Tag Archives: Music Writing

Here’s to you, Jimmy: A salute to Buffett’s enduring appeal

Indianapolis Star — For many years my mom hung a framed towel that Jimmy Buffett threw at her in her living room.

This is actually not that big of a deal. Jimmy Buffett has also signed autographs for my mom, indirectly fulfilled a song request for my cousin, joked with us backstage at “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” about the showers at Deer Creek (“You should see the Port-A-Potties,” my brother shot back, brilliantly) and graciously played for us more than 30 times. (The towel, incidentally, was thrown at us in a 1998 Detroit concert and actually caught by said brother, who basically Spider-Manned himself across three seats to make sure he caught it, lest we suffer the indignity of going home without a towel full of Coral Reefer sweat.)

It goes on like this, the stories and memories and inside jokes about a man whose arguably biggest hit, “Margaritaville,” was released 34 years ago. If I have to choose, if there’s only time and budget for one trip home a year, I will without hesitation pick the Buffett show over relative silliness like “Christmas” or “Thanksgiving.” I know it, my family knows it, and everyone is extremely cool with this arrangement.

Click here for the article at the Indianapolis Star.

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Billboard @ Bonnaroo 2009: 10 Must-See Bands Itinerary

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Billboard — Thanks to a deep love of live music, being outdoors, the symptoms of heatstroke, sweaty insomnia, flimsy sandals and people who are baked out of their minds and dancing where I would like to be walking, I’ll be covering Bonnaroo this weekend (with the extremely talented and personable Troy Carpener) for the good folks at Billboard.com, making us one of a very select few people to be covering this festival for The Internet.

We’ll be doing daily recaps, blogs, video interviews, etc. etc. social media multimedia one-man mobile uplink unit-ing all weekend long at Billboard’s Bonnaroo Page.

And of course we’ll be tweeting Bonnaroo, one of those sentences I cannot explain to my Dad no matter how long I talk, so point your personal World Wide Internet reading machine device to twitter.com/billboarddotcom and laugh laugh laugh when the effects of the heat render us almost entirely incomprehensible.

First up, our brief and ragingly incomplete 10 Must-See Bands Itinerary can be found here.


Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band — What can a poor boy do but play in a ragtime band?

st_springstePopMatters — Nothing — absolutely nothing — about the scene at Bruce Springsteen’s concert in Indianapolis hinted that there was Bossness afoot. The crowd was smartly dressed and orderly; purple chandeliers hung on stage; and in the pit, general admission fans jockeyed politely for position. More beer stands were shuttered than open, and there wasn’t a single line for a single bathroom. On an unseasonably sticky Indy night, it was hard not to look out at the yawning green lawn (empty as it was) and think sadly: Jimmy Buffett fans are gonna stuff this entire space next month to hear him sing about cheeseburgers.

But, such is the bizarre alternate universe that has swallowed Springsteen’s strangely under-attended summer tour with the 17-member Seeger Sessions Band. Rambling along languidly in almost clandestine fashion, it may take the prize for the Worst-Pitched Concert of the Summer.

For the Hazy Davy’s sake, I’m as big a Bruce homer as they come, but I’ll admit, at first the idea of enduring a folk-powered evening of Pete Seeger songs made me want to sprint home and smooch my copy of Born in the U.S.A.. I like Bruce, and I like Pete Seeger, but when the Boss indulges his folkie leanings, the results are songs like “Nebraska” or the equally festive “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Both tunes are perfect for curling up in an abandoned warehouse and chugging a bottle of whiskey, but that’s hardly what you want to do at a sunny amphitheatre show.

And that’s why this Seeger business is such an out-of-left-field surprise: against all odds, it’s fantastically fun. Seeger’s name is on the ticket, sure, but in Springsteen’s hands the music gets an enormous, big-band, horn-powered treatment that can only be explained with commas: gospel, blues, folk, rock, and zydeco (there is totally a washboard in the encore). All of this pours out of a tap attached to New Orleans. This is a big Big Easy show, a tribute to the flooded city. It’s Bruce born on the bayou, part mourning, part hope, part house party, part cry for rebirth — all metaphors you may remember from Every Other Thing Bruce Springsteen Has Ever Done.

In the Seeger band’s debut performance at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, the mood was understandably subdued, mournful, and respectful. Now, though, the band indulges the spirit of the city, pulling great joy from great pain. As the man slyly howled in the show’s ragged, revved-up version of “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)”, “What can a poor boy do but play in a ragtime band?”

To be sure, this tour involves a certain degree of trust, particularly when you’re dropping 90 bones to hear what my buddy Bradshaw rightly predicted was, “Bruce singing “Froggie Went A’Courtin.'” In fact, everything about Springsteen’s brief summer tour seems to exist in a slightly altered reality. It’s a universe where twentysomethings square dance, where “Nebraska”‘s lo-fi monotoner “Open All Night” becomes a showstopping rave-up, where an emotional high point is a venomous cover of a forgotten blues song that’s been retrofitted as an indictment of the government’s bungled response to Katrina.

