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(Above: The Old 97s road-test the new song “Every Night Is Friday Night Without You.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The 16-year history of the Texas-born Old 97s follows a trajectory well worn by other bands: start out with plenty of youthful energy and fire in the belly and gradually grow more mellow and/or pop-oriented. For theirThursday night’s performance at Crossroads, the alto-country quartet shrugged off its pop trappings and attacked their material with vibrant intensity.

The first sign of the evening’s energy came on the second song, “Dance With Me.” Recorded as a pop song for their latest album, 2008’s “Blame It On Gravity,” guitarist Ken Bethea tore into the main riff like a buzz saw, pushing the tempo to nearly double its original speed. When bass player Murry Hammond was given the mic shortly thereafter for a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” the band pushed and prodded the laid-back vocalist.

Flanked by Bethea and Hammond in nearly matching red plaid shirts, photogenic singer/front man Rhett Millershook his hips like Elvis behind his Stratocaster. He yelped, yowled and screamed his way through the 90 minute set list that featured as many cuts from their first album – four- as their latest.

The band’s third album, “Too Far To Care,” is widely considered its best. They treated the crowd to six cuts, or nearly half the album and they consistently received the biggest responses of the night. “Big Brown Eyes” and “Barrier Reef” got everyone dancing and Miller took an audience request of “Niteclub” during the encore.

Miller seemed to enjoy playing the scorned lover and dumping extra venom into likes like “I hope you crash your momma’s car” and “Thought so much about suicide/parts of me have already died” on back-to-back trips down lonely street during “Lonely Holiday” and “Wish the Worst.” A couple songs later, on “Melt Show,” he emphatically kicked the air during the chorus.

Bethea spurred Miller’s energy, leaping into the air at the start of “The Fool,” dropping a Dick Dale-style guitar solo into “Smokers,” another Hammond vocal showcase,” and adding a nice countermelody to the most delicate and upbeat song in their catalog, “Question.” His solo leading into “Timebomb,” the traditional closer, turned the already fast number into something like a punk song.

Drummer Philip Peeples was the brick on the accelerator that never let up. His cadences consistently pushed the band harder and faster. His kit was at the center of “Every Friday Night Is Lonely Without You,” a staccato-riffed song from the band’s upcoming fall album. It was the only song the half-capacity crowd didn’t sing or air guitar along to all night, but embraced just the same. Peeples also took nice mini-solos during “Doreen” and “Early Morning.”

Lucero rock the Bottleneck in 2008.

The drum solo after “Early Morning” led into a reading of R.E.M.’s “Driver 8,” one of covers the band cut for its new “Mimeograph” EP. The arrangement hewed closely to the original, but it was interesting to hear the lyrics through Miller’s enunciation.

Normally the more rambunctious of the two bands, Lucero was more subdued that night. Singer Ben Nichols embraced the band’s mellow side with numbers like the gospel piano ballad “Goodbye Again,” “Kiss the Bottle” and the one-two of “Hey Darlin’ Do You Gamble?” and “Nobody’s Darlings.”

The five-piece band displayed its Memphis roots by adding a two-piece horn section for a set that featured several cuts from last year’s album “1372 Overton Park.” Early in the set the horns competed with the pedal steel in the mix, but they soon settled in adding extra punch and depth. The brass gave “That Much Further To Go” and “Sixes and Sevens” an E Street sound.

Lucero’s 65-minute set ended with nearly everyone taking a solo during the joyous “All Sewn Up.”

Old 97s setlist: Streets of Where I’m From; Dance With Me; Won’t Be Home; Mama Tried (Merle Haggard cover); Lonely Holiday; Wish the Worst; The Fool; Smokers; Melt Show; Question; Stoned; Up the Devil’s Pay; Barrier Reef; Driver 8 (REM cover); Early Morning; Can’t Get A Line; Big Brown Eyes; Doreen. Encore:Every Night Is Friday Night Without You; Niteclub; The Easy Way; Timebomb.

Keep reading:

Review: Old 97s (2008)

Review: Cross Canadian Ragweed (with Lucero)

Review: “The Oxford American: Book of Great Music Writing”

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(Above: “Jefferson Jericho Blues” is one of several new songs Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have been regularly playing on their tour this summer.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The sets Heart and Sarah McLachlan delivered back-to-back at last week’s Lilith Fair were studies in contrast. Sure their styles are wildly divergent, but each act presented three new songs during their one-hour sets.

Heart was proud of their songs, delivering them in succession. They may have gone one song too far, but the crowd responded positively. McLachlan, on the other hand, apologized for performing new songs. She sprinkled them throughout her hit-laden set and express regret before and after each one. She needn’t have bothered – the audience enjoyed them anyway.

Beloved songwriter James Taylor has only released one album of original material this decade.

Nostalgia is the single most lucrative element in the music industry today. Fans are wiling to shell out more than ever to see legendary artists in concert. Paradoxically, those fans are loathe to hear anything outside of the sacred catalog. This is a closed cannon. With a few exceptions, anything after two dozen hit singles or 10 successful albums is off limits. Some artists, like Billy Joel, are fine with this. Joel hasn’t written any new pop material in nearly two decades. Others, like Fleetwood Mac, shuttle most of their new music to individual projects (although the band did deliver a new album in 2003, their first in eight years).

