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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: Billy Joel in Jacksonville

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Billboard — No longer the angry young man but a gray, assured and fiery one, Billy Joel, in his first solo tour in eight years, is proving that he still knows his way around rock’n’roll. Especially for a retired guy.

Next phase, new wave, Broadway-pop, cinematic epics, sped-rapped history lessons: Joel has brought many things to many people over his three-plus decades, though he insists he’s sticking by the “retirement” from writing and recording pop music that he announced following 1993’s “River of Dreams.”

To that end, this early stop on the piano man’s first outing in almost a decade sans Elton John found Joel packing all that he could into an almost two-and-a-half hour show. That included throwing light on some of the cobwebbier corners of his vast catalog (as he did in box set form on last fall’s “My Lives”) in addition to showing that he still knows precisely what to do when his regular crowd shuffles in.

Joel’s Jacksonville show (only the second on a fast-selling tour that already includes six shows at Madison Square Garden) amounted to a full-on victory lap. It was a also a chance to set the tour’s ground rules; early in the 24-song set, Joel threatened experimentation, and that’s what he did (introducing “The Great Wall of China” from 1993’s “River of Dreams,” he cracked, “If you have to go to the bathroom, you should probably go now, because this is really obscure.”) Like Springsteen and McCartney on their most recent outings, Joel’s plan of attack-ack-ack-ack-ack involved more than simply handing out hits (notably absent from the set were “Uptown Girl,” “She’s Always A Woman” and, God bless him, “Just The Way You Are”); he was there in search of long-buried treasure.

Such excavation spanned the first chapters of the show. After the one-two punch of “Angry Young Man” and “My Life,” both big, baroque set pieces which successfully survived the trip from the ’70s (even if those whitewall tires haven’t), Joel began rifling around. He dug up the theatrically sinister “Stiletto,” whose serpentine groove was augmented nicely by Mark Rivera’s sax work and the band’s intimidating-looking finger snaps. Introducing the jazzbo “Zanzibar,” he remarked that after cutting the song in the studio he and his band “felt like adults.” “Sometimes a Fantasy” dripped with gooey synthesizer; “Sleeping With the Television On” worked up a solid, guitar-fueled lather.

But if Joel used the early half of the night for rummaging and evaluation (“That one worked!” he smiled to his band after 1971’s “Everybody Loves You Now”), the late half was reserved for a rock block: “I Go to Extremes,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “Big Shot” and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” the latter two of which he delivered sporting a backwards ball cap thrown on stage, which was a nice touch. Closing the main set: an ageless and roaring “You May Be Right.” Saved for the encore: “Only the Good Die Young,” “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” and that one about getting his fans feeling alright.

Despite what he indicated in a few age-related gags (those seated behind his rotating piano at any given time, he said, could “check themselves out in the back of my head”), Joel looked fit and sounded better. He dished up a sterling “New York State of Mind” with timeless ease and unleashed “Goodnight Saigon” to even better effect. One can’t help but think that after a few more installments of this quick-selling trek, Joel may want to rethink that business about retirement. He’s already survived the noble fight, and there’s little doubt left that he — and his fans — remain in the mood for his melodies.

Here is Billy Joel’s set list:

“Angry Young Man”
“My Life”
“Everybody Loves You Now”
“New York State of Mind”
“Stiletto”
“Zanzibar”
“Allentown”
“The Great Wall of China”
“Sometimes a Fantasy”
“Sleeping With the Television On”
“Goodnight Saigon”
“Movin’ Out”
“An Innocent Man”
“Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel”
“Keeping the Faith”
“I Go to Extremes”
“We Didn’t Start the Fire”
“Big Shot”
“It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”
“You May Be Right”

Encore:
“River of Dreams”
“Only the Good Die Young”
“Scenes From an Italian Restaurant”
“Piano Man”


Live review: Nine Inch Nails reclaim their empire of dirt in Jacksonville

Florida Times-UnionHow much can you blame a band for its weaker, subordinate offspring? How much can you hold into account the inventor of a cliche if it was novel when he thought of it? Is it fair to blame Pearl Jam for Creed? And is it fair to blame Nine Inch Nails for the tiring parade of industrial-rock welterweights who ungraciously jammed the airwaves during the post-Downward Spiral mid-’90s? (Don’t make me come over there, Gravity Kills).

