Author Archive for Eric Straus

10
Jan
12

New Van Halen Song is Van Failin’

Sometimes bands just can’t take a hint, or see the signs. Van Halen should have stopped trying years ago, after Sammy Hagar left. After that stinker of an album with the singer from Extreme, Gary whats-his-face, and then two failed reunions with original wailer David Lee Roth, perhaps the Van Halen brothers Eddie and Alex should have just quit music, or at least looked for new projects to do. Instead, lots of money has been squandered on now a third reunion with Roth, which will include a new album and a tour. The first single off the album has just been released, and as you might expect, it sucks. I mean, it’s just bad. The music is fine, but offers nothing new or interesting – it’s the recycled Van Halen sound from 30 years ago. The lyrics are so very stupid, and while Roth can still hit some higher notes, he seems rooted in the lower octaves – it would be wrong to hope his voice could still be that dynamic after so many years, but as I heard one person comment, “When did Huey Lewis become the singer for Van Halen?”

You can of course judge for yourself – the video is below. But even for die-hard VH fans who believe that the only REAL Van Halen is one with Roth, this has to be very disappointing. Enjoy.

Van Halen – Tattoo from Van Halen on Vimeo.

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13
Dec
11

Mike Gordon show review: 12/11/11, Albany NY

Mike tunes up at the Egg

Isn’t it great when things turn out even more awesome than you ever expected? This is exactly what happened at the Egg in Albany on Sunday night, as Mike Gordon (best known as being the bass player for Phish) and his band blew the doors off the place with three hours of incredibly diverse music, long, intense jamming, and just plain fun. The theater was about 75% full of Phish heads (it might have been more had the show been on a Friday or Saturday), and the small venue provided an intimate setting for the final show of the band’s brief fall tour.

Gordon and guitarist Scott Murawski, Brooklyn drummer Todd Isler, keyboard player Tom Cleary, and percussionist Craig Myers started things off with Horizon Line, which turned into a long jam segment that featured a lot of tempo changes, dueling solos between Murawski and Cleary, and most unexpectedly, moments of dark, progressive sounds that blew me away. From what I’ve heard of Gordon’s solo work, it’s fairly mellow with a slant toward country/bluegrass, jazz and rock. This show explored vast soundscapes of varying textures and themes – it was far more than I ever expected. The Phish song Only a Dream followed, and the band once again jammed out the middle section, taking the song to new heights and arrangements that made the studio version of the song seem even more insignificant. I’m Deranged, The Way it Goes, Just a Rose, Voices, and River Niger kept the first set rolling, with most of the songs continuing the jamming and overall magic; some of the jams did lose momentum and probably went on a little longer than necessary, but that was far from the norm. The band then did a great version of Marvin Gaye’s Baby Don’t You Do It, keeping the soul of the original in tact but giving it a more intense, country rock feel, with Cleary passionately hammering out the vocals. Then they segued back into Horizon Line to bookend the set, which clocked in at about 90 minutes.

Scott Murawski and Tom Isler

After a brief intermission, the crowd roared back to life with the opening notes of Funky Bitch, a Son Seals song that Phish has played hundreds of times. Gordon’s band’s version was fairly close to Phish’s version, but different just enough that it didn’t feel like we were watching a Phish cover band. The Phishiness continued with Gordon’s tune Sugar Shack (from Phish’s Joy album), with Murawski easily handling the guitar melodies and jamming it out a bit. Then they played a cover that I never could have predicted (although if I knew Mike Gordon’s solo history better I might not have been as surprised) – Hand in My Pocket by Alanis Morissette. I’ve never been a big fan of Alanis, but I’ve never really disliked her either, and Hand in My Pocket is actually one of her songs that I do enjoy. The band rocked the hell out of it, with Murawski belting out the vocals with great passion and intensity. Dig Further Down, Crumblin’ Bones, Skin It Back, and Hap Nappy continued the terrific set, with all band members firing on all cylinders as the jams kept going. Gordon announced that the final song was dedicated to a longtime friend in the audience, a song they played together in high school – the Who’s Don’t Get Fooled Again. It was a good version, a fun way to end the set.

The Dude of Life!!!

