Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Live 8

By now, everyone with any kind of passing interest in pop music has heard about the upcoming Live 8 series of shows being organized by Bob Geldof, with the poverty fight-minded shows coming to various sites in Europe and the U.S.

It sounds promising, especially with Coldplay, U2, Paul McCartney, the Cure and Keane among the artists set to perform.

But I do want to share my thoughts on Elton John. Yes, he is legendary and all that. But my feeling is he is really consumed with himself and doesn't much care about others. I attended a Disney party in connection with the DVD release of the Lion King in October 2003 and he performed at the theater, and then was at the party afterwards. Of all the notables there, including comedian George Lopez, CCR frontman John Fogerty (who couldn't have been cooler) and others, Elton John was the only one who would not talk to everyday "normal" (meaning non-celebrity) people.

Elton John is going to perform at Live 8 for the simple fact it keeps him in the public eye. There is not a warmth to him, like when you see Bono going out to greet fans before a show and such. I haven't met a bunch of rockers outside my role as a pop scribe, but of those who I have, I can tell you Mark McGrath, Danny Elfman, John Fogerty, the members of the Smithereens and the guys in Offspring were so much cooler than Elton John. Maybe he was having a bad day? Then why did he go to the party after, just to sit at a table in a roped off area and have celebrities come by to worship him? I wish the "in crowd" among rockers would disown him. After all, isn't that what Live 8 is about? Helping the helpless?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Is Anyone Listening?

Can we be honest here?

I tuned into Yahoo’s online Adult Alternative radio station today. Things started out great; heck Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound” was the first cut that was played. But things went downhill from there (with the exception of U2’s “With or Without You” somewhere along the way). Both Rob Thomas and Matchbox Twenty, Jewel, Sheryl Crow – that is not exactly my idea of alternative. More of the same old’ same ‘ol.
And like throwing the poor penguin out in the sands of the Sahara, why play any cut from Kelly Clarkson. I guess it’s the theory about reaching down to the lowest common denominator. If you want to really offer up some great cuts from the so-called Adult Alternative genre, what about some of the latest work courtesy of Ocean Colour Scene, Glen Phillips, Aimee Mann or Bruce Cockburn? Or the Finn Brothers, Ron Sexsmith, Ryan Adams or Bright Eyes…I could be wrong. I wish I were wrong.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

All Music, all the time

Well, I not only survived, I thrived at the 8th annual Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point over the weekend (May 21-22, 2005). I saw many great artists, including a number where it was my first in-person look and listen. And, overall, my impressions were this was almost Coachella on the Coast. And, thankfully, not a Gram Rabbit in the bunch!

The winners came from across the country, and represented young guns and the old guard. If you haven't seen the Blind Boys of Alabama, you should. They are entertaining and deliver gospel-blues with an energy that defies age. I have seen them several other times, and they never disappoint.

About the acts I had not caught before. Roomful of Blues fuse neo-swing, blues and R&B with musical craft; the horn section is rivaled only by the strengths of the lead singer and guitarist.

And there is something wonderful about standing in the shadow of the mighty Pacific and listening to a talented guitarist tear it up on his Fender (or Gibson) in an outdoor setting fitting the power of his delivery. Guitarists Walter Trout, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mato Nanji (Indigenous) and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) did exactly that over the weekend. And acoustic performances by Roy Rogers & Norton Buffalo, as well as David Lindley were equally impressive especially given the cozy presentation afforded by the Backporch Stage.

Make sure you hit it in May 2006 if you are into the blues!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A Week's Worth awaits

Hello all,

I have not blogged this week. But that doesn't mean I've been quiet. Make sure to get the Orange County Register on Wednesday, May 18th (or visit the paper at www.ocregister.com) to read my in-depth feature on Kenny Wayne Shepherd and the Doheny Blues Festival. I interviewed the virtuoso guitar player last week and the story runs tomorrow. He is a champion of the blues and couldn't have been cooler when we talked over the phone on May 12.

