Monday, November 28, 2005

Rock Hall names inductees; excuse me while I yawn

With the exception of the Sex Pistols, I just can't work up any kind of excitement about the list of names going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2006.

Miles Davis, jazz great. No connection to rock.

Black Sabbath, Blondie, Lynyrd Skynyrd...are you kidding me? Is this the best they can do. I have said it before, I'll say it today and again. Music put in the hall should have some lasting and artistic value. It should represent rock artists who craft original music that sounded great when it was recorded, and will have a lasting influence on listeners and other musicians. I really don't believe the work of Black Sabbath, Blondie and Lynyrd Skynyrd meets that test in the long run.

Artists are eligible to be inducted into the Rock Hall after at least 25 years have passed since their first record was released. Still no Hall & Oates, still no Gram Parsons, still no Cure. All those artists have been commercial successes, but also paved the way for others who came after.

But we get Blondie. You think she belongs alongside the Beatles and Buddy Holly? I didn't think so...with that kind of logic, I think we are doomed to see plenty of lightweight types join the ranks in the years to come.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Pay to Play? Think Green Day

There have been an untold number of critics who have fallen over each other in praise of Green Day's "American Idiot" seemingly for all of 2005 (the album was released in September 2004).

You would think the Green Day CD was so great that every radio music director in the land thought this was the best album since Nirvana's "Nevermind." And yet many of the year's best albums (including especially strong releases by Embrace, Neil Young, Aimee Mann, Bruce Springsteen and New Order) have sadly been largely ignored by commercial radio.

But after revelations today that Warner Music Group has had to pay up $5 million to settle a payola probe, we now know that Green Day, My Chemical Romance and even R.E.M. were among the bands who won airplay after the record company reportedly ponied up paid vacations, laptop computers, iPods and even Super Bowl tickets to get their music played over the airwaves. Sick, huh?

This isn't the first time New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has shined a legal spotlight on the problem. Earlier this year, Sony BMG had to pay out $10 million to the state of New York for using so-called payola to get Jennifer Lopez some air time.

Spitzer, according to media reports, is still setting out after Universal Music Group and EMI Group, as well as Clear Channel Communications and others. If only radio would focus on playing good music, not worrying about collecting "goods" for themselves.

I would love to think this legal victory in the fight against pay-to-play tactics would make a difference. Somehow, I don't think it will.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Depeche Mode still wields sonic might

On Saturday, Nov. 19, it was time to make the trek to San Diego's ipayOne Center to see Depeche Mode. I didn't know what to expect because I had been playing the band's latest disc, "Playing the Angel," for a few days before the show and honestly was mixed on the CD.

But Depeche Mode didn't disappoint, and neither did the material from their new disc. Leading off with "A Pain That I'm Used to" and leading into "blues-tinged "John the Revelator," the new material was wonderful and blended well with the electronica act's classic material drawn from its seminal '80s and '90s releases.

Lead singer Dave Gahan remains most of rock's most energetic frontmen, and would pace and incite the crowd while twirling and getting many in the crowd to scream. And armed with a setlist that included propulsive songs such as "Behind the Wheel," "Personal Jesus" (featuring Martin Gore delivering some distinctive guitar work), "Policy of Truth" and "Enjoy the Silence," the concert grew stronger over its two-hour length. And with the well-crafted encore - including "Everything Counts" and "Nver Let Me Down Again" - the audience seemed as if it could dance all night.

I would love to tell you what Andrew Fletcher was doing behind his sci-fi styled console, but I really couldn't tell you. Despite my great view of him (I was seated to the side and he was often the only one I could see on stage clearly), he adds little to the proceedings. That made it even more clear how talented Gahan and Gore are as Depeche Mode continues to amaze fans and challenge itself musically.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

dada: yes, rock still matters

dada and the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano share a bond that is legendary among fans of the Los Angelesbased original rock outfit. Little did bassist-singer Joie Calio and guitarist-singer Michael Gurley know that when they took the stage for the first time together to open for Mary’s Danish at the legendary venue in 1991, that it was the beginning of something very special.

dada – completed several months later with the addition of drummer Phil Leavitt and which has never boasted any other lineup – has gone on to record some of the most original and powerful albums of the 1990s and ‘00s. And there have always been performances at the Coach House to reconnect with fans who love seeing Calio, Gurley and Leavitt deliver marathon-length shows that stretch long into the night. dada returns to headline at the Coach House on Saturday night, November 19th.

In addition to performing songs from the trio’s acclaimed debut "Puzzle" (including tracks such as “Dizz Knee Land,” “Dim” and “Dorina”), dada will likely be performing material from the trio’s latest full-length release. “How To Be Found,” released in March 2004, finds the band exploring the vast stretches of the rock universe with excellent songs such as “The Next Train Out Of My Mind,” “Nothing Like You” and the accessible “Any Day The Wind Blows.”

The band’s catalog also includes 2003’s “Live: Official Bootleg (Vol. 1),” released by Coach House Records. “There is no other show for us like the Coach House; it has all the emotions of being the first show,” Calio told me in a May 2004 phone interview. “We were never that big in California, but we’ve done really well at the Coach House. It’s a very good synergy between us as a band and the Coach House as a venue.”

