The Cadillac Three @ Iron City, Birmingham, AL, 8-25-2017

They’ve been called Bang Bang Bang, American Bang, The Cadillac Black, and now The Cadillac Three. I think this moniker will stick. They hail from Nashville but are more like Southern Rock than Country. Imagine Kid Rock meets Skynyrd. Their hair is definitely Seventies Rock hair. The crowd assembled here to see The Cadillac Three at Iron City on this Friday night could have easily blended in at an Allman Brothers performance in Piedmont Park.

TCT is fronted by Jaren Johnston on guitar and lead vocals, Kelby Ray on dobro and bass, and Neil Mason on percussion. Their first big hit was “The South” (2013), which gave them enough street cred to perform on an episode of Nashville.

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In an interview, I heard one of the band members state that “The South” is their “Kashmir”. This was a reference to Led Zeppelin’s signature song “Kashmir”. It takes mighty big balls to compare your band to the juggernaut of rockdom, especially when TCT’s first two LPs combined sold under 66,000 copies, but you have to admire their chutzpah.

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The Cadillac Three then followed with other charting songs “Party Like You” (2014) and “White Lightning” (2015). They all appear on the LP Bury Me In My Boots (2016). Prolifically the band released their third major label LP Legacy on August 25, 2017 which just happened to be the day of the show at Iron City.

So it was a festive celebratory atmosphere here and you could feel the buzz surrounding the album release. There were two opening acts but I’ve already forgotten their names. I came to see The Cadillac Three. When they hit the stage there was an immediate roar from the crowd and someone produced a vinyl copy of Legacy. The band members each signed the LP, then Jaren awarded it to a little cherub wearing a Nirvana tee-shirt. I know it sounds scripted, but I really think it was just a random act of kindness.

The place was full of energy for these outlaw rockers when they opened with the title track from Bury Me In My Boots. Then they ripped through an hour and a half of shitkickin’ tunes guaranteed to tear down the rafters. Between songs Jaren offered a prayer “Dear Lord, please forgive me for what I did at The Nick in my younger days”. The Nick is a dive bar here in Birmingham, so that prayer drew a roar of approval from the crowd. The Nick describes itself on their website as “Birmingham’s Dirty Little Secret”. Nuff said.

 The Cadillac Three has the sound, the looks, the youthful optimism, the charismatic front man, and the anthems to be really big. If so, I will brag about seeing them in a small venue. Or maybe they’ll drown in the vast sea of Nashville wannabes. Either way I’ll still be humming and singing the refrain from “The South”. Maybe it really is their “Kashmir”. Until the next concert, it’s time for my boot heels to be wanderin’.

George Ford

 

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Ted Nugent @ Iron City, Birmingham, AL 7-15-2017

 

Are you able to separate a musician from her or his political views? I have no problem doing so. Otherwise I would have missed seeing and hearing one of the guitar gods of my generation – Ted Nugent. The first 45 RPM record I ever purchased was “Journey to the Center of the Mind” by the Amboy Dukes. That’s Ted’s early band. I played that 45 so much that I was worried I would wear out the vinyl. So when I saw another copy in a cut-out bin, I bought it as a back up. If you look at the image I have posted here, you will see the first 45 is dull from dragging a diamond stylus over it hundreds of times. Of course that sounds quaint in the modern era when a few keystrokes gets you any song you want, but there was a time when you had only records and the radio. For the curious, the B-side is entitled “Mississippi Murderer”.

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As mentioned, Ted Nugent was the lead guitarist for the Amboy Dukes, a band named for a novel. They started playing local gigs in 1964 in Detroit. Hence the moniker to arise much later for Ted – the Motor City Madman. “Journey to the Center of the Mind” cracked the charts in the summer of 1968. It was their second, and biggest, single. That song helped define a genre. And that genre would come to be called psychedelic, garage, and acid rock. The trademarks were simple chord progressions, distortion, wah wah, and fuzz. A lot of fuzz. Feedback too. Moreover, the lyrics reflected the changing culture of the era. In the late 1960s, radio was dominated by AM bubble gum or R&B soul music. The FM dial was uncharted territory and fertile ground for this new psychedelic sound. When I reflect on that period I conjure up “White Room” by Cream, Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” and Jimi’s “Purple Haze”, among others.

Ted Nugent (aka The Nuge) played a Gibson Byrdland hollow body guitar through Fender amps. This produced his signature sound.

 

In the early 1970s Ted signed with Frank Zappa’s DiscReet Records label. He dropped the Amboy Dukes reference and became known simply as Ted Nugent. His usual band mates at that time were Derek St. Holmes on vocals and guitar, Rob Grange on bass, and Clifford Davies on percussion. This was the pinnacle of Ted’s “solo” career with AOR radio staples such as “Stranglehold”, “Cat Scratch Fever”, “Dog Eat Dog” and “Free For All”.

