"Everything is as it should be."

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The Cult - The Greek Theatre: A Review

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THE CULT - THE GREEK THEATRE LOS ANGELES - JUNE 15, 2019

Last Saturday night, June 15th, I continued my year of living musically when I went to see The Cult at the Greek Theatre here in Los Angeles. The Cult, a British band currently comprised of Ian Astbury (lead vocals), Billy Duffy (lead guitar), John Tempesta (drums), Damon Fox (bass) and Grant Fitzpatrick (keyboards), are playing shows to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their seminal 1989 album Sonic Temple, the most commercially successful record of their career.

I’ve been a Cult fan since 1985, which was when I first heard their breakthrough hit She Sells Sanctuary off of the Love (1985) album. That song, with its signature 12 string guitar riff, is the band’s most iconic hit and is one of the great rock songs of the 80’s.

The Cult have always been a bit of a strange band, an amalgam of different genres and types splattered together to make a whole that is not so easily definable. Their first album, Dreamtime, was a psuedo-psychedelic take on the alternative Manchester sound popular at the time. There second album, Love, was still in the alternative Manchester neighborhood but with a decidedly heavier sound. Their third album, Electric, which is my favorite album of theirs, is a balls to the wall, unapologetically raunchy and muscular hard rock blues album. Which brings us to Sonic Temple, the band’s fourth studio album.

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Sonic Temple was the band’s biggest hit and definitely catapulted them into the upper echelons of radio air play. The album is a high octane concoction of fan friendly hard rock and is much more refined and musically “clean” than Electric, which is maybe why I comparatively don’t like it as much as its predecessor. Sonic Temple boasted four top-notch singles, Fire Woman, Edie (Ciao Baby), Sun King and Sweet Soul Sister, that dominated rock radio airplay in 1989 and 1990. After Sonic Temple the band, like many other hard rock bands from the 80’s, found itself overwhelmed by the cultural tsunami that was grunge and never recovered its commercial and artistic footing or relevance.

The Cult’s early career musical eclecticism made them difficult to define, but so did their inability to come up with a signature “look”. As much as we’d like to think that success is based on purely the music, the truth is that having a distinct style is just as important, especially back when MTV was in its heyday. The Cult were never able to make a music video that captured the imagination, and that hurt them in so far as it came to making the leap from rock stardom to rock superstardom. The Cult were always much more popular in Europe and the U.K. than they were in America, and I think that the lack of a standout video is a big reason why.

Another issue that may have held the band back was that its lead singer, Ian Astbury, who had all the prerequisites for rock stardom, a great voice, charisma and solid song writing, but never put together a coherent and discernible visual style that set him apart. In the Love years he looked like a Steven Tyler wannabe with bandanas hanging from his mic stand. In the following years he embraced a sort of Jim Morrison-esque manner and writing style but never found his footing as a true original…at least in terms of how he looked.

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The band have put out 6 studio albums in the 30 years since Sonic Temple, and while some of them have been pretty good (1991’s Ceremony is excellent), they have never recaptured their pre-grunge swagger. Like many older bands, The Cult are now cashing on as a nostalgia act, touring on albums they made a quarter century or more earlier. In 2009 they went on the road and played the entirety of the Love album on the Love Live Tour. And in 2015 I caught them as they toured playing entirety of the Electric album. The reality is that this is how these guys have to make a living now a days, and while they won’t sell out stadiums anytime soon, they can certainly pack mid-size venues like The Greek Theatre.

I have never been to The Greek before, so I was excited to see the venue. I was surprised how easy it was to get there, and since I bought parking ahead of time, the logistics of getting to and from the place were made simple…always a big plus in Los Angeles.

The Greek is a gorgeous open air venue that makes the most of its Griffith Park setting. There is nothing quite so gorgeous as watching the sun set and the moon rise in a pristine outdoor space. The Greek is also very well run and maintained as it is impeccably clean, has expansive bathrooms, and offers a pricey but decent array of food and beverage choices.

Having not been there before, me and my companion, the irrepressible Lady Pumpernickle Dusseldorf, arrived early to the festivities. The show was schedules to “start” at 6:30, but had been moved up to 6 for some reason, and much to our shock we got there right after 6.

There were three opening acts, Vowws, Zola Jesus and Prayers. Vowws went on first and were a goth male/female duo. I knew nothing about them, and while they weren’t terrible, I do not feel compelled to learn more about them. They were good musicians and singers, but they lack any charisma or stage presence, and they weren’t aided by the fact that their moody music should be listened to in a dark room and not under the glare of an unforgiving sun. That said, the guitarist guy sounded like Depeche Mode when he sang and the female singer had a Siouxsie-esque voice. Bottom line is this...they were tolerable.

The second act up was Zola Jesus, of whom I had not heard. Zola Jesus is a female singer, and she was accompanied by a guitarist and a violinist. Zola Jesus walked onto the stage wearing a bizarre, body length gauze that obscured the audiences view of her. She looked like a cross between the bride of Frankenstein and a very poorly made Mummy. That said, she had a gorgeous voice and a confident and intriguing stage presence. I really enjoyed her performance and the fact that she incarnates this sort of stage entity that accentuates her really strong and lush voice.

The third and final warm up act was Prayers. Let me put this as succinctly as I can... Prayers is the worst band I have ever seen in my entire life. The band consists of one guy playing his computer, another guy odiously screeching out the lamest of lyrics, and a third guy who doesn’t wear a shirt and just stands there not moving at all. The band’s music is best described as cholo goth rap…and no that is not a typo. Prayers’ music was excruciatingly awful and their performance went on and on and on. Enduring this band’s set was like surviving both the Bataan Death March AND the Trail of Tears. At one point the lead singer, and I am using the term singer very loosely as his voice is aggressively repulsive, took out a knife from his pocket and was displaying it menacingly in some poseur-Satanic way and I began praying to the gods that he would either slit his own throat or throw the knife to me so I could slit mine…anything to end this musical holocaust. Finally, after what felt like hours, the root canal known as Prayers left and we were left with nothing but a beautiful night and the featured act.

The Cult did not go on until after 9, which was a bit frustrating as we’d been sitting there since 6. But when they did go on they hit the ground running. They opened with a rip roaring rendition of Sun King and the audience, that seemed pretty tired from the endless warm up acts, greeted them with boisterous cheers.

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When I have seen The Cult in the past, Ian Astbury has always come across as an inconsistent, erratic and irritable stage presence. When I saw them in 2015 he admonished the crowd for not cheering loud enough while he gave what was a decidedly lackluster performance. While Astbury should have always been the center of attention at a Cult show, his uneven performances left him fading into the background. On the other hand, guitarist Billy Duffy, who is the picture of consistency and energy, never let me down. Of The Cult shows I have seen in the past, they always turned into Billy Duffy shows, with Duffy’s astonishing guitar prowess and showmanship taking center stage eclipsing Astbury and his uninspired effort and sullen demeanor.

