I say old chap, the closing ceremony was absolutely smashing!

13 08 2012

I’m not one for big extravaganzas and over-the-top, choreographed productions.  If the rock and roll is good, there’s no need for dancers, people flying around the arena on wires, lasers, explosions, fireworks and large props.  Still, the closing ceremony to the 2012 Olympics in London was a killer show.

A lot of the artists that performed were not necessarily my cup of tea.  I couldn’t even tell you who Jessie J. is, and I can’t remember the names of the hip-hop fellas that opened the show.  But, until the Brazilians came out toward the end of the show, there wasn’t a performance that wasn’t at least palatable.

Was there too much Jessie J.?  Probably.  She had no business signing “We Will Rock You.”  Why was Russell Brand, instead of a real singer, doing “I Am the Walrus”?  The Who — or the TWho as a friend likes to call them — performing the concluding numbers were alright.  But how did Roger Daltrey manage to mess up the words to “My Generation”?  There’s no way he hasn’t sung that song at least a thousand times.  Take That had no business closing out the show.

Those gripes aside, I loved the show.  Here’s a little run down of the highlights for me:

  • Imagine — It was great to see Mr. Lennon on the giant screen.  Normally, I ignore that song, but seeing it put on like that was incredible.  It was the first time that song has moved me in 20 years.  And how cool was the 3D puzzle picture of John’s face?  Fantastic!

  • “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” — Whoever decided to fit that number in is a genius.  What a fun performance.  Eric Idle really is a master entertainer, even as an older gent.  I smile everytime I think back to that piece.  Wonderful!

  • Freddie Mercury/Queen — The use of the clip of Freddie from an old Wembley Stadium show was super-cool.  As if from the great beyond, he was participating with the audience.  Brilliant.  Brian May and Roger Taylor were great.  Jessie J., as I said, really didn’t belong up there.  [She is easy on the eyes, at least]

  • Oasis…err…Beady Eye — Let’s face it: Liam’s voice isn’t what it was even 8 years ago.  He’s so nasally and seems to have lost his vocal power.  But, “Wonderwall” is still a brilliant song.  It’s almost the unofficial British national anthem.  I thought Liam and the band did a fine job and his voice was better than it’s been the last few times I’ve seen him perform.

  • “Newspaper Taxis” — Ryan Seacrest, or one of the other members of the American broadcast team pointed out that the symbolism behind the newspaper-covered cars and trucks, as well as the newspaper-themed stage ramps, was a tip of the cap to England’s greatest writers.  Sure, the little quotes in the newspapers on the stage were notable sayings of such people.  But everyone missed the most obvious meaning beyond the newspaper theme: tribute to “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds.”  London’s known for its newspapers — fish wrap! — and its busy traffic.  But where do you think the show’s producers got the idea to wrap motor vehicles in newspaper?  C’mon, it’s obvious.  The feature vehicle was also a taxi, in case you hadn’t noticed.  Fun concept.  The newspaper theme covered a wide spectrum of British cultural notes.

  • The Spice Girls — Look, I was never a fan.  But they’ve always been kind of fun.  Twelve, 15 years past their heyday, they looked better than ever and performed admirably.  I was worried they’d fly off the top of those fast-moving cars.

  • Fat Boy Slim — Cool.  Very cool.  I only wish he’d done “Weapon of Choice.”

  • I Am The Walrus — They nailed the feel of the song.  It was a slick, made-for-the-stage update of this classic song.  Russell Brand was a bit more of a circus ringmaster, a role that would fit better had they played “Magical Mystery Tour,” but the production was good overall.  It had a Cirque du Soleil vibe that worked.

Generally, the show was great, not only because of the highlights, but because it was a near-perfect blend of classic, retro and new British rock and pop.  George Michael, David Bowie, Pet Shop Boys, One Direction, Annie Lennox etc. — some of Britain’s most notable stars, young and old, were mixed together in a fine, cohesive stew.  I don’t care for the younger acts, but they all did fine.

I’m glad we recorded this digitally.  I might watch bits and pieces of it again in the coming weeks.

Way to go Britain!

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Happy Birthday Pete Townshend

19 05 2011

I dedicate to you what might be the best song you ever wrote and performed.





The Purple Gang: rock’s best rhythm sections

13 04 2011

To call a list a “best of” is usually a misnomer.  There is no “best of” anything, really.  It all comes down to opinion and personal taste.  But people know what is meant when that is said, so I’ll just stick with it.

