Posts Tagged ‘Rock’

1989 was a year for the history books: Tiny cracks in the Iron Curtain grew into a chasm that brought down the Berlin Wall; a pro-democracy movement in China, known now as the Tiananmen Square protests, ended in bloodshed; and, closer to home, the mercurial-tempered Ron Hextall of the Philadelphia Flyers became the first goalie in history to score a goal in the playoffs. Oh, and I saw Neil Young for the first time.

The date: June 10, 1989. The place: Bally’s Grandstand Under the Stars in Atlantic City. As I remember it – and I was only there two or three times – the open-air venue consisted of very steep bleachers placed in front of a stage. The Atlantic Ocean served as the backdrop.

The Indigo Girls opened with a concise set that, despite the dreaded opening-act slot, was quite good. Folks flowed into the makeshift coliseum, their shoes and boots clanging on the metal steps (or maybe that’s my memory playing tricks on me), while Amy Ray and Emily Saliers sang with confidence. Their voices carried like Aimee Mann’s with ’Til Tuesday, sweet and spot-on from the opening “Closer to Fine” to the closing “Strange Fire.” Amy Ray, as I remember it, hit home runs with “Secure Yourself” and “Kid Fears.”

Neil_Young_FreedomBy nine, or thereabouts, the sun had set and Neil, wearing a Chinese worker’s cap, strolled out. It was basically a solo acoustic show, though he was joined by Ben Keith and Frank “Pancho” Sampedro for a few songs.

After closing the ‘70s on the back-to-back high notes of Rust Never Sleeps and Live Rust, Neil embarked on a decade-long journey that veered from hard rock to techno to rockabilly to country to horn-driven R&B; and that had left him, for many (though not me), an afterthought. Along the way, he was sued by his new record company, Geffen Records, for not sounding like himself. It was a surreal time to be him, to be sure, and no more surreal than the year before when, after returning to the Reprise label, he scored a surprise hit – his first of the decade – with the satirical “This Note’s for You.”

Anyway, by the time my friends and I had clomped up the bleachers to our seats that late-spring night, Neil was back to being Neil – not that he’d stopped, of course, but he was mining a more familiar terrain.

Forget the fact that the show was “acoustic”; it was as electric a set as I’ve seen. Neil prowled the stage with a handless microphone strapped to his face, his guitar a shield and a weapon at the same time. He opened with a sterling “Hey Hey My My (Out of the Blue)” and followed with a fierce “Rockin’ in the Free World,” turning the satirical knife he’d wielded on “This Note’s for You” on George H.W. Bush’s “kinder, gentler nation.” His guitar on “Crime in the City” was like a machete, the chords chopping at one’s knees, while the harmonica worked like a blackjack and blunted the back of one’s head. Other highlights included an unsentimental presentation of “Sugar Mountain”; the one-two punch of “The Needle & the Damage Done” and “No More”; and a heart-thumping “Ohio” that he dedicated to the students slain in China’s Tiananmen Square less than a week before – everyone was on their feet, fists in the air and lungs as one while we shouted the lyrics. Incredible, that’s how I remember it. Just incredible. A second stab at “Rockin’ in the Free World” was followed by the night’s final number, ““Powderfinger.” “Red means run, son,” takes on a new meaning in the context of Tiananmen Square, if you think about it.

The Philadelphia Inquirer carried a review of the show here.

Neil Young: My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)/Rockin’ in the Free World/Comes a Time/Sugar Mountain/Pocahontas/Helpless/Crime in the City/For the Turnstiles/This Old House/Roll Another Number/Too Far Gone/This Note’s for You/The Needle and the Damage Done/No More/After the Gold Rush/Heart Of Gold/Ohio/Rockin’ in the Free World//Powderfinger

Indigo Girls: Closer to Fine/Secure Yourself/Love’s Recovery/Kid Fears/Land of Canaan/Prince of Darkness/Strange Fire

tickets_large_x2The first concert I attended: the Kinks at the Philadelphia Spectrum on May 21, 1983. I was 17, less than a month away from high-school graduation. The cost of the ticket: $8.50. My memory tells me it was a first-level seat, as we had an excellent view of the stage, but it may well have been the second – wherever 40Side, Section R was.

