Wednesday, July 10, 2024

A Few Highlights From The Peter Jesperson/Tommy Stinson Summit At Schoolkids 6/24

David Menconi, Peter Jesperson, & Tommy Stinson at Schoolkids Records, Raleigh 6/2/24.

Last month, Peter Jesperson and Tommy Stinson did a few gigs in my area at Schoolkids Records in Chapel Hill and Raleigh, N.C. The events were promoting Jesperson’s bio, Euphoric Recall: A Half Century as a Music Fan, Producer, DJ, Record Executive, and Tastemaker, a book I’ve been enjoying reading lately. 

Jesperson is bast known as the former manager of the Replacements, a band he discovered when working at the legendary Oar Folkjokeopus in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1980, but he also road managed R.E.M., c0-founded Twin/Tone Records, and worked A & R at New West Records from the ‘90s to the 2010s, as well as a lot of other side jobs along the way so there’s a lot of fascinating anecdotes in the book.

The events also featured ex-Replacements (also ex Bash and Pop, G N Roses, and Soul Asylum) member, Tommy Stinson, who was plugging his latest record by his outfit, Cowboys In The Campfire, Wronger. Stinson, and his bandmates, Chip Roberts (guitar) and Chops LaConte (bass) played solid sets of tunes off the new album plus a Bash and Pop song or two if I remember correctly.

Peter Jesperson, Tommy Stinson, & Jon Wurster at Schoolkids, Chapel Hill 6/1/24.

On Saturday, June 1, in a session that began at 4pm, Jon Wurster (Superchunk drummer/comedy writer) moderated the discussion/Q&A with Jesperson and Stinson, and it largely touched on the Replacements’ rowdy early days including the story of the “Magic Slacks,” a garish pair of pants that road manager Bill Sullivan bought that the Replacements members had to wear to shame them if they “F***-ed up.” They were what Bob Mehr wrote in Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements were a “peculiar touring talisman.”


The Magic Slacks came up again at their Q&A in Raleigh the next day, which I attended because the first was so damn entertaining for this Mats fan. I wanted to share a few moments that I recorded, and transcribed from the Schoolkids stage in Mission Valley Shopping Center (a strip mall complex where the Replacements played back in 1987).

David Menconi, former music critic and arts reporter for the Raleigh N&O, and author of several music tomes including his latest, Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music (great read) moderated this time, and I was glad to capture a few fun stories.


Let’s begin with a question I asked them, and was quite amused at the answer:


DANIEL COOK JOHNSON: “We talk about books about the Replacements, I think one of the first books that had significant writing on the Replacements was Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life from, like, about 20 years ago. Well, something that stuck in that book to me was you were playing, the Replacements were playing Duke, and Peter Holsapple gave you a single of the dB’s, right? And then the story goes that Tommy broke it in half…”


PETER JESPERSON: “And threw it out the window - in the van while we’re were driving.” 


DCJ: “Right, so I was wondering if that was true or not – what was your reaction? I mean, did you yell at him? Did he have to wear the magic slacks the next day?”


PJ: “I was not in charge of the magic slacks portion of things, but, you know, I guess, this is what happens if you have something that you care about in the van with the Replacements, you don’t know if it would make it out in one piece.”


TOMMY STINSON: “Shitty little kids.”


PJ: “It was fun you know, I mean there were times where like, you know, where Bob [Stinson] would fall asleep, and they’d tie his shoelaces together, and then we’d pull up at a gas stop and he’d get up, and try to walk out, and he’d fall on his face, and we’d all laugh; or there’d be times where…I remember you guys shredding a whole Sunday newspaper, and lighting it on fire in the van while we were driving.


Or one of my favorites was when I’d be driving, and we’d see a police car and they’d shake up a bunch of beers and then spray me with them so that if we got pulled over, I would reek of alcohol. And usually when I was actually driving, I wasn’t drinking.


Another bit of talk that I’m glad I recorded was Stinson talked about meeting Bob Dylan when the Replacements were recording All Shook Down in Los Angeles in 1990 while Dylan was working on his 27th studio album, Under the Red Sky at the same studio. Tommy also recalls meeting David Bowie so read on:


TOMMY STINSON: “We were recording at Sunset Sound, I guess it was, on Sunset Boulevard, in Hollywood, and I went across the street to the liquor store, and I came back and it’s – it’s so funny, there are a couple of different things that happened to me on that particular record in this way that was funny – another one I’ll leave out, the story about … Walked in the front door, and the whole studio was built around this square. There’s a courtyard in the middle and all the studios were on the outside. And so (motioning) A was here, B was here, C was the big room where Pet Sounds, and all that stuff was recorded. And so I walk in, and the studio doors was open, and there was a couch right there with a guy sitting on it. He goes, ‘Hey, you’re in that band, the Replacements?’ And it was Bob, he was laying on the couch, he said, ‘Hey, come in here.’ And so I walk in, and he sits up, and we sat down, and I chatted with him about like for 45 minutes. And he asked me all kinds of questions, ‘how’s it going,’ and he seemed real interested in what we were doing. And he goes, ‘Would you guys mind, if I, my kids love you guys, do you mind if I bring ‘em down to meet you?’ I said ‘Sure!’ 


