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Posts Tagged ‘Van Halen’

(Above: Santana and Nas put their spin on AC/DC’s “Back In Black” on the “George Lopez Show.” Believe it or not, this is one of the better moment’s on Santana’s new album.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

It’s hard to believe it has been a ten years since “Supernatural.” Back then, Santana was just another fading Woodstock star. He has been living in the shadow of “Smooth” and “Maria Maria” ever since.

With a title like “Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time” one could be excused for thinking Santana’s latest album was a repackaging of “Oye Como Va,” “Soul Sacrifice” and the rest of the jams that made him a guitar icon. Instead we are gifted with an album much more panderous.

“Guitar Heaven” reunites Santana with label president/marketing guru Clive Davis for the first time since “Supernatural” and is the third consecutive album to follow its formula. The blueprint is simple: pair Santana’s guitar with some of the biggest pop voices of the moment in every genre. The twist this time is that every tune is a well-known cover, a great guitar classic, no less.

The result is a dozen pedestrian, uninspiring performances. None of the musicians associated with this project even pretend to muster the effort to add something new to these well-worn staples of classic rock radio stations. It’s hard to imagine anyone clamoring to hear Train’s Pat Monahan aping early Van Halen or anxiously waiting to see what Chris Daughtry could do with Def Leppeard’s “Photograph.”

Predictably, Davis invited Rob Thomas back into the fold, but this time the man who brought Santana his biggest hit is anything but smooth. The Matchbox 20 singer seems completely overwhelmed by “Sunshine of Your Love.” Joe Cocker fares better on the Jimi Hendrix staple “Little Wing,” but the performance still begs the question why anyone thought this project was necessary.

At best the outcome is merely redundant; at its worst it an embarrassment. The only inventive choices were including India.Arie and Yo-Yo Ma on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and rapper Nas trying to inject some hip hop into “Back In Black.”

Neil Young’s “Le Noise” is a true celebration of the guitar. For his 32nd album, Young worked with famed producer Daniel Lanois. Lanois’ productions are frequently criticized for their big echoy sound and stark separation of instruments. They can often sound like Lanois conformed the artists to his vision, rather than the other way around.

Although some of Lanois’ swampy trademark exists in “Le Noise,” his distinct fingerprints are absent for the most part. The reason is simple: there’s less for him to work with. All of the album’s eight tracks were cut live and feature only Young and his guitar. The result is a pastoral yet invigorating portrait of Young seated on his amp, volume cranked to 11, intimately and intently debuting his latest song cycle.

While the guitar makes all the noise, Young’s songwriting makes all the difference. Without a bed of strong material, “Le Noise” would be a curio, like “Arc,” the album-length experiment of feedback and noise Young released in 1991. These songs could just as easily been delivered acoustically. Fortunately, Young and Lanois muck them up with waves of feedback and distortion.

In the mid-‘90s, both Young and Santana were regularly releasing solid, if unremarkable albums that clearly came from the heart. Today their paths couldn’t be more different.

In movie terms, Young is the actor who with a questionable resume, but has remained unquestionably independent. Santana, on the other hand, resembles the washed-up actor willing to do anything to land one last big role.

But show-biz loves redemption stories. Let’s hope Santana has some Mickey Rourke in him.

Keep reading:

Review: “Neil Young – Long May You Run: The Illustrated History”

The Derek Trucks Band makes old-school rock new

CSNY – “Ohio”

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

 

 

 

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(Above: The only acceptable version of “Hoochie Coochie Man.”)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

A fun game has been going around the internet recently: Name 15 albums that influenced your taste in music today in 15 minutes. Because we never play anything straight up at The Daily Record, we twisted the rules a little and came up with 15 songs we dislike by artists we like.