For die-hard Phish fans, the encore was by far the highlight of the night. An additional microphone was brought to the stage, leading everyone to assume a guest vocalist would be joining the band. It turned out to be none other than Steve Pollack, a.k.a the Dude of Life. Pollack has been collaborating with Phish from the very beginning, and on Sunday he graced us with his presence for a song he wrote with Phish, Suzy Greenberg – the crowd was bouncing off the ceiling.

The whole show was a wonderful surprise for me. I expected a more laid back, moody and offbeat show, much like Gordon’s solo albums. But the jams went to crazy places I never imagined, and Murawski, who many know from the band Max Creek, is in fact a guitar god. He would go from dark riffs to lightning-fast solos with the utmost precision and clarity; his grooves were so impressive and crucial to the overall sound of the band. He was a genuine joy to hear – I’ll have to check out Max Creek now. I’m looking forward to seeing Phish in the near future, but when Gordon brings his act to town again, you can bet I’ll be there too.

Mike Gordon at the Egg gets 4.5 out of 5 stars!

08
Nov
11

Roger Waters and the Rest of the “1%”

“Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream
Think I’ll buy me a football team”
                                                      –Roger Waters

Imagine my excitement when I saw that this June, Roger Waters is bringing his “The Wall” live concert to our little town in Upstate NY! I felt honored that he would grace Albany with his presence…and then I saw the ticket prices. I don’t know the genesis of ticket prices – I imagine the artist (read: record company/promoter) has something to do with it, along with the distributor (Ticketmaster). Well whoever is responsible should really pay attention to the news – thousands of people are out of work, the gap between rich and poor is ever widening, and there are “Occupy” protests in many cities around the country. So here comes Waters, and what’s the lowest priced ticket to see his show at the Times Union Center? After fees, $70. Yeah.

What is it with all these artists who used to represent the “working man” and the middle class – Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Simon and Garfunkle, etc. – charging outrageous prices for their shows? Yes, a lot of their audience are baby-boomers who have moved from the middle class into higher tax brackets and can afford $70, $80, $100 for a ticket (or $216 for the best seats at Waters’ concert). But those of us who became fans of their music either on our own or because our parents listened to it and are still stuck in the middle class (and seem to be pre-destined to remain there), $70 is pretty much unaffordable. For comparison, look at the band Rush – they’ve been around almost as long as those other guys, but you can still go see them for $30 lawn seats at SPAC. When The Police came to SPAC, lawn seats were $46! How about Further, the ex-Grateful Dead band featuring Bob Weir and Phil Lesh – the MOST expensive ticket for their show at the Times Union Center next week is $66.70 including fees. Obviously Roger Waters is a “bigger name” than Further, but the fan base is from the same era – it just seems there’s a different philosophy at work between the two events.

I thought Roger Waters wrote those “Money” lyrics satirically – maybe not. So a big FUCK YOU to Waters and Ticketmaster and Live Nation and whoever else is responsible for this ridiculous injustice. Keep your fancypants high ticket prices behind your wall and leave us “99%”ers alone.

29
Sep
11

Show Review: Primus in Albany 9-27-11

The Palace Theater in Albany took a trip back to the 60’s last Tuesday night, as Primus brought their psychedelic stage show and unique set list to New York’s capital city. Many knew that the San Francisco-based band was going to perform two sets of music, but no one could have predicted how bizarre, trippy, and ultimately amazing their show would be.

Greeting the audience’s eyes upon entering the theater were two giant inflatable astronauts on either side of the stage; it was a harbinger of the zaniness to come. Primus hit the stage to thunderous applause, and bolted right into one of their oldest songs, “Groundhog’s Day.” Bassist Les Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane sounded absolutely precise and sharp. And as I had hoped, the band was not content to just play the studio version of the song (or any songs in the first set for that matter) – they fell into a funkified jam that stretched the song out to a good ten minutes or so before the hard-rocking finale. Talk about setting the mood – Primus had the crowd bouncing all over the place and the show had just started. The rest of the 55-minute set (a little too short in my book, but I can’t complain) featured some great older tunes, including three off their lesser-known “Brown Album”: “Duchess and the Proverbial Mind Spread,” “Golden Boy,” and “Over the Falls.” All three tunes featured ridiculously intricate bass playing from Claypool, and while none of the songs are real hard-rockers, they fit into the show’s psychedelic theme perfectly.

