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Blues legend Guy (who turns 80 on July 30) had the PNC Bank Arts Center crowd in his hands from the start. He kept everyone involved in the action, peppering his comments on the blues with some choice f-bombs in between classics such as his “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues” and Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years.” During a pause, Guy shared his philosophy with the audience: “Be what you want to be as long as you let me be what I want to be.” This prompted some raucous cheers.
Guy continued to milk reactions from the devoted (but far from sold-out) crowd of aficionados. “I’m a bluesman,” he yelled out to the audience, which responded with thunderous applause. “I’m trying to keep the blues alive.” He followed with interpretations of classics made famous by contemporaries Muddy Waters (the Willie Dixon-penned “She’s Nineteen Years Old” and “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man”) and John Lee Hooker (“Boom Boom”).
At one point, Guy strode from one edge of the stage to the other, playing in a spotlight. He then walked through the first few dozen rows of the audience, strumming and schmoozing with the near-hysterical fans.
On a blistering version of the Dixon-written “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” Guy even added a few bars from the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Purple Haze” to the mix. Noting the concert’s time restraints (he could have probably played all night), Guy closed his set with a soulful version of the title tune from his 2008 album, Skin Deep. He’s keeping the blues alive, for sure.
Headliner Beck, at 72, never seems to want to slow down. And on this night, he mixed and fused some brash blues classics with rock, soul and even a soupçon of hip-hop.
Beck began his evening with “The Revolution Will Be Televised,” from his excellent (and at times dark) new album, Loud Hailer, as flashing lights and an illuminated bullhorn (carried through the audience by singer Rosie Bones) set the atmosphere. “Live in the Dark,” “O.I.L. (Can’t Get Enough of That Sticky)” and “Scared for the Children” were also standouts from his first new studio recording in six years.
He swayed the crowd with classic renditions of signatures “Freeway Jam,” “Big Block” and “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers.” A stellar version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “You Know You Know” featured Beck’s guitar pyrotechnics, drummer Jonathan Joseph’s hyperbolic fills and bassist Rhonda Smith’s plucky solo.
Bones was nothing less than stunning on the new songs; she exudes the purring vocal delivery of a young Eartha Kitt merged with a hip-hop sensibility. The other vocalist in Beck’s band was former Wet Willie singer Jimmy Hall, who provided the heavy lifting on covers of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Superstition” and Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew” with a wonderful controlled fury.
Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” was another highlight, with Hall providing soulful vocal embellishment. Beck also performed Lonnie Mack’s “Lonnie on the Move” as a tribute to the blues-rock singer-guitarist who died earlier this year.
“Right Now” closed the set with a funky rap vocal by Bones — an odd choice, but it worked. Beck is not known for playing it safe, and he took some chances with the new material on this night. For his solo encore, he went with a bona fide classic: a touching version of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”
Guy’s roadhouse-blues flash combined with Beck’s stirring rock-blues-jazz mixture was a heady experience, to say the least.
— By Donald Gavron
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Bob Dylan’s 35th studio album is a sublimely dark ride for anyone willing to buy a ticket. “Tempest” (Columbia) is ruggedly poetic, self-indulgent, cryptic, and vitriolic.
Mortality has always been a major theme of Dylan’s fifty-year career. Dylan’s recent renaissance of well-received recordings — “Love and Theft” (‘01), “Modern Times” (‘06) and “Together Through Life” (‘09) — contains a sense of urgency sparked by a line from the song “Not Dark Yet” from Dylan’s Grammy Award-winning triumph “Time Out of Mind” (’97) — “It’s not dark yet/But it’s getting there.”
Longtime Dylan collaborators Charlie Sexton (guitar) and David Garnier (bass) are joined here by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos (guitar, accordion, violin) and others to render a rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues dirge composed on scorched earth following a Pyrrhic victory. The souls of the dead rise from the ground in a spirit dance that transfixes the listener, and the musicians all play with mud on their boots.
“Duquesne Whistle,” describes a train ushering the narrator to the beyond in a smoky honky-tonk rhythm. “Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing/Blowing like it’s gonna kill me dead.” The line “Blowing like she's at my chamber door,” recalls Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem “The Raven.” The raven, rapping at the chamber door, is death. But the final judgment does not appear completely dire. “I can hear a sweet voice gently calling/Must be the mother of our Lord,” is delivered in Dylan’s signature growl. The music bounces along in an almost cheerful manner and makes the song into a wistful contemplation of death.
