I was at the gym listening to AC/DC, and on came It's A Long Way To The Top. It seems to be an admonition to those trying to be rock stars that you better be ready for the life of getting to the top. Check it out:
Some rockers make it sound so easy. BTO and the Byrds are both in that camp:
And there are many others who riff on the life: the Kinks, Boston, Foreigner, Zappa:
But you better be careful. Lots of dead bodies on the rock 'n' roll road. And there are songs about that, too.
In retirement, I'm getting a guitar and amp and will never ever play that thing in public. Unless there is money involved, and then I'm all over it.
Happy New Year to all of you!
Merry Christmas to me! 2019 brought me two, count 'em two, great Christmas gifts. First, it was the annual Marah Christmas show at Underground Arts, which was its usual raucous good time. Next, Low Cut Connie brought their act to Union Transfer the Saturday before St. Nick travels the globe. How nice is that? A BRP two-fer to end the year.
As you know, I'm a pretty big supporter of LCC. You might even say that I'm a booster, the Chamber of Commerce for this Philly-based rock band. You could go further, but I try to keep this site as family-friendly as possible. Anyway, I've been dragging people to see LCC for almost 4 years, hyping them with whoever asks what I'm listening to these days, and otherwise using them as a benchmark to compare with other live acts. Yes, they're that good.
And Saturday was not a disappointment. A sold-out UT was filled with festive holiday goers ready to have their rock 'n' roll eyeballs gouged out of their heads. LCC does what very few bands do these days: they revel in their rock performances and bring energy, passion, musicianship and showmanship to the stage. They did all of that on Saturday night.
Right when the band came out and the crowd went wild in anticipation, a big grin swept across my face. It had been nearly a year since I last saw LCC, and I was psyched for the event. It's not that I had forgotten how good they are live, it's just that I had seen so many other bands over the course of the year that I was happy to be back in a place where I knew a good time was going to be had. I've taken people to see LCC who are skeptics and gone so far as to GUARANTEE them a good time. Hey, they're coming with me, so that's going to be fun regardless, hahaha, but seriously, I've brought the most disparate people to see LCC and everyone has said "wow, that was great" at the end of the show. EVERYONE! It's as sure as death and taxes. So here we go again.
Out trots the band on Saturday, and, wait, who are these people? Well, there's Will Donnelly on guitar and the irrepressible Adam Weiner front and center, but everyone else is new: new drummer, new bassist, new rhythm guitar, and two new female backup singers. Damn, what is going on? I don't know, but the band quickly blasts into David Bowie's Diamond Dogs and we're off to the races.
How did the newcomers measure up? Let me say it this way: if this was the first time you saw LCC, you would be "OMG, that band is awesome! They are, like, amazing!" OK, maybe that's how you talk, but I hope not. That is, however, how one patron spoke right after the show. And you know what? Despite the limited range of her vocabulary, she was right. They are awesome and, like, amazing. But not as awesome and amazing as the good old days.
Say what? How so?
Let's start with the obvious. It's not just the President that ages over 4 years. Adam Weiner has aged, too. He's still a bit of a mad professor moving about the stage, stirring the pots and making sure that the band is humping. But he doesn't do as many crazy stunts on the piano (he still does some - check out the pictures for the proof). And he seems to be into a new phase of fancying himself a sex symbol. There was too much ass-wagging at the crowd and the like. The worst was when he ripped off his beater shirt and stood up there bare-chested. Particularly when the boy seems to have, ahem, put on some weight around the midriff. Seriously, that rock 'n' roll road diet seems to be agreeing with him.
And the show is different in that it's now the Adam and Will show, with guest appearances as necessary. Yes, Will poses and preens around the stage to a higher degree than before, and seems to be the more measured rock-posing foil to Adam's over-the-top outrageousness. Yes, Will still climbs up on Shondra and jumps off, which is a great rock move, but he also is doing some posing with Adam that wasn't present before. It's cool - are these guys the most photogenic band in the land or what? - but it's different.
And then the female backups. They could sing, no doubt, but they were dressed like strumpets, accentuating the forbidden lust rock angle that they seem to be driving for these days. Except that it's 2019 and there is no forbidden lust anymore. You want some booty, just hit the Tinder account and it shows up at your door. And it's free. Anyway, the backups were very athletic and basically did a 1.5 hour workout while occasionally singing, dancing and moving about the stage. Then one of them took off her shirt, revealing a sports bra and tiny boobs, and threw it to the crowd. That was how the show ended.
What else is new? Well, during Shake It Little Tina, the band invites patrons up on stage to dance with the band. About 20 or so people took them up on it - I would have gone had I been closer to the stage, but alas, just hung back and took pics instead. I thought that bringing people up on stage was a cool and fun thing to do.