Trent Reznor certainly deserves his slice of the pie for conceiving some of industrial metal’s most inspired moments — all of Spiral, most of Pretty Hate Machine and its follow-up EP, Broken. But after Spiral in 1994, things got itchy. Following a trademark Reznorian layoff of slightly more than a presidential term, he returned with 1999’s sprawling two-discer The Fragile, an unspectacular work that occasionally slipped into unintentional comedy and left many wondering if Nine Inch Nails had peaked and would be ladling up Sin to the state fair circuit before long.

Happily, last spring’s With Teeth laid to rest those worries, and Nine Inch Nails’ 21-song tour de force Friday at the Arena finished shoveling dirt on them.

Proving that he’s lost none of his punishing power, Reznor reclaimed that industrial title while proving that, at 40, he’s still got what’s probably a medically worrisome capacity for apocalyptic but often danceable rage, delivered with the cobweb-free precision of a guy who’s newly clean and sober and knows he’s getting his belt back. Might have been the strobes, but I think I even caught a little smirk there during March of the Pigs.

Much of Reznor’s enduring appeal lies in his ability to use synapse-reprogramming industrial songs and their darkly erotic sonic underbellies to disguise insanely catchy pop hooks (Closer and Head Like A Hole chief among them). The overwrought Fragile got away from that, but With Teeth brings it back. the anti-Bush screed The Hand That Feeds bounced along on a bassline that was almost merry, and new single Only is the closest thing he’s birthed to Pretty Hate since the late-80s, a piece of bent metal with a slithery synth riff and hook you can bob to (though it also works in that album’s most aged trait, predictable lyrical mumbo-jumbo about being “less concerned about fitting into the world — your world that is.”)

But the hooks and the noise were both at full throttle all night, punctuated by a crack band as adept at handling Reznor’s often-convoluted song structures as they were rocking grotesque guitar-god poses. Nine Inch Nails paused occasionally to let mists of piano-driven melody drift into the maelstrom, particularly during a de facto intermission of the more meandering Eraser, Right Where It Belongs and Beside You In Time. But for most of the night, they left the nuance and color to the CD and used the live setting to generally throttle the soundboard.

Predictably, Pretty Hate went largely unheralded, save for Head Like A Hole, the obligatory set closer; Terrible Lie, whose blippy late ’80s effects were retrofitted for extra bang, and a small tease of The Only Time dribbled into Closer to keep the overplayed latter something approaching fresh. This was a show designed for maximum output– You Know What You Are roared, March of the Pigs blazed and the blackly sexy Reptile created a mass of sound that threatened to break out of the arena and take over entire sections of town.

Moreover, Alex Carapetis, who stepped in when original drummer Jerome Dillon was forced out off the tour for heart troubles, was a gallant knight. It’s not like Carapetis was filling in for BTO or something – Reznor had him juking and time-shifting as much as he had him thrashing to the noise, and the new guy stepped up like a pro.

One exception to the noise was Hurt, which Reznor, taking a welcome cue from Johnny Cash, performed alone at his keyboard, welcoming the crowd participation and letting their contributions wash over him — “If I could start again a million miles away, I would keep myself,” he and everyone in the house sang. If the rest of the night was a industrial catharsis for them; one got the sense,that hearing their responses was an equally potent catharsis for him.

Stoner-rockers Queens of the Stone Age made some fans of their own in an inspired, workmanlike opening set that gained steam with every passing minute. Frontman and potential Craig Kilborn stunt double Josh Homme drove his four-piece through new-era psychedelia that touched on thunderous ’70s rock, trippy-but-efficient jammy detours and some hooks of his own (Little Sister, No One Knows).

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Live review: Austin City Limits 2005 — A Texas barbecue

Billboard — The story at the fourth annual Austin City Limits Music Festival ended up being not the spectacular headlining set by Coldplay, the debut of some frenzied new Franz Ferdinand material or the reputation-cementing set by the Arcade Fire.

It was, as anyone who attended the fest will attest, the hot. The insane hot. The crazy hot. The baking-under-a-Texas-sky-with-nary-a-cloud-in-sight hot. Spectators sprinted from the gates directly to the shade of Zilker Park’s precious few giving trees, and sat massed there like they were protecting valuable treasure, which, of course, they were.