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I don’t know what it was at The Greek the other night, maybe it was the fact that the band had never played there before, but Astbury gave the best show that I have ever seen from him that night. Astbury was in jovial spirits, was engaging and energetic, even vivaciously dancing and prancing around the stage. This show was not a Billy Duffy Cult show, this show was, from start to finish, and without question, an Ian Astbury Cult show…and that was pretty cool to catch. Astbury even looked great, as he sported a new shorter hairstyle and a cool outfit and lean and trim as if he had lost a bit of weight.

While Astbury’s voice is weakened and cannot hit the higher notes of his youth, he seems to have come to grips with this limitation and lets the audience fill in the gaps where he can no longer tread. For instance, on the hit Sweet Soul Sister, Astbury no longer even tries to hit those difficult and athletic notes of the chorus, instead he lets the crowd carry the day, and it works well in building rapport with the audience…or at least it works better than admonishing them for not cheering loud enough.

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While Astbury took and held center stage, Billy Duffy was his usual steady brilliant self. Duffy’s playing hasn’t slipped a bit since the glory days of thirty years ago. Duffy is also a premier showman as he masterfully works the crowd as well as his Gretsch White Falcon. Duffy is one of the most underrated and overlooked guitar players of his time, but anyone who sees him live will attest that his playing is exquisite.

The Cult roared through their set, which included raucous renditions of Sweet Soul Sister, American Horse, Fire Woman and a glorious back to back combo of American Gothic and Spiritwalker. The crescendo was the final song of the regular set which was She Sells Sanctuary. While I love the song, and the band plays it with aplomb, the 12 string is missing from the live version and that always is a bit of a let down…but Billy Duffy certainly makes the most of what he has and scorched his way through the song.

After a rudimentary walk off…the band returned for a three song encore, which began with an explosive Wild Flower, then transitioned to a less than stellar Rain ( a great song but which suffers because it has been reworked for live shows, no doubt due to Astbury’s vocal limitations) and finally ended with a delirious Love Removal Machine that was a perfect cap to a fantastic show.

My biggest complaint about the show was that it felt too short. The band played for about an hour and twenty minutes or so and it felt like an abbreviated set. That said, I can also understand that the reason why Astbury was in such high spirits and so energetic was maybe that he knew he only had to do his thing for an hour and half and then go back home (he and Duffy both now live in Los Angeles).

While the show could have been longer, I have no complaints about the quality. The Cult gave everything they had and it was certainly well worth the price of admission. Speaking of which, the tickets we had cost around $58 or so, and we had excellent seats on the lower end of the North Terrace. My recommendation is if you are a marginal Cult fan, they are definitely worth seeing live in a mid-sized venue. You will definitely see Billy Duffy in all his amazing guitar glory, and you might, like me at The Greek the other night, get to see the splendor of Ian Astbury - Rock Star.

SET LIST

Sun King

New York City

Automatic Blues

Sweet Soul Sister

American Horse

Soul Asylum

Edie (Ciao baby)

Fire Woman

Rise

American Gothic

Spiritwalker

The Phoenix

She Sells Sanctuary

ENCORE

Wild Flower

Rain

Love Removal Machine

©2019

Tedeschi Trucks Band - The Orpheum Theatre: A Review

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TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND - ORPHEUM THEATRE - THURSDAY, MAY 16TH, 2019

Last Thursday, May 16th, I continued my year of living musically when I ventured to downtown Los Angeles to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band play at the Orpheum Theatre. I was intrigued by the possibilities of this show as I had never seen Tedeschi Trucks play live before, nor had I ever been to the Orpheum.

The Grammy Award-winning Tedeschi Trucks Band are a blues jam band currently on tour in support of their fourth studio album, Signs, which was released on February 15 of this year. I discovered the band a few years ago through a client, who is a notable professional musician, and have been a fan ever since I explored their first album, Revelator(2011), and its scintillating follow up Made Up Mind(2013).

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The band formed in 2010 when singer and guitarist Susan Tedeschi, a blues superstar in her own right, merged her band with her blues royalty/guitar prodigy husband Derek Trucks’ band, to form a sort of blues super group. Derek is the nephew of Butch Trucks, drummer for The Allman Brothers, and grew up playing with the band. By the time Derek was 13 he was already a professional touring musician who had played with such notables as the legendary Buddy Guy. Trucks became an official member of The Allman Brothers at the age of 20 and has recorded and toured with Eric Clapton as well and is widely considered one of the very best players of his generation.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band is enormous, like a traveling circus, boasting 12 members, who are…Susan Tedeschi (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Derek Trucks (lead guitar), JJ Johnson and Tyler Greenwell (drums/percussion), Brandon Boone (bass), Gabe Dixon (keyboards), Kebbi Williams (sax), Ephraim Owens (trumpet), Elizabeth Lea (trombone), Mike Mattison/Mark Rivers/Alecia Chakour (harmony vocals).

I was flying solo on concert night so I did not have my usual pre-show dinner at Shake Shack even though there was one right next to The Orpheum. Instead I Ubered a little later than usual to the show in order to avoid L.A. traffic and got to the venue about 20 minutes before show time.

As I waded through the crowd on the sidewalk and just inside the theatre, I noticed that the average age of the audience was middle-aged or slightly above. Unless some of these people are going to live to be 130 years old, I don’t think it is accurate to describe them as “middle-aged”. The crowd was decidedly friendly and welcoming, no bad apples or attitudes among the multitudes.

I made my way to my seat, which was very good as it was located on the second row center of the mezzanine, and sat myself down to get a good look at my surroundings. The Orpheum is a truly gorgeous venue, at once opulent and luxurious but also lived in. The seats were very comfortable and there was plenty of leg room between rows and arms space between seats.

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Sitting behind me were an older couple, probably in their 60’s, who started chatting me up. They told me they had seen Tedeschi Trucks numerous times before and never saw the same show twice. Another guy, a retiree from Minnesota, overheard the conversation and chimed in. He told me he follows the band around, going to all of their shows not just in Minnesota but in Iowa and to all of their shows in Chicago and at the Beacon Theatre in New York. He flew out to Los Angeles to stay with his nephew and attend both shows that the band were playing on back to back nights at the Orpheum. All of these people assured me that, as a Tedeschi Trucks virgin, I would be blown away by the band. These folks were very down to earth and I never would have pegged them as essentially the equivalent of Tedeschi Trucks Dead Heads.

The show was scheduled to start at 8 with no opening act. At about 8:15 the band haphazardly strolled onto the stage and after some brief discussion amongst themselves, began playing. The band opened with the rollicking “Do I Look Worried” off of Made Up Mind and in no time at all I understood why Tedeschi Trucks has such a loyal following.

Susan Tedeschi has a wondrous, bluesy voice that both soars but is grounded. She powers through her vocals with a steady aplomb that gives the music a rich and complex humanity. The rest of the band are exceedingly tight, highlighted by the double drum section of Johnson and Greenwell, who at times lead the band with drum duets and/or duels. The horn section and the backing vocals are terrific as well and always made the most of their opportunities to shine.

But with all that said, there is simply no doubt that Derek Trucks is the sun around which the other planets in the band orbit. Trucks is obviously the band leader and weaves the talents of his formidable band into a cohesive and magnificent whole.

