Journey | Lights

23 08 2010

I’ve written about all-time great guitar solos before, most notably Robbie Robertson’s on The Bands’ “Ophelia”. Well, here is another that I would put into that category. I’m not a huge fan of Journey for various reasons that I won’t elaborate on, but this song is a real gem from early in their career. It was written and recorded just as, lead singer, Steve Perry joined the group  in 1977. The story behind it’s origin is pretty cool. Perry has said that he wrote most of the tune while leaving in Los Angeles and it was originally about LA. In fact, the original lyric was: “When the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on LA”. He admits that it never quite sat right with him so he shelved it. Soon after, he joined Journey and moved to their home city, San Francisco. After a short time in the Bay City, it hit him… “the sun shines on the BAY”. And, like that, he penned a classic. Released on the bands fourth album, Infinity, it was the beginning of their most popular period as a band. To me the guitar solo has always stood out as the most compelling part of the song, which is played oh-so tastefully by lead guitarist and co-writer Neal Schon. Although the opening lick sounds a little too similar to the solo from Queen’s “Somebody To Love”, the statement as a whole is arranged really well. It’s succinct, lyrical, catchy and, above all else, memorable. As a little side note: Schon was actually one of the few original members of Journey. He was an alumni of one of San Fran’s biggest groups, Santana. After leaving Carlos & Co, they built Journey around his sound. I had no idea until just recently, but I’m not at all surprised.

Below is a live video that became the “official” video in the early MTV days. It’s decent if you consider the era. You may have to look past the poor audio dubbing but once you do, it’s pretty good stuff. To jump to Schon’s solo, go to 2:07 – 2:34.

References:

Official Journey Site

More info on Journey

More info on “Lights”

More info on Steve Perry

More info on Neal Schon

More info on Infinity





MGMT @ The Greek

21 07 2010

Last weekend we went to LA’s famous Greek Theatre to see MGMT. Let me start by saying, the venue is amazing. Being my first time the experience was fantastic. There is a picnic area outside where you can hangout prior to the show. If you plan accordingly you and some friends can eat and drink (and be merry) until show time. The only catch: no food or drink inside… so finish it all or, in our case, park close by so you can unload come show time. Once inside, the atmosphere is really cool. It’s one of those spaces that’s not too big but large enough to accommodate the crowds typical of big name acts. What really makes it appealing is that it’s completely open-air. Plus, the entire venue is at the foot of Griffith Park so it’s surrounded by tall trees that create a canopy along the perimeter.

As for the show itself, I must say I was completely underwhelmed. Surprisingly, despite being an ex-NYer this was actually my first time seeing MGMT (who currently reside in Brooklyn). Perhaps it was the timing but they just do not put on a good live show. After much thought I attribute it to 3 factors:

1. 80% of the audience is there to see them play their 3 HUGE singles from their first album, Oracular Spectacular. Which, they seem to want to put behind them entirely. Even with their newer material from their recent release Congratulations, the enthusiasm was lacking. In fact, when it came time to play “Kids”, they simply pressed the play button on an instrumental track and sung the vocals while the rest of the band threw random “souvenir” items (drum sticks, water bottles, towels) into the audience.  This same, barely interested, audience was quick to “beat the traffic” as soon as they heard each of the 3 songs. The attendance dropped by about 25% at the conclusion of “Kids”, which they closed the set with. They actually put on a pretty long encore and seemed to have a lot of fun with it. Which, got me thinking that maybe they use that portion of the show to connect with their more appreciative audience.

2. Their music is the type that mimics the album note by note. Because of that, it lacks that fresh feel that you supposed to get with a live performance. Although I’ve been to many other shows that do the same, this was worse than usual. It took me a while to figure out why but I think I finally determined that it’s mostly because of their instrumentation. Meaning, they have a lot of instruments/voices playing in the same or similar register occupying the same frequency or sonic space. On the album this is combated by some excellent mixing but in the live environment it doesn’t seem to translate as well.

3. This is more personal and connected to factor #1 but I think it’s valid nonetheless. To have that many concertgoers essentially sitting on their hands for everything but their favorite songs or even talking amongst themselves about seemingly everything but the show tends to heavily dilute the experience, not just for the band but for the rest of the audience. Unfortunately, crowd mentality being so effective really has a negative effect in this situation, often killing the entire momentum of the show. I understand that audiences are not always going to be 100% engaged and perhaps that’s as much the fault of the act as the individual but it nevertheless has an impact on the total experience… unfortunately for me.

Now having said that, there were some real high points. I own their new album but have had a tough time connecting to it. Perhaps it’s because it represents a large departure from their first album. I would liken the sound to more vintage electro-pop rock like David Bowie, Brian Eno/Roxy Music or even David Byrne. With this one it’s also a little more acoustic, which they blend nicely with some great surf-rock sensibilities. These two styles are a big change from their debut work but that’s not to say that they are better or worse, just different. What was nice about this show was how I was able to hear this material in a new context and it actually comes off way better than I had given it credit for. In that sense, the show was a complete success.