  1. Led Zeppelin – “Stairway to Heaven.” Might as well get this heavy out of the way first. Classic rock radio has destroyed this great band’s best-known song. I’ve heard it so many times at this point I can conjure it up in my sleep. I never need to hear it again. Let me go one step further: I’d rather hear a half-hour live version of “Moby Dick” than have to sit through “Stairway” again.
  2. Joni Mitchell – “The Circle Game.” Joni Mitchell’s 1970 song about the cycles of life is actually a remarkable song. It works too well, though, leaving me completely depressed and feeling like I care about has decayed around me in just under 5 minutes. No wonder Mitchell selected this song to close her classic album “Ladies of the Canyon.” After this there’s nowhere to go.
  3. Beastie Boys – “Fight For Your Right To Party.” The Beastie Boys were a lot more creative and fun than the frat boy stereotype this dumb song earned them.
  4. Van Halen – “Love Walks In.” The Sammy Hagar period of the band is rightly painted as inferior to the original lineup, but you can’t help when you were born and I came of age right in the middle of Van Hagar. I never had a problem with Eddie switching from six-string to synths, but the sugary melody combined with lyrics about aliens made this song more than I could handle.
  5. Boogie Down Productions – “Jimmy.” Usually a master of the message, KRS-One’s sermon on safe sex comes off as both preachy and simplistic. The idiotic chorus destroys what little credibility may remain. The track did inspire the Young MC cut “Keep It In Your Pants” from his follow-up to “Stone Cold Rhymin’.” I wish I didn’t know these things, but I do and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
  6. Anyone – “The Long Black Veil.” First performed by Lefty Frizzell in 1959, this country classic has become a staple for Johnny Cash, The Band, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen and a dozen more. I can’t argue with any of those artists, but for a reason I could never put a finger on, it never resonated with me.
  7. Radiohead – “Creep.” This song introduced Radiohead to America, and for that I should be grateful, but “Pablo Honey” is the outlier in their catalog for me. In my mind, the catalog officially starts with “The Bends.”
  8. James Brown – “Killing Is Out, School Is In.” This song became the unintentional center point of Brown’s 2002 concert at the River Market. A lackluster set had already been derailed by a couple Janis Joplin covers by Brown’s then-wife and mayor Kay Barnes onstage proclamation of James Brown Day. Several years after Columbine, the message was not only no longer timely, but embarrassing. The song was later released as a single. Thankfully few heard it.
  9. David Bowie – “Changes.” Yet another song ruined by radio and turned into lazy shorthand for its era by television and movie producers.
  10. The Beatles – “The Long and Winding Road.” Dislike may be too strong a word for this song, but Paul McCartney had already delivered a better ballad for the “Let It Be/Get Back” project. This one feels like a syrupy afterthought to me.
  11. Steve Earle – “The Devil’s Right Hand.” This number brought Earle acclaim as a songwriter before he established himself as a recording artist in his own right. I think Lynyrd Skynyrd covered the same turf better with “Saturday Night Special.” The verses aren’t band, but the song is overly reliant on the repetitive chorus.
  12. The Who – “Behind Blues Eyes.” This sensitive number never seemed to fit in with the rest of “Who’s Next” and it seemed even more out of place as a single. Pete Townshend usually struck the right balance of being tough and vulnerable at the same time (see “The Song Is Over” or “How Many Friends”). He sounds weak and whiney on “Blue Eyes.” Limp Bizkit’s cover confirmed my instinct. Sympathy for Fred Durst? Never!
  13. Anyone but Muddy Waters – “Hoochie Coochie Man.” In the hands of Waters and the Chess studio pros, this is a blues masterpiece. For just about anyone else, it is usually a lame attempt for a middle-aged white guy to show he’s hep to the blooze. I’m looking at you Eric Clapton, Alexis Korner, Steven Seagal and Dion.
  14. Jay-Z – “Young Forever.” Alphaville’s 1984 hit “Forever Young” worked perfectly as the soundtrack to Napolean Dynamite’s dance with Deb. In the hands of Hova, however, it is ridiculous.
  15. Louie Armstrong – “What A Wonderful World.” There’s nothing wrong with Satchmo’s sublime performance. He manages to walk the tightrope between sincere and saccharine as the strings underneath support his presentation. Unfortunately, no one understood the song’s message, as it has a crutch when movie producers want to tug on heartstrings. Joey Ramone’s version was great upon release, but in the decade since it has become a hipster version of the same cliché.  I guess this leaves me with Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips’ weird yet heartfelt reading. I don’t think mainstream America is ready for that to be thrust down their throats – yet.