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Trucks’ guitar playing is beyond sublime, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do anything as well as Derek Trucks played guitar the other night. Trucks’ guitar is like a long bow, and his notes arrows launched deep into the night sky. These arrows float elegantly through the air and then, concisely and precisely, strike the bullseye some miles away in the darkness with a resonant boom. Other arrows float through the night sky and then, once they reach their seeming apex, cluster together to form a rocket, then ignite, and blast off beyond the bounds of earth, scorching out of the Milky Way, exploring the deepest reaches of the universe, sometimes slowing, sometimes speeding up, but never losing their vibrancy, vitality and originality. These rockets then come full circle, turning into a ball of flames as they reenter the atmosphere, and morph once again into pristine arrows as they, with cunning exactness, come to land ever so gently back from the place they originated, in Derek Trucks’ quiver, just as he intended, entirely in tact and none the worse for wear, only wiser.

Trucks’ playing is spell-binding, so mesmerizing as to be hypnotic. He is so good he isn’t just the center of the band, but for two hours every night, the universe tilts on its axis because Derek Trucks’ and his guitar become the undeniable center of it.

Guitarists often describe their instrument as an axe, and it would be easy to think of Derek Trucks as some axe wielding dragon slayer. But as I watched Derek Trucks annihilate the Orpheum on Thursday night, I couldn’t help but think of Game of Thrones and the dragon Drogon obliterating Kings Landing. Derek Trucks is not the dragon slayer…Derek Trucks is the indestructible dragon..and his guitar wreaks a beautiful havoc and leaves those fortunate enough to witness its mastery and power, with mouths agape and minds blown.

The band played for a solid hour and then took a half hour intermission. My new friends, the older couple and the Minnesota man, quickly checked in on me to see what i thought, I was nearly speechless, and could only muster a “holy shit” in reply to their queries. They gave a knowing laugh, they too were once Tedeschi Trucks virgins.

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After the intermission the band came out and picked up right where they left off with “I’m Gonna Be There” off of the new album Signs. Throughout the show various member of the band would took the spotlight, with back up singer Mike Mattison doing lead vocals on a few songs, as did Mark Rivers, both of them acquitting themselves extremely well. The horn section each got their solos, as did Brandon Boone on bass and Gabe Dixon on keyboards. The highlight feature though may have been JJ Johnson and Tyler Greenwell’s combined drum solo/duet/duel. These percussionists were masterful in playing off of and with each other and their skill is a driving force that keeps the band so tight.

After playing for another glorious hour and change, the band walked off to a raucous ovation, only to return for the requisite encore. Trucks’ then decisively tore into the distinct riff of “Made Up Mind” and the crowd erupted as the band tore through what may be their most signature song. Trucks and the horn section went back and forth with a volley of blues in a remarkable jam for a few delirious moments and then, with the audience spent, Tedeschi Trucks exited as they entered, with a slow saunter and an understated confidence.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band don’t put on a show, there is no posing and preening, no bells and whistles, instead the put on a master class in the blues. The musicianship on display at a Tedeschi Trucks show is the absolute height of artistry and craftsmanship. Even if you are not very familiar with the band, if you love music, go see Tedeschi Trucks…you will not be disappointed (you should also check out their albums, particularly Revelator and Made Up Mind). My ticket cost $105 (and came with a copy of their new album Signs) and my seats were very good and worth every penny and then some. I can tell you this, I now totally understand how middle-aged normies get sucked in by the band’s live music and end up following them around from city to city…as seeing Tedeschi Trucks is a truly transcendent experience. If you only see one concert a year, or every couple of years, do yourself a favor and make that concert Tedeschi Trucks.

SET LIST

Do I Look Worried

Part of Me

Don’t Drift Away

Somebody Pick Up My Pieces

High and Mighty

Down in the Flood

Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever

The Sky is Crying

Idle Wind

INTERMISSION

I’m Gonna Be There

Signs, High Times

Lord Protect My Child

Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’

Shame

Midnight in Harlem

Get Out of My Life, Woman

Show Me

ENCORE

Made Up Mind

©2019

Rival Sons - The Fonda Theatre : A Review

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RIVAL SONS - FONDA THEATRE - THURSDAY, MAY 9, 2019


This past Thursday, May 9th, my year of living musically continued with a jaunt to one of my favorite venues, The Fonda Theatre, to see a local band on the rise, Rival Sons.

Rival Sons are a hard rock/blues band from Long Beach, just south of Los Angeles, that is made up of Jay Buchanan (lead vocals), Scott Holiday (guitar), Mike Miley (drums), Dave Beste (bass) and touring member Todd Ogren (keyboards). The band are currently touring in support of their sixth and most recent album, Feral Roots, which was released on January 25th of this year.

Rival Sons formed in 2009 and even though they have put out a solid collection of rock albums into a rock starved world over the last decade, they have yet to “hit it big”. That all could be changing this year though, as the band performed on The Late Late Show with James Corden on the night before I saw them, are slated to co-headline a tour this summer and fall with Stone Temple Pilots and even have one of their earlier songs, Electric Man, featured on a Mountain Dew commercial. In the crazy, upside down, topsy-turvy world of modern rock music, being on Corden and in a Mountain Dew ad are signs of a band’s momentum.

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I was turned on to Rival Sons a few years ago by my buddy Red Dragon, who is a walking encyclopedia of music past and present. Dragon sent me some links to a few songs off of the bands 2014 album Great Western Valkyrie, and I was hooked. From there I made the expedition through the band’s earlier work, which includes their self-titled EP as well as their first full length album, the self-released Before the Fire, both of which are outstanding. The band then signed with Earache and released Pressure and Time (2011), Head Down (2012), Great Western Valkyrie (2014) and Hollow Bones (2016) and toured extensively in support of those albums and as an opening act for bigger and more established acts like Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and Sammy Hagar. In 2018, Rival Sons left Earache and signed on with Low Country Sound, a division of Elektra Records…which brings us to today.

When I saw that Rival Sons were playing at The Fonda I snatched up two tickets ($40 each) the very first day they went on sale. I had long wanted to see the band live but had never had the opportunity until now so I didn’t want to miss it. It was a wise move to get my tickets as early as I did as the general admission show ended up selling out.

My evening of rock started out with my new beloved ritual of grabbing a burger from the Shake Shack across the street from The Fonda before the show. Shake Shack burgers are either God’s or the devil’s work, for they are much too delicious to be of this world. I also treated myself to a Root Beer, a treat which I have not indulged in for quite some time, and hoo-boy if that wasn’t a tasty beer of root. A Shake Shack burger and a root beer and the night was off to a good start.

M’lady, the incomparable Lady Pumpernickle Dusseldorf and I then headed to the venue to join the line that stretched down Hollywood Boulevard and around the corner. After a short wait we were let in through security and made our way to a good spot for the show.