As a side note, they have a song called “Brian Eno”. It’s probably one of the better tunes form the new album. However as I was hearing it live, i couldn’t help but look around and think that 80% of that audience has no idea who Brian Eno is or how big a contributions he has made to the music community. Putting my snobbery aside, here is actual footage of them playing “Brian Eno” at The Greek. It’s a cool song and this video/sound quality is pretty good considering the source.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy seeing them play their biggies, “Electric Feel” and “Time To Pretend”.  Check out the footage of “Time To Pretend”:

I know many of you must be curious what this lack-luster performance of “Kids” was like… check out HERE.

References:

More info on The Greek Theatre

Official Site of The Greek Theatre

More info on MGMT

More info on Oracular Spectacular

More info on Congratulations

More info on Brian Eno





Them

19 07 2010

Here are a few great rare live videos from one of my favorites, Them. Most people don’t realize that Van Morrison got his start as the lead singer of this Northern Ireland/British Invasion band from the mid 60’s. Actually, when Van “The Man” joined the group in 1964 they were still called The Gamblers and he had to share the lead vocal role with guitarist Billy Harrison, while also contributing on saxophone and harmonica. It wasn’t long before Morrison adopted the position as all his own. It was during their regular gig at the R&B lounge of the Maritime Hotel that he really hit his stride. He later said of the experience, “Them lived and died on the stage at the Maritime Hotel”, which was meant to be commentary about how they never had a regular routine. Instead, they fed off the energy of the crowd, often ad libbing and stretching out songs, like “Gloria”, to as long as 20 minutes. Many of their tunes were even written right on that stage in front of their adoring crowds of mod kids.

After being “discovered” in 1964, Them toured extensively in addition to recording 2 full length albums, Them Again and The Angry Young Them, which were both comprised of their big hit singles as well as some previously unreleased tracks. Within that period, they played the 1965 New Musical Express (NME) Poll Winners Concert, which remains the finest gathering of British pop acts ever, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Animals, The Searchers, The Moody Blues, Dusty Springfield. The bands had been expected to play only their current hits but Them audaciously segued from “Here Comes the Night” into a 7 minute version of “Turn on Your Lovelight”. Shortly thereafter, critics characterized the bands lead singer, Van Morrison, as generating “more genuine soul than any of his British contemporaries”… pretty amazing.

Between May 30th and June 18th of ’65, Them had a brief residency at the famous Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. During the final week of their stint, The Doors (with lead singer Jim Morrison) opened for Them. Funny enough, this was the first time the Doors played at the Whisky, which would soon become their regular haunt. On the last night, the two bands and the two Morrisons jammed together on a 20 minute version of “Gloria” and then a 25 minute version of “In the Midnight Hour”. Them went on to headline at The Fillmore in San Francisco and then in Hawaii where things went awry. To be expected, it was the standard industry garbage with disputes erupting among both band and with management over financial arrangements. The band broke apart, with Van Morrison and Alan Henderson returning to Belfast, while Ray Elliot and David Harvey decided to stay in America.

Van has tried to put the Them break up in context by saying,  “There was no motive behind anything you did (back then). You just did it because you wanted to do it and you enjoyed doing it. That’s the way the thing started, but it got twisted somewhere along the way and everybody involved in it got twisted as well, including me.” [1967] “You can’t take something like that, put it in a box and place a neat little name on it, then try to sell it. That’s what they tried to do. That’s what killed Them.” [1973].

As I said way up at the top of this post, here are a few fantastic live performances from  Them in all their glory. The first is “Here Comes The Night” from that infamous concert at the NME Poll Winners concert at the Empire Pool in Wembley, England on April 11, 1965.

The second is the classic “Gloria” from a (rather odd) 1966 French TV performance. I’m especially confused about what the flashes of the donkey are supposed to indicate but despite that, it’s no less cool.

This last one is a bit more rare and, in my mind, really captures the essence of this band. It’s a 2 song open-air performance in London that includes “Call My Name” and “Mystic Eyes”. The latter features Van on harmonica… which I really dig.

References:

More info on Them

More info on Them Again

More info on The Angry Young Them

More info on Van Morrison

More info on “Gloria”

More info on New Musical Express

More info on The Whiskey A Go Go





Cinespia | Easy Rider

8 07 2010

Last weekend we went to see Easy Rider at Cinespia. This is one of the coolest things we have done since coming to LA. Every weekend in the summer they project films, usually old cult classics, at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. As creepy as that might sound, it is actually pretty amazing. You come in while the sun is still up and setup. People bring full picnics complete with food and wine… or beer, etc.  It’s pretty much an organized free for all. As you might imagine there was a lot of smoke in the air for this particular showing and, if I had to guess, some occasional psychedelics depending on which blanket you passed by. Needless to say, the crowd at Easy Rider included quite a few hippies amongst the usual enclave of LA hipsters and some regular folks.