And they played new songs. RED ALERT! Yeah, the new songs. They ain't the upbeat bar tunes of old, like Boozophilia. Nope, instead we're getting artsy, with Adam trying to write the follow up to Springsteen's Atlantic City. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't what I was hoping for. Newer songs like Revolution Rock 'n Roll and Dirty Water were part of the lineage of the band and kept the crowd going, but Adam alone at the piano doing a ballad is an "uh oh" moment for me.
The show did highlight a bunch of the aforementioned songs, and those were the ones that got the crowd pumped. It was great to hear them performed live again. And we were lucky to have one enthusiastic crowd going nuts, too. These are not the unconverted masses from a few years back. No sir, the word has gotten out on LCC, and the crowd was filled with acolytes singing back the lyrics to the band. There are probably even Harvard Law grads in their now, too. I know, that thought made puke come up my throat, too. Apologies.
Am I complaining? Like Joe Walsh, I can't complain but sometimes I still do. I guess that I'm disappointed in some of the changes, fired up by others, and realistic enough to recognize that nothing good is going to last forever, particularly at these wages. The new band is tight, plays the songs like they are meant to be played, and leaves the visuals to the established LCC stars and the new wanna-be go go dancers. The performances are still passionate and there is dedication to make sure that everyone is having fun. It's still a great show.
Yet, as we discussed on the way home, it's not quite as good as past shows. Yup, the human condition has appeared again - never satisfied.
Hey, hey, come back! I'm not trying to get all down on this post. It was a great show, a fantastic kickoff to Christmas week, and a bargain/steal/rock-bottom giveaway of crazy live rock (tickets were $20). I came away completely happy. I was thoroughly entertained. And I'm as enthusiastic about live rock as I've been in quite some time. The detour through Elton and Cher is over, and I'm back to great bar bands cranking out monstrous good times to the delight of people of all ages. Or something like that.
If you're not done with your holiday shopping, I have a great suggestion for you: give the gift of BRP. It's FREE for Pete's sake! All you have to do is send the link and they're in like flint. I'll do my best to keep them entertained for all of 2020. And you'll be a hero for giving them the best holiday gift EVER.
With that, Merry Christmas to everyone. Unless of course you celebrate something different. If that's the case, Merry Something Different. Whatever you celebrate, just live by the rule of being cool to your fellow human being - help out when you can, laugh and joke with them, and remember that we're all riding this same planet together. Except for those Harvard Law grads, hahaha. See you soon!
Christmas is full of traditions and annual celebrations, including great events to attend. No, I'm not talking about the Nutrcracker. I'm talking about the annual Christmas show put on by Marah at Underground Arts. I just attended for the third time in as many years, and it's perhaps the best yuletide event going.
If you're a regular reader, you already know about Marah, the great Philly-based rock band fronted by the brothers Bielanko. If you don't think they know how to bring a rockin' but very different kind of show to a venue, then check out this video. Yeah, that's a bagpiper calling in the boys to Away In A Manger:
This band puts on some of the most fun and different shows that I've ever attended. The Christmas show this year featured tons of fake snow, the bagpiping, four horns, some young dude playing what appeared to be a homemade ukulele as well as a guitar and electric fiddle, Santa, and a very tight but yet very loose core band. At times there were FOUR guitars going for it (not including the bass), giving a massive mountain of rock urgency to the band's signature tunes.
Marah put out some highly acclaimed albums, played Bonaroo and Austin City Limits festivals, but never seemed to get the widespread acclaim they richly deserve. I feel bad for them, but selfishly, I love being able to catch Marah at small clubs where I can be right in the thick of it. This year was no exception. We were right there up front singing along.
I'm beginning to recognize other regulars at these shows. That's cool with me. I'm also becoming a regular to UA, a unique basement club that feels just kind of right to a no-glamour dude like myself. I will say that UA was a bit toasty this year, and when I took a much-needed bathroom break halfway through the 2:45 hour show, I hung back under an a/c vent for a tune just to catch a break. I don't know how the band could take it, but it didn't seem to slow them down one bit.
Do you want to see a band play a tune as though the fate of the free world hung in the balance? Check this video out. How good are these guys? They are one of the best live acts I have ever seen - fun, committed, free-wheeling, spontaneous, but clearly well-rehearsed and skilled. They play rock the way it was supposed to be played - with urgency and passion.
That is the kind of passion that makes the regulars go wild. Just check out this guy if you don't believe me:
They also don't take themselves too seriously. I mean, these guys have fun. They tore through a bunch of tracks from their albums, like Point Breeze and Angels of Destruction. But it was a Christmas show, so they also did a rousing version of White Christmas and Holly Jolly Christmas. They came out to the theme from Rocky, thus confirming their love for their hometown. And for whatever reason, they love playing Hava Nagilah.
They like that traditional Jewish song so much that they played it twice during this year's show. I don't think I've seen a band play the same song twice since I saw NRBQ do it decades ago. It's funny and clearly shows that the band is having as much fun as the audience.