So cut to – I didn’t really get into it with the guys because there was more stuff that was like going on - so cut to Bob comes to the studio with his kids and it’s like announces in the studio ‘Hey, Bob Dylan’s here, he’s got his kids, you wanna meet them?’ Oh sure, you know, we’re in the lounge area room, and I don’t think I told the guys that I hung out with him, or said to bring his kids down, I might have said I saw Bob Dylan all checked out, I wasn’t really a fan yet. It wasn’t until Peter told me to get Blonde on Blonde, and I just like studied it and was like ‘Oh shit.’ And that was later in life obviously. 


And he walked in, he left his kids outside so wanna introduce him to the band, and stuff like that, and it was then that he asked if he could have a beer, and I said, ‘Yeah, they’re five bucks,’ and the guys were mortified. And he got a chuckle out of it and was going through his pocket, and was ‘I’m kidding, kidding!’ And they were all like, ‘What the f*** are you doing?’ ‘cause I had already hung out with him, I already knew it was kinda funny, from then we had Jackob and Anna, and it was just one of those funny things, it was, I met David Bowie the same kind of way. 


He sat next to me on a couch at the Rock and Roll Awards show, he came and sat down next to me. They put the boys on one side and girls on the other side. And he just came and sat down and said, ‘how are you guys doing, man? Like how are things going,’ he was like real engaging, and unfortunately for me, I had been there real early and we already on drugs and drinking at that point, but, it was, I remember, you know, being sober enough to like sit and have a conversation for him for about half an hour, I got up, and walked away and was like ‘Jesus, I was just talking to f***-in’ David Bowie!’ It was like I was just having coffee with him.”


Good talk, Peter & Tommy, good talk. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Why The Myth Of Black Cats Being Bad Luck Is An Outdated And Silly Concept

This piece was originally published in Heart 2 Home: The Triangle Pet Adoption Magazine in October 2011 under the title “The Myth of the Black Cat.” My re-posting it now, with some editing and slight re-writes, was inspired by the N.C. Museum of Art's screening of Edgar G. Ulmer’s THE BLACK CAT on Friday night here in my area (which I highlighted in this week's Film Picks in the Raleigh N & O), and also by the fact that this black cat being evil nonsense has got to end.

hen I was in the third grade, my class took a walk on a path near our school. I was the first in line, even ahead of the teacher, and it felt good to take the lead for once. That is, until a black cat ran across the path right in front of me. One of my schoolmates behind me yelled “Ooh, you have bad luck! You have bad luck! As the entire class laughed at my predicament, I felt I had been cursed by this random occurrence.

The myth of the unlucky black cat was ingrained in my schoolmates’ minds, as it is in most people’s, but few of us question where it came from.

Many feel it can be traced back to the pilgrims, not long after they landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. The myth was wrapped up in the Christians’ fear of witchcraft, where black cats were considered a symbol of evil – part devil and part sorcery.

It’s not been widely reported that many black cats suffered the same fate as the many women wrongly accused of being witches, because it was believed that witches often transmuted themselves into black cats to avoid death.

The myth of the black cat is also linked to the Middle Ages. Fear of black cats caused many of them to be killed which tragically caused the bubonic plague to spread. With a shortage of cats, the rat population got incredibly out of hand.

Another fascinating factor that enhanced the myth was Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” The short story, written in 1843, concerns a man who murders his wife and is haunted by a black cat named Pluto, who he had previously killed by hanging.

Several film and television adaptations have been made of the story, with one of the most notable produced by Bela Lugosi and Boris Karlov in 1934.

We’ve all seen movies with black cats mysteriously slinking through scenes. In many fantasy films, black cats have various supernatural powers and can often morph into humans. There have been so many examples of this kind of imagery that they have become part of the fabric of spooky celebrations.

The myth continued to grow through countless retellings of these tales, references in pop culture, and sayings passed down by folks from generation to generation. Much like the superstition that breaking a mirror causes seven years of bad luck, or that it’s unlucky to open an umbrella indoors, the unlucky black cat is a myth that has stuck.

In contrast, there are many cultures where black cats are seen as a symbol of good luck. The British, the Irish, the Scottish, and the Japanese all count the inclusion of a black cat in one’s life as a symbol of prosperity.

To cat lovers, black cats are beautiful creatures with shiny coats just as lovable as tabbies or white cats. To non-cat people, they can come across as eerie, shadowy creatures to be fearful of. It’s no wonder such a legacy of black cat bashing has built up over the centuries.

One part of the black cat legend that was not known to me when that cat crossed my path in the third grade was that for Germans black cats crossing your path from right to left is a bad omen, but from left to right is a good one. I can’t remember from what side the cat in question crossed in front of me, but I doubt it would’ve mattered. The myth is powerful enough without that detail.

I bet that there are more people that have good experiences with black cats than those that have a fear of them. But perhaps there is still a negative association which is the reason black cats (and black dogs) have the most difficult time getting adopted.

To this day there are a number of animal shelters that suspend the adoption of black cats because of the fear that they will be used in dangerous pranks or rituals. Many websites even warn owners to keep black cats inside during late October.

What should we gather from all this? I think that it is that the myth is an outdated and silly one, and that we should respect black cats whether they cross our paths or we cross theirs. It’s their world as much as it is ours, and our often violent ways have meant worse luck for them than us.