Audiences catching dada this Saturday night will get to see something increasingly rare in modern rock; musicians who exhibit equal measures of skill as songwriters, experts on their instruments and singers capable of dazzling with harmonies that recall the magic of the Byrds, Badfinger and – yes – even the Beatles.

Songs such as “Ask the Dust,” “Feet to the Sun” and “Hollow Man” are among the great songs that dada frequently features in concert. dada, Boxcar and Thriving Ivory will perform at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, SJC, at 8 p.m. on Nov. 19. Admission is $17.50. Information: (949) 496-8930.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Paul McCartney concert is truly out of this world

A night after performing a full-length 37-song set at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim on Nov. 11 that I unfortunately missed, Paul McCartney returned to perform an equally-ambitious show that stretched from 8:40 p.m. until 11:35 p.m. - that was just short of three hours!

The reason McCartney's Saturday night show on Saturday, Nov. 12 stretched beyond its normal 2-1/2 hour length was out of this world. Really! Sir Paul announced early in the show that it was arranged with NASA for this evening's show to mark the first time that a live music event was being broadcast into space. True enough, the time came after he had already delivered 16 memorable songs. Via big screens, Sir Paul and the two astronauts on the International Space Station (flying by at 220 miles above Earth) were able to communicate and the sold-out crowd could view and cheer and be part of the historic event as well. Paul McCartney and his excellent band delivered a wonderful version of "English Tea" while NASA astronaut Bill McArthur and Russian Cosmonaut Valery Tokarev sipped some tea/coffee/some kind of liquid out of their squeeze packets. McCartney and company also performed "Good Day Sunshine," a perfect song to complete the task of waking the astronauts at the beginning of their day. McArthur got cheers from the crowd when he did a flip in space, and toward the end of the live feed, did a command flip performance when asked to do so by McCartney.

McCarthur seemed especially thrilled that the Space Station residents were being treated to a show from the legendary performer.
"That was simply magnificent," McArthur said, adding he considered McCartney an explorer too noting his creative contributions.

The overall show was magical. Kicking off with "Magical Mystery Tour" and performing another three dozen tracks after that, the concert was equally a celebration of his unmatched catalog and the magic that greets his performances. There were the blistering rockers (notably "Live and Let Die" and "Helter Skelter" - oh joy!), the great new material from "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" ("Fine Line," "Jenny Wren," "Follow Me"), the Beatles gems ("Blackbird," "Yesterday," "Let It Be," "I Will," and many more) and underappreciated solo/Wings material ("Let Me Roll It," "Maybe I'm Amazed").

And this is McCartney's best band since the Fab Four. No question. Virtuoso lead guitarist Rusty Anderson, guitarist-bassist Brian Ray, animated drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. and keyboardist Paul "Wix" Wickens all contribute vocals and energy that further enhances these shows (I caught the same lineup at the Pond in October 2002, and enjoyed the blend even more this past weekend). Indeed, Brian Ray nailed it when late in the show he stepped up to the mic and said, "This truly is the happiest place on Earth."

I encourage anyone reading this who lives in Southern California to catch McCartney when he plays at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Nov. 29 or Nov. 30. I've caught McCartney a number of times stretching back to the mid-1970s when he fronted Wings. He truly keeps better and his shows have a kind of power and mystery that touches people of all ages. Even when he isn't being beamed into the heavens, McCartney is in a universe of his own.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Bruce Cockburn, Rusty Anderson: what's not to like?

Sorry about the extended delay in my posts. I truly have been busy and have actually not spent much time in front of my keyboard over the past week.

Where to start?
Last Friday, Nov. 4, I caught one of the best shows I've seen this year. Singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn appeared in a solo setting at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. No openers or fill, just the Canadian great impressing a near-capacity crowd from 8:18 p.m. until 10:40 p.m. (there was a break from 9 p.m. to 9:27 p.m.).

But the show couldn't have been stronger. Bruce performed 21 selections, featuring instrumentals off his latest CD "Speechless," but also performing great songs such as "Wondering Where the Lions Are," "If a Tree Falls," "Put It in Your Heart" and "Pacing the Cage" (one of the most beautiful and tender songs I've ever heard) off his 1996 album "The Charity of Night." But then, I love just about everything he has written and recorded.

Although best known for penning probing songs that often tackle a mix of political and religious themes, Cockburn is an amazing guitar player and displayed those skills across his rewarding set at the Coach House. Highlights included the newly-penned "Elegy" and blues-flavored "King Kong Goes to Tallahassee."

He closed the show with a powerful and distinctive new song, titled "Mystery," that I hope is included on his next studio disc. A great night.

Also, check out my Orange Pop column in the Orange County Register today. It is a feature story on Rusty Anderson, who plays guitar in Paul McCartney's band. He is also an amazing guitarist, and his latest album, "Undressing Underwater," will appeal to fans of virtuoso guitar playing and good songwriting.