Also, make sure to attend the Doheny Blues Fest this week. Not only is the event thankfully back in the hands of Omega Events, but the lineup on Saturday and Sunday, May 21-22, is great. Several of my favorite artists are back too! Steve Copeland & Raging Sun and the Blind Boys of Alabama perform on Saturday, while the amazing Roy Rogers (no, not the cowboy! the slide guitar master), Walter Trout and Shepherd all will be tearing up frets on Sunday. Not to be missed. Check out www.omegaevents.com for more details...

Thursday, May 12, 2005

iPod, Cellphones; what about the music?

All over the internet news sites today, much is being made of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates talking about Apple's iPod maybe not having a bright future despite its current popularity. He says cellphones may replace iPods as the gadget of choice to serve as a portable music player.

Again, I ask, what about the music? I'd say I was sounding like a broken record. But then, does anybody remember records (albums, vinyl, you know!) anymore!

I encourage everyone, no matter how you get your tunes, to seek out good ones. Ignore the hype from Billboard, MTV, VH1 and Spin and even yours truly. Don't forget the classics and the music that moved you back in the day, but forge ahead.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Doheny Blues Fest; it's coming

Although the 8th Annual Doheny Blues Festival doesn't arrive until May 21 and 22, I am already swamped writing a trio of preview stories on the blues event that arrives on the shores of Dana Point every May.

Make sure to check out my story on Steve Copeland & Raging Sun when it runs in the Show section on Friday, May 13. Steve had a stroke and was in the hospital in critical condition last December, yet has made an amazing recovery and will be bringing his amazing blues outfit to the festival on Saturday, May 21. If you plan on going to the festival, arrive by noon so you can catch his set.

I'm also writing a story on headliner Kenny Wayne Shepherd and that will run sometime in the middle of next week. I haven't talked to him yet, so I don't know the shape of the story. But with his most recent album a good, wide-ranging affair, I'm looking forward to our phone chat and catching him at the fest too....

For more information about this always-fun fest, visit www.omegaevents.com

That's it for now...

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Another magical night

On Friday, May 6th, I had the thrill of seeing headliner Aimee Mann and opener Glen Phillips (of Toad the Wet Sprocket fame) at the Hollywood House of Blues. Performing songs off her newly-released concept album, "The Forgotten Arm," as well as the wonderful "Lost in Space" and "Bachelor No. 2" solo releases and the acclaimed "Magnolia" soundtrack, it was a set that never faltered. How many artists kick off their night with a song that they halt because it doesn't sound right and then immediately hit it out of the park to the obvious delight of a crowd.

And while her best-known songs ("Red Vines," "Save Me" and "Wise Up") received the biggest cheers, the attentive and devout capacity crowd connected with the new material off her fifth solo effort, the aptyly-titled "The Forgotten Arm," a concept album that tells the story about a Vietnam War vet/drug-addicted boxer and a girl who fall in love in 1972. While she didn't perform the entire album, she and her wonderful 4-man band played a number of the album's gems, including "Goodbye Caroline," "Going Through the Motions" and the emotive "I Can't Help You Anymore."

I have seen Mann a number of times since the 1990s and her skills as a musician and live performer continue to grow. On Friday, she was more relaxed and confident than any time I've seen her. Mann and company's night-ending "Deathly" boasted the kind of power and boldness that is rare among folk-rockers. Clearly Mann has grown beyond the singer-songwriter and folk rock genre where her solo career began and she has joined that rare field of artists who defy easy categorization.