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The thing that stood out the most to me about the audience was that the vast majority of them were middle-aged men and women. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting that. It makes sense though as Rival Sons are a throwback, a sort of cross between Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, that would have been right at home in the world of 70’s rock. The graying crowd represents an under-served music market that is hungry for new rock and roll, and there are very few places where they can get it. Rival Sons, with their hard-driving, guitar driven sound, are an injection of high voltage energy into the genre, and they fill that “classic rock” void for those who were raised on that music before it was considered “classic”…to them it was just “rock”.

The opening act were The Sheepdogs, a Canadian band heavily influenced by The Allman Brothers and Creedance Clearwater Revival. I had never heard of The Sheepdogs, but as is often the case, seeing them play live turned me into a fan. The musicianship of lead singer/guitarist Ewan Currie and virtuoso lead guitarist Jimmy Bowskill, was jaw-droppingly impressive. Bowskill and Currie would often play in “guitar-mony” (guitar + harmony) with exquisite precision. While their songs were good, but not great, the showmanship, craftsmanship and vitality displayed by Bowskill was well worth the price of admission alone.

The Sheepdogs went on at 8 p.m. and played for about 45 minutes. After they departed the stage the roadies then broke down their equipment and set up for Rival Sons. At this point things got interesting, but not in a good way. The show was General Admission - no seats - so Lady Pumpernickle and I had been standing in the same spot, about five rows of people from the stage, for about an hour and change when two women, one in her 60’s but dressed like a teenager in a mini-skirt and halter top, and the other, her daughter, in her 20’s, came and stood right in front of Lady Pumpernickle. We rolled our eyes at the desperate attention-seeking slutty outfits and behavior of these hussies, and to avoid irritation Lady Pumpernickle simply moved over to the other side of me, using me as a wall between her and the harlots. Lady Pumpernickle could now see the show and not worry about getting crabs…well, at least not getting crabs from those two filthy tramps. But then the patriarch of the whore family, Senor Dicknose, came stumbling through the crowd, bumping into everyone yet miraculously keeping his two beers above his head. Senor Dicknose then made the potentially fatal error of nearly spilling the beer on m’lady…and tensions rose. Now…this guy was in his 60’s, and just like his whore wife, was dressed about four decades too inappropriately. His leather jacket and jeans looked freshly bought and, like his face, harshly creased, and his Ed Hardy t-shirt was like the waving flag of his home country of Douchebagia. This guy was such a gigantic twat it is difficult to fully and accurately describe him and his leathery, fake tanned, botoxed face and super-gelled hair. Think of it this way…if Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein had a 60 year old baby, it would be this useless cunt.

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I am a large mammal, and the best way to describe me is that I look like an unfrozen caveman and a Hells Angel had a baby that the Aryan Brotherhood tried to abort by leaving in the woods to die but who miraculously survived when it was adopted and raised by a pack of rabid wolves and a pod of Sasquatch. The bottom line is this, I sort of look like trouble and maybe even the type of person who carries a battle axe hidden on his person somewhere. Senor Dicknose caught my vibe very quickly because he looked like a geriatric member of Circue du Soleil contorting himself to get around me without ever coming into contact with me. Of course, I wasn’t afraid of him because as the old joke goes, I’ve been beat up by guys half his size…and certainly half his age, so I didn’t help him out at all by moving out of his way because…well…fuck that guy. I was so irritated by this turd with feet that Lady Pumpernickle tapped my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “he’s not worth getting arrested over”. As always, Lady Pumpernickle was right…but that didn’t stop me from trying to figure out ways I could elbow this shitbag in the face and shatter his nose while NOT getting arrested.

Thankfully…sort of…Senor Dicknose abruptly left the scene after some rude words towards his streetwalker wife, and I had to listen to her babble on to her floozy daughter about what a prick he is…I guess it runs in the family. Then just as the show was about to start, another couple, the Douche and Douchess of Assholestan, squirmed there way right in front of me. Once again I was itching to go full on Hulk and smash, but Lady Pumpernickle’s calm and cool nature intervened and she reminded me that life isn’t Goodfellas and you can’t go around kicking peoples’ face in and burying them in a shallow grave upstate without dire legal consequences. I hate it when she’s right.

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Right before the show started, the old floozy and her apprentice whore daughter, started literally kicking a big fat guy standing next to me. He was an older guy, there by himself, sort of a sad fellow, and they were kicking his legs and talking shit to him. It was insane. What the hell is wrong with these people? Then Senor Dicknose returned and was nudging the older, fat guy. The guy then turned to me and said apologetically, “hey, if I bump into you it’s because they pushed me.” I could see he was really unnerved, so I told him, “it’s a rock show, don’t worry about it.” He then said that if they push him into me, that he wanted me to push him back into them. I assured him I wouldn’t push him at all and then he told me he really wanted me to push him if they started it. I tried to ease his anxiety and said that I knew the patriarch of the whore family was a real piece of work, and he replied by telling me the women were “absolute cunts”…which I thought would make for an interesting Absolute Vodka ad. It is always fun to make new friends.

Then, surrounded by the House of Needledicks, Tarts and Hussys and the Douche and Douchess of Assholestan, the lights went down and, thank the good Lord, Rival Sons finally hit the stage.

When Rival Sons perform they aren’t so much a rock band as they are a street gang, and the show they put on Thursday night was less a rock show and more a tenacious rock and roll rumble. I mean that in the very best sense. Rival Sons absolutely dropped the hammer on The Fonda Theatre with the power and authority of a Norse god, and it was glorious to behold.

They opened the show with the song Back in the Woods off of the new album and the Fonda erupted and things took off from there. Unlike say, Muse, a band I saw a few months ago who put on a great and big spectacle of a concert, Rival Sons put on a down and dirty, stripped down fistfight of a show. With Rival Sons it is just them, their music and their attitude…and it is impressively forceful.

Miley and Beste’s rhythm section were relentless throughout, keeping a steady and bone crunching beat that was an anchor keeping the band’s soaring music firmly grounded on Mother Earth.

Scott Holiday’s guitar playing was Jimmy Page-esque in its majesty and dynamism. Holiday is a phenomenal player and is without question the musical center of the band. Holliday looks the part of the guitar hero, with his leather and leopard print outfit and handlebar mustache he was the cool ice regulating the temperature of a volcanically hot show.

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Lead singer Jay Buchanan is the fire to Holiday’s ice, and he is definitely the straw that stirs the drink of Rival Sons. Buchanan is a charismatic front man with a magnetic stage presence who demands and commands the attention of the entire audience. Buchanan looks and moves sort of like a poor man’s Jim Morrison/Michael Hutchence, but his voice is more reminiscent of Paul Rodgers. Buchanan’s bluesy voice has a Tom Jones sort of foundational power to it, that originates deep in his soul and growls out upon the audience like dragon’s fire. Buchanan’s voice, which is so strong he actually filled the theatre on numerous occasions without a microphone, is distinct with a surprising range and level of emotionality, which is accentuated by the accompaniment of some good old fashioned rock screams.

Buchanan and Holiday are a potent and dynamic rock duo that play the role of rock star with aplomb. The two of them carry the weight of the show and their on-stage chemistry is compelling.

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After the initial rush of the opening song, Rival Sons refused to let up as they cranked out four more hard driving songs that kept the energy high at the Fonda. Songs four and five of the set were the back to back combination of Electric Man and Too Bad, which brought the crowd to a dizzying frenzy.