Solo performers have fewer options. Paul McCartney and Elton John have bravely soldiered on, each releasing four albums in the past decade and highlighting his latest release in concert. James Taylor and Paul Simon have slowed their output to a trickle; both have only released one or two albums of original material in the new millennium, respectively.

Guitarist Junior Marvin and the Original Wailers have been playing material from their upcoming album alongside Bob Marley's classic material.

Then there are the rare established artists whose fans salivate over new material. In 2007, Bruce Springsteen’s “Magic” hit No. 1 on the album charts. Despite a Clear Channel missive not to play any of the new material on its stations, Springsteen performed the majority of the album on his sold-out tour. When “Working on a Dream” appeared just 18 months later, it featured heavily in setlists as well.

The Original Wailers face an even more daunting task. Their catalog is not only the most popular and indelible in reggae, but Bob Marley, their frontman and songwriter, has been dead for 30 years. When the band performed in Kansas City earlier this year they boldly mixed many original songs from their upcoming album in with Marley’s classics. Surprisingly, the new riddims didn’t stop the dancing for a moment.

Artists have three choices onstage: ignore performing new material, apologize and play a couple new songs, or deliver a block of new material. None of these are optimal. (Quick caveat: the songs in question should be worthwhile additions to the catalog, not a cheap excuse to trot out the same tired hits yet again.)

Overconfidence in new material may send fans fleeing for the bathroom and bar. I’m confused why any artist would ever apologize for the music they perform, especially if it is something they have written or hold dear. Ignoring new work reinforces the same message as apologizing: I’m not proud of this material. If they’re not proud of it, why should fans bother?

Despite their perceived authority and glamor, artists have little power over how their music will be marketed, sold and received. Going onstage is as close to complete control that they will ever have. Songwriters should own all of their material, especially the latest and least familiar. Don’t be afraid to surprise. Weaving new material in with the old not only freshens the setlist, but shakes some dust off the favorites by placing them in a new perspective and context. It tells the fan “if you liked this then, try this now.” Remember: Today’s new songs are tomorrow’s sing-alongs.

Keep reading:

Review: Lilith Fair

Review: The Original Wailers

Review: Bruce Springsteen

Review: James Taylor and Carole King

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(Above: Clarence Clemons, the Big Man, recalls the phone call that put the E Street Band on hiatus for 10 years.)

By Joel Francis

Legions of dedicated Bruce Springsteen fans have no doubt haunted hotel bars after concerts in hopes of being able to buy their heroes a drink and soak in their stories. In his new autobiography “Big Man,” E Street saxophone player Clarence Clemons offers fans the next best thing with 360 pages of his favorite stories from the road and adventures with friends like Robert DeNiro, Kinky Friedman and, of course, the Boss.

The warning is right there in the subtitle: “Real Life and Tall Tales.” This is not a chronological telling of Clemons’ life. Rather, it’s a series of episodes and anecdotes. In the first 50 pages, the story races from Clemmons’ childhood in rural Virginia to meeting Springsteen, his first job with a band and ultimately joining the Bruce Springsteen Band.

Early vignettes like the portrait of Clemons and Springsteen hanging out underneath the Jersey pier are vivid snapshots of uninhibited creativity, innocence and ambition. The book is best when it operates along these lines, lifting the veil of history and putting the reader in the moment.

Clemmons’ telling of receiving a phone call from Springsteen while on tour with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band is especially poignant. Also entertaining is the tale of shooting pool with Fidel Castro in Cuba as Hunter S. Thompson offers commentary from the bar.

But moments like this are divorced from context, and raise many unanswered questions. Clemons never discusses how he spent decade away from the E Street Band or how he became friends with the Good Doctor. Too frequently the story is bogged down by diversions of pay phone conversations with Groucho Marx and competitive exchanges with Norman Mailer.

There is no doubt that Clemons is an intelligent man, filled with wit who knows how to tell a story. He is happy to take the reader into the Temple of Soul, the backstage sanctuary Clemons creates before each show, but unwilling to reveal everything that happens away from the music.

Clemons recognizes omitting the juicy bits undermines his purpose. At one point he jokes about writing another book that contains all the sex and drug stories from the early days and publishing it after everyone in the band has died, but realizes everyone has children and grandchildren and quickly recants. The decision is understandable, but the kid gloves weaken the saga and experience.

For example, we learn that Springsteen has two rules: don’t take drugs and be on time. Clemons reports that since he breaks one rule regularly, he is always punctual. Drugs, particularly marijuana, show up several times, but Clemons never explains his introduction to these experiences or their perpetual attraction.

Clemons is more transparent about his health problems. He had both knees and hips replaced prior to the “Working on a Dream” tour and underwent a tough rehab regimen before being able to perform at the Super Bowl. These issues, coupled with ruminations on the deaths of E Street veterans Danny Federici and Terry Magovern give the last third of the book a morbid preoccupation. What should be a celebration, feels like a premature wake.