Then the late 1980s brought us Damn Yankees, a supergroup comprised of Ted, Tommy Shaw (Styx) and Jack Blades (Night Ranger). Their big hit was the anthemic rock power ballad “High Enough”. The guitar solo in “High Enough” is infectious, and every time I hear it I can’t stop myself from picking up my air guitar and playing along. Some of my friends have given me grief (since they are music snobs – you know who you are) because I enjoy Damn Yankees, but I continue to enjoy them and maintain them in heavy rotation.

Damn Yankees survived for only two releases, then Ted went solo again, hosted an outdoorsman TV show, a reality show, and got involved more and more in fringe political causes. I remember Ted appearing in an episode of That 70s Show and in the video for “Rockstar” by Nickelback (along with nearly every icon of pop culture). Ted became a parody of himself, which seems to be fairly common in the world of rock music – think Ozzy. The fact that Ted Nugent would be taken seriously as a political voice speaks volumes to how far we have tumbled into the rabbit hole. A parody indeed.

The day of the show at Iron City I received two texts. One warning me of flash floods (deja vu Dispatch show here a few weeks ago) and another, warning me of a laundry list of items which I could not carry into the Nugent show, including umbrellas during this monsoon. I find irony in most everything, but the fact that I was warned to leave my weapons at home during a performance from a guy who would not surprise anyone if he appeared on stage with a hunting bow or rifle was not lost on me.

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Outside Iron City, the marquee did not display “sold out” but inside it appeared to be the case. This crowd was very different from my other visits to Iron City. It reminded me of the crowd at the Gwinnett Arena (Atlanta) when I saw Kid Rock. I tried to strike up conversations, but there were no takers. It was a parade of T-shirts advertising a political stance or cause. I found it sad. I simply came for the music.

This was a competitive weekend for the Birmingham concert dollar, so Ted’s big draw at Iron City was commendable. There were big names at smaller venues around town, but none bigger than Birmingham’s answer to Bonaroo and Coachella – Slossfest! Yes, that is a real festival. And a pretty damn good one too. The name comes from the Sloss Furnaces, a national historic landmark and artifact from the iron and steel age, where the two-day concert takes place.

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This Nugent tour is called “Rockin’ America Again! 2017” and is quite ambitious for a 68 year old. Tonight was the fifth consecutive show, and it heads down the interstate to Montgomery tomorrow night. Ted is lean and active, and seems to enjoy his life – all important for longevity in the entertainment zoo.

Before I get into Ted’s performance, I want to tell you about Love Rat, the opening act. I rarely get worked up about openers. The last time I was excited with a warm up act was when The Impotent Sea Snakes opened for Iggy Pop at Center Stage in Atlanta, and that was a long time ago. According to the Urban Dictionary a love rat is someone who cheats or two-times in a relationship. According to the Concertalk Dictionary, Love Rat is a fresh alt-country band from Alabama (one member from Florida) with original material and a stage presence that crushes it. They played for only 30 minutes and I wanted more. I bought their CD at the T-shirt table and it has only two songs. I want more. They are unsigned as of this concert but I hope that changes. Their CD sampler is a live-in-the-studio production which includes “Devil”, a folk-country toe tapper, and “Howl at the Moon”, a nice rocker with unique harmonies and lyrical hooks. Look for them if you have a chance and visit their FB page. I wanted to learn more about Love Rat but they weren’t in a talking mood. Probably because I look like an insurance salesman or a dentist.

The base was fired up for Ted Nugent when he strolled out to a loud roar, right on time. He started in true Nugent fashion with the Star Spangled Banner, standing in front of a backdrop of a huge American flag and smoke. He played for an hour and 45 minutes with no signs of fatigue. In fact, Ted seemed to get more animated as the show progressed. He exclaimed “I love this shit!” a dozen times or more throughout the evening, and it seems that Ted really does love his craft.

The band on tour is a power trio with Greg Smith on bass and Jason Hartless on percussion. They use no video screen and no special props – Ted is all we needed.

Nugent did talk with his fans between songs – sometimes to introduce the song, other times to thank members of the armed forces and veterans, and a few times to push the envelope of civility a little too far. He made a reference to “the piece of shit who was in the White House for eight years” and he sang the European National Anthem by making the sound of bleating sheep. Other times he was more positive with his comments, such as telling us that he plays like every night is the most important night of his life, and every song he plays is the most important song. There were times when I thought “Shut up and play!” Kinda like when Springsteen goes off on a tangent and channels his inner televangelist to deliver extended sermons between songs. Shut up and play.

Ted also confided that every song he plays is a love song, but especially the next one. It was “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang”. A true romantic. Ted introduced “Stranglehold” as the “number one guitar riff in the world”. I love “Stranglehold” but the last time I checked, “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones held that number one spot. However, no one at Iron City challenged his statistic. Ted’s set list, his stage persona and his seemingly effortless guitar work made this a concert to remember in an intimate venue. I have seen Ted before in arenas. This was way better. Kudos to Iron City for an excellent sound system and technical staff. A high volume rocker like Ted can easily overload the system, giving fans a distorted mess. Not here.

Set List :

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Until the next concert, it’s time for my boot heels to be wanderin’.