The bluesy waltz “Soon After Midnight” is a typical Dylan exercise in ambiguity. Is the narrator a hopeless romantic? “I've got a date with a fairy queen.” Or is he a stalker looking to murder a rival? “My heart is cheerful/It's never fearful/I've been down on the killing floors.”
“Narrow Way” is an up-tempo country/rock tune that references the War of 1812. “Ever since the British/burned the White House down/There's a bleeding wound/in the heart of town.” Other lines such as “If I can’t work up to you, you'll surely have to work down to me someday” and “It’s a long road/It’s a long and narrow way,” seem to encompass the convoluted state of today’s political atmosphere. As with many songs here the music has a way of giving grim subject matter a wink and a grin.
“Long And Wasted Years” is a tale of remorse. The narrator is bent on confession. “If I hurt your feelings, I apologize.” Some of the lines used in this song, particularly “Shake it up baby/Twist and shout,” are incongruous and perplexing and the mood here is like a drunken jab aimed at a roomful of ghosts
“Pay in Blood” is one of the album’s highlights. It is a twisted tale told by a bitter survivor. “I've been through hell, what good did it do?” The lyrics paraphrase Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. “This is how I spend my days/I came to bury/not to praise.”
“Scarlet Town” is not a cover of Gillian Welch’s excellent far superior song of the same name, however the dark shadings of the lyrics share a mournful symmetry. Scarlet Town, in both cases, is not a place to hide from one’s fate. In Dylan’s interpretation, it signals, “the end is near.”
The melody of “Early Roman Kings” has a familiar chord progression borrowed from Muddy Waters’s “Mannish Boy.” The theme in Dylan’s song is once again mortality and hard times. “I ain't dead yet/My bell still rings,” Dylan croons despairingly. “They're peddlers and they're meddlers/They buy and they sell/They destroyed your city/They'll destroy you as well.” Was the songwriter reading up on Bain Capital when he wrote this?
“Tin Angel” is a meditation on murder and death involving a love triangle that could have been imagined by either H.P. Lovecraft or Poe. “She put the blade to her heart and she ran it through/All three lovers together in a heap/Thrown into the grave/forever to sleep.” Once again, Dylan offers no respite from murder, betrayal and dark obsessions of the heart
It takes a degree of stamina to sit through the 14-minute title tune, “Tempest.” The song concerns the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912; but it also strangely echo’s James Cameron’s film version of the event. If this is a grand metaphor about the demise of America, it certainly strains one’s patience. The alternate reality that Dylan has constructed here is like an interminable dream one is trying to wake up from. It may be the weakest cut on the disc, but it is not without humor or merit.
“Roll On John” is the best offering here and closes the album like the door of a funeral parlor after the mourners have left. It’s a moving tribute to John Lennon that contains many allusions to Lennon’s life and the Beatles. “I heard the news today, oh boy … Now the city’s gone dark/There is no more joy.” The chorus is like a prayer in stone. “Shine your light/move it on/you burn so bright/roll on John.” With this song, Dylan reminds the listener of just what a tragic event Lennon’s murder was over thirty years ago.
At 71, Dylan is one of the most respected songwriters in his profession and still going strong. This is another journey into the labyrinth of Dylan’s mind — and will do little to change the polarity between his hard-core fans and his skeptics. His response to critics (calling them “wussies and pussies” in a recent Rolling Stone interview) — concerned with his borrowings of lyrics and melodies; and his arcane references to events — is anything but contrite. The controversy surrounding his originality will never die and it will no doubt keep musicologists and lawyers busy for generations. If “Imitation is the highest form of flattery” as the designer Coco Chanel once said, then Dylan seems to have taken this sentiment to heart. If so, his musical cross-pollinations have produced some of the finest hybrids in popular music history.
For his fifth solo album, How to Become Clairvoyant (429 Records), formerBand guitarist/songwriter Robbie Robertson has assembled a group of crafty veteran musicians and savvy young players to form a memorable and almost mystical summation of a career that has spanned six decades and is a cornerstone of rock history.
Clairvoyant is admittedly Robertson's most personal record, and even though its arrival comes 13 years after the release of Contact from the Underworld of Red Boy, it was worth the wait.
In the 429 Records press materials, Robertson says the project was a "rising to the surface [of] personal experiences. I just found a comfort zone in expressing that … in a bit of a mysterious way." The genesis of the album began with Robertson and Eric Clapton exchanging musical ideas, then reuniting years later to flesh out the tracks they left incomplete. He describes the collaboration with Clapton (who co-wrote two songs with Robertson and penned another alone) as "guitars taking to each other."