The biggest problem with “Big Man,” however, is co-writer Don Reo. While most “as told to” authors stay in the background, Reo has no difficulty inserting himself into the story, bragging about his past as a television writer for “The Cher Show” and bringing “Blossom” to the small screen. Reo sometimes serves as an uber-fan insider, providing a third-party perspective on the inner workings of a Springsteen tour or an alternate angle on some of Clemons’ tales. Unfortunately, he’s too preoccupied with dropping names and gushing about how cool it is to be part of Clemmons’ entourage to be completely effective.

Reo’s interruptions also cause an inconsistent narrative voice. Clemmons’ story distractingly jumps between first and third person, depending on which author is helming the chapter.

Despite these shortcomings, “Big Man” is a breezy, entertaining read. Although it may have worked better as a series of blog entries or podcasts, hardcore fans will revel in hearing the man who defined “Jungleland” spin yarns.

(Below: Clemons reflects on the death of longtime E Street band member Danny Federici.)

Keep reading:

Review: Boss is Bigger than Big 12 Tourney (2008)

Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello – “The Ghost of Tom Joad”

Review: Springsteen’s “Dream” Needs More Work

Springsteen in the Waiting Room: Drop the Needle and Pray

Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part 1)

Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part 2)

More Bruce Springsteen on The Daily Record

Read Full Post »

(Above: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band back Chuck Berry at the 1995 Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.)

By Joel Francis

“Rock Hall Live,” an exquisite nine DVD box set of performances and speeches from the past 25 years of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies is a treasure trove for all music fans, but it should especially attractive to Bruce Springsteen fans. Springsteen appears on all but two of the discs in more than a dozen performances and nearly as many speeches. As the unofficial MC of the collection, Springsteen makes more appearances than anyone else.

On Monday, The Daily Record examined the first half of Springsteen’s performances on the “Rock Hall Live” box set. Today, we look at Springsteen’s appearance at the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his triumphant E Street reunion kick-off and sitting in with U2.

1995 – “Johnny B. Goode” (with Chuck Berry)

In the classic Chuck Berry film “Hail Hail Rock and Roll,” Springsteen tells the story of how he and his pre-E Street band backed Berry in the 1970s. More than two decades later, at the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Springsteen reprises the role here, this time with his E Street brothers in tow. Springsteen is relegated to backing vocals and rhythm guitar, but Clarence Clemons punctuates Berry’s lyrical bursts with stings of saxophone a la King Curtis. Sporting a goatee and ear-to-ear grin, Springsteen sheds his backup roll to peel off a brief solo after Berry’s duckwalk.

1995 – “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” (with Jerry Lee Lewis, rehearsal)

In this bonus feature Springsteen and the E Street band rehearses “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” with Jerry Lee Lewis before the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The musicians soundcheck their instruments as the crew preps the stage. There’s one dry run through the number, which is unfortunately edited out. Even though everyone is just messing around they still earn applause from the resting workers on the side of the stage. The footage isn’t incredible enlightening or interesting, but it’s worth watching once.

1999 – “The Promised Land,” “Backstreets,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “In the Midnight Hour” (with Wilson Pickett)

The E Street Band were on the cusp of their first tour together in 11 years when they teased the world with a four-song set at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. Although the entire performance is captured in the “Rock Hall Live” box, it is frustratingly spread across four discs. Springsteen calls each band member one at a time to join him during onstage during his induction to the hall. While there’s no rust from the decade apart in the opening “The Promised Land,” the band is still getting warmed up. There’s no sweat on Springsteen’s dress shirt at the end of the number.

One can tell from the opening chords of “Backstreets” that this is going to be a special performance. Springsteen unloads every ounce of his soul into the microphone and beats a great solo out of his battered Telecaster. The band is majestic and powerful and inspired the normally staid attendees to dance around their banquet tables.

As photos of a young Springsteen flash on video boards behind the band, the Boss drops to his knees as the classic Little Steven horn arrangement to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” kicks in. Sans guitar, Springsteen uses his arms, legs and hips to cue the band and animate the crowd. It works. Everyone onstage and in the crowd is firing on all cylinders when Billy Joel slips beside Roy Bittan on the organ bench and Wilson Pickett enters to deliver “In the Midnight Hour.” Pickett’s voice is as powerful as ever and Springsteen draws on his years of “Detroit Medley” experience to match that ferocity while delivering the second verse. The band burnishes their credentials as the best house band in the business. If anyone were looking to update “The Last Waltz” and showcase a classic ensemble and their influences, the E Street Band should be the top candidate.

2005 – “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (with U2)

“When I say that America is not just a country, but an idea, I’m thinking about people like Bruce Springsteen,” Bono says, introducing the song over The Edge’s chiming guitar chords. As the second verse starts, we catch a glimpse of Springsteen in the wings, waiting for his entrance. It takes the Boss a moment to get oriented before delivering the third verse, which kills the momentum of the performance. The moment is a bit superfluous – U2 doesn’t need his help – bit it’s a nice gesture. Springsteen matches Bono’s vocal passion and closes the performance on a powerful note.

