Cover bands are a dime a dozen, and most of them are so-so. They play certain songs well, while their versions of other songs make you cringe. But they have fun, play live with all of the hazards/joys of such an attempt, and help to shake your blues on a cold winter’s night.
Such was the case recently at 118 North in Radnor. The Elastic Wastebands played and the venue was packed. It was their 30th anniversary show, but I had never heard of them before – they must be well known on the wedding and bar/bat mitzvah circuit, which is where they belong. It was a fun night, and BRP made a dancing fool of himself, but the band was just so-so. Nonetheless, they had a lot of musicians up there and it was a wall of sound. Plus, they had the good sense to play one of my all-time favorite songs by a local guy: Todd Rundgren’s I Saw The Light. Too bad the singer didn’t know all the words, but hey, I did, and I sang the right ones.
Can I comment on the crowd and venue? Thanks. I don’t love this venue as it is crowded and hot, but I do love that it is right here in Wayne. If there was ever a town that needed something to do other than go see a movie or eat out, it’s Wayne. Now there is a live music venue, and one of Philly’s best beer parlors (Theresa’s Next Door) within steps of each other. And with the Wayne Music Festival growing by leaps and bounds every year, Wayne is, dare I say it, becoming cool.
And the crowd is cool, too. Sure, the guys still stand by the bar, drink and watch sports on TV, while the women go and dance. It’s a bit high school in that regard. But everyone seems happy to be out and about, listening to live music, and generally having fun.
With that, I’ll sign off for now. But check back real soon as I have something cooking that will BLOW. YOUR. MIND. One last thing before I leave. I saw this mural in NYC last weekend. Joe Strummer! He’ll be forever missed, but never forgotten.
Keep warm and keep rockin’.
Springsteen on Broadway just finished an extended residency at the Walter Kerr Theater in NYC. It was remarkable, with 236 sellout performances and some tickets being scalped for $6000+. The residency grossed $113,058,952.00 – not bad for basically a solo act. The show was not a purely musical performance, but rather an autobiographical monologue/musical montage (although it did have 15 songs) through the life of one of America’s true rock ‘n’ roll legends. To be able to pull off such a run, it clearly demonstrates that the nation’s love affair with Bruce Springsteen continues unabated.
I did not attend any of the performances in New York. But Netflix is currently streaming one of the one-man shows (well, Patti Scialfa came out for a song or two, but didn’t really say anything to the crowd). It’s one of the weird times where the TV show is probably a better deal than the live performance – since it’s not really a musical performance, the show captures the spoken-word dialogue and has multiple camera angles/closeups to make it intimate as it is brought vividly into your home. And if you have a modern flat screen TV with any size, coupled with a sound bar or external speakers, it’s a pretty great experience. Superior to the live performance? Nah, let’s not go that far, but you do avoid standing in line for the dirty bathroom with the unflushed toilet, paying $20 bucks for a drink, having a testy interaction with the person next to you who keeps fidgeting with a crinkly cellophane candy wrapper during the show, and having to deal with the vagaries of NYC.
I’ve been a Springsteen fan since the early 70s. I can still remember the cover story on Time magazine after Born to Run came out. But that was his third album. I was in his orbit from album one (thanks to my brother). I’ve seen him perform live many times, most recently a 4 four hour masterpiece at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (check the archives for a review of that show). I really like Bruce, but not everything he has done, and I’ve come and gone with many of his later albums – sometimes I bought them, sometimes I didn’t, and sometimes I didn’t even pay attention. I guess that makes me a fan, but not a lover of all things Bruce.