So let’s wish the best of luck to all black cats this Halloween season, especially the ones waiting to be adopted.

More later...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Notes On Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band @ Va Beach 9/5/16

Springsteen @ Va Beach  9/5/16 (Photo Credit: Jill Walters)

Initially, my third time seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band was going to be on April 10th, 2016 at the Greensboro Coliseum but that show was cancelled two days beforehand in protest of North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2.

I was proud of The Boss for taking a stand against the law that he said in a statement that “dictates which bathrooms transgender people are permitted to use,” and “attacks the rights of LGBT citizens to sue when their human rights are violated in the workplace,” but selfishly was unhappy that I wasn’t going to be able to see the man and his mighty band perform their classic fifth album The River in full.

Thankfully, the tour was extended and a date was added for a show at the Veterans Home Loan United Amphitheater in Virginia Beach on September 3rd. It was still The River Tour 2016 but Springsteen and Co. had stopped played the full album during the tour's second leg and the shows evolved into epic career retrospectives that sometimes only featured a few songs from the 1980 double record. 

But that didn't matter much as with Springsteen performing three and a half, sometimes four hour concerts full of rarities, deep cuts, and many fans’ requests via homemade signs, I was sure my wife and I would be witnessing a wonderful event, and I was lucky enough to score GA pit tickets so we’d be up close.

Several weeks before the show, a fellow Bruce fan (William Fonvielle of the blog Filmvielle) asked me if I was going to make a sign to request a song, and I hadn’t given that notion a thought until then. In the days before the show, I saw that Springsteen was playing several songs off of his 1973 debut Greetings From Asbury Park so I got to thinking that I’d love to see him do “For You” from that album at Va Beach.

It was the song that first got me into Springsteen
’s music over two decades ago fittingly on a road trip through New Jersey. I also liked that it was a short title that would be easy to put snugly on a piece of poster board. With magic markers and Sharpies I made thick block letters of the two words, and because there was a storm a brewing, my wife laminated it so it wouldn’t be ruined by rain.

On the Saturday morning of the show, it announced that the concert was going to be postponed until Monday, September 5th, because of that tropical storm which was named Hurricane Hermine. First HB2 and now Hermine! Happy that at least the show wasn’t cancelled, my wife and I went ahead with our trip to the area and enjoyed a nice day at Busch Gardens in nearby Williamsburg, Virginia.

Monday afternoon, we arrived at the Amphitheatre and took part in the lottery for our place in the pit. We had a primo spot only behind a few people on the left side of the stage (“right in front of Nils! *” said Ellyn, another Bruce fan on my Facebook chat), and after hours of waiting, The Boss walked out on stage alone approximately 10 minutes before 8 pm. He proceeded to play “For You” on the 
E Streeter Roy Bittan’s white grand piano. So I had made a sign for nuthin’! 

Of course, I can’t really complain about getting the song I wanted to hear, especially since the sign didn’t take long to make and rolled up easily in my pocket so it really hadn’t put me out. But most importantly, it was a gorgeous solo performance of one of my favorite Springsteen tracks which you can see here.

The next five songs were also from Greetings From Asbury Park: “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?,” (click on the title to see my video) “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City,” “Growin’ Up,” “Spirit in the Night,” and “Lost in the Flood,” and they were all amazing full band performances.

I was hoping they’d keep it up and play the entire Greetings album, but they went on to Springsteen’s second album, The Wild, The Incident, & the E Street Shuffle, for invigorating renditions of four of that albums seven cuts including the tour premiere of “E Street Shuffle,” which I captured on my iPhone:

After that there was a mesmerizing mixture of material from the rest of his catalog which included several sign requests being honored. Springsteen picked out a big sign that said in all caps: “THIS JERSEY GUY WILL PROPOSE TO THIS JERSEY GIRL DURING A FULL BAND THUNDER ROAD.” So Bruce obliged and we got a great version of the longtime staple. 

Other sign requests that were played were “Pink Cadillac,” “Mary’s Place,” and “Save My Love,” a Darkness on the Edge of Town outtake (available on the box set The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story) that’s only been played a handful of times since it’s live debut in 2010.

Another tour debut, “Factory,” which could be heard during the sound check hours before the show, was played for the occasion of Labor Day, and a rousing cover of the Isley Brothers’ classic “Shout!” (watch the video I shot of it) appeared in the hits heavy encore. One of the only songs that has a permanent place in Springsteen’s setlists, his 1975 warhorse “Born To Run,” was also broken out during the encore to reconfirm its standing as one of the greatest rock songs ever, and one of the greatest concert crowd pleasers.

“Dancing in the Dark,” which followed, isn’t one of my favorite of Springsteen’s but it’s always fun to watch the women get picked by Bruce to play the Courtney Cox role in a stage dance with Bruce.

It was the second Bruce show for my wife, Jill, and since her first and last show was 7 years ago it was her first time seeing how well Jake Clemons nails his late, great uncle Clarence’s saxophone parts. She took a great photo of Bruce and Jake which is at the top of this post.