The band then shifted gears a bit and played the soulful Jordan, off of the Heads Down album. Buchanan introduced the song as being about grief, and that it was dedicated to the people who needed to hear it tonight. The song and its performance were reminiscent of Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck’s version of People Get Ready in its emotional depth and nuance and revealed an impressive level of musical dexterity.

The band then stayed in the blues bin for the next few songs, keeping things more subdued as they and the audience caught their breath. That all came to a close with the explosive Torture off of their early career EP, and they followed that up with the pulsating Open My Eyes. From then on Rival Sons kept their foot on the pedal and never let up for an instant.

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The band finished up the set with Do Your Worst and then took a momentary break while the crowd chanted for an encore. The encore was interesting because once again the band sort of shifted gears. They brought out The Sheepdogs and had them sing background on the less explosive, more radio-friendly, anthem-esque song, Shooting Stars, off of the new album. It was surprising that they went with a song that is somewhat less energetic for an encore, but it worked and the audience knew the lyrics by heart and sang along with Buchanan’s encouragement. Shooting Stars is an emotionally resonant song that speaks to our turbulent times and it carried a startling gravitas at the Fonda Thursday night.

The hour and forty-five minute show ended with irrepressible Keep on Swinging, which is ironic since I made the decision to not start swinging earlier in the night. When the song ended the drummer threw a drum stick into the area near me and a twenty something guy and a sixty something guy fell on the floor wrestling to get it. The older guy’s wife was knocked to the ground in the melee. It was insane as her husband was so desperate to have the stupid drum stick he never stopped wrestling to see if his poor wife was alright. As the deeply chivalrous man that I am, I was going to help her up but was too busy going through her pocket book which had fallen at my feet in the scrum. I did get $12, a Costco card and a hard candy out of the whole incident though so…I felt pretty good about how things turned out (relax…I’m just kidding). But this incident was emblematic of the type of band that Rival Sons are…they are so intoxicating and persuasive that a sixty year old man would throw his long time wife aside just for the chance to fight for one of their drum sticks.

While there was the downside of some in the crowd being typical L.A.-holes, overall the night was a stirring success and felt like being transported back in time to the 60’s or 70’s to see early Led Zeppelin or Bad Company play at one of Bill Graham’s famous venues The Wonderland or the Fillmore. The reality is that we aren’t living in the 60’s or 70’s, but some in the crowd certainly are in their 60’s or 70’s. It seems to me that the older audience is emblematic of that fact that Rival Sons are a very bright spot in our very bleak rock universe.

In conclusion, Rival Sons are a fantastic band who play with a mesmerizing fury and ferocity rarely seen nowadays. The band’s musical power, stellar musicianship and dynamic yet natural showmanship puts them in the upper echelon of rock acts working today. If you like hard rock music, I wholly encourage you to give Rival Sons a listen and to make the effort to go see them live, especially while they are still playing smaller venues at cheaper prices. Due to the current nature of the music industry and rock’s ever fading spot in the culture, Rival Sons will most likely never become as big a success as their rock forefathers like Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Aerosmith or The Cult…but let there be no doubt…they do deserve to be a very big success, and their show at The Fonda was undeniable proof of that.

SET LIST

Back in the Woods

Sugar on the Bone

Pressure and Time

Electric Man

Too Bad

Jordan

Face of Light

Feral Roots

Torture

Open My Eyes

All Directions

End of Forever

Do Your Worst

ENCORE

Shooting Stars

Keep on Swinging

©2019

Muse - The Forum: A Review

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MUSE - THE FORUM - MONDAY, MARCH 11, 2019

Last Monday night I ventured out among the hoi polloi to see the band Muse, whose Simulation Theory tour had rolled into town for a one night stand at the Los Angeles Forum.

Muse is a difficult band to accurately describe. The English power-trio made up of Matt Bellamy (lead vocals, guitar, keyboard), Chris Wolstenholme (bass, backing vocals) and Dominic Howard (drums) are sort of an amalgam of arena rock, prog rock, hard rock and electronica that over their twenty year career have consistently churned out a cavalcade of catchy alt-political anthems. If Roger Waters’ led Pink Floyd (Animals, Final Cut), Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust incarnation, Queen, Rush and The Who in their rock opera phase (in this case especially Tommy), were all thrown into a blender and mixed together, you’d get Muse. That is not to say that Muse is as good as any of those bands but just to give you an indication of their rock and roll DNA.

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Muse have released eight studio albums, all of them in one form or another specifically themed “concept albums”, that have examined everything from alienation in space to physics to conspiratorial militarism to propaganda and nearly everywhere in between. The band’s latest, Simulation Theory, is a synth-driven, pop-rock psuedo-opera exploring a manufactured video-game/matrix reality and political dysfunction that taps heavily into science fiction and 80’s pop culture. The album cover is reminiscent of the poster for Spielberg’s 80’s nostalgia film from last year Ready Player One, and the album touches upon similar themes.

Muse can be a polarizing band, some think they are one of the best rock bands in the world while others think they are a derivative, cheesy embarrassment. I understand the conflict even if I don’t agree with it. Muse are undoubtedly full of bombast and artistic ambition…I mean what other modern rock band has the confidence, if not arrogance, to continually make concept albums and rock operas? But with that said, this is rock and roll and a certain level of bombast and artistic arrogance is helpful if not required.

I am not a Muse cultist, but after discovering them when their 2006 radio-friendly album Black Holes and Revelations was in heavy rotation, I certainly became a fan. That album, which featured the hits “Take a Bow”, “Starlight”, “Supermassive Black Hole” and “Knights of Cydonia”, was like a guitar-driven breath of fresh air for rock…or the genre’s last gasp…depending on your perspective.

Black Holes and Revelations then led me to their earlier albums, Absolution (2003) and Origin of Symmetry(2001), both of which energetically lay the groundwork for their later breakthrough success.

The Resistance (2009), and its infectious call to arms “Uprising”, kept the bands momentum going by admirably following up Black Holes and Revelations. 2nd Law (2012) and Drones (2015) came soon after and were solid albums but failed to capture as much of the cultural imagination as their earlier work. Simulation Theory came out last year and even though it is more pop-oriented than the preceding albums, it too failed to get much attention from our rock-allergic culture.

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Which leads us to the Simulation Theory tour and Monday night at The Forum. I own the majority, but not all, of Muse’s albums but I have never seen them live. My friend, the music afficianado Fire Thorn, saw them on their last tour and highly recommended them to me, but I still hesitated to buy tickets. Then in a moment of weakness I recently noticed they hadn’t entirely sold out The Forum so I searched and found a good deal on some nice seats and I took the plunge.

The Forum is a terrific venue for music. My first experience there was thanks to a friend who is a big shot in the music industry who got me in to see Van Halen rehearse for their first reunion tour in 2007. Van Halen was one of my favorite bands when I was a kid, so getting to see a private show by the band at The Forum for me and 14 other people was a magical experience that emotionally attached me to the venue for life.