Why do I like him? Multiple reasons. He has a deep catalog of songs that include some that are American rock masterpieces and that spoke to me as I went through phases of my life. As just one example, Born to Run is a true rock ‘n’ roll anthem to the restlessness of youth and the power of the idea that there is something better out there if you just leave home and venture forth. I felt that tug back in the day. His live performances are majestic rock ‘n’ roll revivals that make you believe in the power and spirit of rock music. The E Street Band is one of the best rock bands of all time. And his sheer love and passion about his art are super compelling. To be able to strut, rock, and connect with an audience night after night, and to do so during lengthy 3 hour+ performances, is simply super-human. And he has done it for decades. Kids, this is how you rock 'n' roll:
But not all is likeable, proving his humanness to all. Bruce has an ego that can be off-putting at times. For instance, in this show, he talks about basically inventing the Jersey Shore music scene but then later describes some who came before him, his adopting and emulating their performances at the Stone Pony, and him imitating their moves and grooves for incorporation into his own act. Ummm, Bruce, who invented who? And as we all know, a scene is not one performer – a scene has multiple acts that capitalize on a bit of luck and fortune that comes from having a nucleus of talents that all burst on the spot simultaneously and are fed by the same short-lived happenstance of fate. Bruce also has a tendency to become too political and preachy for my taste – just play music, dude. And his live performances, while still marvelous, have suffered from his fading voice, which is painful to watch during the Springsteen on Broadway performance.
It’s this combination of much more good than bad that really makes most fans connect with Bruce. He has put himself out there in the most intimate and vulnerable way so that there is no denying how freakin’ human he is. His exploration of his emotions and feelings and his unique way of describing them as he goes through life, well, it’s poetic in a sense and pure rock ‘n’ roll in another. And (get ready to swell with pride here), his music is an exemplar of the American rock story. Can you imagine a European singing about racing hot rod cars in the street, and using that as a metaphor for describing life's struggles in general? Me, either. Bruce is, in short, a National Treasure.
All of this is an introduction to my thoughts on Springsteen on Broadway. Here are some short bursts of things I took away from the show:
1. It was better to catch this on Netflix than live.And much less expensive.
2. It was too long.I watched it in two sittings and was still squirming at the end.
3. Bruce looks great for a guy pushing 70 – he is fit, thin, moves about with ease, has a face that has aged but doesn’t look like it’s had too much work, and he still has plenty of hair (albeit clearly colored).In a word, he looks and appears as an authentic rocker.He has pride in his rough cut appearance.And it works.
4. His insights into the writing of some of his particularly great songs were really interesting and added depth to the understanding of where he was coming from as an artist.I don’t think they did anything to take away from my own feelings, emotions and relationships with those songs.I like the background that he gave on how they were conceived – it was descriptive and interesting.
5. He has some deep daddy issues that explain a lot of his darker side.Bruce misses his deceased father a lot, but seems to have missed out on a better relationship with his dad when he was alive.
6. But his joy and verve for life came from his mom.His descriptions of his mother’s role in his life is just pure love and admiration.It was poignant and heartfelt.
7. He is, at heart, a rock ‘n’ roller, but not one that veered off into the b.s. drug fueled lifestyle associated with rock.He remains capable and thoughtful – RELEVANT – today, and he has been throughout his many decades of being in the spotlight.Try to understand how remarkable that achievement is and appreciate it.
8. He is still too preachy.
9. The show was too long. Did I say that already?Yes, but it’s worth saying again.
10. Bruce is honest about his life.In his youth, he sang about getting away from home, chasing that dream out into the night somewhere else.In his adulthood, he came back to where he came from and cherishes his upbringing and the familiarity and comfort of home and family.
11. Bruce may have aged well, but his voice has faded. Badly. During the performances of his songs, he spoke the lyrics more than he sang them, the lyrics were pushed out too fast, and his vocal range is now severely limited. Never a great singer to begin with, his voice had a character and quality to it that added to the songs and their authenticity. Now, it’s sometimes painful to hear him, and the change in vocal ability detracts from the memory of the song in your head.
12. The song performances were, sorry to say, mostly fair and in some instances, outright bad.I love Thunder Road – it could perhaps be my favorite Springsteen song – and I’ve seen it performed many times live and on taped performances.His version of it during Springsteen on Broadway was the worst version of it I have ever seen.And it wasn’t even close. Here's the real deal:
13. He talked about Clarence Clemons during the show – it was a loving tribute – but barely mentioned other E Streeter’s. I had heard that Bobbie Jean was written as a going away song when SVZ left the band, which, if true, means that there is a deep and abiding affection between these guys.But he didn’t merit much mention.