According to the Labor Department’s nifty CPI inflation calculator, that $8.50 equals $20.37 in today’s money – about what fans still pay, give or take 10 bucks, for many (though not all) smaller shows. For instance, in a few weeks we’ll be seeing Garland Jeffreys, Marshall Crenshaw and Jonathan Edwards in a round-robin format at an area venue; tickets were $30 each prior to the “service” charge being tacked on. All things considered, very reasonable.

For an arena-sized act, though, a comparable ticket will set you back about 20 to 30 times what I paid to see the Kinks  – and such was the case for Fleetwood Mac, who we saw at the Wells Fargo barn in South Philly in 2013. I’m still in sticker-shock now, two years-and-change removed from the experience. Our two first-level seats – Section 112, Row 15 – clocked in at $299 before the “service” charges upped the tally by $50.

We’ve seen other expensive arena shows, mind you, but Diane and I try our best to avoid them. Besides the outlandish price of entry, many fellow attendees (especially, it seems, those in our vicinity) seem intent on downing and/or spilling as many beers as possible while gabbing away with like-minded pals. No, give us the smaller venues with equally fine artists. People scream, shout and dance about (or clap, tap their feet and sway in their seats), to be sure, but also shut up during the songs – unless, when appropriate, they’re singing along.

Which is all to say: the Fleetwood Mac show surprised me. For a change, the audience around us was well-behaved – primarily middle-aged folks like us, a few with their teenage children in tow. And the band was just plain incredible.  I commented somewhere at the time, I entered a Stevie Nicks fan (and still am), but left a Lindsey Buckingham convert. Despite watching this YouTube video of “Rhiannon” dozens of times –

–  I perceived him as a studio wiz-auteur, not a gifted guitarist and showman. This song, in particular, blew my mind:

The set also featured all the tunes one would expect to hear from Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, and even one (“Don’t Stop”) of the absent Christine McVie’s classics. (She rejoined the band about a year later.) One highlight was the spellbinding “Sara.”

Another was “Gold Dust Woman.”

I did have some quibbles, however. Stevie’s vocals took a while to warm up, as evidenced by a nasally “Dreams,” which fell a mere four songs into the night, and the slightly better, but not-quite-there “Rhiannon,” which came two songs later. The performance of the latter also lacked the frenzied intensity of yore – understandable, perhaps, given the years between then and now, but disappointing all the same.

The set: Second Hand News/The Chain/Dreams/Sad Angel/Rhiannon/Not That Funny/Tusk/Sisters of the Moon/Sara/Big Love/Landslide/Never Going Back Again/Without You/Gypsy/Eyes of the World/Gold Dust Woman/I’m So Afraid/Stand Back/Go Your Own Way//World Turning/Don’t Stop/Silver Springs///Say Goodbye

Here’s a classic from the vaults: my first interview of David Crosby, from August 18, 1997, for the original Old Grey Cat website on GeoCities. (To read the second, click here.) At the time, he was in the midst of recording the first of two studio albums with CPR, the group he’d formed with guitarist Jeff Pevar and son Jeff Raymond….

How did CPR come together?

I’ve been working for the last two or three years with a guitar player named Jeff Pevar, who is a complete stunner. He’s worked with Rickie Lee Jones, Ray Charles … I heard him playing with Marc Cohn. He’s my current thriller guitar player. We got along great. He started working with me when I did solo shows or shows with Graham Nash. Then, about two years ago when I was in the hospital – I don’t want to be dramatic, but I was dying. I knew for many years that I had a son out there somewhere. His mother had had him, and put him up for adoption. You can’t track an adoptive kid from the parent down, only from the kid up. So, when he got married, he wanted to know who his birth mother was. He went down and made the inquiry. I guess they just gave him the book; he’s looking at her page, and, on the other side, is me. When he saw that, he’d been a musician for 20 years.

That really says something about genetics.