Maybe Mann's magic is rubbing off on Phillips. Always a wonderful singer and songwriter, his solo career has admittedly always been overshadowed by his role as lead singer and frontman of Toad the Wet Sprocket. But on the heels of his wonderful third solo disc, "Winter Pays for Summer," Phillips delivered a strong 50-minute set of material on Friday. Although he received cheers when offering up acoustic takes on Toad tunes (notably an incredible version of "Something's Always Wrong"), his new solo stuff is equally powerful. "Duck and Cover," "Thankful" and "True" were among the highlights of his 14-song set.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Recovery almost complete

Believe it or not, I am catching up on my sleep post Coachella. Last night (as in Cinco de Mayo), I went to Martini Blues to catch a fine night of music. In addition to strong sets by Corday and Vesper, I was utterly blown away by Bayadera. I had seen the wonderful quintet at the Orange County Music Awards last month, but that was only for a song. A complete set gave them time to build momentum, explore the various reaches of their territory and take the crowd to a make believe world somewhere between Latin America, the Middle East and a Grateful Dead concert.
Magical stuff.

All night long at Martini Blues, friends and musicians would come up and chat. Many asked me for details about Coachella. The myth is more than that. It is real. A place where - mostly - the music comes first. And people - young and old - go to listen to music. To be challenged by music.

When I told people that I enjoyed a wide-ranging field including the likes of New Order, Nine Inch Nails and Jem, as well as Bright Eyes, Snow Patrol and Keane, they seemed in disbelief that someone can like so many different kinds of music with a passion. I do. Don't ask why. I think I got it from my parents. A little kid, I was raised listening to the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the 5th Dimension (hey, I was a toddler!) and Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite" and even Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis. You get the idea, my parents had a wide range of tastes too.

At Coachella, you are immersed in great music. Imagine being lost in the woods on the most beautiful day, with a gentle wind, the sound of birds and filtered sunlight raining down. But here, it was music and loads of it...

Ignore the Billboard charts, and the mindless entertainment shows that tell you how important the trillionth reunion from Cher or Aerosmith or whoever. Go to Coachella next year. Fall in love with music again. And again.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

2005 Coachella - If only Time Travel was possible!

Wondering where I've been?
I'm still dizzy and wiped out from a wonderful, inspiring and fun-filled weekend in Indio. You know, that non-descript desert city somewhere east of Palm Springs. I survived the two-day fest, but could hardly get off my chair on Monday. But I'd do it all again. How is that Time Machine coming; forget the damn cell phones...

It was hot, but worth it as I pushed my sonic-feeding tubes (ears) to their limits with a full day on Saturday and Sunday. Best just to free flow some thoughts and impressions. I simply didn't see a single bad performance on day one. How many bands did I see? I caught all of Coldplay, Bauhaus, Weezer, Keane, Snow Patrol, and most (if not all) of sets from the Raveonettes, Jamie Cullum, Katie Melua and Gratitude. All week I've been asking myself who stood out on Saturday. Bauhaus might have delivered the single greatest set, but any one of the performances could well have been a stand-out set somewhere else. I had worried Snow Patrol might not be as strong as they were last year because they fired their original bass player, but have no fear. The Irishmen still rock. And Keane? They replicate all the magic of their wonderful debut live in spades.

What about day two? Before we get to the good stuff, let me be direct. Gram Rabbit is terrible. If you think the moniker begs comparisons with Gram Parsons, run!!! And Orange County's Thrice; a word of advice. Stop your screaming. It is supposed to be music.

But most of the day swept over me like the burning rays of the sun. Headliners Nine Inch Nails. Believe the hype. I've never been a big fan of Trent Reznor's heavy metal-goth mix. But live, he and his hard-rocking outfit slew the capacity crowd in ruins. Songs such as "With Teeth" never failed to convey emotional turmoil. And while NIN's sound might seem at odds with the dance-minded vibe of New Order, that band also turned in a commanding showcase immediately before highlighted by a number of great songs from the newly-released "Waiting for the Sirens' Call." The title track of that album, as well as a rocking "Bizarre Love Triangle" were epic.

Other highlights? A reignited and reunited Gang of Four. And sure-fire turns from the Futureheads and Sweden's Shout Out Louds. Kasabian also rocked and lived up to the buzz.