No one really knows what to make of it — particularly those who rise and fall with the E Street Band. But what it might lack in the fist-pumping mass catharsis of “Badlands”, the tour makes up for in the fist-pumping mass catharsis of “My Oklahoma Home.” Frankly, I can’t remember having a better time at a Bruce show. Or any show, for that matter.

Nor can I remember attending a show where the performers seemed to be having a better time. Aside from during songs about New Orleans, there was a smile on Bruce’s face the entire time. And it was with that smile that he drove his 17-piece mean machine through horn-kissed, house-rockers: “Old Dan Tucker”, “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep”, “Pay Me My Money Down”.

If Bruce approaches the E Street Band as a man with a legacy to jealously protect, he approaches the Seeger Sessions Band as a work-in-progress, a means to no particular end, a science-fair project that’s produced way better data than expected. He does it with a satisfyingly enviable glee. In Indy, he indulged a clever request from a seven-year-old fan down front who brought along a stuffed green frog. “I think we got a request!” Springsteen beamed, igniting the band’s first-ever “Froggie Went A’ Courtin'”. Bonus gag: The kid reported that his name was River. “I think I’ve got another one I can do, too,” Springsteen cracked. Zing!

But this is music that’s pure, old-timey American — a phrase that rankles Springsteen aficionados and detractors alike. Springsteen, the poor bastard, carries the torch as one of America’s greatest living rock ‘n’ roll icons. Fair or not, it’s the sort of thing that happens when you stamp your flank in front of the stars and stripes on an album that sells a million fourfillion gajillion copies. But here’s the funny thing — the album We Shall Overcome actually is the treatise on American music that the pinheaded conservative right thought Born in the U.S.A. was; it’s just as sneaky in that context as U.S.A. was sneaky outside of it.

As such, political overtones burbled to the surface throughout the show. Wartime prayers appeared in the form of the Irish tale “Mrs. McGrath”, the story of a mother whose son returns home after seven years without his legs. Of course, the showstopper was Springsteen’s refashioning of Blind Willie McTell’s “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” Bruce kept the first verse and rewrote the last three to reflect Katrina: “Me and my old school pals had some mighty high times ’round here / And what happened to you poor black folks well it just ain’t fair,” he sang, recalling the infuriating scene last fall in which President Bush stood with Trent Lott and said he looked forward to partying on Lott’s soon-to-be rebuilt porch. It’s brutal discourse.

The show ended with a sweet, acoustic-based “When the Saints Go Marching In”, stripped of its horn-fueled zaniness and recast as a melancholy prayer shared by Springsteen and guitarist/vocalist Marc Anthony Thompson (who records as Chocolate Genius): “And some say that this world of trouble is the only one we’ll ever see / But I’m waiting for that morning when the new world is revealed.”

For the encore, a guy came out and, in a moment of purely Bruce-ian shtick, played dishes, bowls, and a kitchen sink…. with a spoon. “Jesus Christ, be careful,” Springsteen joked. “That’s my mother-in-law’s goddamned silverware… Patti’s gonna fucking kill me.”

A certain sense of something surrounds the E Street Band these days — not complacency necessarily , but an expectation of sheer reliability, a pretty decent bet against disappointment. It’s like a meal at the Cheesecake Factory or watching a Braves game. E Street shows in the past few years have been good, even great, but also, at times, workmanlike. And I think, truly, that Bruce fears slipping into that hazy zone of complacency. Hence, the silverware.

As such, this piece should have probably been about finding new ways to enliven one’s catalog or legacy. It should have probably used the word “reinvention” a lot and been filled with lively clichés about Neil Young. But for all this wearying talk of meanings and metaphors and the usual Springsteenian subtext of a blue-collar rock n’ roll Joe trying to save the world, I also cannot remember having had this good a time at a show. If Bruce sneaks into your town this summer, check it out. It doesn’t seem much like a Springsteen show, and that may be the best thing about it.


Interview: Joan Jett puts a couple more dimes in the jukebox

Florida Times-Union — During its 11 years, the Vans Warped Tour has secured a reputation for breaking up-and-coming bands in the fields of punk, emo, hardcore and emopunkore, all of which are more or less the same thing.

But it’s also been a reliable means for vintage outfits to re-position themselves in front of a new demographic. No less punk royalty than the Ramones, for instance, visited the Warped stage in 1998. And the 2006 edition will see sets by L.A. punk forebears the Germs, the equally influential Buzzcocks and riot grrrl icon Joan Jett, interviewed here.