As the days wore on, the dust rose up — the park, at the end of each afternoon, was coated in a mist made of Texas’ finest dirt. Friday and Saturday hovered around a temperate 100 degrees; day three topped out at a record-shattering 108, making Sunday officially The Hot Day. Around 4 p.m. on that final day, Jason Mraz remarked that his band hadn’t seen that many naked people in years; the Arcade Fire performed in full black dress regalia and made the massive crowd wonder why they weren’t nearly as dedicated to their own jobs.

Prior to the weekend, ACL organizers and fans worried with good reason about the looming march of Hurricane Rita, but by the time the fest opened on Friday, all the rain icons in the weather forecasts had been replaced by giant sun globes. This was, of course, a welcome development, not just as the bruises from Katrina were still plenty evident but given that Austin was playing host to thousands of Rita evacuees from Houston and Texas’ gulf coast, who were shoehorned into a town that had been booked solid months before.

But the effort that went into it was welcoming and well orchestrated. Aside from the usual traffic jumbles here and there, Austin didn’t break a sweat in accommodating the two groups (that said, about a dozen acts, including Bettye LaVette and Mindy Smith, were forced to cancel their appearances due to Rita’s effects on travel).

ACL Fest doesn’t have the persistent-but-diminished name recognition of Lollapalooza nor the potential for pure discovery of its citymate South by Southwest. But it does have impeccable organization and maintenance, and a reliably strong and varied (though not quite enough) lineup of alt-leaning bands, super-heavy on British and new-wave revivalists (the Kaiser Chiefs, the Bravery, Kasabian, Bloc Party, the Walkmen, Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand, to name seven of them) and bands that sound a whole lot like headliner Coldplay (the Doves, Keane).

Gospel, blues and country were to be found on the smaller corners only, and were often blown down by the rock sounds from the big stages. If anything, ACL could have used more sets like the Thievery Corporation’s, whose transglobal dance stew of reggae, funk, Indian music and hip-hop injected its giant, dried-out crowd masses with a dose of much-needed get-down.

Thievery was one of Friday’s highlights, but hardly the only one. The day opened with a strong and plenty humid set from Jacksonville, Fla.’s Mofro, whose gravel-driveway voiced singer, JJ Grey, unspoiled tales of swampland living over a groovy rhythm section.

The ultra-dependable Lucinda Williams tried out a number of seriously countrified new tracks on her Friday audience; Austin’s own Spoon unfurled their set to the rapturous hometown crowd. And for some pre-evening goodness, the peerless John Prine delivered the perfect sundown set, which drew liberally from his exquisite new “Fair and Square.” Prine dialed up a wistful “Glory of True Love,” the sweetly brushing “Taking a Walk” and “Some Humans Ain’t Human,” which includes a crack at George Bush that sneaks right up on you.

This was the opposite of the tack taken by Steve Earle, who, like a good number of acts, took shots at same, airing out the reggae gag “Condi Condi” and beckoning fans to the next day’s anti-war rally in D.C. “if that hurricane comes.” To close out Friday, the reconstituted Black Crowes rocked one end of the dust bowl; home-stater Lyle Lovett brought out Robert Earl Keen on the other.

Saturday brought a bit of lineup shuffling; Tracy Bonham stepped in to open the day on the AMD stage, recruiting members of Aqualung for her violin-addled confessionals and a ragged cover of “Black Dog” whose slapdashness was completely ingratiating, somehow. Sadly, Built To Spill was a disappointing snore and a half. Doug Martsch’s shoegazing comes off OK in clubs, but during a sweltering afternoon it’s just boring. Surprisingly effective to that end was Martin Sexton, who did his Jack Johnson-with-a-smirking-groove thing to a large and receptive crowd.

Fests like ACL bring up great little juxtapositions like this: On one side of the field, Death Cab For Cutie was dialing up “O.C.”-ready indie rock, while Robert Randolph on the other was firing away 60 minutes of nonstop, bass-driven funk, kicked off by a reverent and rolling cover of “Billie Jean” and capped by a potent riff on Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” Randolph would later materialize during one of Widespread Panic’s somewhat head-scratching two sets.

Saturday closed with a typically workmanlike and inspired performance from the Drive-By Truckers, whose Patterson Hood drove the band nonstop through newer tracks like the once-again-timely “Puttin’ People on the Moon” and time-tested rockers like the Dixie-rock history lesson “Ronnie and Neil.” These guys are just headliners in waiting.