Yeah. He started when he was a child playing the piano. The people who raised him, who are lovely people, had realized he had great talent. They encouraged it, gave him piano lessons, got him to study music. He was everything I wasn’t. He’s a schooled musician. He can write music, he can read it, and … he’s just an incredibly talented young guy. When we met, we hit it off extremely well. We found that our music was very, very similar. So we started playing and started writing. Then, when he and I and Jeff got together, there was an undeniable chemistry between me and Jeff and an undeniable chemistry between me and him. And there was chemistry between the three of us. So we decided Crosby, Pevar and Raymond should become CPR.

That’s a great story.

Well, it’s kind of a wild one. To find him at all is against the odds, and to have him be not just a musician, but a fantastic one?! There’s this incredible link. I sort of know what the next chord he’s going to play is and he sort of knows where I’m going. He’s said he’s never found anybody’s music that was easier for him to learn. There’s a real communication there. He’s also an incredibly nice young guy. So we said, well, the music’s too good to ignore. We’re going to go ahead and do it. We tried it out; we did about a dozen dates up the West Coast, San Diego to Seattle or something. It was some of the best fun I’ve ever had playing live. And we kept writing these songs, one after the other…

So the songs you’re recording now are all originals.

Yes. It’s stuff that I wrote, stuff that James wrote, stuff that James and I wrote, stuff that James, Jeff and I wrote, stuff that Jeff and I wrote. It’s just a very, very hot chemistry. We’ve written probably five of the best songs that I’ve written in the last ten years in the past two months.

Would one of the songs be “Morrison”?

“Morrison” was the very first one. It started out with an image about being lost. The metaphor was a gull that gets blown inland on a stormy day. I thought that was a great metaphor for being lost in life. So I started trying to write that. Somewhere in there, it wound up with these images of being lost in a Paris graveyard. It was Jim Morrison, obviously, who did a very good “lost” himself. That’s the way the song wrote itself out of me. I can’t predict how that stuff’s going to happen.

When you do sit down to write a song, does it just flow out of you? Do you have a melody or an idea?

It comes every which way, man. Very often it comes words first, sometimes it comes music first, sometimes both at the same time. I really can’t predict it. In this case, I had no idea I was going to write a song about Jim Morrison. I was writing a song about a gull blown inland on a stormy day. It just came out that way; I didn’t even like Jim Morrison. I knew him, but I never was friends with him. But, I understand him pretty well because I was lost in the very same place. And so he was a good metaphor.

What are some of the other songs you’re recording?

There’s a fantastic one that James had written called “One For Every Moment.” It’s an incredible love song that happens to have this very up, Latin flavor. There’s one called “That House” that I wrote the words for; Jeff, James and I wrote the music. It might be one of my best set of words ever. It might be one of my best vocals ever, too, I think.

There’s another one that I’ve been doing, that I even recorded once before live, “Rusty & Blue.” That came out fantastic! It’s a stunner. I’m as excited as I can be. I feel so good doing it. The level of communication is so high, and the music is coming out so well that I get to the studio an hour early just so I can hear it.

Do you have a title for the CD yet?

No. We’re looking for one.

Do you have a label?

No, we cut it ourselves. I took the money that I made this summer w/CSN and just plowed it right back into this.

Are you thinking of going the independent route?

I’ve talked to Ani DiFranco [who has her own independent record label]. There is a temptation to do that. We will play it for some of the more independent labels. The big guys just have too much super-structure on them.

Half the time they don’t seem to know how to market people correctly.

That was certainly the case with Atlantic and Crosby, Stills & Nash. They had no idea of how to market us, anymore. They didn’t know what demographic we were playing to.

I’ll tell you how it’ll work: If a record company listens to this band and really understands what it is, ’cause it’s sort of out on the edge where Steely Dan, Bruce Hornsby, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor are, people who make pretty sophisticated music – it’s out toward that direction. If we find somebody who hears it and digs it, and really wants it…and evidences a desire to work it, then maybe we’ll make a deal with them. But we wanted to go in and cut the record on our own money so there was nobody telling us what to do.

That’s good.

It’s good because you get to follow your heart. You get to say, “What I really feel is this.” I’m not trying to make a clone of the Spice Girls. This is the real thing that I’m trying to express. This is what I want to do—and we did exactly that. We didn’t do anything except exactly what we really felt.

You mentioned the Spice Girls. Do you stay in touch with the current music scene?