Keep reading:

Review: Flaming Lips New Year’s Freakout

Jay-Z – “The Blueprint 3″

Review: “Pops” by Terry Teachout

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(Above: Chickenfoot live it up going “Down the Drain,” one of the highlights of their performance Tuesday night at the Uptown Theater.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

On paper, there was a potential disaster: Chickenfoot, the hard-rock supergroup that includes members of Van Halen and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, ignored several of those groups’ Top 10 hits to concentrate solely on new material at their Tuesday night concert at the Uptown Theater.

However, what sometimes comes across as forced and stiff on album, was loose and fun as former Van Halen vocalist Sammy Hagar and bass player Michael Anthony, Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani tore through their new songs like a set of old favorites for a nearly sold-out crowd.

For the two hours they were onstage, the Uptown felt like a rock club. Throughout the night, Smith perpetually tossed drumsticks into the audience as Hagar signed autographs and slapped hands. The curtain draped across the back half of the stage pushed the band so close that Smith was able to pick out a pretty blonde in the front row and convince her to administer a spanking.

The night opened like the album, with “Avienda Revolution.” The second number, “Soap on a Rope,” featured a big greasy guitar riff that wouldn’t have been out of place in Hagar and Anthony’s old band. As Satriani reeled off one of his gravity-defying solos, he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Anthony, smiling and bopping like the two had played together since high school.

Anthony broke out the Jack Daniels bass for barn-burning “Down the Drain.” Hagar introduced the number saying it was born out of a studio jam, but the way the group changed textures and tempos while maintaining intensity proved that this band was more than a vanity project.

Satriani rarely works with vocalists, so it was interesting to watch how he interacted with Hagar. Typically, his fingers say so much it’s difficult to get a word in edgewise, but he served the songs well, tastefully stepping back during the verses instead of just spinning his wheels until the next solo.

“Bitten by the Wolf” was the lone number during the main set that didn’t come from Chickenfoot’s self-titled album. The bluesy acoustic number was well received, but the crowd tore the roof off singing along to the next song, “Oh Yeah,” which has generated some radio airplay.

After the obligatory Hagar car song “Turnin’ Left” -– an ode to NASCAR –- the Red Rocker finally strapped on an electric guitar for the closing ballad “Future in the Past.” He reached for the six-string again, playing lap slide to introduce “Bad Motor Scooter,” a number Hagar wrote with Montrose in the ‘70s. It was the lone nod to any back catalog.

The night ended with another car song, Deep Purple’s “Highway Star,” but the band lingered onstage long after the song was over. As Smith, Anthony and Hagar reveled in the fans, Satriani filmed the moment for posterity. The fun was so infectious, everyone was reluctant to leave and break up the party.

Admittedly, it would have been nice to hear “Dreams” or “By the Way,” but why look to the past when there’s so much promise in the future?

Setlist: Avienda Revolution, Sexy Little Thing, Soap on a Rope, My Kinda Girl, Down the Drain, Bitten by the Wolf, Oh Yeah, Learning to Fall, Get It Up, Turnin’ Left, Future in the Past/encore: Bad Motor Scooter, Highway Star

ckft

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(Above: “Possom Kingdom,” in case you forgot how it goes.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The Toadies’ career has been one of fits and spurts, so it was only fitting their concert at the Beaumont Club Thursday night be filled with stops and starts.

The Fort Worth hard rock quartet broke into the mainstream with their 1994 hit “Possom Kingdom” but didn’t get around to releasing their sophomore album until 2001, just in time for the band to break up. They regrouped in 2006 and cut their third album last year.

Just as most bands don’t wait seven years to deliver a follow-up, most also take their soundchecks before performing. The Toadies, however, let the roadies test their instruments for 10 minutes, starting less than a half hour into the 90-minute set. An hour later, the band aborted “Possom Kingdom,” the one song everyone in the room came to hear, to chastise a couple overly aggressive fans up front.

When the number resumed, it was a success for the same reason the band was even able to have a career at this point: The audience’s enthusiasm helped recapture any momentum that may have been lost.

The night opened with “I Come From the Water,” which fed the crowd’s hunger and got them involved early. The band knew just what the audience wanted – stuff from their breakthrough first album, “Rubberneck” – and gave them plenty of it. Before the evening was through, they’d played nearly every song of that release and a handful of tunes from the other two records.

