Category Archives: Music Reviews

John Mellencamp’s 10 Greatest Indiana Concerts (via Indianapolis Monthly)

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They come from the cities and they come from the smaller towns.

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Indianapolis Monthly — Ask John Mellencamp fans for memories of his best shows in Indiana, and one thing quickly becomes clear: The guy has performed in a lot of places around here. He has played bars and football stadiums, basketball arenas and fancy theaters, Farm Aids and guerrilla gigs. Regardless of venue, though, the shows have rarely disappointed. “As much praise as he’s gotten, I think he’s still underrated as a live performer,” says Anthony DeCurtis, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone who received his Ph.D. in American literature from Indiana University. “I saw him in 1992, and it was just torrid. I don’t think I’d seen John in an arena to that point, and I remember thinking, ‘Boy, he’s not having too much trouble filling up this space.’”

In honor of Mellencamp’s August 4 date at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the final show of a tour that has made a number of Indiana stops already, we compiled a scattered, highly unscientific, and 100 percent debatable list of Mellencamp’s best Hoosier concerts over the past four decades. As you might suspect, the list is culled from minutes and memories, so if yours are different (and they probably are), drop us a line. Here are our choices, presented in chronological order because we can’t really rank them. Well, except for maybe that one.

Read the full list over at Indianapolis Monthly.

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The 10 Best Jimmy Buffett Songs He Probably Won’t Play On Tour

Florida Times-Union — Jimmy Buffett has scored unimaginable bank as king of an empire that encompasses music, restaurants, apparel, shrimp, tequila, casinos and whatever industry puts blowup pools in the back of pickup trucks.

But before he was able to convince untold thousands of concertgoers in suburban amphitheaters and basketball arenas they were actually watching the sun drop in someplace like Tahiti, Buffett really was a struggling, easygoing and fairly well-lubricated storyteller from the Gulf Coast, a guy who came up in the early ’70s singer-songwriter golden age of John Prine, James Taylor, Steve Goodman and countless others.

It’s tougher to find that side of Buffett onstage after decades of sold-out cheeseburger parties, but it’s not impossible: For decades he’s ended his beach blanket blowouts with a solo acoustic number (we call it the Let’s Get The Hell Out Of Here Before These People Get In Their Cars song), his best chance to retune his guitar, rummage around in the song trunk and revisit some of the softer, simpler corners of the catalog. If you’ve gotten your fill of the songs you know by heart, here are a few lost treasures worth digging up.

Read more at Jacksonville.com.

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-N9L3ZXWPA]

Review: Magnetic Fields, “69 Love Songs,” or, Magnetic Fields, how do they work?

Paste — Shopping for music reissues is like hitting the sundae buffet on your birthday: It’s one of the few times you are allowed, if not obligated, to put aside your cares about portion size. In the world of repackaged albums, volume is king, sets are super-sized and few demos are considered too scruffy for inclusion. The most bank-breaking reissue of Pearl Jam’s Ten, for example, came with dueling mixes of the album, a live DVD, a vinyl LP, a replica cassette of Vedder’s early demos, some recipes, a coupon for 50 percent off your second pair of shoes, Six Flags tickets and a Don Mattingly rookie card; an apparently sizable audience was once even heard clamoring for 22 outtakes from the Gin Blossoms’ New Miserable Experience.

Magnetic Fields’ spry, sprawling 69 Love Songs album was no small investment in its original proportions, and its three 23-track discs—each loaded end-to-end with near-comprehensive coverage of the highs and horrors of love—cemented Stephin Merritt’s standing as a kind of misanthropic dark knight. And so, while the recently-reissued version is plus-sized—the whole shebang comprised of six vinyl LPs (plus a code to download the remastered MP3s)—this new, limited-run package features no outtakes, no demos, no live cuts, no extra anything. It makes sense, as anything more would bungle the math. Plus, Merritt doesn’t exactly seem like the kind of guy who would throw open his journals. “He made Lou Reed look like Little Orphan Annie,” says author Neil Gaiman in the trailer for the newly released, decade-in-the-making documentary Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields. Read the full review over at Paste Magazine.

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Paste review: “Rock N’ Roll High School” 30th Anniversary Special Edition DVD

Paste — Producer Roger Corman’s Rock ’N’ Roll High School is a teenage lobotomy. It’s an overcaffeinated parable about punk rebellion and the seething drive to maintain one’s countercultural ethos against a long-ingrained totalitarianism that, in 2010, appears approximately as dangerous as a pre-sectionals pep rally. You get where Corman, the B-movie emperor, is going with the whole punk-inflames-the-youth thing somewhere around the 12-second mark, but why bother suppressing such gleeful silliness, especially when it assumes a world where the Ramones are national heroes? Read the full review at Paste.