I got some pretty good pictures of the band, including ones with Santa. And I got yet another great time from a band that brings it with style, fun and panache every show. A few years back, I saw them at the Yards Brawler Fest, and even though they were playing on a small stage during daylight hours to a crowd of about 150 people, they gave it 100%. I was talking to them about an hour before they came on stage as we all debated getting our picture taken with Eddie Alvarez of UFC fame. We ultimately decided to go for it, and the picture of me and Eddie (with his soon-to-be-lost title belt over his shoulder) remains a fixture in my office. I don't know what the Marah guys did with their shots, but every time I look at that picture, I think of them, too.
Oh, and Brawler Fest also featured another hot Philly rock band who I love: Low Cut Connie. I'm off to see them in a few short hours. You see, this year I'm giving myself a few gifts for Christmas! I'll try to grab some good shots from that show, too, but I'm going with a few people who like to hang back. We'll have to see how much I want to play the good host - or better yet, how good are my powers of persuasion.
I might be back before the man with the bag comes through town, but no promises. If I do get back in time, I'll be sure to wish you a happy holiday. But if not, take this video as my sign of undying affection to you during this time of peace, brotherhood and impeachment.
I was a big Elvis Costello fan back in the day. I've seen him a few times, once in Blacksburg. Squeeze opened for EC and the Attractions, and both were young and in their creative primes. EC was also into his "abuse the audience" period, and was kind of a jerk between songs. But the songs! Yup, great hard-edged rock 'n' roll with smart lyrics and enough hooks to hang a side of beef. About a year or three later, EC released Trust and entered into another era for him. Here's a great song from that album that I just recently heard, and which brought these memories flooding back.
One memory leads to another. One of the other great musicians that I saw in Blacksburg was Warren Zevon. I don't know whether anyone has ever linked WZ with the angry young UK guys like Elvis C., Graham Parker and Joe Jackson (the shoed one, not the shoeless one), but Zevon had an edge about him that made him kindred. The fact that he lived in LA during the time when LA was putting out putrid California rock is all the more amazing. Thankfully, bands like X and Black Flag came along to wash the streets of the filth left behind by the California hippies. Getting back to my memory, Zevon followed a dirt road to Tech, put on an energetic live set that fired us up for a big round of college-style all-night drinking, and blasted out one of my favorites, Lawyers Guns and Money.
Warren died of lung cancer. He was funny and witty - check out his last show with Letterman - but he left this song that is tender and reminds us that memories fade. All we can really hope for is that those we love or admire keep us in their heart for a while. Warren, here's to you, man, still in our heart.
I didn't mean to get heavy, but sometimes that's what happens. When you're young, life seems long and you sometimes just waste it or rush to the next stage and forget to enjoy the place where you are at the moment. When you're old, you realize that life is really short, and you find yourself remembering times past that probably occurred differently from your memory - you conform them to your narrative that you tell yourself. I find myself trying more and more to live in the moment, to enjoy everything, to be happy and easy going. I don't always succeed, in fact far from it, but it's what I strive to do. Here's a pick-me-up that should get your feet tapping and your butt moving in your chair. It's ok to get up and dance to it even if "they" are watching. Yeah, it's ok. BRP gives you permission to feel alive and happy!
Here's another Blacksburg song that brings me back to a very good time. One quarter (Tech was on the quarter system back in the stone age) I finished my exams super early, and there was this band called Lee Street playing at Spanky's. It was like a Tuesday during exam week, and the kid was DONE. I wasn't alone, either. Anyway, the beer was cold, Lee Street was hot, and they blew me away with this cover of George Thorogood's take of Hank Williams' Move It On Over. Later, we were happily drunk walking down College Ave and singing this song loudly when we bumped into one of our great buddies who just laughed and laughed at us. We laughed, too. What a great memory.
You know what artist I loved while I was in Blacksburg? Holly and the Italians. Holly Beth Vincent put out a fantastic album that was played on WUVT constantly, and it was the background music of a segment of my VT days. I don't know what happened to her, but the album got caught up in legal issues and you still can't buy the damn thing in the US except as an import. It's truly a travesty. I still remember seeing Nasty Habits play Rock Against Romance at 117 South Main, and they ripped it. I can taste that cold, cheap beer that I was sucking down right before I got out on the dance floor and thoroughly embarrassed myself. Here is some long overdue RESPECT for an artist who should have been a star - get ready to freakin' rock!