During the entire show, multi-colored lights drew abstract, ever-changing shapes and illuminations around the stage and into the theater. Coupled with the creepy old man’s face that graced the front of those astronauts’ helmets and the insane video clips playing behind the band, Primus truly created a wormhole back to the acid houses of the 60’s – if you’ve seen clips of Pink Floyd during the Syd Barrett years, Primus’ show takes that and modernizes it into today’s technology. During many of the instrumental portions of the songs, Claypool would spend a lot of time watching the video screen and eyeing the trippy light patterns splashed throughout the art-deco theater’s interior.

Other tunes from the first set included the impassioned “Pressman,” the dark childhood tale of “Mrs. Blaileen,” and the popular, high-energy “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver.” The set closed with one of Primus’ absolute best songs “Over the Electric Grapevine.” This song really played into the psychedelic nature of the show, and it was a joy to hear.

Continuing with the insanity, the intermission featured several old Popeye cartoons playing on the video screen. These were the Max Fleischer cartoons from the 30’s – so very strange, yet clever and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny; it was a great way to kill the time waiting for Primus to return.

And return they did. They proceeded to do something that I don’t think has been done very much at all in recent history, apart from a few instances: they played their brand new album, “Green Naugahyde,” in its entirety. The only times I can recall a band doing this would be when Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” came out, and Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime.” Bands have covered albums plenty of times, but unless I’m mistaken, it’s extremely rare for a band to play their new album in full. I reviewed “Green Naugahyde” last week, and in said review I hoped/predicted that playing those new songs live would breathe new life into them, as the album is ok, but seemed constricted and average. Luckily I was correct, and while the band didn’t necessarily “jam out” a lot of the songs as with their first set, playing the album live gave me a new appreciation for it (though some of the songs still rank as mediocre in Primus’ anthology). Claypool brought out the stand-up bass for several of the songs, playing it with a bow as he drew crazy sounds from the effects box the bass was routed through. The highlights of the set were “Last Salmon Man,” which allowed Claypool to really showcase his immense talent as he wailed on the bass for an extended period; “Jilly’s on Smack” features a great little riff from LaLonde over Claypool’s very dark bass groove, with Lane tapping away at his kit. The bouncy “Lee Van Cleef” featured video clips of, well, Lee Van Cleef from his classic western films; for “Green Ranger,” Claypool donned his creepy pig mask as he filled the room with trippy bass grooves. “Extinction Burst,” my favorite from the album, did not disappoint as the band created a sonic convergence of Primus’ old and new sounds. The other notable occurrence was during “Eyes of the Squirrel” – the video kept repeating psychedelic images of squirrels, which were so scary that, had I been more under the influence, would have made me piss myself.

The trio closed the show with two marvelous songs, “Southbound Pachyderm” and “Winona’s Big Brown Beaver.” The former dove into a dark, trippy jam punctuated by the surreal image of an elephant bouncing on a trampoline; they pushed the song out to a good 8 or 9 minutes. And the latter sent the audience home with a spring in their step, so to speak, rocking out the funky tune with tons of energy.

Primus has always been unique, left of center, skewed – people either “get” them or they just think they’re weird and silly (which they are, but so was Frank Zappa). I have been a fan for over 20 years, and seeing them in concert now is so different than seeing them in 1991 or 1994, or even 2004. Claypool has really embraced the impact a show can have – the focus is always on the music, but the entire experience is enhanced by everything else going on around it. Primus fans are avid and overflowing with enthusiasm, and the band is more than happy to reciprocate.

Primus at the Palace gets 4.5 out of 5 stars!