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The Steel Horse Archives: Cinderella, “Somebody Save Me” (1986)

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At midnight, they turn into Warrant.

PopDose — Part One of The Steel Horse Archives, my ridiculous and self-indulgent series over at PopDose concerning the rise and mostly fall of Hair Metal, involves Cinderella, the ladies pictured at right who were responsible for one of 1986’s fizziest pants-metal records, “Night Songs.” Head over to PopDose at once to get Saved and for a pumpkin-coach full of free mp3s that you can quietly download without telling anybody.


Review: Bruce Springsteen burns down Bonnaroo — for the Official Site (TM)

saddler_bonnaroobrucespringsteen.net (Tour Notes) — Even setting aside the Tennessee hot, the sprawling carnival-world landscape, and the frequent need to avoid people who are hula-hooping where you need to be walking, it’s safe to say Bruce Springsteen has never played an environment like the one he burned down Saturday night at Bonnaroo. The night was jammed full of Bruce-time idiosyncrasies: it was only the band’s second-ever festival date (after Pinkpop), and it unfolded not in the relative safety of an arena but on a lush, pastoral and almost entirely inaccessible farm that 48 hours prior had been prolifically drenched by what amounted to a freak one-night hurricane season (and spent all of Friday being dried out by a sultry sun that seared the grounds and turned the place into a wonderland for fans of the smell of fast-drying mud).

Read the full review at brucespringsteen.net (over in the Tour Notes section).

• Phish (with Bruce Springsteen) — Glory Days.mp3


Review: Guns N’ Roses, “Chinese Democracy” (No, really)

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Popdose — Unless you spent a lot of time in the company of William Shatner, “Chinese Democracy” will likely be one of the most ridiculous audio recordings you ever come across. It is sprawling and stupid and ludicrous and hilarious and will make you shoot milk out of your nose and cringe and it is not very good and sometimes extremely terrible, and just when you think things cannot possibly get any more extraordinarily strange, that’s when Axl Rose drops the MLK sample on you.

Originally slated for release in 1948, “Chinese Democracy” comes out Sunday exclusively for people shopping for Black Friday-sale plasmas at Best Buy, a wise promotional stunt and kind of an all-in proposition — if putting this record out this week doesn’t create interest or move units, nothing will. Because one thing is sure: The songs won’t sell it. Read the full review via the good people at PopDose.


Live review: Jimmy Buffett at the Time Warner Pavilion, Raleigh

Billboard — Jimmy Buffett has dubbed his 2008 summer tour “The Year Of Still Here,” a title that denotes a bemused disbelief about the 61-year-old troubadour’s continued success that is, needless to say, profoundly insane: Barring some sort of catastrophic crash in the grass-skirt industry or the subprime blow-up pool market, what possible reason could there be to get this show off the road?

Buffett’s beach blanket blowouts are as reliable as the waves, the stars and – to be slightly less breezy and escapist about the whole thing – the gross receipts at the end of each prove that. The shows are sellouts and the songs are staples. Sure, pavilion seats – and beers, alcoholic squishies and goofball plastic cups – are expensive as hell, but Buffett has held face value for the lawn seats to around a relatively ridiculous $30 for years. And the continued spot-development of small, friendly hamlets built from inflatable items, pickup truck pools and insta-tiki bars in parking lots across the land is also an annual spectacle.

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Live review: Springsteen’s “Magic” in the night

PopMatters — If The Rising was Bruce Springsteen’s soaring, spiritual attempt at making sense of whatever parts of 9/11 one could make sense of—its title track, you’ll remember, found a heroic firefighter ascending a burning building with “spirits above and behind (him)”—his newest record, Magic, is the crashing aftermath, a darkened, defiant survey of the emotional and political wreckage since that dark day. Its 12 songs are laden with alienation, disappointment, and evaporated hope. These themes certainly aren’t new to Bruce’s notebook, but it’s still something to hear such themes so prevalent, so front and center. In a few cases, Magic takes Springsteenian lyrical chestnuts and turns them on their disenfranchised ears: the girl in the Motown/boppy “Livin’ in the Future” sways into town on high heels that sound like the clicks of pistol, while the “flag flyin’ over the courthouse” in “Long Walk Home” inspires not hope or redemption but a subtle national sense of remorse for crimes committed in the names of people who never wanted anything to do with them.

These are not easy tales to spin to a crowd that is used to leaving your live show feeling as though the world was a searingly hopeful beacon of justice, rainbows, truth, and fresh-baked oatmeal cookies. But maybe the magic-est thing about Springsteen’s Magic show is that, even in a slightly abbreviated and grayer form, Springsteen maintains the uncanny and increasingly unbelievable ability to identify hope in a daily rain of chaos.