To a degree. Obviously, I’m happy as I can possibly be that Shawn Colvin somehow busted through and got a hit. She’s one of my favorite singer/songwriters. She opened for Crosby, Stills & Nash and we all fell in love with her. Nash and I have gone and sung with her, I’ve sung on her records. She’s a close friend.

She has a mesmerizing voice.

We were just so happy to see a real singer-songwriter break through. That’s exactly what should happen and almost never does. Usually, the radio formats just exclude that kind of stuff.

That’s what frustrates me and I’m sure you. As a fan who likes more than the 20-year-ago hits – for example, on Live It Up, your song “Yours & Mine” is as wonderful a song as any you’ve recorded. Yet, when they play you on the radio, it’s always something 20- or 30-years old.

Yeah, that drives us nuts, too. The classic radio stations love Crosby, Stills & Nash but won’t play anything after Deja Vu or, maybe, the CSN album, the one with the boat on the cover. It makes us nuts. CSN is going to go in, in January and February, and make another album. It’s going to be one of the best albums we’ve ever made – and I know it because I know the songs.

That’s another thing. We left Atlantic. CSN is going to find a new deal with somebody who actually gives a damn about us.

I understand you’re working on a book.

Yeah, I got a book that my friend David Bender and I are writing called Stand & Be Counted. It’s about activism …. musicians and activism. We’re going to start with Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and work our way up through the Civil Rights movement and into the Vietnam War era and into Live Aid, Farm Aid, the Amnesty Tour, on up to now, and try to show how this phenomenon grew up out of the cracks and just manifested itself out of people feeling they had to take a stand on things, that they found they could use music to gather people together for a cause. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s a place where human beings can put somebody else’s good ahead of their own. It gets very shining when they do that, man. It’s a very good thing. And there’s nothing about it. We looked, we researched; there isn’t anything about it anywhere. So, we thought, we should write a book celebrating it and chronicling it, and hopefully try to help perpetuate it.

Will you be interviewing other musicians?

That’s exactly what I’m doing. We have all the best musicians … all the obvious ones, like Bonnie, Jackson, Nash, and Elton, Phil Collins, and Paul McCartney. We have a ton of people. Joni’s going to do it. Shawn said she’ll do it. I’ve already done Neil, Don Henley, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Jewel, Hootie & the Blowfish, Carly Simon, Pete Seeger. I did Pete… that guy is a national treasure. He’s a wonderful guy, wonderful dedication to life, wonderful set of values.

Did you find it odd to be on the other side of an interview, to be the one asking the questions?

At first. But, actually, it came very easily because I have an advantage. I’m not some talking head asking, “Well, how did you boys meet?” I’m usually talking to somebody who I’m at least acquainted with, if not am friends with. And I’m talking to them usually, or very often, about concerts we did together. I try not to get in the way very much. I just try to elicit the response from them and try to get them to really talk about why they do it, what makes them feel the necessity to stand and be counted.

How does that work? Writing about issues?

I think we react just as you do. When you saw the picture of the girl kneeling over the kid dead on the ground after Kent State, you were horrified, right? You said, how can they shoot somebody’s child for doing what the Constitution says they have the right to do? How can they do that? How can this happen? Well, we feel the same way. The only thing is, we have this incredible, lucky thing that we can do: We can externalize it – and also we can have a cathartic release about it. We can crystallize it and put it out there. I think we have every right to speak our minds. I don’t think we should preach. The point is not to point fingers and say, “This is how it should be. This is what you should do, this is right and that’s wrong.”

Sometimes pointing fingers is the right thing to do.

We did it when we did “Ohio,” that’s for damn sure. But that was pretty clear cut. It’s better if you can lead by example, and it’s better if you can talk in metaphors so that people get the essence of the thing without you saying, “Jesse Helms is an asshole.” That makes a dull song.

Depends who you’re singing it to.

Yeah, maybe Nine Inch Nails could do a really good song about that. . .

Twenty-eight years ago today, three a.m. this morning in fact, CSN hit the stage at Woodstock. What’s your memory of that?