The exhaustingly entertaining show had many highlights, one of which was Bruce’s not so smooth crowd surfing during “Hungry Heart,” which was one of the two songs that he played from The River (the other was “Out on the Street”). I took video of the hilarious event – watch for The Boss pointing the people below him to move him towards the stage at 4:48:

Monday night’s Va Beach concert didn’t break any records for length (it was roughly 20 minutes shorter than the longest U.S. show to date at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on August 30th), but I’m not complaining about a show stuffed with so many satisfying musical moments. It’s definitely the best of the three shows I’ve been too – I was pretty late to the live party as my first Springsteen show was only in 2009 – and I can’t wait for the download of the recording of the show to drop.

My aforementioned friend Fonvielle said that he wondered if Bruce was “trying to create a full sense of history with these final shows to push his book” (Springsteen’s long awaited autobiography Born To Run comes out on September 27th). I bet that’s true, and I believe it’s a beautiful thing. Even though it wasn’t really a River show, it was a dream setlist in many respects, and it more than made up for the Greensboro cancellation.

One of the best signs that I saw a fan holding (and many others did too as it was captured by cameras a bunch of times on the jumbo screens) said “North Carolina Sez Thanks.” We sure do, Bruce. Now please come and visit after we got that bathroom bill mess cleaned up (i.e. after we get McCrory voted out of office).

* Guitarist Nils Lofgren 

More later...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Year Ago Today, The Replacements Wholeheartedly Whored Their Past On Fallon

year ago today, on what was my 45th birthday, I received one of my favorite birthday gifts ever: my favorite band, The Replacements, made their first TV appearance in over two decades when they appeared as the musical guest on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. 

Previously, the acclaimed Minneapolis rock band’s last time on the tube was on the short-lived “International Rock Awards” in 1989 playing a somewhat censored version of their song “Talent Show” (ABC had issues with the line “feeling good from the pills we took”) from their new at the time album Don’t Tell a Soul.

After a decade of being on the brink of success (or 
“suck-cess” as they put it in a song we'll get to in a few paragraphs), The Replacements, or ‘The Mats’ as fans call them, broke up in 1991, but their cult grew larger over the years as their influence spread to new generations of fans, and other bands.

When they re-grouped in 2013 for a trio of headline slots on North American alt-rock road-show Riot Fest, with founding members rhythm guitarist/principal song-writer Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson joined by replacement Replacements drummer Josh Freese and guitarist Dave Minehan, it seemed like it may just be a temporary reunion. You know - play the hits, cash-in, get out. 

But the response to the three concerts was ginormous, with the biggest audiences in the Mats’ entire career so why not extend it, and add a bunch more festivals into the next year? Many fans, like me, had never seen them live before, so it was a major treat to get this chance again.

It was also a lot of fun to follow the coverage, watch the YouTube clips, and bask in the band’s renewed glory as they played to enthusiastic (for the most part) crowds at such fests as Coachella, Shaky Knees, Forecastle, Osheaga, Bumbershoot, and Boston Calling (whew, That’s a lot of fests!) way into 2014.

Then the news came that the band was going to appear on
The Tonight Show on Tuesday September 9th. This promo dropped several days before the broadcast:

This promo calls attention to the last time the Mats performed at 30 Rock on NBC, their infamous two-song appearance on “Saturday Night Live” during their tour promoting their 1985 album Tim that got them in trouble with the network brass back in February, 1986. The Replacements, as scruffy as can be, were introduced by an equally scruffy Harry Dean Stanton, to perform this ferocious version of “Bastards of Young.”

This, in my book or blog, was great rock ‘n roll TV, but because the Mats trashed both their hotel and dressing rooms, and were obviously very drunk on live television – Westerberg yells “C’mon, fucker!” to then guitarist Bob Stinson at one point – producer Lorne Michaels was reportedly extremely unhappy with the band.

Their second song later in the show, “Kiss Me on the Bus,” was also controversial as the band members had switched clothing with each other for an even sloppier look, and it suspiciously sounds like Westerberg sings “Kiss Me on the Butt” for the song's chorus.

Michaels considered this crude lyric change to be a “cheap shot” (according to an interview with Bob Stinson), and the angry producer banned the Replacements from ever appearing on SNL
 again. Years later, when Westerberg appeared on the show to promote his first solo album 14 Songs in 1993, it was said that Michaels didn’t make the connection that his musical guest had been in the banned band until it was too late. 

Longtime SNL mogul Michaels is now also the Executive producer of 
The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, but by this point either he’s let bygones be bygones or he’s simply forgotten. Anyway, the news last year that the Mats were going to grace the Peacock’s airwaves was sweetened somewhat surreally by the announcement that Keith Richards, legendary guitarist for the Rolling Stones, was going to be on the show that night too.

The Replacements had opened for Richards, on his birthday (December 18th) incidentally, back in 1988 at the Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, and Richards and the Stones’ music was a big influence on the band (Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, and former Mats guitarist Slim Dunlap’s solo music also all has shades of Keef’s dirty brand of rhythm and blues), but despite these connections, and many fanatics’ wishes, the two forces didn’t collaborate on this occasion – Richards was there only to promote his new children’s book “Gus and Me.” They did, however, pose for this picture in the studio’s hallway:

Fallon, only 8 months after taking over as the host of “The Tonight Show,” joked in his monologue when listing the nights guests that “they couldn't clear the rights for any Replacements songs, so theyll be singing ‘All-Star’ by Smashmouth.”