Springsteen is 58 years old right now, the first of many reasons that the Magic tour shouldn’t be anywhere near as vibrant and relevant as it is. Other obstacles include, but are not limited to, perceptions that: he’s overly preachy and political, his band is too old (Clarence is 65!), and he’s too rich to identify with the common man. And given his own superlative, impossible history, going out and putting on simply a “good” show might not be enough for a fan base that’s come to rightly expect a regular stream of “greatness.”

Lucky for us, there seems to be something about these challenges that’s making him dig deeper. Dark or not, alienating or not, there’s never a moment in the two hour-plus show where you think that Springsteen—all six decades of him—might not be able to pull this off.

None of this is to say that there aren’t the usual, scorching moments of cathartic release: the D.C. show’s opening salvo of “Radio Nowhere”, “No Surrender”, and “Lonesome Day” roared with a vengeance; the first set closed, if you can call it that, with “Badlands”. This show also found Springsteen leaving time for a stomping, galvanic “Working on the Highway” (complete with Elvis poses), as well as the one-two punch of the new, better-on-stage “I’ll Work for Your Love” and “Tunnel of Love”—the later of which sounds more ‘80s than ever and closed with an absolutely bonkers solo from Nils Lofgren.

Elsewhere, “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” shimmered and waved. Aside from that great chorus, it’s one of a few songs on the new record that find Bruce—grudgingly, one imagines—copping to his age: they might pass him by now, but Springsteen allows himself a twinkle to the Sandys and Rosalitas anyway. (For the setlist hawks, this night found Springsteen and band killing an audibled “Growin’ Up” and taking it directly into a roaring “Kitty’s Back”—both songs going on 35 years old).

But for the most part, there’s more darkness on the edge of the Magic show than any tour before it. In the context of such alienation—especially in the D.C. setting, which Springsteen acknowledged with the hot-cha zinger, “I’m so glad to be in your wicked, I mean beautiful, city tonight!”—“No Surrender” became a fierce challenge (the “wide open country in our eyes” seemed a lot more distant). “Reason To Believe”, meanwhile, was rebuilt as a dust-spitting Western rocker in the vein of “La Grange” and “Radio Nowhere”. The tune opened with a war cry (“Is there anybody alive out there?”, which Bruce has been stage-pattering since the ‘70s) that was part call to arms, part indictment—a line that can kick off a big rock show while slyly wondering what, exactly, in the hell have we let happen around here.

Springsteen has said that the hook, the whole turning point of the show happens near the end of the first set, when the cathartic, hopeful-against-odds “The Rising” gives way to “Last to Die”, the new record’s most direct indictment of the war. It’s made more potent when one realizes that the title character, whoever it is, may not have enlisted yet (the song’s based on a speech by John Kerry, no less). When that moment comes, it’s a killer: the shift, the tension, the tone, are like a kick to the stomach. Out of the “li li li”s of “The Rising” comes a black highway, an aimless wander and the question of who’ll be “the last to die for a mistake.”

That’s Springsteen’s challenge this time out: serving the bitter pills of “Last to Die” and “Devil’s Arcade” (given a stern, hammering, Max Weinberg-heavy reading in honor of Veterans’ Day) next to the fizzy release of “She’s the One” and the roaring-as-ever “Night”. The final song of the evening, “American Land”, is a Celtic-punk holdover from his Seeger Sessions experiment. It turned the GA section of the pit into a rubber-floored free-for-all, lobbing these lyrics at the lobbyists and lawmakers in the audience: “The hands that build the country we’re always trying to keep out.”

No one is more hip to the inability of American audiences to read between the lines than Springsteen—these are the people that wanted to use “Born in the USA” to sell pickup trucks, and if anyone can drag Pat Buchanan out of his crypt maybe he could explain why he once used the song as entrance music—but that Springsteen is as invested in such seemingly aging ideals is maybe the biggest reason he’s still doing all this. Such is the assignment that Springsteen has given himself: to keep arguing for the points and people he’s spent nearly four decades arguing for, to allow just the briefest glimpse of nostalgia (via “Born to Run”, of course, and a revved-up “Dancing in the Dark”), to allow more for age and experience. He’s there to to cast light on the horrors of a government run amok, and to make people leave a concert thinking that redemption is not only possible, but is possible by tomorrow morning.


Concert Review: Guns N’ Roses – Democracy Now! Or, Who The Hell Are You People?

Billboard — Even on a sticky Halloween night in Florida, with much of the crowd in costume and spooky holiday decor swinging from the rafters, nothing could quite out-weird the main spectacle: watching 1/8th of Guns N’ Roses perform a batch of 20-year-old smashes — as well as a few from a record originally slated for release during the first Clinton administration — in front of, among other things, a large and inflatable Homer Simpson balloon.

Welcome to the jungle, kids. We’ve got fun and games.
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