22
Sep
11

Album Review: Primus – Green Naugahyde

This is not your father’s Primus. Your father’s Primus was an oddball funk-metal band with head-banging riffs and rump-shaking grooves. Today’s Primus is a bit mellower, more skewed toward a zany jazz-fusion sound, but still retains their musical complexity and irreverence. After an 11-year hiatus from studio recordings, the San Francisco Bay-area band has just released Green Naugahyde, with Larry LaLonde on guitar as always, Jay Lane – the original Primus drummer – back in the band, and the band’s leader and arguably the best bass player around, Les Claypool.
Claypool definitely leads the charge on this new album, writing all the lyrics and his voice doing more “talk-singing” than actual singing, with the vocals often sent through a sound effects box of some sort. The bass grooves are undeniably Claypool – he uses a lot of effects for that as well, but his funk-jazz sound is unmistakable. The album starts off with a little prelude that segues into “Hennepin Crawler,” a funky rock tune that lets you know that Primus is back. While Claypool has taken his signature sound and applied it to his other projects (Flying Frog Brigade, Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, solo albums, Oysterhead), there is no mistaking the sound of this trio. LaLonde’s guitar sound is instantly recognizable, though he doesn’t get a lot of chances to really wail away on this album. “Last Salmon Man” continues Claypool’s tome of fishing-themed songs, this one commenting on the diverting of water from northern California to other parts of the state. Claypool’s lyrics, while often silly and bizarre, can sometimes be politically poignant, as in “Eternal Consumption Engine,” a weird Willy Wonka-esque tune about our society’s never-ending thirst for more and more stuff. Primus’ rock sound returns in “Tragedy’s a’ Comin’,” with Claypool slapping his bass with funk ferocity. The other album highlights include the jaunty little ditty “Lee Van Cleef,” referencing the actor from old westerns like “High Noon” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”; “Moron TV” is a fairly benign attack on the current state of television programming – Claypool really wasn’t going out on a limb here. “HOINFODAMAN” showcases Claypool’s affection for Frank Zappa, both musically and politically. Claypool has always shied away from mainstream pop culture trappings, and the evil corporate music machine, much like Zappa. “HOINFODAMAN” is an indictment of artists who sell out for fame and fortune – Frank would approve. The band saved the best for last on the album with a tune called “Extinction Burst.” This song more than any of the others has more layers and explores some longer grooves.
Overall, I was a bit disappointed with Green Naugahyde. Following Primus’ last release, an EP entitled “Animals Should Not Try to Act like People,” and the subsequent tour, it seemed that the band was incorporating a more “jam band” style, in that they would stretch out their funky grooves and wailing guitar work, rather than keeping the songs nice and short. But this new album seems very constrictive – it almost feels like the band is playing inside a tiny box and has no room to really break out into some great song space. Their sound has always been completely unique, creative, and truly “alternative.” But this album pales in comparison to most of their other recordings; I did not expect the metal-driven sound of the “Frizzle Fry” album, or the hardcore funk of “Tales from the Punchbowl,” but taken as a whole, the album is pretty mundane for Primus. LaLonde rarely gets a chance to really let loose and shred some solos, and Lane’s drumming, while extremely well-suited for the album’s sound, seems tempered and delicate, with none of the explosiveness from the band’s earlier efforts.
I’m still looking forward to their upcoming live show, as I’m sure they will take that opportunity to breathe some new life into these songs, along with playing a lot of the old stuff (they’re doing two full sets of music). Perhaps, like most jam bands, Primus is becoming a band where the studio albums are of minimal importance, and the emphasis will be on touring and putting on a stellar live show. We shall see.
As I mentioned, the sound of Green Naugahyde is unmistakably Primus, and that’s still a good thing.
Green Naugahyde gets 3 out of 5 stars!

12
Sep
11

Pearl Jam: 20 Years Old!

Cameron Crowe has a new documentary film coming out very soon entitled “Pearl Jam Twenty.” So not a lot of creativity went into the title, but who cares? Pearl Jam has an amazing story to tell, and I think it’s great that Crowe is the one telling it, along with the band members and many other musicians like Chris Cornell, Neil Young, and archival footage from Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley. Pearl Jam is one of those bands that maintained their enormous success while staying true to themselves. They made the decision to not make music videos after “Jeremy,” they took Ticketmaster to court for ripping off the public, and they have been involved with numerous charities and benefits. While their records may not sell nearly as well as they did in the 90’s, their fan base has not declined; Pearl Jam still sells out just about every concert they have. They are an amazing band to see on stage – their passion, energy, and talent is as strong as it ever was. Congrats to a great band on 20 great years! I think this song below illustrates everything awesome about Pearl Jam. Enjoy.
 

26
Aug
11

Phish – live bait vol. 6!

Phish will be playing a 3-day run in Colorado during Labor Day weekend, and the generous folks at livephish.com have decided to celebrate by releasing Live Bait Vol. 6, a collection of fantastic Phish performances in Colorado over the last 20 years or so. Click here to get the FREE download – almost 3 hours of music. Enjoy!

 

 

 




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