"Straight Down the Line" is filled with whimsical dream-like imagery. The narrator meets an old bluesman with a walking cane who tells him "there's some tough choices to be made." Later, while taking refuge in a church with a gospel choir "singing of war and peace," he encounters a woman in a black robe who says, "I do not play no rock 'n' roll/I would not be moved to sell my soul/the demons are out tonight." A wonderful pedal steel guitar solo from Robert Randolph enhances the track.
"When the Night Was Young" is a standout about early days on the road and at New York's Hotel Chelsea with Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol. "We had dreams/when the night was young/We were believers … We could change the world/stop the war." It is a lament for a bygone era: "What is lost?/What is missing?" the narrator asks rhetorically.
"He Don't Live Here No More" is another autobiographical song about excess and change. During the '70s, Robertson admits to a lifestyle of "insanity and decadence" that he shared with his housemate and friend, film director Martin Scorsese (who directed The Last Waltz, The Band's farewell concert film, which released in 1978). "Survival was at stake," he concludes, and he abruptly changes course. Robertson's gut-string guitar solo adds an edgy texture to the track.
"This Is Where I Get Off" is the first time Robertson has broached the subject of The Band's breakup in a musical context. It is a subtle and poetic acknowledgement of the need to move on and grow, and the lack of acrimony gives the listener the feeling of two lovers parting.
"Fear of Falling" begins with a bluesy vocal by Clapton and signature keyboard work by Steve Winwood. Robertson plays off the fellow veterans so well that the song has intimations of such supergroups as Cream andBlind Faith.
"Axman" is a tribute to guitar greats Jimi Hendrix (whom Robertson remembers as Jimi James) and the three Kings (Albert, Freddie and B.B. King). Guitarist Tom Morello of Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine fame helps to conjure up the spirits of the players being honored.
The artistic mix throughout How to Become Clairvoyant is precise and controlled. Bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Ian Thomas add a rock-solid foundation to the tracks. Robertson says he found the guitar contributions of Morello and Randolph "fascinating … both of these guys do something that I don't understand … they play a different instrument." Singers Taylor Goldsmith, Angelyna Boyd and others bring a soulful texture to the undertakings. Marius de Vries (who co-produced the record with Robertson) contributes inspired keyboard layers to several tracks.
How to Become Clairvoyant is an expert blending of autobiographical songwriting and musicianship. The album washes over you like a welcome balmy night — each song has its own divine character — and is a statement of wonderment and mystery.
— By Donald Gavron
Whatever on thinks about Roman Polanski the man certainly knows how to make compelling films. Since "Knife in the Water" (in 1962) he has been giving viewers psychological horror films that remain among the best of all time.
In "The Ghost Writer," Polanski shifts his aim at a more subtle horror -- the criminal activities of world leaders that hide behind their so-called patriotism. There are a lot of allusions in this film, some obvious (to Tony Blair, ex-Prime Minister of Great Britain) and some ironic (Adam Lang, the ex-PM, is sequestered in a hideaway that suggest Polanski's own recent incarceration in his Swiss Chalet while under house arrest in Switzerland). The thrust of the story is a memoir Lang is writing. The first ghostwriter he employs dies under mysterious circumstances (Suicide? Murder?) and another, unnamed writer (wonderfully played by Ewan McGregor) is employed to touch up the script.
Soon accusations surface regarding Lang's involvement with the CIA. The "Ghost" is now under fire to complete the heavy-handed ms. sooner than expected to capitalize on the recent events. The manuscript becomes the focal point of the film. The Ghost's room is ransacked. Lang's subordinates are not quite what they seem (even his wife falls under suspicion), and there are telling clues in the ms. and research of the former ghost that suggest Lang is guilty of the crimes he so vehemently denies.
Without revealing much more of the plot, the film follows the Ghost on his mission to find the truth. But the truth has a cost, and what is the truth anyway? Polanski seems to be asking these questions of himself in addition to the actions of the leaders who spin the truth for their own expediency.
Pierce Brosnan must be acknowledged as a fine choice for Lang. His performance is one of his best. Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson and 95-year old Eli Wallach, who is a treasure to behold, deliver other delicious acting turns. There are holes in the script (let the viewer find them) and some stilted performances (Kim Cattrall and Timothy Hutton don't seem to fit), but Polanski weaves his spider's web of deceit and betrayal like few directors can or could. This is an exercise in style and paranoia, and a pointed examination of the people who shape political events.