I have my favorite bassist-drummer combos.  I know that other rock fans would probably not have some of these combos on their list and would add others that I hadn’t considered.  I do not necessarily rank them my favorites by technical proficiency.  I don’t know enough about jazz to talk about those guys.  And I’m not even necessarily a big fan of the bands from which these combos hail.  I know when I hear these combos though, for any number of reasons, I am moved by them. In rough order, they are:

  1. Entwistle/Moon, The Who — I don’t think there were better rock musicians at either spot than John Entwistle on bass or Keith Moon on drums.  Together, they were, I would argue, the most powerful force rock has seen.  In my book, they’re the best by miles.
  2. Jones/Bonham, Led Zeppelin — In terms of power, these guys were certainly miles ahead of just about anyone.  Their play was simply amazing.  You could tune out Page and Plant on many of the songs and just groove on the rhythm track.
  3. McCartney/Starr, The Beatles — This is where personal taste kicks in over something more objective and certainly over proficiency.  On bass, McCartney stands up to anyone, at least in his Beatles days.  He really was an innovator, though not because he was so fast or improvisational.  McCartney’s melodic approach was really the glue that held a lot of the Beatles’ best songs together.  Was Ringo one of the best drummers of all time?  I don’t think many fans or critics would say so.  He wasn’t even the best of his generation.  But he could hold his own.  Sometimes he was brilliant.  A great example of their power together is “Rain.”  Give it a listen.
  4. Lee/Peart, Rush — I’m not a big Rush fan, but recognize their skills.  Geddy’s a great bass player and Peart’s drumming — some people refuse to call him a drummer, instead favoring “percussionist” — is out of this world.  Peart might be the most technically proficient drummer in rock history, but I don’t find his work to have been as interesting and flavorful as Keith Moon’s.
  5. Sumner/Copeland, The Police — Was Sting a great bass player?  Many bass aficianados are dismissive of his playing; some think he was quite good in his heyday.  By himself, I do not regard Sting terribly highly, though he had flashes of brilliance.  But as a partner with Stewart Copeland, he made some great music.  I like Copeland’s drumming as well as anyone’s.  I recognize that Keith Moon did more with the instrument, but I get about the same amount of enjoyment listening to Copleland’s work with the Police as I do listening to the Who’s best drum stuff.   In the way that McCartney carried Ringo, I think Copeland carried Sting.
  6. The Funk Brothers — I wasn’t sure how to approach this loose group of combos, but I knew I couldn’t ignore them.  James Jamerson and Bob Babbit were sick good.  Jamerson, many bass players feel, was the best electric bassist ever.  They might be right.  Babbit is one of my favorites.  Check out his silky smooth playing on “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).”   I couldn’t tell you much about any of the individual drummers that rotated through the Funk Brothers.  I just know, as a corps, they did spectacular work.

 





I wish they’d died before they got old

7 02 2010

No, I really do not wish they had died, at least not literally.  But I do wish The Who had bowed out gracefully after the death of John Entwistle.  The Who was never really The Who after Keith Moon’s death, but Peter, Roger and John, with a succession of replacement drummers, managed to maintain some semblance of Who-ness.  Now, the once most powerful four piece band on earth cannot make music without a bloated backing group.

I personally don’t see the point in going to see them live.   They really are a shell of their former selves.  There’s no more heart, no more energy.  Here’s a bit of the Super Bowl performance.  Decide for yourself.





Tommy n’ Pink

27 09 2009

As  Who fan for 20-some years, I’ve been quite familiar with what is arguably the seminal rock opera, Tommy.  By contrast, I’ve only recently discovered Pink Floyd’s The Wall.  By radio play alone, I’ve heard and was very familiar with perhaps as much as half the The Wall’s songs.  But listening to it all the way through and reading up on it, I was surprised at the similarities in themes and even some of the plot between these two, which are among the most revered concept albums ever made.

To try to get a grip on these similarities, I did some extensive searching for summaries or synopses of the stories told by each album.  The following were, I feel, the simplest but most helpful.

TOMMY

British Army Captain Walker is reported missing in action during World War I, and is not expected ever to be seen again. Shortly after his wife, Mrs. Walker, receives this news, she gives birth to their son, Tommy.  Approximately four years later, Captain Walker returns home and discovers that his wife has found a new lover. Captain Walker confronts the two and kills the lover. Tommy witnesses this through his mirror. To cover up the crime, Tommy’s parents tell Tommy that he didn’t see it, didn’t hear it, and he will say “nothing to no one ever in [his] life”. A
traumatized Tommy becomes deaf, dumb, and blind.

Tommy’s subconscious reveals itself to him as a tall stranger dressed in silvery robes, and the vision sets him on an internal spiritual journey upon which he learns to interpret all physical sensations as music.

His thoughtless parents leave him to the care of his cousin, Kevin, who tortures him and later to the care of his uncle Ernie, an alcoholic child molester.  Uncle Ernie, like Kevin, takes abuses Tommy (in this case sexually) knowing he will not be caught.