George Ford

Dispatch @ Iron City, Birmingham, AL, 6-22-2017

 

Iron City was the ideal venue for Dispatch – large enough to accommodate their fan base but intimate enough to connect. I felt fortunate to see Dispatch, a band who seldom tours. They are a folk-rock, roots, funky band with heavy reggae influences and a moe.-like history. Originally a jam band from Vermont, they built a following based on college gigs and online downloads. Their watershed moment was Gut The Van (2001) which almost mythically defined Dispatch. Then they split up. Their “final” concert in Boston drew over 100,000. Not bad for an indie band.

I had heard a rumor about new Dispatch material and confirmed it by placing a pre-release order on Amazon. America Location 12 (2017) was in my hands in early June, two weeks before the show at Iron City. That CD played in my car the entire time preceding the show, so I probably listened to it at least 20 times. With each listen, I liked it more, and I wanted to be familiar with every aspect of it (I still don’t know the significance of the title). Of course the set list was heavy on the new material, with a nice sprinkling of the old standards and crowd favorites. Iron City was packed and appeared to be sold out, but I never got any official confirmation. The crowd size was even more impressive if you understand the whole story – the Birmingham area was in a tornado warning only hours before this show. There were power outages and roads were blocked by fallen trees.

The opening act was Jake Shimabukuro and he hit the stage on time at 8:00. Jake was announced as “the world’s greatest ukulele player”. When I heard that, I turned around and headed toward the bar, expecting a set which would include “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. Snap! was I wrong. Once I heard the electric ukulele opening notes to the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” I returned to the pit. Jake played for 30 minutes with a bass accompanist (no vocals) and ran through classics like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The crowd actually sang along with Bohemian, which in itself was a surreal experience (Queen-Ukulele-Singalong goes together even less than Puppy-Monkey-Baby). We would see Jake again when he joined Dispatch for a few songs. Brad also joined Jake for his last song “Hallelujah”. In case you are curious, the word ukulele is translated as “jumping flea”.

Dispatch started at 9:00 and played for over two hours. Tonight they were a five-piece, sometimes six. The members of Dispatch are multi-instrumental on a wide variety of instruments, including horns. The band we know and love has been Chad, Brad and Pete forever, but no Pete tonight. Pete is taking a year off to try to beat his clinical depression, as we learned from Brad when he announced the band members. Best wishes to Pete and his recovery.

This is what we heard tonight. By the way, Dispatch likes to mix it up from city to city. I checked the set lists from previous shows last week in Austin, Salt Lake City and Denver, and they are all different.

  1. Cover This
  2. Time Served
  3. Windy Like
  4. Passerby
  5. Be Gone  – first time performed live in concert
  6. Bang Bang
  7. Beto
  8. Flying Horses – with Jake
  9. Flag – with Jake
  10. Rice Water – with Jake
  11. Elias
  12. Only the Wild Ones
  13. Open Up
  14. Skin the Rabbit
  15. Here We Go – joined by a guest harp player
  16. Midnight Lorry
  17. The General
  18. encore – Out Loud – with snippet of Pink Floyd’s “Time”

As expected, the lion’s share was from America Location 12 and they were #3, 5, 10, 12, 14, and 16.

Dispatch is one of the most successful indie bands in history and proof that you can still make music and tour without selling out to the man. They have retained their souls, and the crowd reflects the vibe of the band. As I walked into Iron City someone was handing out copies of America Location 12 “for free or whatever you can pay”. Seriously. The band talks the talk but it also walks the walk, notably their benefit work for Zimbabwe and their Amplifying Education program. Not bad for a band that gets virtually no air play or label promotion.

My experience here at Iron City is hard to put into words because Dispatch is so unique in this world of TV-ready artists and instant Idols or Voices. A Dispatch crowd is equally unique. I have a habit of striking up conversations with other concertgoers while in line or between acts. Sometimes I get that look of disapproval, as if I don’t belong “at their concert” because I do not fit the demographic. Not tonight. I felt a sense of community.

Remember the early days of Napster and LimeWire? When you stayed up all night to be certain your songs cued up right and the downloads proceeded at a rate slower than a 1995 Crown Victoria in the left lane with a forgotten turn signal on? When you were worried that the Feds would break down your door any minute for downloading music? Those were the glory days of P2P file sharing and part of the reason for the success of Dispatch. I had a momentary flashback to that era when Dispatch played “Open Up” and “The General”. Good memories.

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A special thank you to Iron City for having the foresight to place a relatively clean beer can holder above and far removed from the urinals in the mens room.

Until the next concert, it’s time for my boot heels to be wanderin’.

George Ford

James McMurtry @ Saturn, Birmingham, AL, 6-15-2017

For the life of me, I cannot understand why James McMurtry isn’t a household name. Well, it is in my household but judging from the sparse crowd at Saturn last Thursday night you could say that his name recognition needs a bump. The open spaces on the floor at Saturn were as embarrassing as the open spaces at a Trump inauguration. The bartender told me that the concert venue here holds about 500. I don’t know about that but it looked like about 200 were here, and those who were here were treated to a stellar show at Saturn (pun intended). This place is small enough that the artist and audience can really connect – literally and figuratively.