Fans of Neil Young have come to expect the unexpected. He’s reached the point in his career (and life — Young will turn 65 on Nov. 12) where it becomes hard not to retreat into the past and repeat himself. Young is not one to stand pat or back down. He’s like the prototypical gunfighter of the old west, still fast on the draw, still on top of his game.
With Le Noise (Reprise), Young once again cheats the ticking clock, changing his frame of reference with a sonic assault that is beautifully structured by producer Daniel Lanois, whose credits include works byPeter Gabriel, U2 and Bob Dylan.
Recorded in Lanois’ mansion in Los Angeles, Le Noise, according to the producer, "is just a man on a stool and me doing a nice job on the recording." Modesty aside, Lanois brings a palette of sonic textures to Young's compositions that enhances without burying the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's signature guitar sound. Lanois refines but never obscures the bite in Young’s tales, enhancing the performer’s sharp-edged songs and masterful feedback.
Young’s major weapons of choice here are a hollow-body Gretsch White Falcon guitar and Lanois' custom-made electric-acoustic hybrid. Young almost but never quite disappears beneath Lanois’ tape loops, distortion and echo effects. Like a ghost haunting the mansion’s long hallways and cathedral ceilings, the overall sound is ethereal and at times eerie.
Love, loss and war are the main themes here, as the lyrics search for solid ground and stability in a world being torn apart by war and stripped away by the loss of friends (such as sideman Ben Keith and producer Larry Johnson). The opening track, "Walk With Me," is classic Young, a love story filled with lament and portent, an ode to lost friends and loves, a hand reaching out for comfort.
"Love and War" is one of the quietest and most powerful tracks here. "There've been songs about love/I sang songs about war/since the back streets of Toronto." Young's sentiments haven’t changed much since his days with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. War is still the wound, and love is the suture to bind it. It may be Young's most quintessential anthem on the condition of war. In the final line of the song, Young vows to continue to "Pray about love and war."
"The Hitchhiker" is an autobiographical search for wisdom after countless mistakes. "Then came paranoia/And it ran away with me," is just one of the afflictions the narrator encounters. The lyrics "I wish I was an Aztec/Or a runner in Peru/I would build such beautiful buildings/Like an Inca from Peru" are a sly reference to Young's 1982 recording Trans, the experimental album (inspired by the German group Kraftwerk) that bears the most resemblance to Le Noise, in which Young’s use of the vocoder and other electronic treatments probably drove David Geffen to label the singer "uncommercial."
The lyrics of "It’s An Angry World" hold out hope. "It's an angry world and everything is going to be all right." The same sentiment is embraced in "Someone's Going to Rescue You." The album ends with the song "Rumblin.' " The lyrics "When will I learn how to listen?/When will I learn how to feel?" bring a somber and thoughtful conclusion to a powerful album of engaging songs.
Le Noise (a play on Lanois’ surname) is a dance on the edge of a cliff, a concerto played in the heart of a hurricane, a levee valiantly holding off a tsunami. It is another successful experiment produced (along with Lanois) from the laboratory of Neil Young's mind.
— By Donald Gavron
Sting with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra
Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Bethel, NY
Friday, July 30, 2010
Sting’s quest to reinvent himself reached new heights in an invigorating concert Friday evening at Bethel Woods. Backed by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, he presented a 24-song set in a relaxed and balmy open-air concert that was intimate and compelling.
Sting looked and sounded great (wearing a black dress jacket, vest, and white dress shirt), and his current tour has brought him about as far away from his successful reunion with The Police (in ’07 and ’08) as one can get without switching galaxies. Although The Police catalog of hits were well-represented with five songs, the accent was on both popular and less familiar works from Sting’s 25-year solo career.
The 45-piece orchestra (“This is the biggest band I’ve ever played with,” Sting said during the introductions) was a wise choice since the violins, cellos, flutes and horns gave depth and texture to “Englishman in New York,” “Fields of Gold” and “A Thousand Years,” among many others. The orchestral arrangements (conducted by Steven Mercurio) were supported (but not underwhelmed) by Sting regulars like Dominic Miller (on acoustic and electric guitar), who pulled out all the stops on hard-rocking tunes like “Next to You” and “King of Pain”; and vocalist Jo Lawry — who offered up a stirring duet with Sting on “Whenever I Say Your Name,” from “Sacred Love,” Sting’s most recent record (2003) of new material. Ira Coleman played electric and upright bass and Cerys Green added clarinet solos on “Mad About You” and “Englishman in New York.” Rhani Krija and David Cossin played a variety of percussion instruments and were particularly effective during a rousing rendition of “Desert Rose.”
