.  Hits off the first album included “Clint Eastwood”, “Rock The House”, and “19-2000”.  “Clint Eastwood” was the larger hit on that album thanks in part to the video animated by Jamie Hewitt.  Hewitt’s designs have created the persona of the band, members include 2D, Murdoc, Russell, and Noodle. Albarn originally intended Gorillaz to be a virtual band with no identities of the true musicians.  The Gorillaz first concert tour was performed behind a curtain with merely their silouettes revealed.  A cool idea, but it was not truly satisfying for the ticket holder and the routine was scrapped to a degree;  in their most recent tour supporting Demon Days minimal light settings were used and Albarn was finally exposed for the crowds to actually see and enjoy.

In the four year span between albums Gorillaz did release a filler album composed of B-sides cleverly called “G-Sides”; it sold rather well and offered alternative versions of songs on the first album, specifically “19-2000”.  “G-Sides” highlights more vocals from founding member Miho Hatori (Noodle)of the band Cibo Matto (not Shonen Knife). Hitori was the only female member of the band.  Interestingly, on Demon Days Hitori does not contribute, yet her persona (Noodle) is still a key feature of the bands identity.

Demon Days relies on the same formula that made the initial album succesful.  Highlights on the album include “Feel Good Inc.”, “Dare”, and “Dirty Harry”.  There are several dead points in the album and one wonders why Albarn chose these songs; many feel rather inferior and create awkward transitions from song to song; clearly there are much better songs he could have used.  I would not discount Demon Days as a worthy purchase, but be forwarned that there are some songs that just don’t seem to transition songs to each other as well as they could.

Songs that Albarn excluded from Demon Days can be found in the 2-disc set, the aptly named “D-Sides” (2007), the “secondary” tracks contain mixes by outside artists, bonus songs, and alternate versions; it is worth picking up.  “68 State”, “Hongkongathon”, and “Dirty Harry” (Schtung Chinese New Year Remix) are great tracks.

The cool things about Gorillaz is that Albarn has not kept the songs solely to himself and has encouraged other artists to manipulate Gorillaz material and create alternate versions.  In 2002, an underground group called “SpaceMonkeyz” released “Laika Come Home”; this album is comprised entirely of Gorillaz music put to dub and reggae, the result is actually quite good and is among my favorite albums. 

Demon Days is an good album and worth picking up, although there might be a few bumps in the road during your listening experience, you should find your favorites rather quickly.  Check out the other Gorillaz albums mentioned in this review since each offers the listener a little something different.  I’m curious to see what direction Albarn will take his pet project next.

Demon Days gets a healthy 3 out of 5.


Phish Spreads the “Joy”

Page, Trey, Mike, Jon

Page, Trey, Mike, Jon

Any self-respecting Phish-head knows that the true heart and soul of Phish lies in their live shows; marathon sets showcasing the group’s stunning musicianship, improvisation, diverse influences, and most of all, a chemistry unrivaled by any band on the planet.

Phish’s studio albums have always been considered a lesser forum for their talents, with shorter compositions and little room for the the jam sessions that created the band’s legion of devoted fans.  So I’m sure I was not alone in being somewhat wary of their 11th studio release, “Joy,” following the band’s breakup in 2004 and recent reunion tour.  But overall, the album is on par with the majority of their other studio recordings; it has good, catchy tunes mixed in with a few more mellow numbers, and one lengthy, progressive track.  The most telling feature about the album is its title – guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, keyboardist Page McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman seem truly happy to be back together making music.

The first track, “Backwards Down the Number Line,” sets the tone for the rest of the album, opening with the lyrics “Happy happy oh my friend…”  There’s a good hook and some enjoyable Jerry Garcia-esque guitar soloing and I found it hard to stop myself from nodding my head along with the chorus.

The title track slows things down a bit, and lyrically it seems directed at Phish’s fans: “We want you to be happy
‘Cause this is your song too…”

Something I always look forward to with Phish albums is any song by Mike Gordon.  Gordon songs are to Phish what George Harrison songs were to the Beatles – always a little skewed, and certainly definitive of their author.  “Joy” only contains one Gordon song, “Sugar Shack,” a reggae-tinged little ditty that harkens back to a Phish sound of old.

Other songs like “Ocelot” and “Kill Devil Falls” bounce playfully around, but are little more than Phish versions of pop songs (because despite their mainstream sound, even songs like these never get radio airplay).

The previously mentioned progressive rock-like track, “Time Turns Elastic,” clocks in at a little over 13 minutes, thereby taking up nearly half of the album’s relatively short length.  It twists and turns in a variety of musical directions, but like other longer studio tracks in the past such as “Guyute” and “Walls of the Cave,” it really demonstrates the band’s cohesiveness and ability to meld each musician’s talents together into a beautiful composition.

So while the album is far from one of Phish’s best studio recordings, it has a good sound and for Phish fans who have had to go 6 years since hearing a new Phish album, it will surely bring some modicum of “joy.”