Saturn is owned by Alabama native Brian Teasley (aka Birdstuff) who you may know from a band called Man or Astro-Man?, a Dick-Dale-ish sounding punk surfer group who I’ve seen in Atlanta many times. I don’t know if they currently tour but I saw them recently, maybe two or three years ago, at The Earl in East Atlanta. The sound system here at Saturn is sublime – what you’d expect when a musician owns the joint. The décor in Saturn, as well as the name, holds true to the science fiction and spaced out themes which were the hallmark of Man or Astro-Man? You almost expect to see George Jetson having a Martian Martini at the bar. Saturn is new. It opened in 2015 in Avondale, one of the cool hip communities of Birmingham.

I’ve enjoyed James McMurtry concerts in all kinds of venues in many different states of the Union and each time it’s been a near-religious experience. People who need labels call him alt-country, Americana, folk, and roots rock. I would call him an American treasure and a bard for our time. His father is Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show, Brokeback Mountain) and his mother an English professor who taught him how to play guitar at age 7. James attended the University of Arizona where he began to write and perform his original material. Then he moved back to Texas where he worked as a bartender (very important for song material) among other things. In the many times I’ve seen Mr. McMurtry perform I’ve never heard him mention his famous pappy. And James does spin a yarn or two on stage to give his audience background on his songs. But they’re never about Larry.

As it happened, John Mellencamp was working on a film based on one of Daddy McMurtry’s scripts, and James had a demo that found its way to Mr. Mellencamp. The film was the forgettable “Falling From Grace” (1992) but the soundtrack was (and is) absolutely amazing. On it, the song “Sweet Suzanne” is credited to Buzzin’ Cousins and is sung by Mellencamp, Dwight Yoakam, John Prine, Joe Ely, and James McMurtry. Mellencamp was so smitten, musically that is, by James McMurtry that he produced his first release Too Long In the Wasteland. The title track is worth a listen and has been a staple in live shows, including this show at Saturn. It is a rousing electric number and was the last song in the set before the encore.

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Since we’re on the subject of listen-worthy songs, your musical life will be improved if you go to YouTube or better yet purchase the releases that include “We Can’t Make It Here” and “Choctaw Bingo”. Then go “have yourself a time”.

And no whining about not liking country or even alt-country, or whatever the label-of-the-month is being used to describe James. It is quality music and genre-bending, and they happen to be two of my favorite JM tunes. I saw McMurtry and band perform “Choctaw Bingo” at a hole-in-the-wall club called the Red Light Café in Atlanta. As James introduced this crowd pleaser

“This is a song about the North Texas – Southern Oklahoma crystal meth-

amphetamine industry”

patrons were hastily folding their chairs and leaning them against the wall to produce a dance floor in front of the stage. An amazingly surreal sweaty hootenanny ensued. That was the first and only time I’ve seen people dance at any Red Light Café concert.

If you’ve never been to Austin, Texas go there. Soon. If you enjoy live music you owe it to yourself. The shirts say “Keep Austin Weird”. I hope so. Then visit the Continental Club on Congress Avenue. Sweaty hootenannies are the norm there. So is James McMurtry and band. When he is not touring he is bound to show up on Wednesdays around midnight. Even if he is not there, you will see musicians known and unknown who will blow you away.

James McMurtry is not an animated performer. He is a storyteller. His lyrics will take you places you’ve never visited before. His voice will weave tapestries and paint landscapes of winners and losers, of heroes and villains, and of regular folk like you and me. He does this with both boots planted firmly on the stage.

The show at the Saturn started low key and on time with Jonny Burke as the opening act. The crowd had only started to build and the few who were there were not very receptive. His songs were slow and melancholy. He played for about 40 minutes and actually picked up the tempo for his last two tunes but it was too late for a save. He should have started with them.

When James came out it was also low key but the crowd erupted for their champion. He opened with “Bayou Tortous” from Just Us Kids (2008), which is also the opener for Live In Europe (2009). The band, sometimes called the Heartless Bastards, is composed of Cornbread on bass and vocal harmonies, Darren Hess on drums, and Tim Holt on guitar and squeezebox. The career-spanning set list was expertly carved from the McMurtry catalog. “Red Dress” followed from Saint Mary of the Woods (2002), then the title track from Just Us Kids. Four songs in a row from Complicated Game (2015) were next. That most recent release came after a six year drought, but it was worth the wait. It’s quality, not quantity, that counts. Complicated Game is “about relationships, and the big old world versus the poor little farmer or fisherman” according to James.

The second half of the set included two more songs from Saint Mary, including “Choctaw Bingo”, two from Where’d You Hide the Body (1995), two from Too Long in the Wasteland (1989) including that title track, two from Childish Things (2005), two from It Had To Happen (1997) and one from Walk Between the Raindrops (1998). Truly career-spanning. Missing was “Out Here in the Middle”, another of my faves, and there was nothing included from Candyland (1992). Not a complaint – just an observation.

