Category Archives: Florida Times-Union

Lynyrd Skynyrd in the Rock Hall: Turn it up, or turn it down?

You know, it did take the Rock Hall seven years to admit these guys. Which brings up the question: Is Lynyrd Skynyrd a Hall of Fame band that jump-started a musical genre, or are they overrated good ol’ boys with a history of troubling content? An argument from both sides; I report, you decide.

Live review: Both sides of Ben Harper in Jacksonville

Florida Times-Union — Ben Harper is the missing link between human and mix tape, a shuffle button that can walk. His set is the jam-band counterpart of the menu at the Cheesecake Factory: nearly every style is readily available (as long as you don’t feel like anything too weird), and if you think you can trump it, you just haven’t turned enough pages. Feeling like reggae? Try the “Steal My Kisses/Pressure Drop” medley, wash it down with a crisp Red Stripe. A little wah-wah funk? Might I suggest the “Excuse Me Mr.” Some sensitive-guy singer-songwriter stuff? Ah, the “Another Lonely Day” is excellent tonight. A review of Harper’s sold-out show at the Florida Theatre.

Live review: This thing, called Queen + Paul Rodgers, I just can’t handle it

At worst, Queen + Paul Rodgers comes off as an adequate cover band, one made only a little less creepy by the participation of two original members. At best, it comes off as a marginally more- than-adequate cover band. This is Queen like I’m Lou Rawls. A review of the band’s sparsely attended Arena gig.

Interview: Roger Taylor and Queen, plus and minus

“We’re not gonna look too much like old men [on stage],” says Queen drummer Roger Taylor, of the band’s first tour with Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers and without, notably, Freddie Mercury. “Thankfully we still have our hair and are not enormously overweight.” (It is important to note that talking about bands who still have their hair carries extra weight when said band includes Brian May.) Taylor on why Queen wants to continue to rock you.

Live review: Keith, country’s Urban legend in Jacksonville

Florida Times-Union — I drive a Honda mini-SUV, couldn’t pick Tony Stewart out of a crowd of two and never once had anyone find my tractor sexy, and I’m still about twice as country as the fantastically popular Keith Urban.

Only the music business’ obsessive need to fragment itself puts Urban anywhere within miles of country; bizarrely, his meat-and-potatoes rock n’ roll no longer has much of a place on rock radio, MTV or VH-1.

The only safe harbor for a guy of his constitution – equal parts Seger, Garth and the Goo Goo Dolls – is the land of Music Row, where the word “rock” does not automatically conjure up thoughts of Nickelback.

But country is in desperate need of a personality and star-power transfusion, and Urban provides it to remarkable degree. Here’s an Australian dude who woos Nicole Kidman, whose shows possibly boast country’s lowest hat-to-section ratio, who covers Tom Petty and who arrives on stage to a friggin’ Jesus Jones song.

Supporters say those are the sounds of country’s long-standing walls being torn down. But a more cynical sort might say they’re the sounds of maximum crossover appeal, and that Urban is just merging marketable styles from all decades, authenticity be damned (watch how often the word “covers” appears in this review). iPods play Jesus Jones next to George Jones, so why can’t he? Somewhere, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash do loop-de-loops in their graves, while somewhere slightly warmer, accountants do them in corner offices.

Urban’s sound is pure comfort food, musical fuzzy slippers, a sonic Super Target. His titles go like this: Days Go By, Better Life, These Are The Days, But For The Grace Of God. His riffs soar where eagles dare. He’s obsessed with the images generally attached to conservativized country — blue jeans, blacktop, sunshine, ol’ buddies at the corner bar – but, as usual, they prove little more than stock art (when Urban sings Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’, you get the sense his emotional investment ends after the first verse, the one about the girl who’s crazy ‘bout Elvis, before all the bad stuff happens). He’s Bon Jovi with an occasional banjo and, somehow, fewer emotional gray areas; he sees a million faces, and gently rocks them all.