Keep reading:

Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello – “The Ghost of Tom Joad”

Review: Springsteen’s “Dream” Needs More Work

Springsteen in the Waiting Room: Drop the Needle and Pray

Review: “Big Man” by Clarence Clemons

New DVD Set Celebrates Rock Hall Performances

More Bruce Springsteen on The Daily Record

 

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(Above: Bruce Springsteen isn’t even close to being the biggest legend onstage in this historic performance of “I Saw Her Standing There” from 1987.)

By Joel Francis

“Rock Hall Live,” an exquisite nine DVD box set of performances and speeches from the past 25 years of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies is a treasure trove for all music fans, but it should especially attractive to Bruce Springsteen fans. Springsteen appears on all but two of the discs in more than a dozen performances and nearly as many speeches. As the unofficial MC of the collection, Springsteen makes more appearances than anyone else.

The Daily Record previously reviewed “Rock Hall Live.” On Monday and Friday of this week it will examine every Springsteen performance on the collection. Although these performances are scattered throughout the box set, we will look at them in chronological order. On Wednesday, The Daily Record will review Springsteen’s concert at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. (NOTE: Tuesday’s concert was cancelled because of the death of Springsteen’s cousin and road manager. On Wednesday The Daily Record will discuss Stevie Wonder’s 1968 hit “For Once in My Life.”)

1987 – “(Oh) Pretty Woman” (with Roy Orbison)

The footage from these early inductions – 1987 heralded the Hall’s second class of members – is shaky and the audio is questionable at best. Surrounded by Bo Diddley, Smokey Robinson, B.B. King, Carl Perkins and scores of other music legends, and awestruck Springsteen pays tribute to the man he immortalized in the lyrics to “Thunder Road.” Springsteen is so excited he forgets the song in a couple places, but his joy at being able to celebrate with Roy Orbison is infectious. Two years later, Orbison was gone and Springsteen paid him another tribute by performing “Crying” at that year’s ceremony.

1988 – “I Saw Her Standing There” (with Mick Jagger and the Rock Hall Jam Band)

It takes the cameraman a few moments to find the vocalist amongst the throng of performers onstage, but the camera finally lands on Billy Joel, belting out the first verse from the peanut gallery. Mick Jagger takes the second verse with an assist from George Harrison. Somewhere onstage, Ringo Starr is one of several happy drummers, making the occasion the closest thing to a Beatles reunion to happen until the Anthology project. (Paul McCartney was feuding with Harrison and Starr at the time and opted not to attend.) After a guitar solo from Jeff Beck, Springsteen finally gets the mic for the third verse. Despite forgetting a few of the words, he exuberantly finishes the number with Jagger.

1988 – “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (with Mick Jagger and the Rock Hall Jam Band)

In his 2004 speech inducting Jackson Browne to the Rock Hall, Springsteen says he wishes he’d written “Satisfaction.” Sixteen years earlier, Springsteen realized part of his dream by performing the number with half of its authors. Surrounded by John Fogerty, Bob Dylan, Harrison, Beach Boy Mike Love, Jeff Lynne, Tina Turner, Ben E. King and keytar-rocking band leader Paul Schaffer, Springsteen trades lines with Jagger on the chorus. Sporting a gray suit and bolo tie and backed by E Street drummer Max Weinberg somewhere in the swarm, Springsteen is little more than a vocal prop in this chaotic number.

1993 – “Green River,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain” (all with John Fogerty and Robbie Robertson)

Springsteen plays rhythm guitar and adds backing vocals to this trio of Creedence Clearwater Revival classics. Still upset at his former CCR band mates, John Fogerty refuses to perform with Doug Clifford and Stu Cook. The tension between the three is evident during the acceptance speech, but it completely dissolves once Fogerty straps on his guitar and steps behind the mic. The songs don’t really need three guitarists, but Springsteen is elated to be performing with yet another idol and happy to let Robbie Robertson and Fogerty do all the heavy lifting. There is also rehearsal footage of Springsteen, Fogerty, Robertson and bass player Don Was playing around with different arrangements. Robertson is clearly in charge of the ensemble and again Springsteen seems content to observe. Springsteen does jump into action, however, to work out the harmony vocal line with Fogerty and to successfully lobby for the inclusion of “Green River.”

1994 – “Come Together” (with Axl Rose)

This is a bad idea on paper and it’s even worse onstage. Springsteen looks stiff, sharply strumming a black Stratocaster that matches his tuxedo. A few paces away, Axl Rose more relaxed wearing jeans and flannel as he bobs and weaves like a snake hearing some inaudible flute. This isn’t a duet so much as two performers doing the same song in a shared space. Rose’s voice is fine in its own context, but it’s rarely complementary. His performance here is so grating it makes one long for Aerosmith’s version (shudder). Springsteen seems relieved when the song finally ends.