Let me embarrass myself one more time. You know Miley Cyrus, right? The former queen-of-corporate-pop that sucks? Well, there is one song that I like from her. I like to dance to it. I like the concept of a person out of step and feeling a bit overwhelmed in a new situation. I like the thrill of life on the upswing prior to anything cynical spoiling the feeling. I like the patriotism, proud that America not only is the most dominant economic power ever in the world, but also an amazingly fun and partying place full of cool people. I like the catchy, get under your skin and stuck in your brain, pop loveliness of it. And I'm not afraid to admit it - or at least bury it deep in a post and hope that you still are with me and in a forgiving mood. Here we go:
I need your help now. How can I like that poppy confection by a teenager, and also like this punky rocker played by middle agers about a teenage riot? Heck if I know, but I like them both. A lot. I miss the teenage Miley, and I miss Sonic Youth. And I really really miss the Clash. But that's a story for another day.
Ha, here's one last BRP special. I used to make mixed tapes, then CDs, for my brothers and sisters at Christmas. I wrote song lists to accompany the mix, and put in a blurb about each song and why I had selected it. But at the end, I always buried one last track. It was the Hokey Pokey.
You might laugh, but I still remember being in New Orleans in January 2000. VT was playing for the National Championship against Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. We had been there a few days already, and were kind of needing a bit of a break from the drinking and partying. We woke up on game day after about 3 hours of drunken sleep and went to breakfast, vowing not to start drinking again until late afternoon as game time was 8 pm. Anyway, we're sitting in the window of a restaurant eating some greasy eggs or something when Big Puppy goes strolling by outside, notices us, and comes busting in, big as life. We do the high fives and hugs all around, and then he announces that a bunch of people we know are hitting this bar on Bourbon Street and insisting that we join them. Peer pressure being what it is, we paid for our meal and went with him. So about a half hour after swearing we weren't going to drink until late afternoon, we instead found ourselves in some packed Bourbon Street bar with a bunch of fellow Hokies. It was probably 11 in the morning or so, and the place was already rocking, probably because they had a 3-for-1 special going on. Being New Orleans, there was music pumping. They played the Florida State fight song (yup, Jailhouse Rock), and then they put on the Hokey Pokey. I don't know if you've ever seen the Hokey Pokey performed by lusty drunks, but it's downright sexy and nasty.
This next video isn't quite the same thing, but it's pretty great in its own right. Enjoy!
There's nothing I can say that can top that. I'll just exit, stage left, and see you very very soon.
Uh oh, your humble rock blogger just committed a rock 'n' roll boo boo. Yes, I committed the equivalent of rock harikari. Time to fall on my sword and tell you: I saw Cher for the second time in one year.
Heresy! How can someone call themselves a rock blogger and go see Cher twice in less than 12 months? Well, free tickets certainly helps explain some of it (make that all of it). But let's not get carried away with that. I actually had fun at this show, as I did at the earlier one. And I guess I'm dumb enough to admit it.
Before I go any further: how about those two pictures above, huh? First, you have to remember that Cher is 73 years old. Can you imagine any other 73 year old looking like Cher in that top photo? Yeah, she admits to surgical help, but still. I think the proper word for it is "damn!" And the second picture, well, Cher ain't no saint, but she looks like one of those Catholic school saint cards that they used to hand out. Pretty funny, actually.
Here's the thing about the Cher show: it's not really a concert. Well, the opening act comes out and plays nothing but music - Nile Rodgers, a dude that wrote a number of big, big hits.
But once Cher comes out, it's a musical theatre production. There are acrobats, dancers, stage props (and big ones, like the animatronic elephant), background singers, videos, lights, wig changes, and even a few musicians. It's Broadway-esque, but features the music of Cher's career. Not all of Cher's career - there still is no Gypsies Tramps and Thieves or Half Breed, two songs that always make me laugh, but I guess are no longer politically correct enough to perform live. There are, of course, songs from the Sonny and Cher days - including a kind of weird sing-along with the dead guy via video - and songs like Turn Back Time from her solo career. And there are covers, like Walking in Memphis.
There are lots of costume changes and interludes that feature recorded music and all the accoutrements to her stage act, like the acrobats. It's kitchy in some ways and funny in some ways, but it's also pretty entertaining. So is the crowd. There was some guy sitting in the first row who was dancing, swirling a sweater, and throwing flowers on stage. You don't see that at too many punk shows, although I have seen a wedding proposal at a Menzingers concert (she said yes). (Hey, as an aside, don't you think it's odd when people do the stadium proposal on the big screen? I'm always of mixed feelings when I see it - the nice guy part of me, which is a very small part of me, is pleased when she says yes, but the mean guy part of me, which is sizeable, hopes for her to say "um, no." I always want to see that - maybe it's the Philly in me. How about this one: I think it would be hilarious for a dude on a first date to pull that stunt and see what happens.)
Check out Grandma Cher's blue hair above. What do you think of that? She was kind of plugging it for women of a certain age - meaning old - to continue to strut their stuff and be cool. I'm all for that, but no blue hair is needed in my opinion. Anyway, I'm sure that the costumes are historically accurate in their Roman-meets-slutty style.
