Saturday, August 19, 2006

As The World Burns, My Ears Ring: Youth Is Truly Wasted on the Young

As The World Burns Tour
Riverboat Gamblers/Rollins Band/X
Theater of Living Arts
Philadelphia, PA

”…a thousand kids, buried their parents…”


I could go on and on about how fantastic last night’s show was, how unbelievably on-point the bands were, how great the set list was…eee tee cee. But, I’m not going to. Last night, to me, was more depressing than it should have been despite the fact that I was immersed in ultra-rock the likes of which this century has yet to know in its newest musical offerings. It was like a requiem for the new millennium. You’ll understand why in a moment.

Rollins Band, bringing back its line-up of 1993, (the first line-up I ever saw might I add), was the full-on rock machine I’ve known and loved for many years. Rollins, somehow looking five years younger than the last time I saw him, was pulsing with face-rouging blood and energy, savagely attacking the crowd like we all owed him money. Sim Cain, annihilating his drum kit, provided obscene drum solos and sections that only prove the band’s incorporation of jazz rhythms while Melvin Gibbs, head exploding in an octopus of lengthy tendrils, loudly employed the funk that he’d brought to this unit 13 years ago. Chris Haskett’s guitar work had not shown any wear or tear. This band sounded like they’d been frozen in time despite the age defining lines that creased their faces and the graying hairs that pepper their heads. Whipping out songs as old as “Burned Beyond Recognition” and as unfortunately memorable as “Liar,” Rollins Band’s set was a testament to what makes them great: The refusal to grow old and get tired.

X only countered the punch. John Doe and Exene Cervenka grooved together like they had twenty-six years ago, not sounding any different than any X record you’ve heard. Doe’s bass added incredible bottom to Billy Zoom’s precise rockabilly guitar work.

Billy Zoom, by the way, was fun as hell to watch. He would keep his eyes on the crowd while playing, rarely looking to see what frets he was fingering, with this smile chiseled into his suntanned visage. He was really into it, but kept that to himself for the most part.

Exene looks like your buddy’s cool mom or something. She’d dance and sway like a young girl in the meadow, with her head tilted upward like the sky was raining on her face. Her voice was amazing. She managed to rock “I’m Coming Over” and “We’re Desperate” like she had over two decades ago.

DJ Bonebrake and John Doe kept the rhythm strong the entire way through the set. “The Unheard Music” and “The Hungry Wolf” were spectacularly rendered, much to the delight of the crowd. Or just mine.

It was awesome to finally see X play. They’re set seemed to end as soon as it had begun, having plowed through it with fun intensity. I doubt that it was much different seeing them in the 1980, other than the obvious age difference.

After buying a poster, my brother and I took off, feeling great about the show and tragically pensive about the state of music.

Now, I’m not trying to come off like a music Nazi, shunning all who don’t seem to agree with my take on what’s good and what’s bad. But, and this is undeniable, we find ourselves in an interesting turn of events where the generations have pulled a switch-a-roo. When have you ever known a generation’s children to be so seemingly satisfied with whatever they’re fed? The children of the punk rock/hard core/heavy metal generations are criminally missing the mark, mistaking this gross and disturbing falsehood disguised as rock n’ roll for something true. What I saw last night, well me and a couple other hundred people ranging age-wise from 25 to 50, should not have happened. There’s no way I should’ve seen mid-forties rockers coming off as strong as they did, essentially blowing any new-fangled rock act out of any water the Earth houses in its many cavernous depressions. And there will honestly never be a reason for X or the Rollins Band to be worried about the yung’uns coming around and taking the reigns from them, knowing how tired and commercially motivated marketing churns out these newer bands with ease.

I feel sad for this generation, but not that sad. They are partly at fault. They let themselves be lied to, swept into this shitstorm of cookie-cutter rap music, insincere R&B and pussy-whipped swill desperately trying to mask itself as goth or punk or metal. They allowed self-serving and egotistical bullshit like “American Idol” determine who America’s next big star is. They allowed MTV to assume media-like control over what’s new and exciting in their played-out mass market of downloadable ring tones and videos. They allowed models and actors to enter a studio and leave the rest of us in absolute dismay as Hillary Duff, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan sang their pretty little hearts out about living lives of superficiality, privilege and excess. Now THOSE are albums that are worth buying.

It’s all the same shit. Realize that, please. You kids deny yourselves the wonderful opportunities presented to you with the super-fast communication capabilities you now possess. You don’t have to work THAT hard to find it or make it anymore. So, start doing it. Find the underground networks, find the independent record stores, find the roots, find blues, jazz, punk, prog, classical, world…whatever your deal, FIND IT. Make music matter again. With the world at your fingertips, you have no excuse not to get out there. I wouldn’t want you to rob yourselves the glory of having your generation tied to something as phenomenally wonderful as Los Angeles or The End of Silence. Don’t you want to have your own Sgt. Pepper? Don’t you want your Dark Side of the Moon? Isn’t it important for you to be touched by something timely that you can relate to that isn’t fucking T.I., Rhianna or Panic! At the Disco?