14. I’ll miss Bruce when he is gone.I won’t miss fans yelling “Bruuuuuuuce” after each song.Yeah, it was kind of cool in the 70s to hear that sound, which played on the sound of a “boo,” but put it to bed already.The irony and humor died about 30 years ago.
15. I’m glad I saw this on Netflix rather than paying to see it live.I totally agree with its 3 star (out of 5) review by Netflix viewers.
16. There should be a Bruce exhibit in the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History. He is pure Americana. And his expressions of his American experience are worthy. But please use video of his full E Street Band live performances and leave Springsteen on Broadway in the archives.
Time for me to take a breath. After all, this was just a TV show.
Nonetheless, it brought to mind all the ins and outs of my own unique relationship with a rocker who has been on the national scene since the early 70s. I don’t know if I’ve told this story on BRP before, but here goes. I went to Virginia Tech. When the 2007 massacre happened there, with 32 killed and 17 injured by a mentally deranged student murderer, it was personally shocking. This was the campus where I had spent four years, formed myself into an adult, established life-long relationships with key people in my life, and where I have many fond and deep memories. And it happened in a very rural setting deep in the majestic and peaceful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The massacre was a VIOLATION of all of that. It cut. And driving to work a day or two after, I heard Lonesome Day on the radio. That song was from Springsteen’s post 9-11 album, which explores much of the same ground of rage, disbelief, despair, and outrage, but also optimism, determination, vigilance and steadfastness, that I was going through. I subsequently pulled out that CD and listened to it a few times in the coming weeks, and it helped. I’ll never get a chance to thank Bruce for that, but I’ll remain grateful to him for helping me out during darker days.
With that, my work here is done for today. I wrote this on a train going from Philly to New York, and rolling through Springsteen’s New Jersey. It was fitting. But we’re almost at Penn Station and I’ve rambled on too long and not very well. Thanks, as always, for listening to me. I love you guys.
I was watching TV this week, and the song Happy Together by the Turtles came on at the end of the show. I hadn't heard that song in a long while, but I've always loved it. Not only is it a good tune, but it brings with it a lot of happy memories for me. You see, I have 4 older siblings, and like baby boomers everywhere, they fully embraced the pop culture that tore through the country in the Vietnam era. In other words, the radio or records were always on, and as a little kid, I was exposed to a lot of music at a precocious age. One of those songs was Happy Together.
Wow, what a song! And those are some snappy clothes, right? I dress like that on casual Fridays at the office. That song got me thinking about some other tunes that my older siblings turned me on to during my kindergarten era. I remember in the pre-FM high fidelity days that AM radio was the bomb, and that we were always wanting to hear the latest from WEAM or WPGC. Does anyone remember the Buckinghams? Man, I thought they were a huge band at the time because their songs were played on the radio! And then they played live at my sister's high school. Looking back, I now realize that they were 3 hit wonders trying to catch it big - but playing high school gyms was their reality, and they faded fast. Nonetheless, I'll never forget this poppy hit:
That album cover with the Union cavalry uniforms lived in our house for years. I wonder who has it now? At least they were smart enough to use Union duds. Ask Skynyrd how they feel now about that freakin' confederate flag hanging in the background of many of their shows from the 70s.
Moving on, I loved a song by the McCoys, a band that featured a very young guitar whiz named Rick Derringer. Many years later, I would see Mr. Derringer open for Peter Frampton at the Capital Centre and play both this classic as well his other big hit, Rock 'n' Roll Hoochie Coo. It was a night I'll always remember - the Frampton show was the closest thing that I've ever seen to Beatlemania. I screamed at an amazingly high pitch for hours before I finally feinted!