Keep reading:

Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part 2)

Review: Boss is Bigger than Big 12 Tourney (2008)

Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello – “The Ghost of Tom Joad”

Review: Springsteen’s “Dream” Needs More Work

Springsteen in the Waiting Room: Drop the Needle and Pray

New DVD Set Celebrates Rock Hall Performances

More Bruce Springsteen in The Daily Record

Read Full Post »

rock hall dvds

By Joel Francis

When the Rolling Stones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, a tuxedo-clad Mick Jagger famously announced “Tonight we’re all on our best behavior — and we’re being rewarded for 25 years of bad behavior.”

That irony is on full display throughout eight of the DVDs in a new collection of induction ceremony performances released by Time Life and the Rock Hall this month. (A ninth disc features highlights from the 1995 Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held in Cleveland.) Despite white tablecloth banquet tables and austere surroundings, great music frequently prevails.

The “Rock Hall Live” discs each run between 75 and 90 minutes and have a loose theme of soul, punk or ‘50s pioneers and the performances span the first ceremony in 1986 to this year’s Metallica induction. The performances tend to fall in two camps.

The early ceremonies were all-star celebrations of the inductees’ songbooks shot with on a couple video camera. Through fly-on-the-wall footage we see Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry swap verses on “Roll Over Beethoven” and Little Richard rejoice through “I Can’t Turn You Loose” as Jagger, Bob Dylan, members of the Beatles, Beach Boys and other rock royalty stand shoulder to shoulder, holding mics and strumming instruments. It’s fun to play spot the artist during these early presentations. Sometimes the results are shocking, as when Stevie Ray Vaughan appears – playing a Les Paul, no less – during “Beethoven.”

As the ceremonies grew in stature, the performances were better preserved and choreographed. The past 15 years of inductions play like one massive VH1 special, makes sense as these events have been a spring broadcast staple on that channel for better than a decade. Although the production is smoother, the spontaneity is retained when Jimmy Page casually strolls onstage to join Jeff Beck on “Beck’s Bolero” and Queen jam with the Foo Fighters on “Tie Your Mother Down.”

With are more than 100 performances across the nine discs, some unevenness is expected. Some this is because of the health of the performers. These discs capture some of the final appearances by The Band’s Rick Danko, Ruth Brown, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Billy Powell and Johnny Cash. Brown and Powell are fine, but Danko and Cash labor through their sets. Sometimes the pairings misfire, as on Bruce Springsteen and Axl Rose’s duet through “Come Together.”

These missteps are minimized by the tight pacing of each disc, which moves from artist to artist like a well-paced soundtrack, with occasional snippets of introduction and induction speeches. (Complete version of selected speeches are available as bonus features.)  Despite the loose themes, each disc boasts a variety of guitar heroes, singer/songwriters, tributes and hits.

The best moments come when the performers reach beyond the formal atmosphere, like when Patti Smith spits onstage, or two kids bum rush the stage to help Green Day commemorate the Ramones. There is an impressive display of solos from guitar heroes Beck, Page, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Joe Perry, Carlos Santana, Peter Green, and Kirk Hammett, but the greatest six-string moment is Prince’s searing tribute to George Harrison on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Anchored by Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Harrison’s son Dhani, the immaculately tailored Prince soars on an jaw-dropping solo that is long on both melody and style.

Each disc contains about a several bonus features, which highlight backstage moments like watching Steven Tyler and Joe Perry induct Led Zeppelin from the wings of the stage with the band (and Willie Nelson!). It’s fun to watch Robbie Robertson, Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty work out “Green River” and to eavesdrop on Hammett and Perry talk about guitars, but one viewing is probably enough.

One downside to this set is the packaging and sequencing. Each disc is housed in its own separate, full-sized case. This takes up a lot of shelf space. It would have been nice if they all came bundled in one compact, cardboard and plastic unit like seasons of TV shows.

The greater inconvenience is the sequencing. Cream’s three-song reunion from 1993 is spread across three discs. Ditto for the Doors’ 1993 set with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder (three songs over three discs) and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street revival from 1999 (four songs on four discs). Culling the best moments is understandable, but it would have been great to get the multi-song sets in one place. It is also puzzling that less than two hours of the six-hour Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are included.

Oversights aside, any of these discs stand alone as a fun romp through rock history and celebration of its greatest songs and players across most genres and eras. At $120, this set isn’t cheap, but it’s a heck of a lot more affordable – and easier to come by – than the ticket that gets you a plate at one of those sterile, banquet tables. You don’t have to dress up, either.

(Full disclosure: The Daily Record received a complimentary review copy of “Rock Hall Live.”)

Keep Reading:

Rock Hall Celebrates 50 Years of Motown

Rock Hall Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock

George Kalinsky: Painting with Light (Rock Hall photo exhibit)

Bruce Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part one)

Bruce Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part two)

Read Full Post »

(Above: Cross Canadian Ragweed show off their new song “51 Pieces.” What’s with the Raiders shirt on an Oakie?)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The television show “CMT Crossroads” found a niche by pairing seemingly disparate artists like Taylor Swift and Def Leppard or Lucinda Williams and Elvis Costello for a one-hour performance. With their blend of arena-ready country channeled through classic rock radio, Cross Canadian Ragweed could fill a show all by themselves.