Headlining on the other side of the slope was Oasis, who largely phoned in its oddly ragged set, though things picked up during a rubbery “Lyla” and a soaring “Live Forever,” dedicated by Liam Gallagher to New Orleans. As could be expected, a number of acts did the same for the Crescent City and the Gulf Coast: Earle rocked through “Home to Houston” and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band amassed such a massive throng on the smaller Capital Metro stage that they were often invisible.

Day three of the festival proved a record setting one. Not because of the music, but the mercury — afternoon temperatures hit a sandal-frying 108 degrees. Appealing girl group Eisley opened the day by thanking the healthy crowd that stuck around for its pretty, dreamy pop; Coldplay’s Chris Martin closed it by thanking the 60,000 who caught the Brits’ headlining set in song — a smart move that was theatrical enough to make one wonder if it was Gwyneth’s idea.

Rachael Yamagata’s dark and musty voice snuggled nicely into her rocked-up arrangements, particularly on theatrically tinged tracks like “Happenstance,” where she came off as a more muscular Fiona Apple. Doves and Rilo Kiley drew slots playing under the right-overhead sun, but the latter especially drove through on goodwill anyway. The Kaiser Chiefs rewarded its fans with an instantly bounding taken on the unstoppable “I Predict A Riot.” And Jason Mraz and his cheeky pop-rap, somewhere between Young MC and a voice that can be not too far off Broadway, got the ladies squealing on lightweight but sticky tracks like “Geek in the Pink” and a version of “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” that featured a little cameo from “Wonderwall.”

From there, the day belonged to the critical darlings, starting with Montreal’s Arcade Fire, whose all-black attire and massive array of instrumentation (five core members, a half-dozen guests, a French horn, two violins, an accordionist and a guy who beat on helmets like Fred Flintstone) gave them the day’s biggest E for effort. Undaunted by the giant crowd amassed before them, the Fire lived up to every last syllable of their press barrage, presenting a unified wall of sound that managed to be moody and melancholy one minute and wildly inspirational the next. “More people should listen to the Arcade Fire,” Coldplay’s Martin sang midway through his band’s set. At the very least, more people in Austin probably are.

The draw of fests like these is the ability to see loads of bands at the same time; the drawback is that sometimes Wilco and Franz Ferdinand are playing at the same time a half-mile away from each other. Jeff Tweedy and his band opened with a raucous “Kingpin” that found the unusually high-spirited frontman baiting the crowd into whooing like a well, heavy metal drummer. But the band was equally effective pulling back into a shimmering “Handshake Drugs” and a duly hammering “I am Trying To Break Your Heart.”

Franz Ferdinand debuted a number of tracks from the new album “You Could Have It So Much Better,” alongside its reheated new-wave material like smash single “Take Me Out” and set-closer “This Fire,” proving once again that you don’t have to do necessarily anything new to get a rock-thirsty crowd jumping.

Which is, of course, the approach taken by headliners Coldplay, but the erstwhile Brits did the rarest thing: a 90-minute hit-laden tour de force that justified its astounding hype. In fact, the band’s only misstep was its black wardrobe, leading Martin to wish his band was more like Velvet Revolver, where “shirts are optional.”

Martin opened an amended “Politik” for the occasion — “Give us Franz Ferdinand, the Arcade Fire, Coldplay / Thanks for waiting in the heat all day” — which was cheesy as all get-out but worked spectacularly, as did his propensity for cathartic and soaring sing-alongs and his trip to the makeshift soundbooth, where he sang a few verses deep within the thick crowd.

Even a tribute to Johnny Cash, which climaxed in a well-intentioned crowd singalong to “Ring of Fire” came off well. Coldplay’s records, for all their costly megaproduction, tend to come off chilly, but Martin, who was born to stand in front of audiences like this, was equal parts deferential and messianic, a near-perfect end to a heated weekend.


Concert review: Jimmy Buffett at Wrigley Field — It’s 2:00 somewhere

Billboard — Almost a year to the day after exorcising the Curse of the Bambino at Boston’s Fenway Park — which he did a pretty decent job of — Jimmy Buffett was forced to take the centerfield stage at Wrigley Field with no such hope for drastic, fundamental karmic re-jiggering. True to the cosmic rules that govern such things, the Cubs have been effectively out of the NL Central pennant race since sometime in mid-June.

But even if he couldn’t unravel any baseball spells on this Labor Day weekend show, Buffett could close out the summer at the only place in the game that’s at once holier and less blessed, ending his annual summer tour with a sold-out Sunday night-Monday afternoon doubleheader on a pitch-perfect North Side afternoon. (That’s right, afternoon. As part of Buffett’s deal with the city, the Monday show went off at 2 p.m., marking what I imagine is the first time ever that “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” was performed 45 minutes early).