Hey, the last time we saw Cher, we were struck by how little she moved about the stage. She wasn't like poor old Elton John, who looks like he's about ready to enter assisted living, but she wasn't dancing or even grooving too much. Flash forward a few months, and Cher is bopping and strutting quite a bit. That was good - as Cher asked at one point, what's your Grandma doing tonight - and I can guarantee you that most 73 year old women are not dressing and performing like Cher. Maybe she found the fountain of youth again.
I don't really feel like doing a proper concert review - not that I ever really do that - but the experience of seeing Cher is decent enough. I wouldn't feel good about it if I had dropped $150 per ticket, but I didn't, so it was cool. One of the best parts was that I got a great parking space and got out of the lot really quickly and only sat through 1 traffic light. I was home from the sports complex, the strange asphalt and stadium jungle deep in South Philly, in a minimum of time, like 40 minutes from the time I left the arena to the time I pulled into my garage.
One great thing about the Cher show is that it is not the Omega bookend for my 2019 concert experiences. It would be kind of disappointing to end the year at a sports arena watching Cher. But that is not to be. Nope, I've got two, count 'em two, great rock 'n' roll redemption shows before the year closes out. I'll be back soon to talk to you guys about them. In the meantime, why don't you check out some of the archives and relive some of the great BRP experiences of the past.
Do you have any songs that, for some reason known only to you, seem to be aggregated so that they capture a time and place in your life? I do. Whenever I hear Madonna's Borderline, I think of being in Miami during the summer of '84. Deneice Williams Let's Hear For The Boy goes with Borderline because it was all over FM radio in Miami during '84. Weird, huh?
How about this? When I hear the Beach Boys Fun Fun Fun, I'm transported back to driving around in a bright blue Ford Maverick Grabber with a 302 V8 during my teenage years. I did some stuff in that car, let me tell you, and I'm pretty much transported back to that time whenever that song comes on. I don't know why that particular song evokes that memory because it was kind of old by the time I got my license, but no matter. That's what happens.
How about these tunes? They go together for me to catch my late middle-school years. I actually had a pretty good experience during that particular period in my life. Here they are: Steve Miller's The Joker and Steelers Wheel with Stuck In The Middle. I don't know how Steve Miller got into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, but maybe it's because he made up a word - pompetus - in that song. But it's pretty clear why Steelers Wheel were one hit wonders after watching this strange video.
Two more songs that go together in my memory are Eric Burden and War's Spill The Wine and Tommy James and the Shondells Mony Mony. I have no idea why these two are grouped in my pea brain, but they are. They remind me of early high school years during the summer. I always liked summer, but I didn't care much for high school. Still, I love both of these songs.
Yeah, I know that Billy Idol remade Mony Mony and did it credibly. I like that version, too, but that particular track reminds me of being in meat market bars in DC during my college years watching people fall in "love" for one night. Tommy James was cool, trippy and this song is fantastic. What's that? Crimson and Clover? Yup, I love that song, too, and it was also remade by Joan Jett, and again with a very credible cover that was good.
Speaking of summer, I remember being in the waves in Ocean City, MD with my nephew (who was an adult). For some reason, between riding waves, one of us started singing Weezer's Beverly Hills, and every time I hear that tune, I always think of that day. Weezer is a terrific band with a lot of very worthy songs. Getting Hef to be in the video, however, was a major high coup.
But here's the weird part. The other song that reminds me of summer is the Bottle Rockets Kit Cat Clock. My best friend had one of those clocks in his house when we were kids, but for some reason, when I look back and think about that clock, it's always summer. I love summer. In fact, I've been thinking a lot about summer recently. And I've been thinking about the Bottle Rockets, one of the best bar bands ever. We saw them at the old North Star Bar in Philly, and they were great.
One last summer song, and this one reminds me of summers in college. Yeah, it's Little Feat with Dixie Chicken. I found a great version that features not only the band, but also Bonnie Raitt and the beautiful Emmylou Harris. This song also reminds me of getting drunk. Oops, I better not head down that path, hahaha.
Time to run. Let me know about songs that evoke memories for you or that are linked inextricably together for a reason you might not quite understand. I love hearing that stuff. Talk to you soon!
I was a pretty big Replacements fan in the '90s. There are a lot of people who now claim to have liked them back then, but if that were true, why were they playing the tiny little 9:30 Club in DC? Nah, there weren't all that many fans back in the day.
I've got 5 'Mats CDs in my CD collection. What's a CD collection? Exactly. I was into this band back when dinosaurs walked the Earth. But I saw them at the 9:30 Club and … it was one of the worst performances ever witnessed by your loveable blogger. They were beyond drunk, playing songs for a minute and then stopping, yelling at each other and the crowd, and all at the most extreme volume. It could have been great. But it wasn't. Far from it. It was everything I dislike about rockers not understanding that they are also performers and that people took their valuable time and treasure to see them perform, not show us how drunk they could get.