Later in the show, after actress Debra Messing and Richards’ visits, the host displayed a limited edition poster print for one of the Replacements’ upcoming shows, and, with his trademark enthusiasm, told the audience that his next guests are “a massively beloved and influential rock band in the midst of their first tour since 1991,” plugged their Forest Hills gig on September 19th, and introduced the band to thunderous applause:

As you can see, The Mats, older but still somewhat scruffy, bashed out an incredibly rousing rendition of one of their best songs, “Alex Chilton,” from their 1986 classic Pleased To Meet Me. The choice was perfect as the song dreams about a world in which the late, great Box Tops and Big Star front man Alex Chilton is as big as the Beatles (“Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes ‘round”); a place where the power pop legend was actually hugely popular.

The song’s invested, clever lyricism, gusto and intense tempo is such that one can believe this world is possible, maybe even within reach. In this moment playing “Alex Chilton” on national TV, it felt like The Mats themselves were finally the Big Stars that they long deserved to be.

For the Mats to be having this moment, long after the flame was supposedly extinguished, and use it to both pay homage to the man who Westerberg claimed was his mentor in his 2010 eulogy for Chilton in the New York Times, and prove that this old band has still got the goods helped make their performance as infectiously invigorating as rock music on TV can get. 

The band wholeheartedly 
nails the song in a version that's largely faithful to the original, but since Westerberg has to always screw around with something, he changed the location of Memphis to New York in one stanza, and in the line “I’m in love with that song” he replaced “with that song” with “Daff-o-dil” for some reason. 

Nine months later, after a sold-out spring tour of the U.S. dubbed the “Back by Unpopular Demand” tour, and some celebrated stops in Europe, The Replacements broke up again. Westerberg made the announcement onstage during their performance at the NOS Primavera Sound festival in Porto, Portugal on June 15th. The news wasn’t a complete surprise as throughout the tour, Westerberg had hinted at it by wearing T-shirts with a different letter on both front and back every night. When put together, the shirts spelled out: “I have always loved you
” on one side, Now I must whore my past” on the other.

He may have had a point about whoring his past since, because except for one throwaway half-assed novelty tune called “Whole Food Blues,” the reunion produced no new music. There were reports that the band had attempted laying down new material in the studio, but couldn’t quite get it together.

If The Replacements had stayed together I had fears that they might become like The Pixies, who re-united in 2004 to play the same songs at live shows for a decade, and when they finally put out some new stuff it wasn’t very good, so maybe this was for the best.

Drummer Freese may have put it best when he posted this on Facebook right after the news: Who would want The Replacements to hang around too long anyways? I sure wouldn't.

Still, I had been hoping that the Mats would strike while the iron was hot and crank out a new record before getting into that rut, but in the end I was happy enough that I got to see them twice - in Chicago in 2013, and Washington D.C. earlier this year - during their two-year, 33-show reunion run. Both shows were among the best live rock shows I’ve ever attended.

The Replacements' appearance on Fallon was a undeniable highlight of their time back in the spotlight. It helped make more folks into fans, while it highly pleased the hardcore. Yet again, it felt like children by the millions were singing for their heroes as they came around, possibly for one last hurrah. If this was indeed simply a case of whoring their past – consider me a satisfied customer.

More later...

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The 6 Times That I've Seen Elvis Costello

Tonight, I am seeing my seventh show by one of my musical heroes, Elvis Costello, and it’s at the same venue that I saw my first concert of his – Walnut Creek Amphitheatre in Raleigh, N.C. 

But this time is different as he’s not the headliner - Steely Dan is.

That’s right, a billing that would’ve never gone down before back in either band's heyday is a thing now: Costello with the Imposters, which is basically his classic band the Attractions, but with bassist Bruce Thomas replaced with Davey Faragher (Cracker, John Hiatt), paired with the ‘70s jazz pop fusion duo of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen for a summer jaunt through the states which for some reason is dubbed the “Rockabye Gollie Angel” tour.

This will be my first Steely Dan show. I have liked a few songs of theirs throughout the years but have mostly been extremely indifferent to their output. I believe that I am not alone in being a Costello fan who was a bit miffed at first hearing about this tour, but I am determined to give “The Dan” or “The Dan of Steel” as I heard Elvis called them at one of their recent shows a chance. In the meantime, I wanted to take a look back at the six Costello shows I’ve seen over the last 20 years. So Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 1994:

Hardee’s Walnut Creek Amphitheatre, Raleigh, NC June 18, 1994:

Most folks have an artist or band that they were a casual fan of but then saw them live and become a hardcore fan. This show was that for me. I had his first several records on vinyl, and a “best of” on CD, but this show, supporting his excellent album Brutal Youth (released in early '94) really made me into one of those rabid fanatics who must own every single note available.  

Brutal Youth was a welcome return to rock after a foray into classical music with The Brodsky String Quartet (“The Juliet Letters”) and a return to his old look after what folks would refer to as “the beard years.” Many fans thought of Brutal Youth as This Year’s Model ’94 – an updated version of Costello and the Attractions’ classic 1978 album – and it certainly felt that way when he opened the show with “No Action,” the first cut from that record.