Joy gets 3 out of 5 stars


Frank Zappa -Shut Up and Play Yer’ Guitar (1981)

zappa_shutupThese days when one hear’s the name Frank Zappa  often the first thing that comes to mind  is either obscenity hearings,  Dr. Dimento’s radio show; or that he named his children Moon Unit and Dweezil; however, there is much more to Zappa and his music than most people realize. 

My first introduction to Zappa was in high school by a friend of my dads who was kind enough to lend me  “Joe’s Garage Acts I, II, and III” on vinyl (dating myself here). After a few listens I appreciated the entertaining lyrics and storyline, but never thought about Zappa the musician, but rather Zappa the performer, who wrote songs about sex, bodily functions, gays, and life on the road as a band that included..well, more sex. 

Zappa today may be best known as the person who single-handedly took on Tipper Gore  and her ilk ( in 1985 she and other wives of senators co-founded of the Parents Music Resource Center or PRMC; an organization determined to ban satanic or sexual references in musical lyrics) who had convinced themselves that it was their duty to protect American youth from dangerous content (Poor Ozzy and his song “suicide solution” ).

Zappa testified at the governments hearings on censorship and defended musicians rights with regard to freedom of speech. “Censorship”, according to Zappa, was “like treating dandruff with decapitation”, he was right and although he did make very strong arguments against the push towards parental warnings on albums, the PRMC still got their wish. Did this make you think twice about buying an album? Not me. 

During a meeting at the very same hearing, Al Gore appearently took the time to tell Zappa he was  fan of his music…what a turd, did he tell his wife?  This is the same guy who said he “invented” the internet right?

I had over the years I fell in and out of listening to Zappa, primarily resorting back to “Joe’s Garage” or “Sheik Yerbouti”, two albums I highly recommend.  It wasn’t until last year that I bumped into a teacher at the school I work and discovered that he was a huge Zappa fan; he was kind enough to lend me the entire Zappa catalog on CD to burn (over 60 CD’s, yikes!).  Over the past year I have taken the time to listen to an album a week.  One will notice that as Zappa’s music develops over the years it focuses more and more into longer instrumental solos, although the comedic and novelty-esqe music he had been known for producing remained on most of his albums, instrumentals took center stage.

“Shut Up and Play Yer’ Guitar” is a 3-cd set from live performances recorded between 1979 and 1980. It is a massive work, and is entirely instrumental (hence the name, duh).  I find myself playing this album on a regular basis while getting dinner ready, great background music.  The songs are complex as they are beautiful; the album showcases how talented Zappa was as a musician and a composer. Although an incredible album, I would not recommend this to the first time Zappa listener, it’s far too guitar heavy. 

Zappa’s sleazy humour is something not to be overlooked or trivialized by the first time Zappa listener; keep an open mind and take the time to learn just why this guy was a genius and master of his craft.  A personal favorite album of mine is “Man From Utopia”, songs like “Dangerous Kitchen” and “Jazz Discharge Party Hats” are my personal favorites.   Another album you may consider, and one that offers a bit of everything  would be the 3-disc set “Lather”, it offers a nice assortment of Zappa ; highlights:  “Honey, Don’t You Like a Man Like Me?” , “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes” , “The Legend of The Illinois Enema Bandit” and “The Duke of Orchestral Prunes”.

Shut Up and Play Yer’ Guitar gets 4 out of 5 stars.


Down Cranks it Up

Phil Anselmo of Down

Phil Anselmo of Down

Normally the term “supergroup” refers to a band comprised of members of other well-known bands. And although this term is often affixed to Down, it’s hard to find people outside of the hardcore metal scene who have heard of Crowbar, Corrosion of Conformity, Eye Hate God, or Pantera (Pantera being the probable exception). For it is from these bands that Down was formed in the early 90’s, fronted by Pantera’s snarling vocalist Phil Anselmo. But for those in the know, metal-wise, this is a supergroup.

Down’s sound can best be described as a mix of Black Sabbath-like metal riffs, coupled with Zeppelin-esque blues grooves, and a sprinkling of growling metal ire. The head-banging moments are much fewer and far between than Pantera’s offerings, but they are certainly there, spread amongst Down’s three albums “Nola,” “II,” and “Down III: Over the Under.”

The near-capacity crowd at Northern Lights in Clifton Park last Wednesday night came to rock out, and Down did not disappoint. From the opening notes of “Lysergik Funeral Procession,” the metal-head frenzy began. Throughout the show, Anselmo was more than happy to let the crowd sing the lyrics on fan favorites like “Lifer,” (which Anselmo announced was in memory of Pantera’s flame-throwing guitarist Dimebag Darrell) “Hail the Leaf,” and “Bury Me in Smoke.” Anselmo seemed genuinely impressed with the crowd’s enthusiasm, and devoted almost every between-song lull to expressing his gratitude.

Despite their metal leanings, Down really showcased their southern-rock roots and influences on songs like “Stone the Crow” and “Ghosts Along the Mississippi.” And it’s tunes like these that makes Down a dynamic and diverse assemblage of metal talent.