Getting to The Forum is pretty easy, but getting out of there after a show is a total traffic nightmare. My night got off to a good start though when I found a sneaky good place to park across the street from The Forum that only cost $5 more than the arena parking and helped us to escape quickly and unscathed after the show.

The opening act was the band Walk the Moon which I had never heard of, but then when they started to play I realized they had a song that my friends two year old daughter is crazy about titled, “Shut Up and Dance”. My first impressions of Walk the Moon were that I was not particularly impressed. As my date, the inimitable Lady Pumpernickle Dusseldorf noted, they are like if Flock of Seagulls and N’Sync had a baby….or as I added…had an abortion. To be fair, the band has talent, no doubt, but the songs were weak and it just wasn’t my thing. My one observation was that the lead singer has a decent voice but he is a little TOO good a dancer…and the general rule when it comes to lead singers is that they should move well (think Mick Jaggar or Jim Morrison) but not dance too well.

After Walk the Moon walked off the stage, which was followed by an interminably long wait that had John Carpenter music as its soundtrack, Muse hit the stage around 9 pm, and turned The Forum into ground zero in the war for rock and roll’s survival.

The band opened with the first song off of Simulation Theory, the mood setting Algorithm which brought the near capacity crowd to its feet. The audience was jumping and singing along from the get go and the energy ran high as they stayed on their feet for the entire two hour show.

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Rock is dead is a refrain I hear often, mostly because I am the one saying it, but I can attest that on Monday, March 11th, at The Forum, rock was alive and well and kicking…hard. Muse put on an astonishing show, one of the very best I have ever seen. That is the thing about Muse, they don’t just play music and play it exceedingly well, they put on a SHOW. The stage set, the costumes, the “dancers”…it was all a fantastic spectacle.

Any band that puts out concept album after concept album like Muse does is an artistically ambitious one, and that ambition was on full display at The Forum. Lead singer and guitarist Matt Bellamy, who at different times wore electronic goggles, an electronic suit, or both, was often accompanied by “dancers” that looked like a Kubrickian marching band of demonic robots. These dancers would sometimes hang from the ceiling in front of giant video screens, or bang large drums, or wear video face masks displaying an upside down American flag (the sign for distress), or would wield glowing light weapons.

In some ways the show that Muse put on could be interpreted as a parody of a rock show, with all the bells and whistles being a sign of decadence, but the one thing that stops that from happening is the impressive and impeccable musicianship of the band.

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Bellamy is a powerful singer whose voice maintains its strength and clarity even when he hits his falsetto, which is often. His guitar playing is spectacular as well, both muscular and precise, and rattles you to your bones. Bellamy is not the most charismatic stage presence on the planet, so he is greatly aided by the Greek chorus of techno-dancers from hell that amplify the story of each song.

Bassist Chris Wolstenholme is the hidden gem in the band. His bass playing is superb but it is his backing vocals that are even more impressive. Wolstenholme’s vocals perfectly bolster and mix with Bellamy’s, and give the band a rich vocal texture that elevates the material.

Drummer Dominic Howard is the heavy-handed beast who lays the foundation from which Bellamy’s voice and volcanic guitar blast off. Although the band is a power trio, they do have an added musician on tour, a keyboard/secondary guitar player, who is tucked next to Howard during the show and who adds to the gigantic tsunami of sound the band produces.

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The band played for two hours and not once did the energy in the building even remotely dissipate. Even though Simulation Theory has not sold very well, the audience absolutely loved the new material and much to my surprise knew the words to all of the new songs. My date Lady Dusseldorf had never heard Simulation Theory at all and even she got swept away by the tribal love for the new songs. In total, Muse played eight songs off of Simulation Theory and every single one of them was instantaneously met with rapturous cries of approval from the faithful.

The highlights of the show are almost too numerous to count as the whole thing was a supernova of highlights. But if I have to choose the best parts I would say Pressure and Uprising were the best songs in the first quarter of the show, with Mercy and the ferocious rebel anthem Time is Running Out being mid-show highlights. The climax of the show, from “Take a Bow” to the infectious “Starlight” to the ludicrously phenomenal encore medley to the closer, “Knights of Cydonia”, was deliriously and deliciously intoxicating.

Muse may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but if you like hard arena rock music wrapped in a captivating rock and roll spectacle, then I urge you to go see Muse live, I promise that you’ll be impressed…I sure as hell was. Rock may be dying, but last Monday night at The Forum Muse proved that they won’t let it go down without a nasty fight.

SET LIST

Algorithm

Pressure

Psycko

Break it to Me

Uprising

Propaganda

Plug In Baby

The Dark Side

Super Massive Black Hole

Thought Contagion

Interlude

Hysteria

The 2nd Law: Unsustainable

Dig Down

Madness

Mercy

Time is Running Out

Houston Jam

Take a Bow

Prelude

Starlight

ENCORE

Algorithm

Stockholm Syndrome/Assassin/Reapers/The Handler/New Born

Knights of Cydonia

©2019

Blackberry Smoke - Fonda Theatre : A Review

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BLACKBERRY SMOKE - FONDA THEATER - THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2019

There is nothing quite so exhilarating as seeing great music performed live, so this year I made a resolution to venture out and see more music. And since I am going to be seeing more music I thought I would expand my writing to encompass not just cultural criticism and film criticism but occasionally music criticism too. So sit back, relax and enjoy my first foray into that genre.

I stumbled upon the first concert on my 2019 agenda in a round about way. Nearly four years ago I saw The Waterboys at the Fonda Theater here in Los Angeles. Mike Scott and the gang put on a terrific show that was accentuated by the exquisite surroundings of the Fonda. With quality acoustics, general admission and terrific sight lines, the Fonda is a fantastic music venue. So in searching for music to go see, instead of searching for bands I like, I went and searched the Fonda’s schedule to see if anything intrigued me. Two shows did, the first of which was last Thursday February 6, when the southern/country rock band Blackberry Smoke came to town to promote their album Find a Light.

I am not a Blackberry Smoke “fan”, I own none of their music and really didn’t know much about them prior to seeing them. But my good friend and walking music encyclopedia, the inimitable Fire Thorn, highly recommended them to me. So, since the tickets were $40, the venue is great and Fire Thorn rarely misses the mark musically, I pulled the trigger and got tickets.

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I listened to some Blackberry Smoke’s albums in the weeks leading up to the show and found the Atlanta natives to be a solid, throwback band with a surprisingly deep catalogue of well crafted and accessible songs. The Whippoorwill (2012) is a particularly strong record, and its follow ups, Holding All the Roses(2015) and Like an Arrow(2016) revealed a palpable musical and creative momentum.

Find a Light, which came out April 6, 2018 is their newest release and while I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as their earlier work, I still found enough gems on it to be a worthwhile listen, and have found that it grows on you, for I have grown to like it more and more the more I listen to it.

After my two-week crash course in the Blackberry Smoke’s discography, I braved Los Angeles rush hour traffic and an hour and a half later was outside the Fonda ready to rock and roll. With a growling belly and a little time to kill, I made my way across the street to the Shake Shack restaurant, my virgin voyage into the much discussed Shake Shack universe. After devouring a double SmokeShack burger (double cheeseburger with bacon), I was officially baptized into the religion of Shake Shack and am now a devout true believer.