But that was decades ago, and I thought, well, let bygones be bygones. I was still interested enough in the band to read Trouble Boys, the biographical book by Paul Mehr. It is a well written book with the tale of the band from their childhoods through the present day. I was stoked to begin to read it because I wanted to know more and to rekindle my relationship with the band.
Unfortunately, I came away a bit disgusted with these guys, particularly Paul Westerberg. This band had massive talent and could have driven rock to another level. Instead, they did everything possible to prevent themselves from being successful, drank themselves to oblivion, treated those close to them horribly, and crashed and burned into a minor footnote in the rock story. How can a group of guys that love NRBQ and Alex Chilton/Big Star end up being such obnoxious jerks? Hard to explain, but Mehr does it in about 400 pages of cringe-worthy detail. He gives details like how Westerberg and Tommy Stinson would sometimes set their tour advance money on fire and the like. Really?
Westerberg comes across particularly bad. Yes, he's a great songwriter. But he seems like a crappy guy - firing people right and left, sabotaging career success whenever possible, drunk and disorderly, terrible to those close to him (or those that just wanted to be close to him), and unapologetic about all of it. Tommy Stinson is no saint, but at least he appeared to want to succeed - plus, he was a great musician. Bob Stinson is a sad dude who led a terrible life through no fault of his own, but was deeply disturbed. Only Chris Mars seems to be a decent guy, someone you might like to hang out with for a bit.
The result is that after reading the book, I kind of lost some of my old flame for this band. It's too bad, because they truly were a seminal alternative band who turned out some truly memorable tunes that influenced the next generation of rockers. But they faded fast, almost forgotten now, and ended up in a biography that made me kind of dislike them.
Oh well, such is the rock 'n' roll life. People are people and just because they catch magic together in a band doesn't mean that they aren't still just people at bottom, and when given a modicum of fame and fortune, they can develop into horrible people. I've never understood those that want to chum up with celebrities just because they're famous. They might be a genius at one aspect of life, but suck at the rest.
And with that, I'm moving on to other subjects. RIP Bob Stinson. It was your band back in the day. Why couldn't they give it their all like, say, Iggy?
Holy Toledo! What a night at the Fillmore!
Emily set this one up, and it was just the two of us who went. How cool is that? Very cool.
The Interrupters were in town, bringing their California ska/punk act to the stage. How fun is that? Very fun.
Oh, and yes, I scored a free parking spot right on Columbus Avenue about 100 feet from the damn club. How good of an omen was that? Very good.
Because the Interrupters brought two warmup bands, both of which turned out to be keepers. First up was Sharp Shock:
Sharp Shock, an LA punk trio that reaches back to influential punk bands from the 80s and 90s to craft their own punk tunes was up first. We walked in and the show had just started. There they were, up on stage and blazing through the Damned’s Neat Neat Neat, a very choice song to start off the evening.
The lead guitarist, playing a cherry red Rickenbacker, was effusive and cool, giving quick and funny intros to their tunes and then the band ripped into them. I didn’t know their music, but it was above-average punk. And near the end of the show, they did the Pete Shelley homage, and did a very nice cover of the Buzzcocks Ever Fallen in Love. And there I was, not knowing anything about this band 30 minutes before, but singing along and remembering the times I had seen the Buzzcocks crank this tune. RIP, Mr. Shelley! So we were off to a fine start.
Up next was Skinny Lister, a London punk/folk outfit. Say what? You got it right. Combine the Pogues, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Frank Turner, the Decemberists, and a bunch of other bands and you get a sense of this outfit. Think punky and rollicking, jug-band-meets-jig-and-reel-meets-traditional-sea-chanties and that’s them.
I’m not going to lie to you, they were great. In fact, they are now on the BRP list of super fun live bands that I am going to drag all of my friends (not hard, I don’t have any) to see the next time they roll into Philly. Heck, they’re worth climbing on a plane and flying to London to see. Any band that has a crazy accordion player right up front, and where the dude playing the stand-up bass is swinging it over his head, while the most fun female lead singer you’ve ever seen bops around stage - all while pregnant - has got to have their act together. I loved them. I’ve been listening to them on Spotify ever since.
Listen to this tune and then check out the many pictures I have of Skinny Lister:
Phew, I need to catch my breath.
OK, I’m better now. Skinny Lister leaves the stage, and I’m thinking, how good can the Interrupters be to top THAT? Well, they didn’t top them, but the Interrupters were fantastic.
The crowd was super eclectic, including multiple little kids (I’m talking like 7 and 8 year olds, including one with a homemade "I'm Your Number One Fan" t-shirt) out late on school night, old-school punkers (including a guy sporting a huge multi-colored Mohawk), lots of “date night” types, etc. And they were all super pumped by the hard edged but light hearted Interrupters brand of ska/punk. You can’t help but bop along, and there was a very large but pretty polite mosh pit going on with a lot of crowd surfing.