Costello played a healthy helping of the new album – 11 songs worth – and they worked well surrounded by his Attractions hits. “13 Steps Lead Down,” the first single off of “Brutal Youth” seemed like it was born to be sandwiched between “You Belong To Me” and “Radio Radio.” “13 Steps” was also significant to my friends and I because we were in the 13th row - I remember that making the chorus sing-a-long all the more powerful. 

One of the many highlights of the concert was when Costello segued his standard “Alison” dramatically into two different songs by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, “The Tracks of My Tears” and “The Tears of a Clown” – this is something he’s done a lot over the years, but it was the first time I’d heard it and it was glorious. 

So glad I got to see at least one show with the full original Attractions line-up (they broke up in 1996, or more accurately – Thomas left then).

The real icing on the cake is that I met the man after show. Somehow I had scored a backstage pass and was able to chat with him for a few minutes about Johnny Cash and Sonic Youth. He signed my ticket, which I now have framed (with the backstage pass and a picture from the N & O's review) on my office wall:

Oh yeah, the opening band was Crash Test Dummies – remember their 1993 hit “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”? That’s the only song of theirs that I remember from their set.

Wolf Trap, Vienna VA 6/23/99

It was five years between Costello shows because he didn’t return to North Carolina for over a decade so I drove with a friend up to Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia to catch one of the man’s shows on what was called the “Lonely World Tour.” Costello shared equal billing with his long-time keyboardist Steve Nieve, and the duo played a lengthy set - 35 songs – touching on many favorites but mostly highlighting Costello’s 1989 Painted From Memory collaboration with Burt Bacharach. Costello also covered Bacharach’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” which he had performed with him in the Austin Powers sequel “The Spy Who Shagged Me,” which was out that summer.

The most memorable moment had to be when Costello was playing the show’s final song, “Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4” from his often overlooked 1991 album Mighty Like a Rose (from the beard years). Costello would end each show with this song, singing it without his microphone, with Nieve playing an un-amplified piano. We sat in silence listening to Costello’s voice impressively filling the amphitheatre on its own until a helicopter flew over and drowned him out briefly. Costello shrugged and we all laughed at this instance of bad timing. It left and he finished the song and the show. It was definitely worth the trip.

Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Cary 9/13/07

This show also consisted of Costello and Nieve, but this time backed by the North Carolina Symphony conducted by Alan Broadbent. They opened with a suite off of Il Sogno, his latest classical release, also worked in one of his songs off of “The Juliet Letters,” but the rest of the show was mostly Costello crowd pleasers given the added orchestral sweep.

I remember it being a beautiful evening, with the music sweetly yet powerfully filling the park. Among his hits, and a few songs from his 2004 album “The Delivery Man,” Costello mixed in a bit of John Lennon’s “I Don’t’ Want To Be a Soldier” to “The River in Reverse” from his 2006 collaboration with Allen Toussaint, again added the Smokey Robinson quotes to the end of “Alison,” and finished up with the “Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4” sans mike show stopper. There was no helicopter interruption this time, thankfully.

Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Cary 6/14/09

Another show at Koka Booth but this was quite different as Costello was backed by his new acoustic band, The Sugarcanes, consisting of Jim Lauderdale, Jerry Douglas, Mike Compton, Stuart Duncan, Dennis Crouch, and Jeff Taylor. They set the tone for the evening perfectly by opening with a cover of Junior Walker’s “Mystery Train,” which was also famously covered by the other Elvis. They then knocked out a rollicking set of tracks from the just released Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, deep cuts like “Our Little Angel,” and “Blame in on Cain, and a number of well received covers like “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down,” “Friend of the Devil,” and oddly “Femme Fatale.”

This time “Alison” segued into “He’ll Have to Go,” a song by Joe and Audrey Allison (how apt) that Costello covered on his first attempt at country music, Almost Blue back in ’81. The last song of the show was “Five Small Words” which wouldn’t be released until his 2010 album National Ransom, also featuring the Sugarcanes. These forays into country/bluegrass have some wonderful moments, but they're not what I usually reach for when I want to hear primo Costello - something the next few shows on this list delivered in spades.

Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, Charlotte 7/16/11 & DPAC, Durham 4/29/12

These last 2 shows, in which Costello was backed by The Imposters, were on what was also dubbed “The Revolver Tour: The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook,” which resurrected a gimmick Costello used on a mid ‘80s tour: a large game show style wheel containing the titles of 40 songs was featured on stage. Fans were brought on stage to spin the wheel, and could dance in a go-go cage, or lounge at the “society bar” stage.

From my write-up of the Charlotte show: “Elvis cheated a few times when dealing with the towering game show device (‘If I can't cheat in Charlotte, where can I cheat?’ he quipped) because the huge wheel kept landing on previous selections and maybe one obscurity too many - ‘Turpentine’ for instance got passed up.”

I also tweeted at the time that it was “3 hours of power ditties, ballads, covers, and a lot of guitar shredding.” Highlights included covers of The Who’s “Substitute,” Bob Dylan’s “This Wheel’s on Fire,” and the Rolling Stones’ “Out of Time.” “Alison” again segued into “The Tracks of My Tears” but also included snatches of Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary,” and E.Y. Harburg & Harold Arlen’s “Over The Rainbow.”

The Durham show at DPAC was more of the same but in the best possible way. It was originally scheduled for September of 2011 but was postponed until the following April because Costello’s father, Ross MacManus was sick and dying (he passed away in November 2011).