Joyful and bloated from my feast I stumbled back across the street to the Fonda, thinking my sumptuous all-American meal had precluded me from catching the opening act, of whom I had never heard. As I walked into the Fonda I realized I was wrong…and boy am I ever glad I was.

Country rocker Nikki Lane was early into her set when I arrived and she instantly mesmerized me. If Taylor Swift and a rattlesnake had a baby, and weened it exclusively on whiskey, it would be the raven-haired Lane. Lane has a beguiling and confident stage presence and an effortlessly powerful and gloriously weathered voice that drips of character that heightens and accentuates her storytelling songs.

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My date, the irrepressible Dr. Lady Pumpernickle Dusseldorf III, a trained singer and music afficionado in her own right, was even more enamored of Ms. Lane than I, as we both fell deeply under her hypnotic spell. While I did not know any of Nikki Lane’s songs, it didn’t matter, she sold them to us with an undeniable verve that was impossible to refuse. It also helped that her band, made up of guitar, keyboard, bass, drums and steel guitar, were impeccable.

After my delectable Shake Shack experience and Nikki Lane’s intoxicating set, this night was already a stirring success chock full of newfound favorites…and then Blackberry Smoke hit the stage. The band, made up of the Turner brothers Richard and Brit on bass and drums respectively, Brandon Still on keyboards, Paul Jackson on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, and Charlie Starr on lead vocals and lead guitar, hit the ground running with the song “Nobody Gives a Damn” and never looked back.

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I was positioned in the second row right in front of rhythm guitarist Paul Jackson, and what I noticed right away was that Jackson was beaming. I have never seen a musician, or anyone else for that matter have so much fun in my entire life. This guy’s exuberance and sheer pleasure at playing was infectious and impossible to deny. The band are road warriors and true professionals and what was most apparent was not only how proficient and cohesive they are musically, but how much they love what they do, which is contagious and makes them a joy to behold.

While Jackson’s bliss was charming, it is lead singer and guitarist Charlie Starr that is the straw that stirs the drink of this band. Starr carries the show and his, at times, blistering guitar work is very impressive. Starr’s vocals are strong and seamless amidst the tight band even though his range is a bit limited. Starr is not a wannabe rock star, as there is no posing or preening, just good old fashioned, grind it out, blue collar musicianship.

The train of the Turner brothers rhythm section was never late to the station and always left on time, and lay a reliably healthy foundation upon which Starr and Jackson’s guitars and Still’s keyboard juked and jived with sweet Georgia abandon.

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The band played a plethora of songs off of their new album, Find a Liight, and mixed in with it a healthy dose of their strongest material from earlier records, along with some covers that were aided by special guests. One of the joys of seeing a show in Los Angeles is that because it is such a Mecca of the music industry, the streets are flowing with talent who are always there to lend a helping hand to whatever tour comes to town. On this night, guitarist and founder of Buckcherry, Keith Nelson (who also co-wrote some of the songs on Find a Light) hopped on stage for a song. Second generation legend Duane Betts (Dickie Betts’ son and the namesake of Duane Allman) also jumped on stage to cover his birthright material from The Allman Brothers, a scintillating version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”. And finally, in the encore Butch Walker joined the band for a rousing cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl”.

The highlights of the show for me were The Cult/Billy Duffy inspired raw guitar power of “Waiting for the Thunder”, the crisp perfection of “Crimson Moon”, the soulful melancholy of “Whippoorwill”, Bett’s virtuosity on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”, the Springsteen-esque desperate country soul of “One Horse Town” and the radio-friendly infectiousness of “Ain’t Much Left of Me” which morphed into a bluesy cover of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks”, which itself was a cover of a song by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie.

The audience at the Fonda were an older crowd, mostly made up of middle aged music connoisseurs well read in classic rock and country who definitely admired the craftsmanship of Blackberry Smoke. The show was not sold out and was probably 75% capacity but the audience was exuberant without being unruly or dangerous. (Blackberry Smoke is a most definitely a “safe” show to attend…no worries about fights or anything like that.

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Blackberry Smoke are road warriors, playing over 200 shows a year, because they have to be, this is how they make their living. Radio has devolved to the point where a band like Blackberry Smoke, which isn’t pure enough country for country radio and isn’t old enough to be classic rock, can’t find an outlet for audiences to discover them.

Blackberry Smoke is one of those bands stuck in the wrong time. If this band came along 40 years ago they’d be staples of classic rock right now and we’d all have heard of them. They are sort of like Lynyrd Skynyrd and sort of like The Black Crowes, but really not exactly like either one of those bands. I would classify Blackberry Smoke as a southern rock band with a country sensibility. The difficulty in defining their concise genre and to clearly label them may also contribute to their relative obscurity with the wider public.

The music business conundrum that Blackberry Smoke finds themselves in where they are limited in ways of finding an audience, is bad for them as it puts a ceiling on their success, but good for people like me who are lucky enough to catch them at a great, small venue like the Fonda for $40, as opposed to paying $150 for shitty seats to see them at the Staples Center if they were a bigger, more successful band.

In conclusion, Blackberry Smoke is a cohesive and solid southern/country rock band with visceral chemistry that shine in live performance. While the band are not a transcendent act, they most certainly are an entertaining one. If you like live music and you have the opportunity, you should definitely go check them out as they give a great show and will be the best and most professional bar band you’ve ever witnessed in your life. And if Nikki Lane comes to your town, go out and grab some Shake Shack before hand and see her too, you will most definitely be glad that you did.

SETLIST

Nobody Gives a Damn

Fire in the Hole

Feel a Good One Coming On

Waiting for the Thunder

Crimson Moon

Let it Burn

Medicate My Mind

Sleeping Dogs

Holy Ghost

Whippoorwhill

Payback’s a Bitch

Ain’t Got the Blues

Run Away

Flesh and Bone

In Memory of Elizabeth Reed

One Horse Town

I’ll Keep Ramblin

ENCORE

American Girl

Ain’t Much Left of Me

©2019

Beating the Dead Horse of Grammy Award's Racism

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Estimated reading Time: 4 minutes 48 seconds

It is that time of year again, awards season! And with the Grammy Awards tonight (quickly followed in two weeks by the Oscars) comes with them the oh-so-predictable and tired charges of racism.

Every year at this time, both pre and post the awards, there are a cavalcade of articles in the media bemoaning the blatant racist snubs of the Recording Academy and blaming every Black artist’s loss on the vicious racism of Academy members. These articles, like the New York Times piece post-2017 awards that declared the Grammy had a “pernicious” race problem, are grounded in baseless assumptions and often play fast and loose with the facts in order to bolster their case.

What frustrates me the most about these “Grammys are Racist” stories is that they actually undermine and distract from genuine racial issues in America. Like American’s overuse of antibiotics leads to a dangerous diminishing of their power, crying racism at every turn, such as with perceived awards show snubs, makes that charge much less powerful when applied to life and death issues like criminal justice, health care and voting rights.