“If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” opened the concert and stirred up the near-sellout crowd. The violins and cellos adding a richness and density to The Police classic “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.”
Another highlight was a slow and lush “Every Breath You Take,” (a dual Grammy-winner for The Police in 1984) which seemed to obfuscate the original possessive/paranoid tone of the song, only to give it a more ominous feel.
“Moon Over Bourbon Street,” was given a theatrical Halloween night treatment, with Sting relating how a walk in New Orleans and a call from Mel Brooks (asking the singer to appear in a film called “Dracula Sucks” — “Which was never made,” Sting flippantly stated) inspired his tale of a vampire seeking love. The Stage was lit in blue light except for Sting, who wore a long-tailed Victorian jacket for effect. Over the stage three cube-shaped projector screens rotated and played video of a full moon and clips from F.W. Murnau’s classic horror film “Nosferatu.” The cubes were omnipresent during the concert, adding images by Lillian Bassman, Michel Gondry and Antoine Catala to the numbers. The stage design (by artistic director Robert Molnar) was spare and modernist in a Bauhaus-influenced style.
Sting has become a subtle raconteur on stage, delivering humorous anecdotes on his jobs prior to his music career (one in particular was “the worst f***ing job I ever had” — obviously, considering how things worked out) and a poignant tale about his sea-faring ancestry and late father (a milkman), who wanted his son to go to sea, which Sting interpreted as a wanting for him to do “something exciting” with his life.
One of his best stories concerned the country-tinged “I Hung My Head,” (which Sting proudly stated was covered by Johnny Cash) the origins of which began when Sting was a youngster watching westerns, especially “Bonanza.” Sting held up a DVD collection of the popular 1960s TV show, saying how he wanted to be a member of the Cartwright clan (“Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright … Sting Cartwright”).
“You Will Be My Ain True Love” was given an almost reverent treatment by Sting and Jo Lowry, but reminded everyone present of the simple beauty of the Oscar-nominated song (a duet Sting performed with Alison Krauss for the film “Cold Mountain”).
The show was anything but stuffy and serious. There were moments when the violin section locked arms and twirled around in dance and the bassists stood up to do “the wave,” a sporting-event tradition. Sting danced and swiveled his hips during “She’s Too Good For Me” and several other up-tempo numbers. The entire atmosphere was light-hearted but not irreverent. “Fragile” (a somber classic that is fittingly remindful of each new world tragedy) was played solo by Sting on acoustic guitar as one of the encores. He closed the show with an acapella version of the intro to “I Was Brought To My Senses.”
“I was born in 1951,” Sting recounted prior to the song “Russians.” “I’m 58 — don’t do the math,” he wryly stated, his trim, youthful presence saying otherwise. By constantly challenging himself one can only surmise that the math will always contradict Sting’s passion and drive for originality. The nearly 2-1/2 hours of entertaining and diverse music produced a fabulous and memorable evening from a consummate performer and his band.
If I Ever Lose My Faith In You
Englishman In New York
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
Straight To My Heart
Fields Of Gold
I Hung My Head
Shape Of My Heart
Why Should I Cry For You?
Whenever I Say Your Name
When We Dance
Next To You
A Thousand Years
Tomorrow We'll See
Moon Over Bourbon Street
End Of The Game
You Will Be My Ain True Love
All Would Envy
Mad About You
King Of Pain
Every Breath You Take
She's Too Good For Me
I Was Brought to My Senses (acapella)
— Donald Gavron, July 31, 2010
There's never nothing going on. That's a line from a favorite film of mine called "Peaceful Warrior," with Nick Nolte. This was also based on a book by Dan Millman. In the book (and film) Millman describes his recovery from a motorcycle accident that shattered his leg. At the time Millman was a gymnast competing for a spot in the Olympics. But the recovery was not only a physical one. With the aid of a garage mechanic/guru (Nolte) Millman learns about the value of things in life as he is guided on a spiritual quest of mind and body healing.
The days are 24 hours for everyone. What you do in those 24 hours is up to you.
92° today. It's been in the 90s for the last few days. But, as my friend Chris says, you don't have to shovel heat, so I'll take it.
Finished a story the other day. Reading, working on a novel, editing, writing articles for medleyville. If I stop to look at it my life is not too bad. There are others who have it worse, much worse. Too many things to do, too little time.
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