Preceding Down were veteran pre-grunge Seattle rockers the Melvins, complete with dual drum kits and trademarked by guitarist/vocalist Buzz (aka King Buzzo) and his finger-in-the-socket hairstyle. The Melvins’ brand of metal, though still as unconventional and occasionally atonal as in years past, got the crowd rocking and jamming to the dark grooves. It’s hard to qualify their sound – sort of a cross between the prog-metal assault of Tool and the quirky punkish style of the Butthole Surfers. But even after so many years, they still sound tight and their style works.

The show opened with Weedeater, a North Carolina heavy metal trio featuring a bass-playing virtuoso named “Dixie” Dave Collins. Think Les Claypool meets Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris meets a bottle of amphetamines. Monstrous metal grooves and Collins’ howling vocals had the crowd swinging. But the group really shined during a couple of instrumental numbers, the smashing drum beats and the wailing guitar keeping pace with the lightning-speed bass line.


Supergrass – Life on Other Planets (2002)

supergrass_lifeSometimes you find a band that is simply too good to keep to yourself and  just have to share it with the masses.  Supergrass is that band!

Supergrass was a band that I was familiar with for a few years, however at a very superficial level. I had heard their first hit “Alright” many times but it never led me to run out and buy their albums; the song was catchy but reminded me to much of “The Monkees”.  Apparently CBS or ABC had approached the trio after this hit to pursue a rebirth show reminicent of The Monkee’s 60’s program; the band according to rumor, declined the offer since they were serious about their music and were not willing to gamble their future on a corny TV pilot program.  This was clearly a smart decision.

A few years past and one day I decided on a lark to purchase “Life on Other Planets” on Ebay for $1.00, thus the risk would be minimal from a financial standpoint, and if I didn’t like it, well I ‘m sure I could get at least $2.00 at my local cd trade-in place for something else.  The result was I have become a big fan of Supergrass’s sound and believe this might be the best album I have heard in a long time. 

As compared to their earlier work (In It For The Money, I Should Coco, and the self-titled Supergrass) and later work (Road to Rouen, Diamond Hoo-Ha) it truly stands out as a landmark album and also an experimental one.  The album resonates with inspired sounds of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and the signature sounds that make Supergrass unique in their own right. 

Song’s like “Rush Hour Soul” and “Za” are very catchy and begin the album at a very fast pace which are good; the tempo and mood of the album shift with songs like “Evening of the Day” and “Grace”, the best song in my humble opinion is “Prophet 15” that just makes the album all that more worthwhile listening to in so many ways. The lyrics are great and smartly written; this album is just so solid the whole way through listen after listen.

I would suggest picking up this little gem on Ebay or Amazon if you can get it for $1.00, although clearly it is worth much more. Granted, it may take a few times to grow on you but if you are willing to take the time you will soon appreciate how talented these guys truly are, enjoy!

Life on Other Planets – 5 out of 5


Thoughts on Tanglewood (Lenox, Mass.)

tanglewoodOn Friday, August 28th my wife and I were invited to accompany a fellow co-worker see James Taylor and Friends in Lenox, MA at Tanglewood.  I’ve always appreciated James Taylor’s music although I have never been overly motivated to rush out to get tickets to see him.  Being offered free tickets was something I was not foolish to pass up and I was curious to see what all the hubbub was about. Taylor’s performances at Tanglewood have always been one of the most sought after tickets to get; he normally sells out in minutes and plays only 2 times a year.  Taylor is a resident of the Berkshires and clearly Tanglewood is a second  home to him when he returns after his world tours. 

That night we were clearly in for a treat, not only were our tickets 12th row center but the special guests announced for the night were cello virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma and multi award recording artist Sheryl Crow.  I’ve always been a fan of Yo-Yo Ma and had seen him several times in the past at The Saratoga Performing Arts Center or SPAC as we locals like to call it; his concerts are simply incredible, see one if you get a chance.  Sheryl Crow I was also eager to see, but again, not someone that was on my “must see before I die” list. 

The concert was incredible!  Taylor, Crow, and Ma played several songs together and each artists style complimented the other.  The concert was 3 hours long with only one intermission.  Tanglewood is a cozy, personal space for concerts like this and there appeared not a bad seat in the house (or The Shed as they call it at Tanglewood); but for the poor souls on the lawn it rained, and rained….and rained.  I would recommend Tanglewood but make sure if you have lawn seats pray for no rain, otherwise it will be a waste of your time and money.

I would also recommend seeing James Taylor, Yo-Yo Ma, or Sheryl Crow; all are accomplished artists in their own right and each are not studio reliant musicians.  I was overwhelmed with how perfect their abilities were and the acoustics of Tanglwood were very impressive indeed.  One  complaint I have about Tanglewood as a location is just that…location.  Amidst the beautiful maples and oak trees and sleepy Berkshire mountains, the only way to get there is on two lane roads that become incredibly congested quickly.  I’m sure that this is a love-hate relationship that townspeople of Lenox must have with the venue. 

It took us nearly 45 minutes stuck in traffic to finally arrive at the parking lot and then took another 30 minutes to get out, please note that if you are not well aquainted with Mass. drivers, they are called “Massholes” for a reason;  their inability to be considerate on every level is just astounding to me (yes, there were a few NJ plates in there just to make it even worse).

Give yourself at least an hour prior to show to get there, otherwise you run the risk of missing the start of the show.

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