Tag Archives: Music Reviews

Queen + Paul Rodgers: One escape from reality

If nothing else, you gotta love how the Internet connects artists with fans. My review of Fake Queen from a few weeks back got the attention of Brian May, who had it breathlessly sent to him by a local guy. I can only furnish the link to Brian’s site, because as he states in large bold type atop his grammatically entertaining blog:


So, sorry. Here you go; once you hit the page, search for Vrabel. (It’s shortly after the lengthy piece regarding edamame.)

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march of Hurricane Rita, but by the time the fest opened on Friday, all the rain icons in the weather forecasts had been replaced by giant sun globes.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.

Martin Scorsese, Bob Dylan and “No Direction Home”: How does it feel?

Florida Times-Union — The first thing music fans will notice in watching Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home is that Dylan is talking.

On camera. In person.

Chatty, conversational, mischievous. Funny, even.

For longtime Dylanphiles, this is sort of like J.D. Salinger doing a signing at Barnes & Noble.

Only Dylan knows what’s compelled him to embark on this recent surge of self-revelation, which includes last fall’s best-selling memoir Chronicles: Volume I, and a coffee-table book of bric-a-brac that’s been released to accompany the film, but one thing’s for sure: It’s not to definitively clear the cobwebs out of the dusty and more impenetrable corners of the Bard’s psyche.

If anything, the black-clad Dylan who stars here does more of his pathologically addictive dance, dropping hints about truths, then stepping back to distance himself from anything too revealing. Of his early development, Dylan rasps, “Well, it didn’t happen in any of the ways I read about.” A great answer, if you’re John Roberts.

Peppered with many rare and previously unearthed live performances, home demos and session work (though none presented in complete form, unless you buy the DVD, where you’ll find some in the bonus materials), No Direction Home sticks to the period between Dylan’s 1961 arrival in Greenwich Village through his uncomfortable deification by the folk-rock establishment and ending with the 1966 motorcycle accident that kept him off the road and holed up in upstate New York for eight years. It’s bookended by his legend-building performance in Manchester, England — what was long mislabeled in bootlegs as the “Royal Albert Hall” concert — the second-most-famous of his chaotic “electric” performances and the gig where bitter, confused fans stung the singer with cries of “traitor!” and “Judas!”

On those bootlegs, such vitriolic bullets sounded as though they were spat on stage; in the film, they’re almost played as punchlines to a media/fan/counterculture machine that had gotten totally out of hand. “To be on the side of people struggling against something doesn’t mean you’re political,” he says, introducing With God on Our Side, and the movie, like Dylan or anyone, leaves the issue dangling of what a “protest song” is and whether he ever wrote one anyway.

Manchester is the main course of Scorsese’s film, the apex in which the evolution of Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minn., (where Dylan plays down his youth by claiming “it was too cold to be bad”) into some folk-rock Jesus reaches its most absurd, and, according to Scorsese’s storytelling, damning point. The 1966 Dylan bristles at angry, take-take-take fans. He dryly jousts with combative and comically square reporters, many of whom speak in 1950s-propaganda-movie voices and can be easily imagined wearing short-sleeved buttoned-up shirts — the most fantastic example of which is a Swedish guy who admits to having “never heard him sing.”

And he reflexively builds up an ironic-but-uncomfortable line of defense at a nutty state that his then-drummer, Mickey Jones, ably sums up: “Here was someone who everybody loved, and they didn’t like what he was doing. And they were showing it.” (“How can they buy tickets up so fast?” Dylan wonders, not entirely jokingly.) Modern-day Dylan regards it all in hindsight with a detached demurring, but what else would you expect?

What begins as a biographical walk through New York’s folk/beat/hippie scene in Part 1 turns into something more tragic, and Scorsese and Dylan both making the point that when Dylan was christened as a savior, he grew instantly weary of the ludicrousness of it and fled pretty literally into the hills.