The Young Rascals put out a tune that was super popular in my house. It features an accordion in the background, which must have been a transitional instrument from Edith Piaf singles circa WW2 to the modern rock sound. I've never checked on that "fact" but it sounded good as I thought of it, so there it is. My inspiration for that riff? Take a look at the picture of the band below and tell me that the guy on the far right doesn't look exactly like Cliff Claven from Cheers. That explains why I went with the Edith Piaf to rock 'n' roll b.s. line above - it just seemed so factual. Regardless, I loved the song, still do, and remain a fan of the accordion to this day.
The Box Tops had a huge hit with The Letter. It was mega-big in my house, too. Yes, that is a very hoarse Alex Chilton on lead vocals. For a guy that put out such great music later, it must have been frustrating that this was his biggest hit. It's a great song, however, and the royalties probably had him living large in Memphis for years.
I finally developed my own tastes in music. At the ripe age of 6, I was given a 45 for my birthday that featured my favorite song at the time, Carrie Anne by the Hollies. And sometime that year, I purchased my very own 45 with my very own money, whatever that means at that age. Want to hear it? It's by the Human Beinz out of Youngstown, Ohio. And you know what? This song still kicks butt!
Eventually, I grew a bit bigger, and shared a room with my two older brothers. I've revisited that charming House of Horrors many times with my shrink, haha, but it was also a springboard to more great music. We had one of those "close 'n play" kind of record players (you know, the ones that you taped pennies to the arm so that the needle would press down and continue to play the records), and we would listen to music as we fell asleep. What did we listen to? All kinds of stuff that doesn't seem likely to make you drowsy: Steppenwolf, The Who, The Beatles, The Kinks, Iron Butterfly, the Woodstock album, etc. And then an album by a band called Black Sabbath showed up, and Ozzie gently sang us to sleep with tunes like this:
Hey, wake up! Hahaha, how in the heck did that ever put kids to sleep? And what were my parents thinking? Oh, I know the answer to that second question: "The kids are in bed, finally!" Yeah, that must have been it.
Hey, this has been fun. Sometimes when you think back or bump into an old friend, you kind of feel young again. John Hiatt wrote a song about this that is sweet and full of reminiscences. And there's even a picture of an accordion in the video!
And with that, I'm outta here. But I'll be back with my review of Netflix's Springsteen on Broadway. You won't want to miss that. And I'm plotting my 2019 live music course right now, and have lots lined up. I'll be sure to post on those shows for your entertainment. Better yet, why don't you swing by and we'll go see a show together? It's a nice thought. See ya.
Hey all, sorry I haven't posted in a while. I have a bunch of things cooking, and will pop them up soon. In the meantime, I came across this comedian on YouTube and he is hilarious. If you work or live around engineers, you'll get a much better understanding of them after watching this. The first part is simply precious, but be sure to stay until the end - yeah, I know it's 9 minutes long, but take the time. It's totally worth it.
And yes, Facebook is evil! See you soon.
What am I going to do with this Philly music scene? I’ve already gone on and on about Sheer Mag, The Menzingers, Kurt Vile, the War on Drugs and Low Cut Connie. Enough of them already. They’re so 2018! There are others, oh yes, that deserve some freaking recognition. And I’m about to blow your mind with a few more that you ought to check out.
[Can I first take a little frolic and detour? Thanks, I figured you might oblige. Here is a revelation: Philly is a pretty darn good music town. It has a lot of different venues, from bars to clubs to theaters to arenas, and a number of them are new or refurbished. The city’s citizens do a nice job in filling these venues, night in, night out. It helps to have the second largest number of college students in the country (behind only Boston), but it also helps to have a large and diverse population with some money to spend on entertainment. That being said, I think the area is getting saturated, and shows don’t sell out as much as they used to. But all in all, the touring bands that come through here recognize Philly as one of America’s great music cities, and they come year after year. While this post is aimed at Philly’s indigenous talent, let’s not forget that we are blessed to live in a place that is just oozing with great live options. I’ll be back later with more on the venues.]
Double - Doink! Hey, Chicago, that was tough for you. We in Philly are feeling bad about what happened ... not.