Some people ask what’s wrong with these kids today. If they were to ask me, I would state that I think they’re simply old before their time. What a waste.

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Nighthawks at the Palace Theater – Part 2

Tom Waits
Palace Theater
Louisville, KY

Tom Waits – Lead Vocal, Guitar, Piano
Larry Taylor – Acoustic Bass
Duke Robillard – Lead Guitar
Casey Waits – Drums, Beat Box
Bent Clausen – Keyboards, Percussion, Banjo

Beat Boxing / Blues / Many Applause for the “Day After Tomorrow”

It was probably an hour or so into the set by the time the piano was escorted off the stage, but it felt like five minutes. At one point, I leaned over to my fiancé and said, “Can this just go on forever?”

Tom was now standing back up, ragged and awkward. At times, he would take his hat off and bow to the crowd, revealing a struggling peninsula of bushy hair that cut a path through his sweaty forehead. The red shirt he wore underneath his jacket had long turned a darker color, but the warmth didn’t seem to affect him. He would put on his toothy smile, under bite in full glory, and shake like a diabetic seizure.

Once his feet were back to the stand, “Lucky Day” was next and then he went into an unfamiliar tune that wound up preceding an interesting version of “’Til The Money Runs Out.” After perusing the fan blogs, I found out that the song was called “Who’s Been Talkin.’” I’m pretty sure that it’s a cover, but I’m not sure who originally wrote it.

Casey Waits, drummer and fortunate son of Tom, put his beat-boxing skills to use for an onstage rendition of “Eyeball Kid,” which was yet another amazing studio arrangement brought to justice on stage. Bent Clausen took to clanging metallic objects with sticks while Tom shakily shrieked about the ”…not conventionally handsome” Eyeball Kid. A perfect display of orchestrated noise.

Tom slung an axe over his shoulder for a very bluesy “Murder In The Red Barn.” Duke Robillard’s smooth solos worked perfectly through the new variation, Tom providing a gorgeous rhythm the entire way through. It reminded me of “Downtown” or “In Shades,” utilizing those simple and stylin’ blues riffs and rhythms so prevalent on Heart Attack and Vine.

Waits followed with another unfamiliar tune called “Lie To Me, Baby,” and then stomped into “Shake It.”

”Feeeel like a preacher wavin’ a gun aroooooooown’…shakeitshakeitshakeit”

He’d paused for a moment:

“When I was a child I joined the circus…”

From there he went into “Circus,” tunneling both sides of his mouth with his hands, creating this amplified whisper. The crowd responded here and there with moments of laughter when Tom described one-eyed Myra:

”She looked at me squinty with her one good eye in a Roy Orbison t-shirt as she bottle fed an Orangutan named Tripod,” adding, “I’m not going to go into why they called him that.”

I don’t remember if that’s exactly what he said, but it was along these lines.

At about this point, the set began to feel a little rushed. “Trampled Rose,” one of my favorite songs off of Real Gone, made its way into the set list much to my surprise. Clausen picked up the banjo and Tom sang behind closed eyes. An almost perfect rendition of “Get Behind The Mule” and a very passionate version of “It Rains On Me” followed.

The last song of the set wound up being “Goin’ Out West.” Tom’s sandpaper vocal loudly boasted his physical attributes as the band paused at the punchline.

”…I got hair on my CHEST! I look good without a SHIRT!”

The band stopped. Tom stood there with a smile that took over his entire face and the crowd clapped and cheered the whole time. It was tough to know if the smile was a sarcastic little nod at his 50-something year-old body, or just a moment of internal clarity, brought about by the realization that he’d just rocked a Louisville crowd and that his show had gone perfectly. Either way, he gleamed and could’ve lit the room by himself.

Once the song ended, the band took its leave. The crowd didn’t. We all clapped our hands, stomped our feet, whistled and yelled. It was maybe thirty seconds and Tom came back out.

The rowdy crowd took a seat though once the onset of a pinnacle moment took hold. Tom picked up an acoustic guitar and played “The Day After Tomorrow,” to which we all just sort of held our breath so we could hear every word.

It was one of those moments where you were actually proud of the crowd. Usually you’re dealing with others in a setting like this and all you can think is “Man, shut the fuck up!” The best lines of the song received their due attention, light applause of acknowledgment. It was a beautiful moment, one that seemed to affect everyone.

Once the song ended, the applause was deafening. The male counterpart to the woman who’d been vomited on earlier remarked that that “was the best song he played all night.”