But all that said, Urban proves a performer of irrational likeability. Sure, Urban strains for the maximum potential audience (look at ya with the Sweet Home Alabama cover, ya big lug), plays crowd-yelling games and congratulates himself on his extended set times (Keith, I like you, but lots of bands play two hours, buddy). But his easy charisma, anthem-ready voice and above-average guitar chops make him an unfailingly engaging fella, even when he’s indulging in plodding monster ballads like Rainin’ on Sunday, his cover of Garth Brooks’ cover of Billy Joel’s You May Be Right, or You’ll Think of Me, a massive hit about breakups that clones much of Bruce Springsteen’s One Step Up. The end result is often potent but strangely detached. The place is packed and jumping when the lights go down, but plenty of folks scoot by encore time to beat traffic.

This is country in 2006 – pure, easy accessibility.

One of country’s biggest superstars never wears a hat, spins Prince on the P.A., covers Brooks and Dunn and grants himself a solid Eddie Van Halen-sized guitar solo 15 minutes four songs in. Lays down on the floor and everything. The ladies text dreamy notes to their friends, the guys nod appreciatively. Urban’s out to take mass appeal to new heights, and it’s working.

Mostly-INXS and Sort-Of Queen in: Rock Parts

Florida Times-Union — Coming soon to Jacksonville: Queen, Sort Of! And INXS, In a Manner of Speaking!

Both acts are household names, both were superstars in their respective eras, and both are curiously enjoying lively tour schedules in 2006 despite the fact that their original singers have, for years now, been dead. “Brian [May] and I were not expecting to go on the road at any time,” said Roger Taylor, original drummer for Queen, which hasn’t toured the States since 1982. “It’s hard for anyone to walk into a wealth of history and experience that we’ve had,” INXS drummer Jon Farriss said of replacing Hutchence (who’s been replaced in the band and photo illustration by the improbably named J.D. Fortune).

And yet, in just a few weeks, you can welcome INXS — or whatever they are. And Queen has re-emerged to totally rock you. A Sunday feature on how some bands have fared with replacement parts. And a sidebar that breaks bands down into cold hard numbers.

The Hold Steady Kills Me: An interview with Craig Finn

"Tramps like us, and we like tramps"

Florida Times-Union (2.06) — If rock ‘n’ roll has always been the soundtrack to restless, confused adolescence, Craig Finn and The Hold Steady have taken its most romanticized elements — escapism, nervous love, frequent bursts of lively panic — and put a killer twist on them.

A storyteller whose words stream out in sentences rather than verses, Finn writes stories about growing up with as much sharp-eyed nostalgia as the Beach Boys, Replacements or Bruce Springsteen. In fact, though he represents the suburbs of Minneapolis, Finn proves himself a devout Bruce disciple on Hold Steady’s 2004 debut, The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me, and its 2005 follow-up, Separation Sunday. Both are layered with variations on youthful, Boss-ian themes, both below the surface and well above it (from Charlemagne in Sweatpants: “Tramps like us, and we like tramps”).



But if Springsteen’s legacy is in perfecting the rock-as-redemption thing, Finn’s may be in hanging it upside down by its heels and shaking out its change all over the boardwalk.

“There’s a lot of teenage nostalgia in rock ‘n’ roll, and Sunday is a teenage album,” Finn said last week. “And it’s a suburban album. When I was 16, I was able to get my driver’s license, and growing up the suburbs, that means you suddenly have this amazing new freedom.”

Sunday also boasts more overt Catholicism than any secular album in recent memory. Finn, who was brought up Catholic and attended Boston College, doesn’t go to church, but he can’t consider himself lapsed, either. “When people used to say, ‘Are you Catholic?’ I’d say no,” he said. “But then I thought that might not be entirely accurate. I certainly do not go to church, nor do I subscribe to some of the beliefs of the Catholic church, but it was such an important part of me becoming who I am that it was a big part of the genesis of the record. Redemption, salvation, forgiveness — those are beautiful, profound things you can always come back to.”

That said, despite never once advocating Satanism or gayness and assigning a starring, reverent role to the big man, the crises of faith conveyed in Sunday may alarm anyone who put forth any effort to, say, cancel The Book of Daniel. “I’m sure there are Catholic priests who would find it really blasphemous, but the chances of them hearing the Hold Steady record are slim to none,” he said with a laugh.

The Hold Steady formed in 2000 from the ashes of Finn and guitarist Tad Kubler’s previous outfit, Lifter Puller. It now includes bassist Galen Polivka, drummer Bobby Drake and keyboardist Franz Nicolay. The band spent much of last year absorbing accolades (including dueling love letters from the New Yorker and the Village Voice) and materializing on most of the known world’s year-end Top 10 lists. “I feel critically acclaimed,” Finn said. “But we still haven’t sold that many records. A huge step in being in a band is getting to the point that you have actual fans. I think that’s where we’re at, which is exciting.”

