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Posts Tagged ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’

(Above: Pete Yorn and his band are still living “Life on a Chain” at the Voodoo Lounge on Feb. 20, 2011.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Pete Yorn and Ben Kweller delivered a two-hour clinic on rock songwriting in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd at Harrah’s Voodoo Lounge on Sunday’s night.

Kweller’s 45-minute opening set revealed his debt to the singer/songwriter movement of the early ‘70s. Alternating between acoustic guitar and piano, Kweller delivered several fan favorites, including “I’m On My Way,” “Thirteen” and “Penny on the Train Track.” Stripped bare, his songs could have slipped comfortably on the AM radio dial next to Carol King, James Taylor and Bob Dylan.

Highlights included the country folk of “Fight,” the luscious piano ballad “In Other Words” and a big moment on “The Rules” when Kweller stomped on a surprise pedal and turned his acoustic guitar into a snarling, distorted electric beast.

Although the low-key set initially underwhelmed the bar patrons, Kweller eventually won them over with his combination of good-natured banter and strong songwriting. By the final note the room was his.

If Kweller’s showcase was a bare-bones, how-to session, Yorn’s full-blown, full-band set delivered lessons on layering and arrangements.

After opening with three songs from last year’s self-titled album (his fifth overall), Yorn reached back to his debut, 2001’s “musicforthemorningafter.” “Life on a Chain” got the crowd fully engaged while “Just Another” showcased Yorn’s sensitive side.

Written almost entirely with major chords, Yorn’s songs are like a self-affirmation clinic with guitars. With a full workweek looming, Yorn sprayed sunshine on the unsuspecting crowd with a barrage of optimistic lyrics such as “seeing is believing” (“Murray”), “convince yourself that everything is alright” (“For Nancy”) and “life’s been great to me” (“Future Life”). A wistful look back at childhood (“Velcro Shoes”) was especially sepia toned, but none of it seemed particularly over the top.

The only exception to this was a solo acoustic reading of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Before playing the song Yorn told the crowd it was the first song he ever played before an audience, at age 15. He added that the lyrics didn’t fully sink in until he performed the song a few weeks ago at Carnegie Hall. This newfound understanding clearly weighed heavily on Yorn. The mournful, down-tempo arrangement was delivered with a sense of doom.

With or without his band, Yorn stayed primarily on acoustic rhythm guitar, so it was up to second guitarist Mark Noseworthy to provide different textures. The band’s not-so-secret weapon, Noseworthy played a mean slide solo during a cover of Junior Kimbrough’s “I Feel Good Again” and a delicate countermelody on “On Your Side” that helped the song swell like a poignant lump in the throat.

The brief 70-minute setlist was split nearly evenly between songs from Yorn’s first and newest releases, but Yorn seemed just about as tired of playing the old songs as the crowd was of signing them. Which means when he inevitably rolls through town again soon, everyone will enjoy one more cheerful romp.

Pete Yorn setlist: Precious Stone; Badman; Rock Crowd; Life on a Chain; Just Another; Velcro Shoes; I Feel Good Again; Rockin’ in the Free World; Burrito; Strange Condition; Future Life; On Your Side; Closet; For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is). Encore: For Us; Murray.

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 (Above: Neil Young leads Crosby, Still and Nash through “Ohio” during the CSNY2K tour stop in Toronto.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Several years ago, my dad and I drove out to Canton, Ohio to witness Hank Stram and Marcus Allen – two of our favorite Kansas City Chiefs – be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Since the activities were spread out over several days, we frequently had time to kill each night. One evening we saw Quiet Riot at the local fairgrounds. Another night we decided to drive an hour or so north and walk around the Kent State University grounds.

As we strolled around the campus, the emotions of that day – 40 years ago yesterday, came flooding back to my dad. He remembered hearing the news and seeing the photos for the first time, his anguish at the senseless loss of life and anger at the government cover-up.

Although my dad hated the war in Vietnam, he easily could have been on either side of this conflict. As a college student, he had no problem seeing himself amongst the protesters. But he also joined the National Guard to avoid being drafted, and could just as easily been holding a rifle. Dad’s unit was given riot training, and he was frequently the designated heckler. He remembers a couple of his fellow soldiers nearly snapped during the simulations. That’s all it would have taken, he says.

Sadly, the shootings at Kent State were not an isolated incident. Ten days later, two more students were killed in a similar skirmish at Jackson State University.

Emotions were fresh in my dad, but I was trying to remember nearly forgotten history lessons as we walked the deserted campus at dusk. We tried to piece together where the events may have happened. We found the memorial, but it was frustratingly incomplete. The names of the fallen were absent, as was anything to place the memorial in historical perspective. Once again, good intentions had been killed in committee.

Four dead in Ohio. How many, how many more?

We were walking back to the car when we finally found the memorials. Frequently, university parking spaces are blocked off for loading, traffic flow or some other purpose. At first glance, we thought the low, lighted cement pylons scattered throughout the lot were standard parking barriers. As we approached the car, however, we noticed they outlined several low, pyramidal plaques set into the blacktop. These inconspicuous shrines marked the final steps of the fallen. And to think I almost dinged one when opening the car door.

To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, they paved a historical site, put up a parking lot. I know it was a parking lot on May 4, 1970. And, yes, I recognize the scarcity of public parking on college campuses. But the fallen deserved better and Kent State should be ashamed of trying to tiptoe around history. It’s hard to believe we’re still scared of what happened nearly two generations later.

At least back then you could get a song like “Ohio” on the radio. Neil Young penned his response to the killings after viewing photos of the incident in Life magazine. The song hit the airwaves in June, 1970, the same month Edwin Starr’s “War” topped the charts. Try to imagine either song cracking Entercom’s bland, corporate playlist today. Our corporate overlords have no problem challenging the listeners’ moral sensibilities with racy (hetro)sexual lyrics, but are petrified of offending them politically. One need only look at the list of songs banned by Clear Channel in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks for proof.

Young cut the tune with his buddies David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. It took four years for the song to make it onto a proper album, CSNY’s stop-gap compilation “So Far.” I didn’t discover it until I picked up the two-disc Young anthology “Decade” in high school. I knew the song’s history, and respected its energy, but didn’t mean much to me beyond that until I heard it performed in concert.

The CSNY2K concert at Kemper Arena in 2000 was one of the worst shows I have attended. Our overpriced seats were a mile away. What little energy the performances had was lost long before the sound reached our little peanut gallery. Everyone seemed to be going through the motions. Stills was clearly burned out by having to play “Love the One You’re With” yet again, and Nash looked positively lost as the band tore into “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Despite the overall malaise of the night, there were two bright spots. Young’s solo take on “After the Gold Rush” performed on a creaky pump organ while Crosby and Nash added harmony vocals was transcendent. Then there was “Ohio.” The lyrics took on new meaning as footage from the day flashed on the screens surrounding the band, but what got me was Crosby’s cries of “How many? How many more?” The pain was still fresh in his voice and his chilling refrain gave me goose bumps. Ten years later, I still can’t listen to the song without thinking of that moment.

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