To end the night with a bang, the selection was “Don’t Go Into That Barn” and I’m sure that the inclusion of Louisville to the lyrics took part in his motivation to use it. He rattled the lyrics off like a drunken drill sergeant and, once the song was over, it was “good night.”

Words failed me. Once the lights lit the theater, I got caught in an exiting crowd of smiles and exclamations that seemed to carry me onto the humid sidewalks outside. I almost ran into the side of beef with the “Yankee Go Home” brand who had an intense look of determination chiseled into his face. I, on the other hand, was still mesmerized. I may as well have still been sitting in the theater watching intently, even though I was trying to avoid collision with all the dehydrated human traffic.

The remaining hours, most of which were spent looking for a late-night bar, had Tom Waits as the soundtrack. The bounty of promise made by these albums that I’d listened to for hours on end had been delivered.

I hope you never die, you beautiful, beautiful man.

Letters From A Tapehead

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Nighthawks at the Palace Theater – Part 1

Tom Waits
Palace Theater
Louisville, KY

Tom Waits – Lead Vocal, Guitar, Piano
Larry Taylor – Acoustic Bass
Duke Robillard – Lead Guitar
Casey Waits – Drums, Beat Box
Bent Clausen – Keyboards, Percussion, Banjo

Sweating Lines / Assault at the Hands of a Beer Binger / The Scarecrow Emerges

The Louisville sun was oppressive. We were all lined up under its tyrannical blaze, victims of the unmoving, long as fuck, “M through S” line we were thrown into thanks to the last initials we were born with. Will-call tickets require a human filing system. Needless to say, I was quite jealous of anyone whose last name started with “Z”. I was however not jealous of all the Sooooo-phisticated cats dressed head-to-toe in suit wear. A t-shirt was too much clothing for me. A suit would’ve been a health hazard.

So, my gang and I tried to keep our minds off the warmth by occupying ourselves with the next couple hours. We were seeing Tom Waits. HOLY SHIT!!!! What songs would he play? What did we hope he would play? Trying to come up with dream set lists seemed to make the time go by. When we got to the entrance, a poster of Nick Lachey hung across from the Waits poster, so we marveled at that a bit and wondered if the Palace Theater’s follow-up would make half the impression on Louisville that Waits was evidently making.

We managed to make it into the theater, which is absolutely beautiful and classically constructed. After wrestling for our tickets and finding ourselves in yet another line for beer, we got ourselves a seat in the bar area and waited to be summoned. The lights were to flash when the show was beginning.

All around us people were elbows high, dousing their parched throats with beer. It was plain to see that Waits’ influence spanned generations and genres. Everyone was either prim and proper, or poor and punk rock. I saw a girl in her late twenties with a Black Flag tattoo emblazoned on her shoulder, a couple of about 60-something, young kids in pork-pie hats, 60s throwbacks, and then there was the unsettling character with “Yankee, Go Home” tattooed on his upper-chest. Add to the equation the aforementioned suit-n-tie guys and you have somewhat of an idea of the crowd that Tom Waits attracts.

The lights flashed. My fiancé and I ran to our balcony seats and took a look around us. The theater was huge. The ceiling was dome-like, reflecting navy blue light with tiny star-like lights shining like a star-lit evening. The stage was as clear as day from our seats. A drum set sat way to the left of the center platform next to a standing acoustic bass. Behind the platform was an oddly stacked pile of megaphone dishes that provided their amplification. It looked like junk art. It was so appropriate. One of the dishes actually looked like the lamp-shaped output of an old school Victrola. On the other side of the amplifiers were a keyboard and xylophone.

Around us people were commenting about how late it was. Waits was supposed to go on around 8, but the line of people trying to get in kept him from hitting the stage. Unfortunately, it resulted in audience members drinking the extra time away. We were in our seats not five minutes when we heard a disturbance behind us. A girl, left hand firmly attached to her mouth, with her right arm waving around for the sake of balance, was drunkenly trying to reach the bottom of the steps. She managed to spew some vomit droplets on the woman sitting directly behind us before reaching the floor. There were two loud men a couple seats away that were cheering the girl on. She was almost to the exit when a stream of vomit shot out of from under her hand in a fountain-like arc, landing on a couple vacant seats. I think some hit the floor as well. She was a like a soda someone had shaken up. Naturally, there was a lot of “ewww…this is disgusting” coming from the woman that caught some of Vomit Girl’s download. I think the show was more or less ruined for that woman. The way she was going on, I think her life was ruined.

A couple minutes later Vomit Girl, visibly embarrassed, made the walk of shame back up to her seat while passing by her victims. Her eyes were pointed downward the entire time. She got her things and left, having wasted her money and a golden opportunity.