Tommy’s brilliance at pinball is discovered, and quickly defeats the game’s tournament champion, making him an international celebrity, really like a rock mega-star.

His parents find a medical specialist to once more try to understand and cure his symptoms. After numerous tests, they are told that there is nothing medically wrong with him, and that his problems are psychosomatic. However, as they are trying to reach him, Tommy’s subconscious is also trying to reach out to them.  Tommy’s mother continues to try to reach him, and becomes frustrated that he completely ignores her while staring directly at a mirror. Out of this frustration
she smashes the mirror.  The smashing of the mirror snaps Tommy back into reality. Tommy’s cure becomes a public sensation and he attains guru-like status. Thereafter he assumes a quasi-messianic mantle and tries to lead his fans to an enlightenment similar to his own.

Tommy opens his own home to anyone willing to join him, and urges them to bring as many people with them as they can.  His home ultimately turns into a “holiday camp” run by Uncle Ernie, who is apparently motivated by greed and not spiritual enlightenment.  Tommy demands that his followers play pinball and blind, deafen and mute themselves in order to truly reach their spiritual height, but the heavy-handedness of his cult and the exploitation of its followers by his family and
associates cause his followers to revolt against him. Abandoned by his followers and worshipers, Tommy gains a new enlightenment.

Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_(album)#Story_in_chronological_order

THE WALL

From the outset, Pink’s life revolves around an abyss of loss and isolation. Born to a war-ravaged nation that takes his father’s life in the name of “duty,” and an overprotective mother who lavishes equal measures of her love and phobias onto her son, Pink chooses to build a mental wall between himself and the rest of the world so that he can live in a constant, alienated equilibrium free from life’s physical and emotional troubles. Every incident that causes Pink pain is yet another brick in his ever-growing wall: a fatherless childhood, a domineering mother, a country whose king signs his father’s death certificate with a rubber stamp, the superficiality of stardom, an estranged marriage, even the very drugs he turns to in order to find release. As his wall nears completion, each brick further closing him off from the rest of the world, Pink spirals into a void of insanity, cementing in place the final brick in the wall. Yet the minute it is complete, Pink begins to realize the adverse effects of total mental isolation, helplessly watching as his fragmented psyche coalesces into the very dictatorial persona that antagonized the world during World War II, scarred his nation, killed his father, and thereby defiled his own life from birth. Culminating in a mental trial as theatrically rich as the greatest stage shows, the story ends with a message that is as enigmatic and circular as the rest of Pink’s life. Whether it is ultimately viewed as a cynical story about the futility of life, or a hopeful journey of metaphorical death and rebirth, the Wall is certainly a musical milestone worthy of the title “art.”

http://www.thewallanalysis.com/Intro.html

Is it just me, or are there some amazing similarities?  Here are those that jumped out at me.  Both Tommy and Pink lose their fathers who fight for Britain in a world war.  Tommy’s father is only presumed dead so long for his mother to take a new lover; Pink’s father is forever lost.

Most startlingly, the cruelty of parents, relatives and authority figures in general twist and warp the minds of the characters.  Tommy’s parents, indifferent and distant at best, turn him over to be tortured by a bully cousin and sick and twisted uncle.  Doctors torture him with ineffective “cures.”  Pink endures his overbearing mother and viciousness of wicked teachers.

Stardom is the temporary salvation, or at least solace, of each character.  Their celebrity, Tommy’s as a “pinball wizard” (really a rock star) and Pink’s as a rock star, bring them the fame and glory, make them little gods.  As is often the case in real life, that glory eventually becomes their emotional and psychological undoing.

While both arrive at their end point by extremely divergent paths, both cult-like figures, are taken down by their followers.  Tommy’s holiday camp attendees overthrow him.  Pink is “tried” in some fashion of a court for what in essence amount to war crimes.   Tommy is booted from his throne.  Pink’s wall is torn asunder.

At the risk of overstating the importance or depth of these works, there’s no doubt a more scholarly look at them might find more interesting and detailed similarities.  I’m neither a music nor literature expert.  My eyes are untrained to find themes, moods, tone and so on.  Nevertheless, there appear to be enough points of likeness between Tommy and The Wall to merit mention.  I’d love to read anything others might have said on the subject and welcome lots of feedback.

Tommy

pink_floyd_the_wall





Cocktails in the blue, red and grey

12 07 2009

I just watched a gorgeous sunset over West Bay in Traverse City, Michigan.  The wat is a shimmering blue-gold-orange-white.  The waves lapping the sandy beach bring the kind of peace that’s hard to experience in the grind of daily life.

I don’t think a song has ever captured better what I’m looking at right now than “Blue, Red & Grey,” from the Who By Numbers.





Heatwave

24 06 2009

It’s 92 degrees here in Detroit!  I think “Heatwave” is appropriate today.