This was my third concert in my newly adopted home of Birmingham, each at a different venue. Saturn is by far my favorite, mostly due to the intimate size.  Even though the crowd was small to see James McMurtry, I sensed that everyone there was connecting – to James, to the music, and to each other. Stephen King called James “the truest, fiercest, songwriter of his generation”. I can’t argue with that.

Until the next concert, it’s time for my boot heels to be wanderin’.

George Ford

 

The three images of James with more facial hair (two of them signed) were taken by yours truly at shows years ago in Atlanta. In case you were curious.

 

 

Breaking Benjamin @ Iron City, Birmingham, AL, 5-8-2017

Iron City. For much of my life it meant a beer. Now it’s a concert venue. This was my first concert in this small hall and I like it, I love it, I want some more of it. Iron City holds about 1300 for a concert. The building is from 1929 when it was used by the auto industry. The exterior retains some vintage flair but the inside is modern. I suppose there’s not a bad seat in the house … if you are upstairs in the high roller section where there are seats. From my preferred vantage point in the pit, you stand. But Iron City did it right. The center of the pit is sunken with the perimeter being raised a bit. So even short people and Randy Newman can enjoy the visuals from afar. Also the bar is in the back (relative to the stage) and it’s open 360 degrees so you can see the stage even if you are in line. Then there are the video monitors throughout, except for the loo (management, take note).

Breaking Benjamin is from the little town of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA. I have friends from there. None are members of this band. If you watch the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul, then you know that Jimmy McGill (later to be Saul Goodman) had the nickname Slipping Jimmy. Why? Because Jimmy ran a scam where he feigned slipping, thus extorting victims to pay for his “injury”. Once upon a time some guy named Benjamin Burnley was in a band. He borrowed a microphone and proceeded to break it. From that point forward he was dubbed Breaking Benjamin. Hence the name of the band according to rock music legend. Mr. Burnley has the last laugh however, for he is the only remaining member of the band in this touring version. Blame Shallow Bay.

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The opening act was Red. This was not some random decision. Red and Breaking Benjamin are connected. Red was loud. Very loud. They were so loud that noise complaints were coming in from Nyle DiMarco’s house. Now for the connection : Red is from Nashville, and a founding member was guitarist Jasen Rauch. Rauch was a co-writer on Breaking Benjamin’s Dear Agony. So after the shit storm known as Shallow Bay, Burnley was the last man standing. You can research the story behind Shallow Bay if you wish. It’s all about testosterone and power. Rauch’s talents were enlisted in the formation of the new version of BB and he is a welcome addition. Rauch uses a guitar synthesizer to produce those signature sweeping orchestrals. Therefore, there is no pre-recorded nonsense in a BB live show. Red played alt metal fare for about 40 minutes and the crowd at Iron City loved it.

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The current members of BB are

  • Benjamin Burnley – lead vocals, rhythm guitar (1999–present)
  • Jasen Rauch – lead guitar, strings, programming (2014–present)
  • Keith Wallen – rhythm guitar, backing vocals (2014–present)
  • Aaron Bruch – bass, backing vocals (2014–present)
  • Shaun Foist – drums, percussion, programming (2014–present

Only a handful of bands are able to bring me to tears with their lyrics. Staind comes to mind. Another is Breaking Benjamin. I think it’s the combination of thoughtful chord progression and personal, meaningful lyrics. I wasn’t always a BB fan and I have my friend Gene to thank for the introduction (check out his review of Bryan Ferry on this blogsite). Twelve years ago Gene asked if I wanted to see Breaking Benjamin at the Masquerade in Atlanta. I knew a few BB tunes getting airplay and I’ve always enjoyed the Masquerade, if not for the music, for the vibe of the venue. If you’ve been there you know what I mean – a thyroid storm of the postmodern apocalypse.  The opening acts were the Exies and Silvertide. I became an instant Breaking Benjamin fan and downloaded their two available releases the next day while waiting for my hearing to return.

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So on a balmy spring evening in Alabama with a very diverse crowd, Breaking Benjamin transported all of us to the same musical place for an hour-and-a-half. I can’t remember attending a concert where everyone there knew all the lyrics to every song. I looked around the pit to confirm it. BB fans are righteously serious. BB opened with the commercial fave “So Cold” and sampled every release with a well planned set list. Midway, the band gave a nod to headbanger heroes from the generation before with a metal montage. It featured songs from Nirvana, Metallica, Rage, Tool, Pantera and even props to Darth Vader. We enjoyed. The last two songs were “I Will Not Bow” and “The Diary of Jane”. Both crowd pleasers, and a fitting end to another fine concert performance by (IMHO) an underrated band.