The lights went out. The applause was like thunder. One-by-one band members emerged from behind the curtain and took their respective positions. The music began and then the silhouette behind the curtain came into view looking larger than life. The arms of the legend’s shadow shot out at either side and bent its wrists straight down like a moving scarecrow. The crowd went absolutely apeshit. The man came out, pork-pie hat, disheveled and wrinkled suit; he couldn’t have been better dressed.

Immediately, he rolled himself into a fit of contortions while belting out “Make It Rain”. His bottom jaw jutted out like the drawer of a cash register, while his mouth coaxed out a voice that was somehow distressing and beautiful all at once. It sounded like he’d spent the day gargling broken glass and vinegar martinis, eating the olives without pulling out the toothpick. Within the first thirty seconds, I was convinced that this was the most amazing thing I’d ever witnessed and couldn’t believe that I was there. It was overwhelming.

He followed with “Hoist That Rag” which was remarkable to see played live. On Real Gone, the song sounds like an incredibly complex arrangement, just because of the vibrant yet unpolished percussion and off-tune guitar. To see that arrangement get played so well on stage was engrossing. My eyes were wide the entire time, while the crowed clapped clapped away with the percussion section.

“Shore Leave” and a thundering rendition of “God’s Away On Business” came after that. I had a moment of my own when he played “All The World Is Green.” At points, I actually closed my eyes just so I could heighten my listening and damn near cried. The crowd was amazingly still the entire time.

”Pretend that you owe me nothing/And all the world is green
We can bring back the old days again/And all the world is green…”

Just a note: If anyone reading this doesn’t own a copy of Blood Money, be sure to run right out and pick it up even for “All The World Is Green” alone. The chorus by itself takes you to a wonderful place.

Between songs, Tom kept the crowd entertained. He made reference to the wig store in town, commenting “’Wigs and Hats’? What’s the difference?” He also disclosed his hotel info to the crowd, a sign that he was going to be leaving that night. Everyone clapped after he mentioned that his hotel was right next to the venue. “That never happens!” he remarked.

Amazing renditions of “November” and “Falling Down” were next on the list and then the piano was rolled out. Tom took his place behind the keys. Larry Taylor, the bassist, was the only player that remained.

While lightly touching the piano’s keys, Waits went into this soliloquy about these dog biscuits his dog likes, and how mortified he was when he found they were made of bull penis. It got a great reaction out of the crowd. At one point, an annoyingly intoxicated member of the crowd was obnoxiously yelling at him, and he countered that with “Wha-wha-wha? Wha? You’re the guy that owes me money!” A press release Tom released before the tour expressed that his reasoning for touring was such: “We need to go to Tennessee to pick up some fireworks, and someone owes me money in Kentucky.” The crowd roared.

There was a momentary pause and then light applause when Waits began singing “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)” and then you could’ve heard a pin drop. I looked over at my fiancé, who had earlier expressed that she hoped to hear this song and there were light-reflective streaks on her cheeks. She was so moved. I was too. It was another point in the show where I had to just close my eyes and listen. At one point, he repeated a verse. No one gave a shit. It was too good a moment to ruin with know-it-all commentary.

After receiving monster applause, he went into “Tango ‘Til They’re Sore,” and completely fucked it up, but with style. He’d forgotten the verses and kept repeating the one he knew, but related to the crowd the entire time that he’d forgotten it. People were amused. Some were trying to help, shouting the lyrics they knew. One of the guys behind me that had been cheering on Vomit Girl spoke out loud, “It’s okay, no one cares.” Someone on the other side of the balcony we were sitting on yelled out the first couple words to the next verse and the guy remarked again, “See? They care. Why do they care?” It was actually kind of cool that a lot of the fans were happy enough to see the show. It was humanizing to watch our idol, slamming away at the keys and apologizing for forgetting the words. He got through the song, and still earned the admiration and respect of a sold out hall. It was a wonderful moment. He followed that with a lovely rendition of “House Where Nobody Lives” and the piano made its exit.

(to be continued…)

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

On Pause...

To Whom It May Interest,

Due to an onslaught of obligations lately, and a dramatic decrease in free time, Letters From A Tapehead is going to go on hiatus for a little while. I should be back relatively soon though with some new reviews and essays.

On tap are reviews for Sonic Youth's Rather Ripped, Johnny Cash's American V: A Hundred Highways and Helmet's Monochrome.

Also, I will be submitting my first concert review after I have the incredible pleasure of seeing Tom Waits on August 7th at the Palace Theater in Louisville, Kentucky. Soon after, Rollins Band and X are playing at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia.

In the meantime, to anyone who visits, thanks a lot for reading. I'll be back soon.

Letters From A Tapehead

The Mon: "Doppelleben"

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