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More Buffett and baseball:

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Harry Caray would have argued it was a beautiful day for baseball, or a concert, or anything, really. The Lake Michigan breeze blew from right field to left, judging by the trajectory of the beach balls and various inflatable sharks. Pirate flags flew under the ones immortalizing Banks, Santo, Sandberg and Billy Williams. And for all the worry and negotiations between the city, the neighborhoods and the band, Monday afternoon was a relatively calm one — which is really no surprise, since when you stop to think about it, people drinking throughout a Wrigleyville afternoon does not a novelty make.

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To a certain degree, it was only a matter of time before Buffett came to Wrigley Field (he said the idea was first hatched about seven years ago, appropriately enough, in a bar). A longtime Cubs fan, Buffett filled in on national anthem duties in 1984 for Game 1 of the National League pennant series after longtime pal and Chicago native Steve Goodman died before the playoffs (the singer/songwriter was referenced three times on Monday, counting the intermission playback of the always-tragic “Go Cubs Go.”) And the parallels between Cub fandom and Buffett lawn activities are probably too numerous to get into here, but they start, and probably end, with beer.

Still, the occasion was dampened, as most occasions are, by the clouds of Hurricane Katrina and her contentious aftermath. Buffett being Buffett, he had to straddle the thin white-chalk line of remaining Capt. Margaritaville — he got to play Wrigley Field, he joked, so it’ll be a snap to rebuild the city — while staying vigilant of the tragedy. To that end, he signed a pinstriped Cubs jersey that he said would be auctioned off on eBay to benefit the Red Cross, and he kicked off his second encore with the newly poignant Goodman chestnut “City of New Orleans,” which he dedicated, pointedly, to the “fellow Americans” devastated by the tragedy.

But more than not, Buffett the yellow-clad showman was in full force, even as the sun beat down on the center field stage throughout the two-and-a-half-hour show.

In fact, there was a little more of a rock edge to the set. Opener “Piece of Work” uncoiled over a great Bo Diddley beat; it’s the rocking-est thing Buffett’s laid to tape in decades. “Last Man Standing” rose and fell from quiet, picking verses into an explosive chorus, amplified by Mac McAnally and Peter Mayer’s guitar work. And the unfathomably goofy “License To Chill” somehow worked on stage, probably because lines like “Let the world go to hell, I think I’m going back to Brazil” sound much better when fueled by frosty goodness.

To mark the various occasions, Buffett and his band un-tarped a few dusties: Hagar-the-Horrible bearded guitarist McAnally’s “In the City,” the New Orleans shout-out “I Will Play for Gumbo,” the over-30 Key West tale “Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street” and the wistful Goodman ballad “Banana Republics,” one of the most genuinely melodic songs in the Buffett catalog. Some new stuff too: Never one to shy away from the thematically appropriate cover song, Buffett closed down the summer of 2005 with a shamelessly ragged shot at Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” which had to survive on goodwill alone, and almost did.

Buffett said that he’s been in the business for 40 years, but couldn’t remember it being much better than this. The sunsplashed crowd, at least, on a perfect summer day probably agreed. Next time, let’s play two.

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Here is Jimmy Buffett’s set list:

  • “Piece of Work”
  • “The Pascagoula Run”
  • “Hey Good Lookin'”
  • “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes”
  • “I Will Play for Gumbo”
  • “Come Monday”
  • “Last Mango in Paris”
  • “Woman Going Crazy on Caroline Street”
  • “License To Chill”
  • “Son of a Son of a Sailor”
  • “Cheeseburger in Paradise”
  • “Volcano”
  • “Brown Eyed Girl”
  • “Why Don’t We Get Drunk”
  • “La Vie Dansante”
  • “Banana Republics”
  • “Southern Cross”
  • “School Boy Heart”
  • “A Pirate Looks at 40”
  • “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”
  • “In the City”
  • “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere”
  • “One Particular Harbour”
  • “Margaritaville”
  • “Fins”
  • “Last Man Standing”
  • “City of New Orleans”
  • “Glory Days”

[tweetmeme=”jeffvrabel” https://jeffvrabel.com/2005/09/08/jimmy-buffett-the-labor-day-weekend-show/]

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