The Oklahoma-based quartet preached to a half-full Crossroads Friday night delivering nearly two dozen tracks from across their 12-year career and several songs from their just-released seventh album. Singer and lead guitarist Cody Canada played like a character from the latest edition of “Guitar Hero,” flipping between Eddie Van Halen’s finger-tapping technique, the heavy rhythm riffs inspired by Angus Young and subtle finger-picked solos a la Mark Knopfler.

Although it’s fun and easy, the congregated faithful weren’t playing spot the influence. They were too busy dancing in bliss, rocking to the music, hands raised, hallelujah. Their following is so loyal Canada could toss a lyric to the crowd and get it back twice as loud, but even he was impressed when the boisterous bunch sang along to material released just 10 days ago.

The high points of the two hour set came from opposite ends of the spectrum. “Anywhere But Here” opened like the country cousin of “Panama” and benefited from the extra muscle the band put into the extended reading. When snippets of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” appeared, it was less a cover than an assimilation.

Canada’s three-song solo acoustic set showed off his songwriting and storytelling chops. “Lonely Girl” was inspired by his sister while new number “Bluebonnets” was written for his four-year-old son. The trilogy of acoustic numbers was followed by a three-part medley Canada dubbed “The Trifecta,” which swaggered from rock to blues before ending with another new cut, “Pretty Lady.”

Bass player Jeremy Plato gave Canada a smoke break by handling lead vocals on two songs. His voice was a nice change of pace but too many bass solos – including two in the final three numbers – bogged the energy a bit. Ditto for the drum solo that preceded “Number.”

Ragweed’s set ended with guaranteed crowd pleasers “Carney Man” and “Late Last Night.” For “Time To Move On” Jonathan Tyler, who led the first act on the bill, joined the quartet on guitar. The night ended with a new song that felt old. Although it wasn’t officially released until Sept. 1, the crowd went ballistic for “51 Pieces” based on the opening lines of the story that introduced the number.

Lucero got sandwich billing between opener Jonathan Tyler and Northern Lights and Ragweed. The Memphis-based quartet sounds like the E Street Band via Uncle Tupelo and front man Ben Nichols sounds like Jay Farrar after too many cigarettes and way too much whiskey.

Their one-hour set was heavy on fan requests and included “Kiss the Bottle,””Raising Hell” and new material like “Darken My Door.” Although Lucero weren’t the band most of the crowd came to see, they did a great job of firing up the sizable swarm in front of the stage.

Setlist: Sister, Alabama, Burn Like the Sun, Mexican Sky, Deal, To Find My Love, Hammer Down, 42 Miles, Soul Agent, Anywhere But Here (including Won’t Get Fooled Again), Drag, drum solo, Number, (acoustic set) Let the Rain Fall Down (unsure if this title is correct), Lonely Girl, Bluebonnets, The Trifecta (including Pretty Lady), Carney Man, Time to Move On (with Jonathan Tyler), Late Last Night, (encore) 51 Pieces

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By Joel Francis

There is probably a good bromance film to be made about the relationship between male songwriters. They dynamics of a songwriting partnership mirror that of a romantic union – giddy joy at meeting a compatible soul, the steady rhythm of fruitful collaboration, independence and wanting to branch out and then either acceptance and adaptation or estrangement.

Some partnerships – like Morrissey and Johnny Marr – burn hot and bright, flaming out quickly. Others, like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, settle into marriages of convenience. Jack White is quite promiscuous as a songwriter, flitting from the White Stripes to the Raconteurs, Loretta Lynn and Dead Weather. Some songwriting partnerships turn into real marriages, like Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan or Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

Then there are the songwriters who have flown solo: Phil Ochs, Neil Young, But even the most ardent songwriting bachelors have had a subtle and unseen hands guiding their way and providing resistance to make the song better. Rivers Como had Matt Sharp, Jeff Tweedy had Jay Bennett, Stevie Wonder had Syreeta Wright. And Bruce Springsteen had Miami Steven Van Zandt.

Van Zandt made his presence in the E Street Band known immediately. He arranged the horn line in “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and contributed to the signature guitar line on “Born To Run.” For the next eight years his guitar was the muscle behind Springsteen’s songs, constantly challenging the band and its leader to keep moving and top themselves.

When Van Zandt left the E Street band in 1984, he was replaced by Nils Lofgren. Lofgren had established an outstanding reputation on the basis of his solo work and his stints with Neil Young and Crazy Horse. As a musician he was a more-than-worthy replacement for Van Zandt, but was too easygoing to musically aggravate his new boss the way Van Zandt had.

In 1995 Van Zandt returned the E Street Band and Lofgren remained. The pair has now spent more time in the band together than they did apart. But during that time, Springsteen’s concerts have turned into carnivals rather than escapades. Musicians that used to labor over albums as a unit now record their parts separately. In short, the E Street Band is less a team than an all-star squad of longtime ringers.