Interview: Rob Thomas’s holiday in Florida

Florida Times-Union — Long story about how we got there, but Rob Thomas and I begin our conversation with a brief discussion involving scabby punk icons the Dead Kennedys, the remaining members of whom played here at Fuel last summer. “You interviewed the Dead Kennedys and now you’re interviewing Rob Thomas?” he says, with what I can only call professional comic timing. “That’s a … mixture.”


Interview: Herbie Hancock’s endless possibilities

Headlining this weekend’s Jacksonville Jazz Festival: Herbie Hancock, who says of his work: “You have to feel it strongly within yourself,” he said. “Strength in your own conviction about what you want to project.” An interview with the legendary pianist.

And for all you hardcore purists out there, a column on the fest’s other headline: Mr. Kenny G.


Interview: Grace Potter’s magic

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Florida Times-Union — If the name Grace Potter and the Nocturnals sounds familiar, maybe it’s because you caught the band opening for Robert Cray on Thursday night at the Florida Theatre. Or opening for Soulive a few weeks back at Freebird. Or opening for Cray last year. Or on the bill for this year’s Springing the Blues festival.

They call what the New England-based performer is doing “market saturation.” They also call it still a really good way to get people to remember your name.

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• Grace Potter and the Nocturnals – Nothing But The Water (1).mp3

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All of 22 with an infectious giggle, Grace is out to make herself the world’s most famous Potter since that magician kid, gig by gig.

Reached en route to a New Orleans show on what sounds like a beast of a van ride (“We’re not a tour bus band yet,” she says with a laugh), Potter lets on that it’s a big night. She even bought herself a present for the occasion: a 1957 Gibson she picked up in Austin, Texas, a day prior.

“I only pay money in towns that I like,” she said. “I’m a Gibson girl, so I went in for a vintage one. I love it. It’s a really sexy little thing.”

Potter played guitar when she started about a year ago, but she spends most of her time these days behind the Hammond organ, which, not counting a crazy good a cappella performance of Nothing But the Water, is the main thing you take away from one of the band’s shows.

“According to the guys in the band,” she laughs, “there are no chicks in the country that knew how to play it. They said, ‘Come on, it’ll set you apart from all the sad girls with pianos.’ So it’s sort of become the centerpiece of the band.”

Potter gets compared to Norah Jones, but where Jones’ supple voice tends to quietly kiss her notes, Potter goes full steam ahead with her funky blues/rock, hence slots opening for Dave Matthews, Trey Anastasio and Derek Trucks. The production speaks to that, as well – she and the guys (guitarist Scott Tournet, drummer Matthew Burr and bassist Bryan Dondero) recorded their most recent, Nothing But the Water, in a New England barn. The work is a mix of gospel and funk and rock and plenty of the blues that helped secure her place in the Springing the Blues festival this weekend.

Jacksonville enjoys a special place in Potter’s heart. It was here that her band first opened for the relentlessly touring Cray last year, a performance that, by most accounts, brought down the house.

“[The 2005 Cray concert] was one of the most big-deal shows we ever had,” she says. “We were such a baby little band, and he called us up and said, ‘Hey, here’s a random opportunity to play in front of 2,000 people.’ ”

Until that show, Potter says, the band stuck mainly around its northeastern base. They formed at St. Lawrence University in New York, when they all met regularly to do what music people do when it’s too cold: plunder whatever vinyl shops they can find and sit around and play records.

Potter was into Joni Mitchell and Patty Griffin (“Total chick music” she says), but she already knew that wasn’t her direction. When she met “the boys,” she found her heart was in something a little more rocking.

“We all got into the same sounds, late ’60s and early ’70s rock that nobody, for whatever reason, was paying attention to anymore,” Potter said.

And once the band started picking up, she quickly pulled the plug on school – “I’d always planned on not going for the full four years,” she jokes – and the band relocated to its native Vermont, where it still makes its base.

“If we’re not touring, we all kind of sit around there. And if there’s no money to buy groceries, we have my mom make us up some catfish soup.”

There’s a little more money now. The band recently signed to Hollywood Records, which will re-release a spiffed-up version of Water on May 2.

“It’s not really a big-shot deal, but it’s a great opportunity for us to open up creatively and brush off this record that was recorded two years ago to see if there’s something about it that’s worth putting out again.”

Plus, it’s a pretty great prologue to a summer that’ll include a stop on Bonnaroo and more touring. World domination is still a ways away for the muggle Potter. But at least maybe her mom can take a break from whipping up the catfish soup.


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:

CONTENT NOT BE REPRODUCED WITHOUT PERMISSION. THANK YOU.

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


Live from New York: Rock Hall plays some Skynyrd, man

Florida Times-Union — Bridesmaids since 1998, Lynyrd Skynyrd finally soars into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a Monday night induction ceremony in New York City. A report from the ceremony, held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. “We were actually the one band tonight that seemed to get along OK,” cracked guitarist Gary Rossington.


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.


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