There are other telling quotable nuggets scattered throughout — such as Dylan’s claims that “very few of my [ideal performances] could be found on any of my records” and that he still considers his mates in the Band “gallant knights” for their loyalty on those electric shows.

But if there’s any truth, any moral to be found here, it’s how impossibly huge Dylan got, despite what appear to be herculean efforts to the contrary, and how it visibly turned his original resolve into a pathological need for change (and may help explain what he’s doing on Victoria’s Secret commercials now). Moreover, No Direction Home shows us the beginning chapters of what’s turned into drooling celebrity culture being written, intercut with clips of Dylan and Johnny Cash harmonizing on I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, and the jarring shift between purity and noise is telling and scary to watch.

But as with all Dylan lore, that truth is shifting, amorphous, written in comically overlapping fashion by the thousands upon thousands of folks who have either been part of the story, or claimed to. The best evidence of this is the 1965 Newport Folk Festival segment, wherein Pete Seeger, and a half-dozen folks who aren’t Pete Seeger, recount the story in which Seeger was rumored to threaten to hack Bob’s electric cords to pieces with an axe. (For his part, Dylan doesn’t even seem to have figured it out entirely.)

The various tales are stacked up like planes landing at an airport, never making any sense, really. But they’re note-perfect indicators of how history and hand-me-downs have clouded the Dylan myth, fueled not least of all by the man himself, who’s never done a thing to quash it. In a couple of glinting expressions glimpsed by the camera, Dylan seems to enjoy offering no closure. This many years into a career of incalculable influence, there’s probably no definitive Dylan tale to tell, and the words of Bob himself don’t get us any nearer to a gospel truth. But Scorsese and No Direction Home have come about as close as anyone ever has.

Concert review: Jimmy Buffett at Fenway Park, or, Fins at the Fens

Billboard — “Fenway Park on Friday night. Who’d have ever thought it?” Having logged 30-some odd years in the music business, and presiding one of the most reliable draws to come down the road every summer, it’s tough for Jimmy Buffett to pull out many surprises these days.

But for the 2004 edition of his annual festival of shameless escapism, calypso/country and nice cold beverages, Buffett pulled out two doozies. One was his first-ever No. 1 record, “License To Chill,” a set of mostly country duets that surfed the momentum from his Alan Jackson duet “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” to become strongest studio album in years.

The second might have been more wicked: a two-night closing stand at Boston’s Fenway Park. And judging by his Sept. 10 show on those hallowed, cursed grounds, the latter may yet go down as the more memorable of the two. The Red Sox even re-jiggered the Green Monster’s hand-operated scoreboard to read JIMMY BUFFETT, much to the delight of everyone who smuggled a camera into the park.


More Buffett and baseball:


The coming of Buffett seemed a capitalized Event in a neighborhood that’s seen its share of them, and the king Parrothead only descended on Boston after some degree of bureaucratic hand-wringing. Neighbors and lawmakers were wary of the traditionally lubricated crowd, though a controversial city no-tailgating rule seemed to have little effect on the vibe — where can you tailgate in a neighborhood with no pahking anyway?

It was also a sequel of sorts; Buffett packed the ballpark exactly one year and three days after Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band re-christened it as a rock’n’roll destination. But Springsteen was touring behind his paean to 9/11, “The Rising,” which demanded at least a brief pause for reflection in the raucousness. Though their Sept. 10 and Sept. 12 shows bookended the attacks’ third anniversary, Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band — augmented by slide guitarist Sonny Landreth and Little Feat pianist Bill Payne, to bring the starting lineup up to 16 — harbored no delusions of purpose.

They were there to bring “Fins” to Fens, turn the heat and humidity up and rattle the house like it hadn’t been rattled since, well, the Red Sox’s collapse last October. Buffett himself smartly took time to acknowledge that, though he was the party’s host, he was also its de factor scorekeeper. “I just want to let y’all know,” he said upon returning from intermission, “The Yankees are losing 10-5,” and the resulting cheer might have thrown off cell phone reception all the way to Worcester.