But if those fans see Finn as the ignition, the Hold Steady’s fuel is its arena-ready sound, which probably gets closer to Aerosmith than anyone who’s ever recorded under the vast indie umbrella ever has. Kubler sounds like he’s scanning the want ads for openings in Thin Lizzy, and Nicolay’s piano gets positively jump-swinging on tracks such as Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night. In two albums, they’ve captured the Replacements’ sloppy swagger and Warren Zevon’s gift for being at once graceful and dust-mouthed and sort of sad.

“People assume that songwriters are talking about personal experience, but no one ever thinks of a filmmaker in the same way,” Finn said. “The record is certainly influenced by my life, but I write songs as a cinematic means of telling a story.”

Stories that have proven accessible both to the kids still inhabiting various personas in search of one that fits, and the older folks who haven’t forgotten how hard that is to pull off.

Interview: John Prine, standing by peaceful waters

John Prine’s sterling show at the Florida Theatre encompassed what Prine’s so skilled at conveying: discovery, pain, peace, the primal, therapeutic power of music and the impossible mess all these things make when handled by us humans.

A review of Prine’s Jacksonville stop, as well as an extremely enjoyable talk with the singer-songwriter.

Live review: Springsteen’s “Devils and Dust” tour — dream baby dream

Like the saying goes, you don’t have to be a Bruce Springsteen fanatic to appreciate his current tour — but it helps.

Springsteen’s current solo Devils and Dust trek is designed as a sprawling, contemplative look at the Springsteen catalog, particularly its quieter back pages. It’s billed as an acoustic tour, but last Friday’s show in Tampa found him hopping between six-string, piano, electric guitar, pump organ, electric piano and ukulele. Familiar songs are certainly played, but he’s not out to simply strip down his anthems. No, he’s out to revisit the dustier corners of his catalog, and he does it with subtle, startling power.



This was the case once before when Springsteen hit the highway behind an acoustic record. Like 1982’s Nebraska and 1995’s The Ghost of Tom Joad, Devils is a bleak, character-driven disc; also like Joad, it’s set in the dust-and-poverty choked Southwest. It co-stars prostitutes, amateur ultimate fighters, immigrants who died crossing into Texas.

But as was the case on the Joad tour, funny things happen when Springsteen brings Devils’ downcast songs to stage. The Tom Joad tour began as two hours of character sketches of permeating bleakness, and ended over a year later as a fundamentally different show, full of older tracks, personality and surprise (and culminating in sex puns and a song about a mall Santa in a strip club). The show becomes a sprawling and contemplative career overview., punctuated by humor and personality and the sense the Springsteen couldn’t be more pleased bringing these songs out.

First, he quickly moves away from his source material. In Tampa, Springsteen performed 26 songs but just five from Devils. And in many cases, the older songs are rebuilt from scratch. Reason to Believe got a Howlin’ Wolf treatment, with Springsteen roaring the vocals into a distorted bullet mike (think a dying CB radio ratcheted up to 11); it was all disorienting antagonism instead of somber reflection.

Springsteen has been flying without a net all through the tour, monkeying with arrangements and digging into crates — he’s done something like 130-plus songs. Still, the smorgasbord of rarities last week raised the eyebrows of even the online setlist hawks at places like the invaluable fan site Backstreets. The 1980 ballad Fade Away opened on electric piano, along with a veritable suite from The River Fade’s B-side Be True, I Wanna Marry You, Two Hearts and a heart-clutching Wreck on the Highway on electric piano. There were two from Tunnel Of Love — Ain’t Got You (which he wrote as a smirking answer all those who ask “what it’s like to the Boss”) and the plaintive One Step Up. And two from Nebraska, including the pitch-black State Trooper.