The show was again a rousing mix of Costello favorites and covers, including Johnny Cash’s “Cry! Cry! Cry!,” and a really rocking take on The Beatles’ “Please Please Me” which concluded the concert.

I’ll have to remember that the last few times I saw Costello were these extensive three hour marathons tonight when I’m seeing him as an opener doing roughly an hour set made up of less than 15 songs. However, I bet he’ll make the most of his time on Steely Dan’s stage. Like I said before, I fully plan to give the headliners a chance, although it’s looking a lot like rain this evening and we have lawn seats, so we'll see how that goes.

More later...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Notes on The Replacements’ unironic cover of Kiss’s “Black Diamond”

As I’m travelling to Washington D.C. on Friday to see my favorite band ever, The Replacements, who are currently on what they are calling the “Back by Unpopular Demand” tour, I’ve been re-acquainting myself with their glorious catalog - re-listening to their albums, live bootleg recordings, B-sides, etc. 

All of which reinforced that I consider them that '80s band that got me through the '90s.

Some may be skeptical that it's just Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson from the original line-up, but I really like the replacement Replacements - guitarist David Minehan and drummer Josh Freese - and loved the bejesus out of them at Riot Fest in Chicago in 2013, so I'm really game for more.

A friend who is also going to the sold-out show, which unless it's postponed (the last two shows in Pittsburgh and Columbus were called off due to illness) is happening at a place called Echostage – billed as DC's newest and largest nightlife concert venue - mentioned the other day that a song he’d love to see them play is their cover of Kiss’s “Black Diamond” that appeared on their 1984 classic Let it Be. Man, I sure would too – the Mats (as fans call 'em - short for the nickname Placemats) really rocked that one, and to my ears gave it a little more of an edge than the original.

I thought of this when reading yet another piece about the Replacements online today, you know there are so many these days what with their reunion tour ‘n all, and it mentioned that “Black Diamond” wasn’t credited as a cover on the album.

So I went to my CD, and also grabbed my vinyl copy, and sure enough, there was no writing credit for the song on either. There’s no “all songs by” credit either, but it’s funny that there’s no mention of Kiss or specifically the songs' writer, Paul Stanley, anywhere.

Ed Condran, in the piece that mentioned this for, “The Replacements offer a slice of musical history,” wrote: “The Mats failed to credit Kiss. Nobody else would do that. I always forget to inform Gene Simmons that the Replacements were punk rock enough to appropriate from the most business-oriented rocker in the business.”

Doing some further Google research, I can’t find any comment about the cover by any member of Kiss. Simmons, or one of his people, posted a video of “Black Diamond” as covered by Pearl Jam on his Facebook page, but no mention of the Mats’ version anywhere. Makes me think that Simmons is like Jon Bon Jovi (or Axl Rose) and has never heard of the Replacements, and if he has would probably not be impressed and loop them in with the bands that he says look like “pizza delivery boys.”

Jason Heller’s in the A.V. Club’s 2013 primer “A beginner’s guide to Paul Westerberg and the Replacements” wrote that that the cover “refuses to acknowledge the existence of irony.” It’s an apt description as most folks, particularly rock snob hipsters, would think covering Kiss would be a tongue-in-cheek gag but what makes it soar is how seriously straight the Mats play it. Even live, where the band could be at their drunk sloppiest, they never mocked the song.

In Jim Walsh’s book “The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting: An Oral History,” Craig Finn of The Hold Steady put it this way: “I had grown up on Kiss, but I understood them to be so square. And I was so blown away to hear them covering ‘Black Diamond.’ Because I didn’t have the perspective that of course they liked Kiss. I was still figuring it out. They were certainly embraced by critics and elitist people, but not for being elitist.”

Yes, of course they liked Kiss. That’s the feeling you get from listening to them tackle the 1973 track – they were sinking their teeth into delicious riffs and intense lines about street hookers doing smack, because they were genuinely down with it. They wouldn’t have put it on Let it Be, right before “Unsatisfied” mind you, if that wasn't the case. That album’s “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" and “Gary’s Got a Boner” were the joke tracks, not “Black Diamond.”

According to The Replacements setlist wiki, they haven’t played the Kiss cover since 1989. I’ll be very surprised if the re-united band will break it out at tomorrow night’s show at Echostage in D.C. but I bet if they did, the response would be tremendous without a trace of irony in the house. And that’s definitely no joke.

Correction: On closer inspection of my vinyl copy of Let it Be (a French pressing btw), on the actual record the name Stanley is credited in tiny print. I don't have a copy of the U.S. version on vinyl, but I bet the upcoming re-issue will have it credited. 

For the record, here's Kiss's original:

And the Mats':

Which do you prefer?

More later...

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

This Blog is Back in Town: 2015 Live Music Mania

After a two year break, Pop Goes The Babble is back! As I've been going to a lot of concerts lately, and have more coming up, I thought I'd update this long neglected blog by babblin' about them.

2015 is shaping up to be one hell of a rich year of live music by some of my favorite artists. However, at first I wasn't planning on attending The Who's 50 anniversary tour, as it was at a venue I don't care for - Raleigh's PNC Arena - and I had seen them not long ago (in 2012 in Greensboro). But as the April 21st concert date approached last month, I felt the lure of one last go around with the iconic British band.