OK, back to the Philly band call-out. First up, it’s Hurry. Do you like power pop like Weezer or Teenage Fanclub? How about Yo La Tengo? Those bands are right up my alley and my old iPod is full of songs by them. Well, if you like those bands, you’re going to dig Hurry. Don’t believe me? Listen to this track. Then consider yourself converted:
I’m not kidding on the power pop. I love it. And another great band, kind of a cross between the Strokes and the Lumineers, is RFA. Four grads from St. Joe’s Prep, they put out a great first album in 2018, the eponymous RFA. Unbelievably good:
If there is a band that has more of a local following than Beach Slang, I don’t know who that band is. Beach Slang is a punk band, but also a movement of sorts. If you want to know where the fringiest of left-wingers hang out, it’s at Beach Slang shows. I don’t know if that appeals to or revolts you, but their tunes are rockin’ and they are clearly a pretty big part of the local scene. Check ‘em out:
I’m not sure about this next guy. G. Love, with his band Special Sauce, serves up some Louisiana-ish brew of music. Some call it affected, but those people are dopes. Good music is good music no matter where it is made, and everyone is derivative these days, right? I’ve seen G. Love live and it’s a pretty good show. Grip it and rip it!
I know nothing about this next band except for the name: Japanese Breakfast. I love that name. Here’s why: I was in Kyoto a few years back, and my son wanted to sleep later than us. So we would get ready, and then wake him up and give him his p-r-i-v-a-c-y. There was a 7-11 across the street, and if you’ve never been to a Japanese convenience store, well, your life is not complete. Anyway, they had a freezer full of various ice cream bars including those double dark chocolate ones made by Magnum. Deelish! We started getting those and eating them for “breakfast.” We coined the term Japanese Breakfast for a Magnum bar, and now whenever we eat them, regardless of where we are or what time of day it is, we consider ourselves as having a Japanese Breakfast. And with that, my friends, here’s a track by JB that had the most YouTube hits – I hope you like it:
I saw Purling Hiss a while ago opening for someone that I can’t remember now. They were good. Talented musicians, a bit more jam-bandy than I normally go for, but with solid songs that cranked. I’m a fan, and encourage you to check them out. Ok, ok, I’ll spoon feed you – here you go:
How about Philly’s answer to Linda and Richard Thompson (or is it Exene Cervanka and John Doe?), it’s Swearin’. Taking turns on lead vocals, but both backed by a powerful band, the former lovers Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride bring it with their album Fall Into The Sun.
Hey, what about Dr. Dog? I know, it’s not a big revelation as they have a national following, but I don’t think it’s fair to skip these stalwarts of the local scene, and I’ve done them a disservice over the last few years. Dr. Dog has a good sense of the humorous – every band member has a nickname that begins with the letter T for example – and they built a nice discography building off of great bands like the Beatles and Beach Boys, and then combining it with heavy indie influences. They did an NPR mini-concert and it’s worth seeing. Here you go:
Finally, can I get a harrumph for Hop Along (hey, I didn’t get a harrumph out of you). I’ve been a fan for a while of this Francis Quinlan quartet, and they have garnered national attention with their 2018 release, Bark Your Head Off, Dog. Quinlan’s voice isn’t for everyone, but I think it’s quirky and different. Here’s their NPR mini-concert that might convert you or convince you that you wish I had never given them a plug.
Uncle! I know there are others that are out there, some of whom are even worthy of acclaim, but I’m tired and ready to move on to bigger and better things. Yep, you guessed it, dinner is SERVED. Ribs! Yellow rice! Collards! And Cuban bread! Why do I feel like Grandpa on Hee Haw? Anyway, you listen to these bands and then you tell me what you think about this burgeoning Philly scene. It’s a badass place to hang your hat, and with the talent and venues that we have in this city, I think we should all look around, smile, and feel pleased about ourselves. Talk to you rockers later.
I'm back! Did you miss me? Oh, babies, I missed you all so much. Tell me, were you nice or naughty? I hope Santa took care of you all, but only in a non-coal way.