He spun a tale of how a wintertime barroom meeting with Boston Bruin Derek Sanderson inspired the frothy “Boat Drinks,” which he said is the only time he ever let himself write about hockey. And midway through the show, he produced a Caribbean-dressed “Jolly Mon” to officially reverse the curse. To do so, he wielded the lumber himself and hit T-shirts into the crowd, and damned if the 57-year-old didn’t go 4-for-4 (though it should be noted, evidently, that Springsteen’s 2003 attempt at same did not exactly take).

As one might be able to guess, “License To Chill,” despite its platinum status, hasn’t changed Buffett’s template much. The show remains deceptively simple, carefully orchestrated and very difficult not to grin through at least part of. And for two-and-a-half hours and 30 songs, the energized-almost-to-the-point-of-reverence Buffett (“This is kind of overwhelming,” he admitted early on) bounded about the stage, called audibles with his band and spun tales of pirates and tropics and means of escape that are forever just one hastily considered decision away.

“Let the world go to hell / I think I’m going back to Brazil,” he grinned in the album’s title track, illustrating his skill at tricking Sox fans into thinking they’re watching the sun drop in someplace like Fiji.

When he did evacuate the Keys for the more mainland-oriented “License” tracks, Buffett still hit surprisingly well (including new songs is a dicey maneuver when playing for a crowd that never tires of “Cheeseburger in Paradise”). “Coast of Carolina,” co-written with guitarist Mac McAnally, was a gentle breeze; the Will Kimbrough stomper “Piece of Work,” propelled by a driving Bo Diddley beat, was the most rock’n’roll song Buffett’s played in years. In the encores, “Scarlet Begonias” was as snug a fit as his standard but frothy cover of “Southern Cross” — you almost wonder what took so long for him to get to it.

Elsewhere, Buffett and his fine band had no trouble keeping the energy up. “One Particular Harbour” showcased Robert Greenidge’s steel drums; “Son of a Son of a Sailor” did the same with Nadirah Shakoor’s soaring vocals (the powerful singer tore up a brief cover of “Respect” as well). And Buffett used an opening mini-acoustic set to dust off “The Great Filling Station Hold-Up,” from his pre-“Fins” days of pickup trucks, honky-tonks and petty crime.

For those there to sing along loudly and badly, Buffett bookended “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” with slivers of “Purple Rain” and “Sweet Caroline,” probably the first time in recorded human history those three titles have ever appeared in a sentence together.

But in closing the show, Buffett dedicated Jesse Winchester’s pretty, breezy “Defying Gravity” to 9/11 victims, and in doing so, pulled off a surprisingly effective simplification of things. For four minutes, released from the cheeseburgers and the beach balls and the SUVs with papier-mache fins strapped atop them, Buffett was back in his early days — a guy with an easy smile and breezy demeanor, with several of his most recent ambitions met and the maddeningly enviable ability to do next whatever he pleases.
Here is Jimmy Buffett’s set list:

  • “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” (acoustic)
  • “The Great Filling Station Holdup” (acoustic)
  • “Pencil Thin Mustache”
  • “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About”
  • “License To Chill”
  • “Son of a Son of a Sailor”
  • “Boat Drinks”
  • “Brown Eyed Girl”
  • “Volcano”
  • “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” / “Purple Rain” / “Sweet Caroline”
  • “Hey Good Lookin’ “
  • “The Pascagoula Run”
  • “One Particular Harbour”
  • “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”
  • “Respect” (Nadirah Shakoor vocals)
  • “The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful”
  • “Jamaica Mistaica”
  • “Come Monday”
  • “Jolly Mon”
  • “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”
  • “Cheeseburger in Paradise”
  • “Coast of Carolina”
  • “Cuban Crime of Passion”
  • “A Pirate Looks at Forty”
  • “Piece of Work”
  • “Margaritaville”
  • “Fins”
  • “Scarlet Begonias”
  • “Southern Cross”
  • “Defying Gravity”


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