In addition, and this is the fun part, Springsteen starts to get chatty, like the wine’s starting to kick in or something. He sets up rim shots that could be swung home in the Catskills, riffing that his relatively lame Human Touch is considered a masterpiece in Norway, or that the uber-wordy Blinded By the Light explains why he never did drugs, although he’s “looking forward to doing them soon.” Springsteen led off Jesus Was An Only Son, a Galilee-set lament solely interested in the relationship of Jesus and Mary, with an extended monologue on his Irish/Italian roots, including a line about Catholicism being a religion of great beauty and faith, as well as “abject horror and terror.” Springsteen even stopped the song mid-stream to bring home some of its points, giving, or at least indicating, access to the machinations behind his songwriting.

But the latter doesn’t even come into play on the show’s biggest dice-roll: Dream Baby Dream, a track originally recorded in 1979 by NYC synth-drone duo Suicide, that closed the night and is one of the most bizarre things he’s ever brought to stage (a dancing Clarence Clemons notwithstanding). It’s little more than a mantra — a sea of phrases like “Come on, dream baby dream, I just wanna see you smile, dry your eyes” — that on paper sounds like a recipe for goodwill-slaughtering disaster. And indeed, it’s either a revelatory moment of thematic unification or a head-scratching snooze, depending on how you felt about the preceding two hours.

Indeed, this show probably split a certain chunk of the ticket-buying crowd; I heard at least one guy walking out lamenting that Springsteen didn’t play “more old stuff,” by which he almost certainly meant anything with some combination of the words “Glory” and “Days” in the title. No, this one’s for the longtime fans, the majority who sat in reverent politeness and not those who couldn’t keep their giggles and “whooooos!” contained within their comfortably appointed skyboxes. This is Springsteen rebuilding, refocusing, putting the spotlight back on his songwriting and reimagining what it’s like to be the Boss.

“Maybe the Lord has something in mind”: Roger Lewis of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band

Florida Times-Union — Scattered and broken, the musicians of New Orleans are in the first days of their new lives, a shapeless time period that has no end in sight. Some have already returned to the city; some don’t intend to return.

Most, like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, have maintained their pre-Katrina touring paces, not just as a way to keep their livelihoods, but also to keep their focus. “It’s overwhelming,” said Roger Lewis, saxophone player and founding member of the Dirty Dozen. “The city’s dead, man. It is dead.”

From his temporary home base in Vicksburg, Miss., Lewis said last week that the band plans to “keep on keeping on” — indeed, it was just a week or so after the levees broke that they were back on stage in Baton Rouge, La. “Being from New Orleans, we play under all kinds of conditions, birthdays or funerals,” he said. “The show must go on, you know?”

Any list of the most definitive contemporary Big Easy bands must include the Dozen, an institution that dates to the late ’70s, when Bourbon Street, like the rest of the country, had fallen victim to a considerably less tasty musical gumbo of disco and country. That’s when trumpeter Gregory Davis, saxman Roger Lewis, tuba player Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen and others came together to re-grasp that old brass-band intensity, weaving in modern jazz, funk and rock ‘n’ roll for good measure.

Three decades on, the Dozen are on call for any festival with the words “jazz” in it, and have played with Dizzy Gillespie, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Dave Matthews, Modest Mouse and the Black Crowes.

But things are different now. Lacen died a few years ago, commemorated by the Dozen’s 2003 disc Funeral for a Friend. And now, this.

“It has an effect on you mentally,” Lewis said. “New Orleans is a beautiful city — there’s so much history. Some stuff can be replaced, and some stuff can’t be replaced, you know what I mean?”

Lewis has been back to the city twice, most recently a few weeks ago to retrieve some of his instruments that were “salvageable.” He said his house at its worst was flooded with 4 or 5 feet of water.

“My wife’s a pianist, she lost her piano, keyboards. Well, we lost everything,” he said. “Everybody’s got a different horror story to tell.”

Still, there’s comfort to be found, he said, in being able to help a little, to raise a little money as well as keep the sound alive.

“I’m a musician. My job is to bring peace and joy and happiness. The beauty is to be able to provide some entertainment and raise money to help people who really need to be helped,” he said.

Lewis said that crowds at Dirty Dozen’s post-Katrina gigs are equal parts sympathetic and “[ticked] off” about the relief efforts. But, he added, there’s a lot of love being shown, too.

“New Orleans is a strong city. Its people are strong people. It’s coming back,” he said. “But it’s gonna be different. You’re gonna lose a lot of the history. It ain’t gonna be the same New Orleans you used to know. Maybe the Lord has something in mind.”

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