If you haven’t seen this movie, it really is a classic. Beyond the counter-culture subtext, it’s a story of the road. Thinking about it now, there isn’t much dialogue. Although, the bit that is present is quite good. This story is mostly told through images with the help of sound, GREAT sound. On the whole, it feels a tad dated but that is part of the appeal and, of course, the cast is really great. It includes Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and an odd appearance by, none-other-than, Phil Spector. Fonda is particularly great in this one. I kept telling Lady GG how great he was all throughout, I really couldn’t help myself. Nicholson is, well, Jack: great as ever. The end of the movie is a little… should I say, rough. I won’t ruin it but, you should definitely be cognizant as a viewer. You certainly won’t see it coming, nor will you forget it.

Anyway, at the time of it’s release Dennis Hopper was applauded not just for his acting, writing and directing in this feature but the soundtrack as well. Back in 1969 it was considered groundbreaking, which featured music from The Band, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf and Bob Dylan. Dylan actually was reluctant to contribute so he had Roger McGuinn of The Byrds record his songs. In fact, for “Ballad of Easy Rider”, he only wrote the first verse and said, “give this to McGuinn, he’ll know what to do with it”.

The soundtrack was released along side the film in ’69 and rose to #6 on the album charts. There was a deluxe version released in 2004 that included an additional disc of music that appeared in the film but didn’t make the list on the first printing. I guess that’s one of the biggest shortcomings for vinyl, it would have taken 4 discs to accommodate the complete track listing… which you can find HERE.

When I think of Easy Rider, these next few tunes always come to mind… they’re still classics today. It really shows you, that Dennis Hopper was one clever dude, perhaps even genius. It’s too bad he’s gone but at least his work will always live on forever.

*I just discovered that the embedding has been dsabled on a few of these videos. Typically, I would find other versions but in this case I recommend you follow the links back to YouTube. Just click the play button, then use the link in the window to view it on YouTube… Sorry, but it’s worth it.

References:

More info on Easy Rider

More info on Cinespia

More info on Dennis Hopper

More info on Peter Fonda

More info on Jack Nicholson

More info on Phil Spector

More info on “Ballad of Easy Rider”

More info on “The Pusher”

More info on “The Weight”

More info on “If 6 Was 9”

More info on Roger McGuinn

More info on The Byrds

More info on Jimi Hendrix

More info on Steppenwolf





Home

15 05 2010

It didn’t take much to find our new home. Although we don’t move in until this summer, it’s a done deal. To honor the occasion here’s Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros’ “Home”. It’s from their 2009 release Up From Below. This LA based band has their own brand of indie power pop and a pretty weird (and cool) back story of how they formed. To give you a clue, there is no Edward Sharpe. He’s a fictional figure in the same vain as Steely Dan, acting solely as a frontman persona. The band itself is comprised of any where from 10-15 guys and girls depending on the situation. This is the official music video for “Home”. It’s a really great song that has a wild west shuffle feel to it and some really endearing lyrics. The video is one of the coolest I’ve seen in a long time. Not only do I like the vintage filter they used but the subject matter is so fun. I wish I was out there with them just have an good ol’ time. Overall it gets an A+ for the music, aesthetic and attitude.

References:

More info on Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

More info on the album Up From Below

Purchase Up From Below on Amazon





She & Him | Vol. II

26 03 2010

I just picked up the new She & Him album, Volume II, which came out earlier this week. For those that are not familiar, “She” is actress/musician extraordinaire Zooey Deschanel and “Him” is indie rock impresario M. Ward. She is not just an actress but also a gifted vocalist as seen in a few of her films. What most people don’t realize is that She also knows her way around the piano and banjo. M. Ward has made a name for himself with his own work but decided to partner with Deschanel after a chance meeting on set. She told him that She has been writing and recording demos for years but never thought much of doing anything with them. Soon after, She sent those recordings to Him and with a little tinkering they had Volume I. I have to be honest, I prefer M. Ward’s solo material to this… but only slightly. I think it’s because She & Him is a bit more alt country/indie folk than indie rock but it’s great nonetheless. I particularly like Vol. II. Below is the first single from the new album, “In The Sun”.

This is “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here” from last year’s Volume I.

*She & Him doing “I Put A Spell On You” live at LA’s Disney Concert Hall… great version of this classic song but, the recording is abbreviated as the taper was interrupted by a pesky usher and forced to stop filming.

* Zooey doing the War tune “Why Can’t We Be Friends” from the movie, The Bridge To Teribithia.

Fun Bio from the She & Him site

Find more on the official She & Him website

Volume II on iTunes

Vol I & Vol II on Amazon.com

PS- See the comments section of this post for a more comprehensive review… I guess I wasn’t feeling it until prompted by a really well informed peer and good friend PBeat & J.  ~GG








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