The underlying assumption fueling these articles is the idea that Black artists are under-represented at the Grammys. As I wrote in 2017 and 2018, this assumption is not based on fact. The elite media who bemoan racism at the Grammys never mention one very important statistic, namely the demographic reality of African-Americans in the United States, or the Black population in the Anglosphere (English speaking world - U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia).

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The Black population in the U.S. is 12.6% which comes as a surprise to many people who only have a passing knowledge of demographics. The Black population in the Anglosphere is even smaller, coming in at 9%. When contrasting the 12.6% or 9% population figure against the percentage of Grammy nominees and winners who are Black, it becomes very obvious that Black performers aren’t under represented at all, but rather are over-represented.

For example, from 1987 to 2017, in the Best Album category 37% of the nominees and 13% of the winners were Black artists. In the Record of the Year category 36% of the nominees and 20% of the winners were Black artists. In the Song of the Year category 28% of the nominees and 23% of the winners were Black artists. In the Best New Artist category 32.6% of the nominees and 40% of the winners were Black artists. If you look closely at those numbers you will realize that all of them are larger than 12.6%, some more than twice as large.

The media never mentions Black over-representation when discussing Grammy racism, it is just accepted as fact that Black artists are being cheated out of awards because of race. A great example of this vacuous narrative in the media is found in the writing of John Vilanova, whose work has appeared in The Atlantic and The Los Angeles Times among other places. To further Vilanova’s establishment bona fides, he is also in the process of getting his PhD from the prestigious Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

In a recent article for The AtlanticWhat it Takes for Black Artists to Win Big at the Grammys”, Vilanova makes the same case he made a year ago in the LA Times (“Beyonce’s Grammy Snub and the Glass Ceiling on Black Art”), namely that Black “musicians” run into a glass ceiling when it comes to the Grammy awards. Vilanova’s assertions are standard, mainstream thought among the media and academic class in America…namely that racism is such a “pernicious” problem that it is baked into the cake even in the allegedly liberal bastions of the music and film industries.

Not surprisingly, Vilanova never mentions the demographics and statistics which I lay out in my articles on the subject and which decimate his thesis. In fact, in order to fit the facts around his virtue signaling story line, he blatantly distorts and contorts statistical reality to such a degree as to be duplicitous. For example he ignores the Best new Artist category entirely and only looks back as far as 1999 in regards to the other major categories.

Another example is when Vilanova compares Beyonce, the most nominated women in Grammy history with 62, to White country artist Alison Krauss, who has 40 nominations. Vilanova claims that Beyonce’s Grammy win percentage (22 awards out of 62 nominations - 37%) in relation to Alison Krauss’s 27 wins in 42 nominations, is “markedly low”, but never mentions the uncomfortable fact that obliterates his thesis of racism at the Grammys, namely that of the top four popular music Grammy awards winners in history, only one, Krauss, is White (the other three are Beyonce, Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder are Black). Vilanova also fails to mention another glaring difference between Krauss and Beyonce besides their race and Grammy win percentage, and that is that unlike Beyonce, Krauss, in addition to singing, plays an instrument (violin/piano).

Besides laying out a statistical argument in my previous articles, i also lay out a stylistic one, making the case that the Recording Academy is made up of musicians, engineers and producers, and that they appreciate musicianship above all else. This seems a rather self-evident claim to make, that musicians, who have dedicated their life to mastering their craft, would admire other musicians who have done the same. This is a major reason why rap gets short shrift at the Grammys, it isn’t because the Academy hates Blacks, it is because they love musicians, and rappers are not musicians.

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Vilanova unintentionally makes my point for me in his Atlantic piece when he bemoans the only Black artists to have won major Grammy awards (Album of the Year, Song of the year and Record of the Year) this century are artists whose “auterist bonafides…carry them to the podium”. The list includes Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill, Ray Charles, Luther Vandross, Outkast, Herbie Hancock and Beyonce. You know what else these artists have in common besides being auteurs, Black and Grammy winners? They are all remarkable musicians. Beyonce, Luther Vandross and Lauryn Hill are master vocalists, Herbie Hancock, Alicia Keys and Ray Charles master pianists, and Outkast are masters of all trades including playing instruments.

If you look at non-Black winners of major Grammys you find the same type of artists as the group above. Bruno Mars, Adele, Taylor Swift, Mumford and Sons, Arcade Fire, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, they all have mastered an instrument (voice is an instrument) and/or play an instrument and write their own songs.

Vilanova’s self-righteous obtuseness doesn’t stop there as he makes an even more vapid and flaccid argument that these Black artists (Beyonce, Herbie Hancock, Alicia Keys, Outkast etc.) have broken the glass ceiling only because they aren’t making “Black” music, which apparently according to Vilanova must only be rap. Vilanova even goes so far as to claim that the Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album is in itself a racist award. Vilanova is basically saying that if a Black artist wins a major Grammy then by definition the music they are making is not “Black music”. This is madness.

The reality is that Black artists are over-represented at the Grammys. And on top of that, the statistical reality is that Rock music, which is still the most popular music in America in terms of consumption, album sales and concert ticket sales, is horrendously under-represented. In fact, only one rock band, Greta Van Fleet, is nominated in any of the major Grammy categories this year, and that is in Best new Artist. But you won’t read that story in any major media outlets and certainly not from the desk of John Vilanova.

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The question then becomes why do people like John Vilanova believe the things they do when it is very clear that they are factually incorrect? I cannot read minds, but maybe Vilanova is simply playing the game and telling his superiors and his audience what they want to hear. Or maybe he really does believe the things he writes and is simply an intellectual midget. Or maybe Vilanova is so ensconced in the elite media and academic universe that he inhabits that he is totally blind to his own establishment orthodoxy indoctrination and is inoculated against critical thinking. Who knows? But the truth is this, that it is obvious and provable through demographics, statistics and history, that John Vilanova’s thesis of a “ceiling for Black artists” is entirely fallacious. And yet, despite being so obtuse, intentionally or otherwise, Vilanova gets paid to write for the hallowed Atlantic magazine and the LA Times, and I write for RT, and he is getting a PhD from Penn and I have a sixth grade education. Maybe I should blame racism for my failings…it would be just as credible an excuse as it as for Black artists’ failures at the Grammys.

Besides watering down the power of the charge of racism, the Grammy awards have watered themselves down due to these scurrilous charges of racism. To combat this non-existent problem, the Grammys have made dramatic moves to alter their voting population in an effort to “diversify” their nominees and winners. The Grammys have also expanded their nominee numbers from 5 to 8, in order to appease calls for diversity and inclusivity. What these changes have really done though, is diminish the prestige and cache of being nominated for, or winning, a Grammy. In a sense, these Grammy elections are now rigged in order to give a “leg up” to Black artists who are already well outperforming their demographic reality.

In conclusion, as proven by Mr. Vilanova and the rest of the media’s relentlessly vacuous articles on the subject, no matter who wins at the Grammy Awards tonight, racism will be the excuse for why someone lost…which means Truth, as always, will be big loser once again.

©2019