Years ago a friend criticized me for liking AC/DC. He said every release sounds like every other one. I told him “But I like that sound”. Same thing for BB. Music critics pan BB for having the same sound, but what if we like that sound?  I must add that Dark Before Dawn (2015) is a marked departure, especially in the vocals department. Bruch and Wallen offer more layers of vocals than before, and the backing vocals and harmonies are evident in the live show too. But the bones of BB are still there – the rich sweeping overlaid guitars interrupted by the crunch of power chords and growling vocals.

I am looking forward to more shows at Iron City. I have a ticket for Dispatch already and I’m sure there will be many more. Until the next concert, it’s time for my boot heels to be wanderin’.

George Ford

 

Alice Cooper @ The Alabama Theatre, Birmingham, AL, 5-2-2017

I don’t know who Seventies parents hated more, Alice Cooper or Ozzy, but they were both lightning rods for scorn. The crown probably goes to the Prince of Darkness but Alice is a close second. And who could blame them? The Godfather of Shock Rock, known as Vincent Furnier before he became Alice Cooper, entertained the masses with shows that featured guillotines, live snakes, straightjackets, tombstones and mutilated baby dolls. But no bats to my knowledge. I am happy to report that most of those props were on stage at the Alabama Theatre tonight.

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I had nearly forgotten about Alice Cooper, occasionally hearing the bolero snippet from “School’s Out” on TV commercials or maybe seeing a kid dressed up for Halloween. Then my friend Ed told me that he saw Alice Cooper in concert recently, and it was freaking amazing. He even added some superlative like “in my Top Ten ever”. Ed has been prone to dabble in bullshit from time to time, but when it comes to music he is a revered Jedi Master. So his testimonial was all I needed when I saw an AC concert poster in a window whilst walking in my newly adopted home of Birmingham, Alabama.

This would be my first concert in my new city, so I was pumped. The venue itself is worthy of mention. The Alabama Theatre opened in 1927 and has a capacity of a little over 2000. It was built during the Egyptian motif craze. King Tut’s tomb was discovered earlier that decade and it captivated the imagination of the entire world. Seems like every city has one of these gems, but not every city has the prudence to maintain their theater in the splendor of the period. This fantastic old space reminds me of the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. Alice Cooper and his band of crazies seemed out of place here. The house was not sold out. My unscientific calculation is better than half, but those who came were ready to rock and it felt like a sold out house.

Time travel back to the late Sixties/early Seventies. As a teen I would hang out at BKL Car Wash where my friend Tim worked. Tim introduced me to Ken who also worked there. Notably, Ken had the longest hair of anyone I knew then, down to the middle of his back. More importantly, Ken had the most amazing record album collection I’d ever seen with bands I did not know. He was kind enough to let me borrow whatever I wanted. That is when I discovered Alice Cooper’s “Pretties For You”, their 1969 debut release. I think the sleeve cover art is what caught my eye. I took it home, listened to it, thought it was garbage with psychedelic undercurrents, and dismissed Alice Cooper. Frank Zappa actually signed AC to his Straight Records label and released their first two records. Then in 1971 I’m Eighteen (also listed as simply Eighteen) hit the radio airways and I fell in love with AC’s new edgier harder sound. I turned 18 and graduated in 1972. I’m not sure if our high school yearbook officially listed I’m Eighteen as our class song but it was our class anthem for sure. It described perfectly the male teen angst and the plight of being “in the middle without any plans, I’m a boy and I’m a man”.

Every band needs a controversy or two for street cred. Alice Cooper’s first of many came in the form of the album cover art for “Love it to Death”, their third release and where I’m Eighteen resides. The original banned artwork features a photo of the boys with Alice holding his erect finger in a certain place. That album became an instant collectors’ item and one album that I guarded with my life. The cover of “Pretties For You” seems more prurient to me but it suggests that even the censors avoided that release.

AC_loveitcover

Alice Cooper had no opening act, thankfully, and hit the stage at 8:15 to a roar of approval. They opened with the industrial metal feel of Brutal Planet from the album of the same name (2000) and burned Birmingham with a set list of crowd pleasers, slowing down briefly for Only Women Bleed. My words cannot adequately describe the spectacle and carnage of an Alice Cooper live show. I can imagine the ancient Romans being entertained in a similar fashion in the Colosseum (except maybe for the fact that it was real in Rome). Do yourself a favor and attend an Alice Cooper show if you have the opportunity. Alice is 69 years old, so do it soon.

This concert included everything that our parents hated about Alice Cooper. We witnessed the beheading of Alice on the guillotine with the severed head paraded around and of course the live snake around Alice’s neck. Then there was my all time favorite AC tune performed in a straightjacket with the zombie nurse delivering an injection, The Ballad of Dwight Fry from “Love it to Death”. It doesn’t get any better than the repetitive classic refrain “I gotta get out of here”. That song is about real Hollywood actor Dwight Frye. The “e” was dropped by AC to avoid any legal issues with using his name. Alice Cooper actually began as the name of the band but was later adopted by you-know-who as his personal stage name, especially when he began his solo career in 1975 with “Welcome To My Nightmare”.