Here are some pics of the action:
You don’t need to know the Interrupters songs beforehand in order to sing along. Yeah, they’re pretty simple and catchy, and by the middle of the song you can sing the chorus. And the band was in a great mood, playing with the crowd and egging them on.
At one point, they split the audience into two halves and then had them rush together into a big mosh. It was cool. And I’ve never seen this before, but near the end of the show, the pit spontaneously started chanting “you’re amazing” over and over to the band. They were really touched by this, saying it was a first for them and that they loved Philly and need to come back more often. It was cool.
This was clearly one of the best triple-bills I’ve seen in a long time. And I’ve seen a lot of them. It was a great night of rock ‘n’ roll, the kind of night that rekindles your spirit and makes you believe in the power of music. And it was so fundamentally different than Elton John, and I mean that in a good way.
I’ve gotta run now. Peace.
Let me be clear right up front: I’m not a big Elton John fan.
That doesn’t mean that I won’t go see the man play live on his farewell tour. And after sitting through a lengthy show (which is a good thing), I concluded that I like two of his ballads, Tiny Dancer and Your Song, but I really don’t care for the rest of the slow stuff. But I do like most of the more rocking tracks. Thus, I can have a good time at the show.
I was in Florida anyway and simply dropped by Tampa to see the show. It’s what I do. As is typical with “big” acts, this show was in a hockey arena that holds about 20,000 people. It’s a new facility and pretty nice as far as hockey arenas go. The size, alas, means that “good” seats are quite a distance from the stage, and the immediate intimacy of being in a small club is kaput. However, there are seats - in fact nice cushioned seats with cup holders - and there is food and beverage galore. Given that I wasn’t planning on being up and grooving to the tunes, seats were nice.
And I have to say that this was an aging crowd of boomers and it was Florida – got the picture? – so seats were very welcome to this demographic. I don’t think that Tampa has much of a club scene, and this is the type of show that rolls into town with some frequency. That would drive me crazy since so many of the bands that I really like could never fill an arena, which means that this part of the country is pretty barren musically. It has other attributes, like fabulous weather, water everywhere you look and a boomtown culture that is infectious. But give me Philly’s rock scene any day of the week.
Elton has been at this a long time. He and Bernie Taupin have written a large songbook that is famous worldwide. Elton had the outrageous stagemanship to project himself into rock stardom with all that goes with it: the huge ride up, the grotesquely excessive and terrible lifestyle, the big drug-fueled fall, the redemption through love and sobriety, and the triumphant return to sellout crowds and critical acclaim. You’ve seen all this time and again on Behind the Music.
Still, EJ is unique. He’s not a guitar hero but rather sits behind a huge piano – his days of running all over the stage and being a physical performer are over (see more on this below). He has a good voice that hasn’t lost it’s range through the all the years and abuse. He reveled in the glam side of rock, and was known for his outrageous costumes and stage props. And the man is gay, and so he has suffered from the abuse that gay people have to endure daily.
There was no opening act. Since Elton plays almost for 3 hours, that’s cool by me. The stage is massive, backed with a huge video board that was used throughout the show. Sometimes there were videos, other times just close up shots of Elton (not many of the band – the boy doesn’t like to share the limelight too much, but they did use the dry-ice-smoke-around-the-knees-effect which I haven’t seen in decades). What’s that you say? How were the videos? Well, uh, weird mostly. Sometimes so weird that they were distracting from the song that was being played. In fairness, even the really odd ones were at least interesting. It gets a little boring to watch a little dude sit in front of a piano from a distance of 100 yards, so the video distraction was welcome.
Elton started out the show with one of my favorites, Bennie and the Jets. As soon as you hear that beginning piano refrain, you know the tune, and everyone immediately got into the show. Nothing like a well-known upbeat track to get a concert off on the right foot. And this is one of those concerts that has so many familiar songs that the lyrics are on everyone’s lips all night long.
I don’t quite know how to describe Elton and capture him aptly. He’s little, a bit pudgy with sausage fingers, but still looks pretty good for a guy in his seventh decade. Unfortunately, it appears that his mobility is limited these days. That big piano he was sitting behind was actually the world’s largest Wal-Mart scooter – it moved across the stage when it was time for EJ to depart, and it allowed him to minimize his steps. It’s sort of sad that he didn’t have the physical mobility to walk across the stage and down the steps, but that’s the reality of it. To end the show, he got on a little lift with railings he could hold onto, and it moved back through a “door” in the rear of the stage – poof! Elton is gone – but it was yet another reality check.
Elton wore some over-the-top sequined jackets and something that looked like, well, pajamas. And he would stand up after some songs and exhort the crowd to roar, which they obligingly did. At times, he would slam the key cover of his piano and shout at the crowd, sort of like Maximus screaming “are you not entertained” in Gladiator. It was surprising the first time he did it, then it was funny thereafter. Yeah, you bang those keys there, Elton! We’ll applaud for you!!