I've been baking away in Florida post-Christmas which explains my tardiness in posting. The weather has been phenomenal, with air temps in the low 80s and ocean temps in the mid-70s. There were even waves! I was boogie boarding and body surfing like a youngster out there. Nice!
Being down here also gave me an opportunity to catch JJ Grey and Mofro at Revolution Live in Ft. Lauderdale. I have to tell you there is nothing better than spending a relaxing day at the beach and then getting in a live show as a nightcap.
For those unfamiliar with Mr. Grey, he is from Jacksonville, Florida and plays music in the southern blues/soul genre. His real name is John Higganbotham (understandable that he would change that name for the stage - he wanted to go with John Cougar, but that was already taken). And Mofro is the band that cranks out the tunes. Like a lot of terrific bar bands, Mofro has 8 members, with horns, keys, drums, percussion, and the obligatory guitars/bass. They are tight, focused, having a good time, and masters of the club scene. And they are very dapper. Here's a great track that I think will convince you - and a freaky video to boot:
And another one just because I'm a good guy:
Hey, Tedeschi Trucks fans (I know you're out there), note that Derek Trucks has played on an album with the boys, and their sound is somewhat similar to TTB. In other words, if you like TTB, you're going to like JJ Grey & Mofro. Doug had told me about them before and said that they were very fun to see live. Doug has now risen in my estimation because he was right.
The show was good - about a 2 hour set, highlighting the best tunes of their repertoire, and light on the non-musical shenanigans. And the crowd was totally into it, too, singing along and hollering at the band. It was a very party-hearty atmosphere, and the band was grooving on the energy coming from the crowd.
But I have to comment further on the venue and the crowd.
Let's go venue first. RL is a warehouse-kind of space. It has certain amenities that are good - multiple bars, an elevated stage of about 5 feet which allows for good viewing from anywhere on the floor, and a sizeable stage so that the band can move about. Acoustics are good, and lights are professional.
It also has a lot of dubious qualities. Want to hear about them? Of course you do.
First, the place was PACKED. I don't know if the Fire Marshall was off-duty this particular night, but I had the willies all evening about a fire. Not to mention that moving around was a hassle and that if you grooved to the music at all, you did so in tandem with the person standing next to you. And God help you if the person next to you was a person of substance, or a woman constantly flipping her hair, because you were going to get your fill of that.
Next, while the floor is ample, the elevated areas surrounding it are tight and claustrophobic. People were everywhere, and only about 50 of them had a place to sit or lean against. It was a mess. Third, when you entered the place, there was a room with a bar and no sign that pointed you into the club itself. Rather, you just followed the crowd in line at the women's room ... and then go around them. You magically pop out at the club on the other side. It was the strangest entrance to a club that I've ever seen.
What about the crowd? Well, if you used to go to southern rock shows in the 80s, I've located most of your fellow cohorts from that era. We stood next to a dude named Mike who had a chaw of tobacco in his cheek (I have no idea where he was spitting), and a cold Bud in his hand. He was with his wife and 20-something tube-top wearing daughter. I kid you not. The women were vintage, too, albeit dressed like women and a bit more, shall we say, considered in how they looked as compared to those in Philly. Lots of long hair and makeup.
Plenty of weed going around, too, including a lit joint being passed around which I hadn't seen inside of a club since the e-cigarette thing came into existence. Everyone came because it was a southern show, and ooh baby, did this show ooze southern, right down to the weed hospitality (no, I did not partake, but respected the offer).
You'll note that BRP pushed right up to the near front and got some pretty good pics of the band as they went through their stuff. I hope you like the shots. I wasn't in the mood to take a bunch of pics because of the confounded crowding, but did my best to satisfy my demanding readership.
Hey, I've been working on a sort-of "salute to Philly bands" thing, and will pop that up in a few. And if you're reading this still, I've been challenged to develop a BRP playlist for Aaron. That is going to take some thought, for sure, but I've got plenty of good licks in line for him. With that, I'll wish you and yours the Happiest New Year ever, and hope that your 2019 is full of peace, good fortune, live music and happiness!
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.