Four guitars, percussion and a charismatic vocalist, with one guitarist being a blonde vixen in leather. That is the formula for hard rock heaven. Nita Strauss has been a member of AC since 2014 when she replaced Orianthi. Guitar World Magazine ranked Strauss as the #1 Female Guitar Player. Purported to be kin to classical musician and composer Johann Strauss, Nita lived up to her heritage by torching the stage throughout the evening, often upstaging her boss. But that’s OK. And smart. Alice Cooper knows that aging rockers need to surround themselves with new young talent, and a little eye candy doesn’t hurt either.

So my first concert in Birmingham was a home run – well known property, but they crushed it nonetheless. The encore was 1972’s School’s Out containing the classic tongue-in-cheek lyric “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes”, paying homage to high school stoners everywhere. The band threw out their picks and sticks. Obligatory, I suppose. I caught a pick. I don’t know who threw it but I’m telling everyone it was Nita’s.

More concerts. Other venues. I have tickets for Breaking Benjamin and Dispatch, both at a small venue (different nights) in the coming weeks. Until the next concert, it’s time for my boot heels to be wanderin’.

George “Roll Tide” Ford

 

Bryan Ferry and LP @ Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN 8-2-2016

 

Howdy. I’m Gene, your guest reviewer for the evening. George and I have known each other since the mid-‘90s when we lived in the same neighborhood in Tucker, along with our friend Ed. The three of us have gone to quite a few concerts together, mostly at the Variety Playhouse or the old Music Midtown. Somewhere around the time we saw Wishbone Ash at the Variety a dozen years ago, we dubbed ourselves the “AHBs”, short for “asshole buddies”. If you know one of us, you know us all to some degree, and you will probably have no trouble understanding the relevance of the sobriquet!

This past Sunday my wife Terry and I drove to Nashville to spend some time seeing what had become of the city where she went to school (Vanderbilt University, class of ’73). We met up with our longtime friends and frequent travel buds Anne and Lane, from Florence, SC. A couple of years back we’d all gone to Parklife 2014 at Atlantic Station in Atlanta to see a bunch of artists I’d never heard of: Jake Bugg, The Lone Bellow, The Wild Feathers, The Weeks, The Shadowboxers, and LP. It was a pretty eclectic group, and we had a good time sitting in the shade in the common area on a hot, potentially stormy Sunday afternoon in September. Our friends fell in love with LP (Laura Pergolizzi), a pop/rock artist out of Los Angeles with a powerful voice who occasionally incorporates not-lame whistling into her songs. When they saw she was going to be in Nashville on August 2nd, they asked us if we wanted to see the city and the concert and we said sure. Now I liked LP well enough, but if I’d never seen her perform again I would have lived the rest of my life without regret (at least that one). So this concert was our friends’ deal, and I didn’t bother to ask about the venue or what other artists might be on the bill until we got to Nashville. (I can be very accommodating…sometimes.) It was then they told me it was at the Ryman Auditorium and she was opening for Bryan Ferry. Hey, I thought, this could be pretty good. I was cool enough to own Roxy Music’s first two albums…ON VINYL!! I liked Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure a lot. But I wasn’t cool enough to own any of their other albums in any format, nor had I closely followed any of the group members’ subsequent careers. I knew a little of Ferry’s solo work like “Kiss and Tell”, but that was about it.

So Tuesday night rolled around and we strolled from the place we were staying past the Ryman and landed next door in the basement of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, an historic country music venue opened in 1960 and located smack dab on Broadway, which if it didn’t have vehicle traffic would remind many of a countrified Bourbon Street. We had a drink and listened to one of the many bands doing a set for free at one of the clubs, working for tips, then we made our way across the alley to the Ryman, home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974. Now THIS was exciting. I would never be mistaken for a fan of country music, but this place has a history that extends well beyond that genre. Johnny Cash’s show was filmed mostly here in 1969-1971, and he hosted a plethora of folks the majority would never mistake for “country” artists: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joe Tex, James Taylor, Melanie, CCR, Arlo Guthrie, Ray Charles, Derek & the Dominoes, Neil Diamond. The list goes on, but I will mention just two more: The Cowsills and Pat Boone!! Today it hosts many types of shows; Coldplay, Foo Fighters and Ringo Starr have all performed at the Ryman.

The venue itself is pretty cool. Seating just under 2500, it feels pretty intimate for a place its size. Opened as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892 and revived and renovated in the early ‘90s, it has what I can only describe as unpadded wooden church pews for seating. Fortunately, they weren’t as hard on the back and butt as I thought they would be, and the Ryman folks do a good job of making sure people aren’t shoehorned into the reserved seats, giving you room to squirm and get more comfortable, even if you are still pretty close to your neighbors on either side. Our seats were in the balcony, almost dead center about three rows from the top, and yet still only 10 rows or so from the front edge. We had a great view of the night’s event.