Now, they’ve been billing tours as their swan songs for decades (they appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone with the caption: “The Who: The End” in 1982!), so I take all the farewell tour hype with a grain of salt.

I also toss aside the complaint that it hasn’t really been The Who since drummer Keith Moon died in 1978, and that since bassist John Entwhistle’s death in 2002, guitarist /songwriter Pete Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey have even less right to carry on under the name.

So they are really “The Two” as many fans call them, but when Roger screams and swings his mike, while Pete shreds and does his windmill thing, they can still satisfying summon the power of old. It helps that they have a killer backing band with Ringo’s son Zak Starkey channeling Moon on drums, Pino Palladino, who’s been brilliantly bringing the bass since Entwhistle’s passing, Townshend’s brother Simon on rhythm guitar, and Loren Gold, Frank Simes, and John Corey on various keyboard, percussion, and backing vocal duties.

This was my fourth Who show - my first was on July 27th, 1989 at Carter Finley Stadium in Raleigh (very close to PNC), during a tour that Townshend has referred to as “The Who on ice.” The next two I attended were performances of their 1973 rock opera masterpiece “Quadrophenia” in 1997 and 2012, which were dream shows as that’s one of my all-time favorite albums.

This show though was an all hits affair as its title stated: “The Who Hits 50” (This is also the name of a new compilation album that was on sale at the show). Daltrey and Townshend bashed their way through 22 songs touching on a batch of their ‘60s singles, tracks from “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia,” and even a couple of songs from their post Moon ‘80s period. The setlist:

“I Can’t Explain” / “The Seeker” / “Who Are You” / “The Kids Are Alright” / “I Can See for Miles” / “Pictures of Lily” / “My Generation” / “Magic Bus” / “Behind Blue Eyes” / “Squeeze Box” / “Join Together” / “You Better You Bet” / “I’m One” / “Love, Reign O’er Me” / “Eminence Front” / “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” / “Amazing Journey” / “Sparks” / “Pinball Wizard” / “See Me, Feel Me” / “Baba O'Riley” /“Won’t Get Fooled Again”

“A Quick One (While He’s Away)” was the rarest song performed, and, despite it feeling a bit rushed, was a delight. It was funny to hear Townshend suggest that folks look up the version of it on “The Rolling Stones Rock ‘N Roll Circus”on YouTube in his intro.

The closer, “Who Get Fooled Again” was a little thrown off by Daltrey flubbing a line but I disagree with Raleigh News & Observer music critic David Menconi, who wrote that it was “a blow from which it never quite recovered.”

All in all, a great, and extremely worthwhile show. Joan Jett and the Blackheart’s 45 minute opening set was a lot of fun too. Jett had just been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two nights previous and was apparently still on a major high. She and her band, the current lineup of which includes Thommy Price (drums), Dougie Needles (guitar), Enzo Penzzotto (bass), and Kenny Laguna (keyboards), tore through these songs:

“Bad Reputation” / “Cherry Bomb” / “Do You Wanna Touch Me” / “You Drive Me Wild” / “Light of Day” / “Love Is Pain” / “Fragile” / “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” / “Crimson & Clover” / “I Hate Myself for Loving You”

Jett has been called “the original riot grrl,” so it was fitting that the next night, Wednesday, April 22nd, I saw the torchbearers of the feminist hardcore punk movement that started in the ‘90s: Sleater-Kinney. 

It was my first time seeing the trio, made up of Corin Tucker, Janet Weiss, and Carrie Brownstein, who have re-united after an absence of a decade to put out a great new album, “No Cities To Love,” and to once again tour America and Europe. 

It was also my first time visiting the Ritz since it had been re-modeled, but it looked pretty much how I remembered it. Seattle hip hop duo THEEsatisfaction comprised of rapper Stasia “Stas” Irons and singer Catherine “Cat” Harris-White opened the show. They were a little offbeat and quirky but their passion was endearing and the audience responded well. Not as well as when Sleater-Kinney hit the stage, but that was expected.

With fiery energy, the three 40something-aged ladies blazed through the following songs:

“Price Tag” / “Fangless” / “Oh!” / “Words and Guitar” / “No Cities to Love” / “The Fox” / “Youth Decay” / “Surface Envy” / “A New Wave” / “Get Up” / “All Hands on the Bad One” / “Hey Darling” / “Light Rail Coyote” / “One Beat” / “Bury Our Friends” / “Entertain” / “Jumpers”

Encore: “Gimme Love” / “Call the Doctor”/ “Dig Me Out”/ “Let’s Call It Love” / “Modern Girl” /“Turn it On”

One of the highlights of the show was when Tucker mentioned the cover story of the previous week’s Independent written by Sleater-Kinney superfan and Nice Price Books and Records’ owner Brian Shaw. Shaw’s piece ran under the title “What it's like to be a grown man whose favorite band is three women,” so it got a sizable response when Tucker asked: “Why wouldn’t we be his favorite band?”

Okay, that’s all for now. Coming soon: I discuss my 22nd time seeing Bob Dylan, and I fret about whether or not I’ll actually be seeing the Replacements on May 8th (they’ve cancelled a couple of shows due to illness so there’s some concern).

More later…