Like I said, he played lots of ballads, and I liked two of them. I was never a big Goodbye Yellow Brick Road fan, but he played it and it made me think of when I was 12 years old. Shudder. He also played I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, Someone Save My Life Tonight, Candle In The Wind, Daniel, Sad Songs, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. The crowd seemed to like this stuff. I didn’t. Occasionally he would kick it up a notch, but he really got going for the last ½ hour of the show, playing Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighten’, Crocodile Rock (a bit sappy, that one), The Bitch Is Back and Rocketman.
There wasn’t a lot of talking by Elton, but what there was was good. He told how he composed songs, which still seemed like a mystery to him. Taupin would give him a lyric sheet, and Elton would then go and sit in front of his piano. A tune would just pop into his head while he perused the lyrics, and voila, a song was born. How cool is that? I’m sure he’s not the only one with that innate talent, but he sure did good with what he was given.
The other memorable sidebar was a discussion about the AIDS epidemic that swept savagely through the country in the 80s. Remember that huge quilt that covered the grounds of the Washington monument? I sure do. Anyway, he lamented the loss of life, but celebrated the fact that HIV positive people can now live lengthy lives. In other words, AIDS, at least in the western world, is no longer a death sentence but a manageable illness. Elton has done a lot to combat the disease in the developing world, and hey, I think that’s pretty darn badass. You go, man!
Did we get our money’s worth? Yeah, but that would have been easy because those tickets were comped. Isn’t it cool being a rock blogger? Regardless of the price, the dude puts on a good show, plays what the crowd wants to hear, and has a tight backup band that brings it. What more can you ask for? Don’t answer that, but you get the drift. As they say on TV, a good time was had by all.
So what’s next? Another show? Oh yes, indeed, and one that brought a huge and wonderful surprise. I’ll be back with that very soon. I also need to do a book review – how diversified is this site, my god! It’s a rock book, of course, about the Replacements. I was a pretty big fan back in the day, but I have to tell you that this book didn’t make me like them more. In fact, the opposite. I’ll be sure to give you the details on that soon.
I hope you’re in good spirits, getting ready to enjoy the world’s greatest holiday (Thanksgiving) and then gearing up for the craziness that travels under the name “December.” I’ve already got tickets to see Marah’s annual Christmas show at Underground Arts that is rapidly eclipsing The Nutcracker as the most important holiday arts tradition. And can you say Low Cut Connie? I thought you could. Tantalizing, ain’t it? See you soon, hotcakes.
How do you like that blast of winter? Are you dressed for the weather?
You know, every year I'm a bigger baby about the cold weather than the previous year. But truth be told, it's the dark this time of year that is the worst. I get home and it's pitch black outside. All I want to do is eat dinner and then crawl into bed.
But you know what they're doing in Florida?
Yup, they're getting baptized. I'm serious - take a look at that banner. People getting dunked and soaked. I don't know about all that, but I think it's kind of fun to watch it. At least from a distance.
You know what else they're doing in Florida? Yes, checking out the warm sunshine, the blue ocean and the green tropical foliage.
Not to fret, all is not lost here in Pennsylvania. No sir, we have cool stuff, too, like the Lehigh River up by Jim Thorpe. It's pretty darn nice and as soon as you set foot on a path, about 90% of the other people around you disappear. It's the oddest thing. Mind you, the same reduction in force doesn't happen if there is lunch being served, but if you're willing to hike a bit, you'll enjoy nature and pretty much have it to yourself.
Do you like this? If not, and you're beginning to talk behind my back, that's not so good. They make dish towels that tell you why, and they're pretty funny, too. What am I talking about? Take a look:
Yes, of course that is being sold south of the Mason-Dixon line, where else? The world is going to the dogs, that's for sure. And if you like your canines, I have just the place to take them. And if they're a touch overweight, I have that covered, too.
Here's a weird thing. I went to NYC recently. I had never been to the Guggenheim and wanted to see it. The building is fantastic - Frank Lloyd Wright was a genius. A scoundrel, too, but here's a guy that never went to college who becomes the most famous and influential architect of the 20th Century. Take that, Harvard!
The building itself is amazing and worth visiting. The art inside? I like art. I didn't care for what was hanging on the walls there. But the building! Well worth the visit.
Clowns kind of freak me out. I remember going to the circus as a kid (my dad loved the circus and we went every year). From a distance, the clowns are sort of cool, but when they get close, you realize that their costumes are dirty and smell, and that the people under that grease paint are freaky. Someone in my office brought this thing in, and it gave me the heebie-jeebies:
Alright, I've got to split. I know what you're thinking: thank you for all I've done. Yeah, haha, something like that. How about this:
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.