Things started on time at 7:30. LP came on with her three-piece band and rocked through a set of 6 or 7 songs (I didn’t keep exact count. Sue me.). During her set I got an idea that tonight might be a little special. While some seats were still unoccupied, for the most part the house was full, and I’m sure most of the folks in attendance were there to see BF, not LP. And yet, each of her songs was received enthusiastically by the mostly middle-aged or older audience. I mean, really enthusiastically, compared to what you see for the vast majority of more or less unknown opening acts. She even got a well-deserved partial standing ovation at the end of her set.

She was off stage at 8:00, and while my wife and friends went out front to wait to meet LP, I watched the (minimal) setup required for Ferry. The Ryman’s stage is large, so much of the band’s equipment was already in place. When not watching that, I looked again at the latest playlists for Ferry posted on setlist.fm, struck by the fact that I was hopefully going to hear the same thing audiences in Boston and New York had just heard, somewhere around 24 songs, including favorites like “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”, “Editions of You”, “Love is the Drug”, and “Avalon”.

At 8:00, Ferry’s band made its way onstage to a good amount of applause. It consisted of three guitarists, a bassist, a keyboardist, a saxophonist/keyboardist, an electric violinist/keyboardist, a drummer and two backup singers. When they were ready, Ferry strolled on to the stage, and the place erupted with the first of many ovations. The band got right to it, opening with “Avonmore”, from his 2014 album of the same name, then “Slave to Love” and “Don’t Stop the Dance” before moving into Roxy territory with “Beauty Queen” from For Your Pleasure and “Ladytron” from Roxy Music. As the set continued, I decided that Ferry’s band was topnotch all the way through. They were tight and enthusiastic and played with real style. I was loving this, regardless of whether or not I knew the songs a lot, a little or not at all.

Ferry seemed in good form, not a lot of extra motion (hell, he IS almost 71, after all), but you’ll be disappointed if want an analysis of how much different or worse his voice sounds compared to his heyday, because this is the only time I’ve seen him. All I can say is he sounded pretty damn good to me. On several songs, he became another keyboardist, but for the most part he simply sang. His stage banter was minimal, mostly consisting of “thank you”, but he waved and smiled after every song, and the crowd ate it up.

GeneSetlist

As much as I liked and enjoyed Ferry, it was his band that knocked me out. The ten-piece outfit really was exceptional, in my mind. And they put up a hell of a wall of sound. Each member had his or her moment during the evening, but the clear frontrunners were Danish lead guitarist Jacob Quistgaard and drummer Luke Bullen. (My thanks to the website VivaRoxyMusic.com for helping me identify band members. While Ferry introduced each individually, it was hard to hear with all the applause.). But after Ferry, the star of the night was, hands down, multi-instrumentalist Jorja Chalmers, playing a couple of different saxophones as well as occasionally adding yet another keyboard to the mix. Slender and stylish, dressed all in black (an appropriate color for the venue and the city), she often moved front and center for her solos, and the audience always responded loudly and enthusiastically.

As I mentioned earlier, the demeanor of the crowd made me think this might be a special night in the way they responded to LP. Well, that was nothing compared to how they responded to BF and band. Each song received loud, sustained applause and cheers, something I have not seen at a concert in a long time, and many songs, like “Love is the Drug” and “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”, garnered standing ovations.

My favorite numbers:

The instrumental “Tara”, occurring about halfway through and allowing most of the band a short break, as the only performers on stage were Chalmers on sax, Quisgaard, and primary keyboardist Paul Beard. The song was haunting, with each of the three having extended solos.

“In Every Dream Home a Heartache”; after the eerie Ferry vocals over the 70s-appropriate organ dirge, when he finished with “I blew up your body…but you blew my mind” and the band kicked in (hard) on the mostly-instrumental finishing piece, the place exploded.

“Love is the Drug”, a real foot-stomper if there ever was one.

After 21 songs, Ferry left the stage to thunderous applause, but of course everyone knew there would be what has become the now-automatic encore that occurs regardless of how hard the audience urges the artist to return. But of course in this case the audience REALLY wanted the artist to come back, and since his band did not take a step towards the exit, everyone knew BF would reappear. He ripped through a strong three-song encore:  covers of Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Stick Together” and John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” (he did a pretty good job on the whistling parts of that song, but I think LP could have done it better!) and Roxy standard “Do the Strand”. Then it was over. Except…Ferry walked off stage to more huge applause and yet another standing O, then returned for one last song, another Roxy piece, “Both Ends Burning”. And then it really was over, after 25 songs and an hour and forty-five minutes of non-stop music. Ferry and his band appreciatively acknowledged the applause before leaving the stage

a final time, and we left the Ryman, heading to Broadway once again, this time to Mike’s Ice Cream to do a little snacking and a little people watching.

My only disappointment: no rendition of “Editions of You”, one of my favorite Roxy songs. It was replaced by “Do the Strand’, a pretty damn good song as well. Hey, you can’t have everything, right?

If I had to grade this concert I’d give it 5 out of 5 stars. Great venue, great opening act, great main act. And to think I didn’t even know much about this concert until 48 hours before it started! All in all, a truly unexpected pleasure.

Thanks to George for giving me the opportunity to review this show on his forum.

Gene Starner