Although Springsteen concerts remain incredible experiences and his albums are very good for the most part, Springsteen’s songwriting lacks the urgency, grit and desperation of his early work. Since Springsteen’s early ‘90s retreat from the E Street crew, he hasn’t had a foil, poking, prodding and disturbing him.

When Tom Morello joined the E Street Band onstage in April, 2008, the long absent counterpunch returned. Although his career was considerably shorter, the guitarist had been searching for his own artistic gadfly since the break-up of Rage Against the Machine and the disappointment of Audioslave.

Both performers were familiar with the material. Springsteen wrote “The Ghost of Tom Joad” as the title song for his 1995 solo album and Rage Against the Machine released a covered it two years later. There are several elements in the live collaboration missing on either incarnation. Morello emulates Woody Guthrie in his solo guise as the Nightwatchman, but here and Springsteen add an element of longing and loneliness Guthrie would have liked.

Five guitars are played, but only two of them matter. Springsteen rips off a blistering solo with more intensity than anything he’s recorded in years – he came closest in his appearances on Warren Zevon’s farewell album “The Wind” – and Morello soars with passionate extended solo that combines Public Enemy’s Terminator X and Eddie Van Halen to end the song.

Springsteen originally wrote “Tom Joad” for the E Street 1995 reunion project, but didn’t like the band’s arrangement and set the number aside. That it took an outsider to help the group get the song right 13 years later points the direction Springsteen’s music should head. Too comfortable with the E Streeters, he needs an album-length collaboration with obvious disciples like the Hold Steady or a partnership with more-obscure-but-still-simpatico Black Keys.

Springsteen doesn’t need anyone reverential or deferential. He needs someone like Morello kicking his ass, forcing him to be better. Hopefully these eight tantalizing minutes are the first draft of an upcoming screenplay.

Keep reading:

Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (2008)

Review: Rage Against the Machine at Rock the Bells (2007)

Review: Springsteen’s “Dream” Needs More Work

Springsteen in the Waiting Room: Drop the Needle and Pray

Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part 1)

Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part 2)

Book Review: “Big Man” by Clarence Clemons

More Bruce Springsteen on The Daily Record

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bruce-dream

By Joel Francis

For someone whose live converts are so immediate and visceral, Bruce Springsteen’s studio albums often need time to marinate before digesting.

Unlike Springsteen’s previous album – 2007′s “Magic” – “Working On A Dream” has not revealed any new flavors since its release two months ago. The record is overcooked in parts, underdone in others and often lacking necessary ingredients.

Opening cut “Outlaw Pete” is an obvious overcooked number. Clocking in at eight minutes, the arrangement shows Springsteen’s love of Ennio Morricone, but nicks part of its melody from Kiss’s late-’70s disco hit “I Was Made For Loving You.” This faux pas would be more forgivable if Springsteen hadn’t borrowed “Jenny (867-5309)” for his previous album’s opener, “Radio Nowhere.” The real problem, though, lies in the words. Pete’s story is never as interesting as its musical setting, and the lyrics are flat-out lazy, rhyming “feet” with “Pete,” “Dan” with “man” and “side” with “slide.” It would be easy to mistake this as a children’s song if everything else weren’t so earnest.

On the other side, “Queen of the Super Market” is severely underdone. The attempted portrait of a supermarket as an erotic smorgasbord is even sillier in song than it appears on paper. Again, Springsteen’s word choice is questionable, dropping an f-bomb in the last verse so out of place it could have been a suggestion from Ryan Adams.

Most tracks fall somewhere in between. Lead single “My Lucky Day” is good, but doesn’t stand out as an evergreen concert staple a la “Badlands” or “Mary’s Place.” Ditto for the second single, “Working on a Dream,” which would work better without the whistled solo.

Several numbers find Springsteen flexing his pop muscles, singing sunny love songs in under three minutes. The best of these, “Surprise,” is little more than a constant repetition of the title in a Brian Wilson vein that works, um, surprisingly well.

When the band gets it right, the results are spectacular. “Good Eye” and bonus track “A Night With the Jersey Devil” are distorted blues stompers that could have appeared on a Fat Possum release. “The Wrestler” is a dark human portrait in the vein of “Devil’s and Dust” that deserves all the accolades and awards it received from its connection to Mickey Rourke’s film.

Easily the best song, though, is “Last Carnival,” a tribute to fallen E Streeter Danny Federici. The affecting ballad has a gorgeous vocal arrangement along the lines of “My City of Ruins” and poignant lyrics that use a fairground as a metaphor for lost friendship.

Ultimately, “Working on a Dream” works best as an appetizer that can tickle the taste buds at times, but is unsatisfying as an entrée.

Review: Boss is Bigger than Big 12 Tourney (2008)

Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello – “The Ghost of Tom Joad”

Book Review: “Big Man” by Clarence Clemons

Springsteen in the Waiting Room: Drop the Needle and Pray

Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part 1)

Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part 2)

More Bruce Springsteen on The Daily Record

Read Full Post »


Above: Watching the Dirtbombs rip through “Ever Lovin’ Man” at The Bottleneck was one of the Top 10 shows of the year.