The warhorses – “Backslider,” “I Burn,” “Away” – hadn’t lost any of their punch. The newer songs, like “Sweetness” and “So Long Lovely Eyes,” were cut from the same cloth and distinguishable only by the smaller number of people were singing along.

After waiting so long, the third-full room was appreciative of everything it got. The anthemic “Tyler” won back any goodwill squandered by the mid-set soundcheck. The band, meanwhile, worked out their sonic frustrations out with an especially angry “Velvet.”

Although most performances were taught readings of the album arrangements, the band took some time to stretch out during “Hell in High Water.” The new number started with an extended instrumental – too calculated for a jam, but looser than anything else played that night – and featured two guitar solos and another lengthy breakdown.

The band wasn’t shy about showing its influences. They snuck a snippet of “Eruption” into the closing of one number, and teased the audience with fragments of ZZ Top, “I Can’t Explain” and “Aqualung.”

Singer Todd Lewis summed up both the band and the crowd in the lyrics to “I Am A Man of Stone”: “You said baby don’t change/and I did not change.”

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Martha and the Vandellas – “Dancing in the Street,” Pop #2

By Joel Francis

Poor, poor Kim Weston. Had she not passed on this song, she may be remembered for that being Marvin Gaye’s first duet partner. Instead, Martha Reeves got to place another jewel in her crown.

Funk Brother Benny Benjamin’s great drumming and the incessant, propulsive tambourine get the feet going before Marta Reeves opens her mouth. But once she does, Reeves embraces every syllable with her full voice, squeezing each note for maximum pleasure. The single was released at the end of July, 1964, but its not hard to imagine that even in the dead of winter, legions of listeners would heeded Reeves “invitation across the nation” and joined her in the streets.

The growing race riots throughout America soon cast the song in a different light. (Five years later, the Rolling Stones recast the number into the dark, political anthem “Street Fighting Man.”) It’s hard to erase the imprint that history has left on the number, but the heart of Reeves’ words is utopia: Whoever you are, whatever you wear, wherever you’re from, get outside, grab a guy (or gal) and dance. “All we need is music, sweet music.” If only life were this simple.

Like many of Motown’s signature songs, cover versions abound. The Kinks and The Who cut versions earlier in their career. Both fail to capture the joy in Reeves singing and translate the large soul arrangement to a rock quartet. Artists as diverse as Dusty Springfield, the Grateful Dead and the Carpenters also tackled the song.

Van Halen propelled the song back onto the charts nearly 20 years after the Vandellas’ hit. Eddie Van Halen’s post-disco keyboard part transforms the arrangement as Diamond Dave – never one to miss a party – celebrates the lyrics. The song is a high point on one of the group’s most puzzling albums. “Diver Down” contains not one, but two Kinks covers (which should provide a clue as to why they decided to do “Streets”), a polka featuring Alex and Eddie’s dad on clarinet, and closes with “Happy Trails.”

No discussion of “Dancing in the Street” would be complete without mentioning the horrific, oh-my-god-look-away cover performed by David Bowie and Mick Jagger. While the intent was noble – a charity single for Live Aid – the results were anything but. It didn’t help that the song was delivered at the nadir of these legendary careers. Bowie had just completed his dance-happy “Tonight” album and Jagger was in the middle of “She’s the Boss” and attempting to break up his legendary band. The production is sickeningly slick and the vocals sound tossed off. Never ones to be swayed by taste, the public sent the song to No. 7 on the U.S. chart (and clear to No. 1 elsewhere in the world).

The most intriguing version of “Dancing in the Streets” may not exist. I maintain a secret hope that somewhere there is a demo version of Marvin Gaye’s original performance. I have no idea if tape was rolling when Gaye, who co-wrote the song with Mickey Stevenson, presented the song to Reeves or if he attempted to cut a guide vocal, but I am optimistic an unmarked reel in the Motown archives will be unearthed and reveal this treasure. I got my hopes up a few years ago when the “Cellarful of Motown” rarities compilation was released, but so far nothing has surfaced. In the meantime, Martha and the Vandellas will more than suffice.

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