The truth is, man, my memory of it is very good. I loved it. I thought the second one was a media zoo, but the first one was a very heartfelt, wonderful, accidentally great thing where a lot of incredible music got played. There was a genuine feeling of brotherhood between the people who were there. Nobody killed anybody, nobody raped anybody, nobody shot anybody. I think that’s probably the only group of people that size who didn’t do that in the history of mankind. Anytime you get that many people together, even at a religious gathering, somebody beats somebody up. There was something special going on. It was a wonderful, wonderful time.

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Two nights, two concerts. One venue. On Thursday, Neil Young delivered a spellbinding acoustic show at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. On Friday, Jackson Browne and a crack band gently rocked the same house.

On the surface, the differences couldn’t have been more stark. Neil, at 68 years of age, looks like a grizzled miner, albeit one for a heart of gold. He possesses a stage demeanor that is, in a word, gruff. He ignored the shouted requests (typical for a Philly crowd) for obscure and not-so-obscure songs from his decades-deep catalog and, at times, seemed visibly annoyed. “CSNY!” someone in the balcony yelled. “Never again,” Neil snapped. “Crazy Horse?” someone in the front row queried. “Always,” he replied.

Jackson, on the other hand, looked decades younger than his 66 years; and fended off the shouted requests with aplomb and humor, jokingly wondering if he’d selected the right songs for the setlist. At one point, as he prepared to play a song from his new album, the excellent Standing in the Breach, someone shouted out for an old song – and he swapped his guitar, huddled with the band members and then served up “Your Bright Baby Blues” from The Pretender.

Yet, appearance and stage patter aside, they share many similarities. They’re both singer-songwriters with long resumes who, at their best, craft songs that caress and/or express the heart and soul; they’re each comfortable on stage alone or with a band; and they’re passionate about defending the environment. Neil performed “Mother Earth” and the new “Who’s Gonna Stand Up (and Save the Earth)?”; and shared his disappointment with President Obama for signing off on deep-water fracking in the Gulf of Mexico. Jackson, for his part, discussed the need to save the oceans – every second breath we take is thanks to them – prior to performing the new “If I Could Be Anywhere,” a wonderful song from Standing in the Breach about a trip he made to the Galápagos Islands.

They also split their concerts into two sets.

Neil showcased a few songs from his recent, all-covers album A Letter Home and four from his forthcoming Storeytone. His setlist:

From Hank to Hendrix / On the Way Home / Only Love Can Break Your Heart / I’m Glad I Found You / Mellow My Mind / Reason to Believe / Someday / If You Could Read My Mind / Harvest / Old Man // Pocahontas / Heart of Gold / Plastic Flowers / A Man Needs a Maid / Ohio / Southern Man / Who’s Gonna Stand Up? / Mother Earth / When I Watch You Sleeping / Harvest Moon // After The Gold Rush // Thrasher

Jackson’s set featured a handful of new ones, though “The Birds of St. Marks” is actually very old – it dates to 1968. There was also, after his return from the break, a spontaneous rendition of “Happy Birthday” by the audience to him, as he’d celebrated his birthday the day before. His setlist:

The Barricades of Heaven / Looking Into You / The Long Way Around / Leaving Winslow / These Days / Shaky Town / I’m Alive / You Know the Night / Fountain of Sorrow // Rock Me on the Water / Your Bright Baby Blues / Standing in the Breach / Looking East / If I Could Be Anywhere / The Birds of St. Marks / For a Dancer / Doctor My Eyes / The Pretender / Running on Empty // Take It Easy / Our Lady of the Well

People who know me in the real world know that, when push comes to shove, Neil Young is my favorite musical artist – his music is ingrained in my DNA. Yet, as I’ve written elsewhere, the older I’ve become the more I’m drawn to the work of Jackson Browne – especially Late for the Sky, which now easily ranks in my Top 10 Albums of all time.

Since Friday night, I’ve been comparing and contrasting the two concerts in my head, and – beyond the superficial – coming up with blanks. Neil’s was, as I said at the outset, spellbinding. Jackson’s was a little less so, yet some of his songs (“Rock Me on the Water,” “Fountain of Sorrow” and “For a Dancer”) resonated deeper in my soul. Read into that what you will.