By Joel Francis

(Note: All concerts in Kansas City, Mo., unless otherwise stated.)

10. Dirtbombs, The Bottleneck, Lawrence, Kan., May 25
The Dirtbombs didn’t get started until midnight, but no one seemed to mind. With barely three dozen fans in the club, just showing up was a sign of devotion.  For the next hour, singer/guitarist Mick Collins and his band plowed through solid cuts like “Ever Lovin’ Man” off their latest album, “We Have You Surrounded,” and soul covers like Sly and the Family Stone’s “Underdog” from their classic album, “Ultraglide in Black.” Collins hails from the Motor City and he embraces its every aspects, combining the soul of Motown with the soiled fuzz of the White Stripes and Stooges.

9. Carbon/Silicon, Record Bar, March 29
It isn’t often a member of the Clash comes to town, and even more rare they’d play a 200-person room like The Record Bar. With barely a nod to his old band, guitarist/songwriter/singer Mick Jones displayed the chops and charm that made him a legend. Read the full review.

8. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Qwest Center, Omaha, March 14
Bruce Springsteen closed his “Magic” tour with a three-hour performance at the Sprint Center. I didn’t make that one, but I did see his warm-up gig a few months earlier in Omaha. Springsteen and company treated the crowd to most of his latest album and liberally sprinkled classics like “Jungleland,” “She’s the One” “Thunder Road,” which featured a guest appearance from hometown boy Conor Oberst. Read the full review.

7. Rhett Miller, Largo, Los Angeles, April 11
The Old 97s had barely reconvened when Rhett Miller struck out alone for two nights on the tiny stage at Largo, Los Angeles’ legendary artist-friendly club. He dusted off several 97s favorites and debuted songs from the group’s upcoming album “Blame It On Gravity.” Miller also tromped through his solo catalog and treated the intimate crowd to his favorite covers. The appearance of pianist Jon Brion midway through the set was the cherry on the sundae. The two musicians renewed their musical friendship through songs like David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch” and Wilco’s “California Stars” that had the pair grinning like schoolboys. Miller announced he was recording the show for future release. Keep your fingers crossed this pops up.

6. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Granada Theater, Lawrence, Kan., Jan. 29
It was after 11 p.m. on an icy winter night when the Dap-Kings took the stage. Within minutes it felt like a hot 1966 summer afternoon. Clad in matching suits, their three-piece horn section complementing the three-piece rhythm section, the Dap-Kings – go-to performers for everyone from Amy Winehouse to Seattle’s Saturday Knights – settled into a solid soul groove. Moments later, the diminutive Sharon Jones skittered across the stage as if she were shot from a cannon. Like a perfect hybrid of James Brown and Tina Turner, Jones partied through songs from her three albums and taught the crowd a few new dance moves. The heat from the band must have pushed the overall mercury up, because when it was all over outside didn’t feel as cold.

5. Randy Newman, Folly Theater, Oct. 11
Randy Newman found a break from his day job scoring movies to make a quick run to the heartland and give his first Missouri show in a generation. Working primarily from this year’s “Harps and Angels” album, Newman’s solo set was stocked with more than two dozen catalog favorites peppered with hilarious asides, all performed in front of a sold-out, appreciative audience. Read the full review.

4. Robert Plant/Alison Krauss, Starlight Theater, Sept. 23
Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones may be beating down Robert Plant’s door to reconvene Led Zeppelin, but Plant would be better served sticking with Alison Krauss. With a muse mightier than his former bandmates can imagine, Plant and Krauss delivered two hours of spellbinding music with arguably the greatest backing band of all time. Read the full review.

3. Dave Brubeck, Folly Theater, Oct. 2
Dave Brubeck quit touring Europe a few years ago, so the 88-year-old jazz pianist’s occasional treks to Kansas City are even more prized. Most people know Brubeck from his groundbreaking quartet with Paul Desmond, but his new group is arguably as good. Randy Jones did more with the nine pieces in his drum kit than most drummers can do with triple the amount, while saxophone player Bobby Militello applied sheets of sound and originality to Desmond’s well-worn and much-beloved “Take Five.” The quartet encored with a brief, smirking reading of Braham’s “Lullabye.”

2. Radiohead, Verizon Wireless (formerly Riverfront) Ampitheater, St. Louis, May 14
Radiohead’s last concert in the area was on the “Hail To the Thief” tour and I have been kicking myself for five years for missing them. No longer. The band’s set burned with the intensity of a supernova, climaxing with “Fake Plastic Trees.” Early detours through the “Idiotheque” and all of “In Rainbows” made the evening both invigorating and draining – and just enough to hold me over until the next tour. Read the full review.

1. Tom Waits, Fox Theater, St. Louis, June 26
Hipsters, hippies, bikers and beatniks alike populated the sold-out congregation for Tom Waits first visit to St. Louis in a generation. He made it a night to remember, performing rarities like “Heigh Ho!” (for the only time on the tour), old favorites like “Rain Dogs” and new gems like “Day After Tomorrow.” Oh yeah, and advice on how to bid on eBay. Read the full review.

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