Friday, June 29, 2012

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band @ Etihad Stadium

Friday, 22 June 2012. One week ago. It was another rainy day in Manchester. Tonight capped off an amazing week of shows. Third time, and possibly quite a while before I get to see Bruce again live, so I wasn't gonna let the rain and cold spoil my mood. The 'night 2' rule was in place for the Manchester gig, and even though it was at a different venue, I knew Bruce would change up the setlist quite a lot from the previous night. After all, lots of hardcore fans would be traveling to this show. So how much better was Manchester? Sunderland last night was a brilliant show. It had everything you'd come to expect from Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, and then more. It was essentially a baptism; the Boss gave us a renewed sense of faith (in fact he does everytime we see him live). The crowd wasn't too bad either, and it sure as hell beat Hyde Park '09, but I felt there was a bit of energy lacking on the floor, and that was preventing Bruce and the band from putting on an outstanding show, or rather, a memorable show, one that would stand out from the rest of the shows of this tour thus far, and one that would be talked about in years to come.
Now, the Etihad gig was a memorable show. It was like a thousand times better than Stadium Of Light. Seriously. For those same tunes played tonight, their performances were notches above the previous night's. Bruce's voice held up well too. I won't go into detail about every single song. But the moment the band went into No Surrender instead of We Take Care Of Own as the second song, I didn't doubt for a second that tonight was gonna be ultra-special. There was an electricity in the air that I didn't feel in Sunderland. And it was all thanks to the crowd. The stadium was much more packed. At the Stadium Of Light, there was still a lot of space to move around at the back of the floor. Not here in Manchester. Almost everyone, including those way up in the upper stands were out of their seats and dancing. No one on the floor seemed deterred by the dismal weather. And this must have sparked something in Bruce and the band to give it their all tonight. They were much more loose. It made Sunderland seem like merely a warm-up for Manchester. During My City Of Ruins, Bruce said one thing he learned the last time he was here was that there were two football teams. This resulted in a mix of cheers and boos.
After the staple, Spirit In The Night, came a small barrage of the horns out of tune from one another. Fucking E Street Shuffle!! Played exactly like on the 1974 record, with an added Bruce solo and the drum/percussion duel. After the usual Jack Of All Trades came the highest point of the show, which lasted for the next half an hour or so. Atlantic City. I was brought up on the Live In NYC version (the first album that got me into Bruce), so yeah, definitely great to finally hear it live. The beginning of the next song didn't sound very familiar, as professor Roy Bittan played the opening notes. After ten seconds, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It was the fucking 1978 intro to Prove It All Night. Not to over-hype the whole thing, but I felt like I unintentionally stumbled upon the live Springsteen holy grail. Bruce's sloppily excellent guitar solo, matched with Roy's underlying piano and Max's drums created a glorious sound that had a hypnotizing effect on me. The intro lasted for at least three minutes, before the band exploded into the song. And then the crowd exploded (before that, other than those in the pit, most weren't sure what they were hearing exactly). I almost got whiplash. Bruce let Nils take closing solo. Thanks to the fan in the pit who requested this.
Two Hearts might have been another request too. Again, I was schooled on the Live In NYC album. Outstanding live. The crowd were really into this. Bruce and Little Steven did the little Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell It Takes Two extended outtro, which certainly made my day. It looked like Steve was having more fun than anyone else on that stage, so Bruce decided to call an audible: "Stevie double-header!". You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) kept the audience on their toes, including a hilarious dialogue between Bruce and Stevie. Lo and behold, it also featured the "Hey you, get out of the car!" line from its very early unreleased incarnation only found on bootleg. And the fun just continued on into Darlington County, subbing in for Working On The Highway from the previous night, complete with the Honky Tonk Woman intro. Yet another great Jake Clemons solo in the books.
This time on Waitin' On A Sunny Day, Bruce brought up onstage a twelve, thirteen year-old boy from the extreme right side of the pit. He wore a pretty cool t-shirt. And he sang the chorus as if he had been rehearsing for this moment a long time. And at the end, he lifted his arms up, exclaiming "E Street Band!!" into the mike. Fucking awesome, this kid. After Waitin', the band stopped and I knew we weren't gonna get The Promised Land. Holy shit, it was Save My Love!! Only played for the third time so far. Bruce dedicated it to those who traveled far and wide to be here tonight. At this point in the tour, getting anything from The Promise album is always a special thing, because they seldom play anything from there. There was an extended outtro with a new horns arrangement. If this weren't enough, Bruce sat by the piano next, and churned out The Promise (fourth time this tour). I was so excited I was speechless then. Just fucking amazing. I was glad there were no drunks or loud-talkers around me, so I was able to soak in every second of it.
Tonight's Land Of Hope And Dreams seemed more transcendent. It felt like the greatest church gathering ever; we were the congregation, almost 60,000 strong, and Bruce was the most charismatic preacher ever. I will never be able to listen to Land the same way again now. I really thought we were gonna get Rocky Ground and Born In The U.S.A. this time, but we had again Thunder Road going into Born To Run. I'll take the pairing of two of the greatest crafted rock songs ever made by man any day. Bruce gave Hungry Heart a rest and let out Bobby Jean, another crowd-favorite. Then came the fifth and final song off The River, the ever-delightful Cadillac Ranch. Haven't heard this one in donkey ages. In fact, I didn't listen to any Springsteen music for more than a week prior to the shows; a little 'superstition' of mine, but also to psyche myself up. 
Tonight's Dancing In The Dark was much longer. Bruce brought a young lady up who requested to dance with Jake. It was very funny, because I believed she was trying to do it like Courtney Cox, but ended up with something that resembled more of an aerobics move than a dance. Anyway, an even funnier moment was when while this was happening, Bruce picked up this plum lady dressed in this one-piece union jack pajamas (!) to dance with him. Smart move dressing outrageously; there's no way Bruce wouldn't see you under his nose. It was nice to see her so ecstatic onstage. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out here was also much longer. Bruce, already drenched from the off-and-on rainfall, stood on Roy's piano, and did a striptease, a tour premiere in itself! It started becoming funny when his vest got stuck in his jeans halfway, and he tried to force it off to no avail. And damn, he looked fucking fit as hell in his tight grey t-shirt.
At the end of Tenth, Bruce stood in a fighting stance, fists up, ready for another rumble with the Manchester crowd. The stadium was more pumped up than it had ever been. I was damn exhausted, physically and mentally, but I was fully ready for another forty-five minutes, if they so wished to carry on. Twist & Shout was a number everyone knew, Springsteen fan or not. You just could not listen and not groove to it, especially with the E Street Band playing. Final LOL moment was when Curt Ramm, when running down to the stage to do his trumpet solo, slipped and fell. He probably didn't find it so amusing, but Bruce could barely contain himself. He got back up perfectly unscathed (Bruce made a reference to the 'flying trumpeter' at the closing of Isle Of Wight Festival on Sunday [link]). The song seemed to go on forever. There was even a twist of Louie Louie added for good measure. It was clear Bruce didn't want to end the show there. Tonight was one of the rare occasions in which he and the band and the crowd constantly fed off energy from each other. And when that happens, the heavens split. A nuclear explosion occurs.
To paraphrase what Jon Stewart said, "If you wanna know what joy feels like, go watch Bruce Springsteen." He and the E Street Band, second to none, have long perfected the art of the live show, and Bruce has set the bar so high that you would think it's impossible for him to even top himself, but yet everytime he goes out, he manages to do it. And so concluded the greatest concert of my life. The crowd, the AMAZING setlist, a much improved sound over previous night, the man's unreal and superhuman energy, the entire band playing their asses off, Jake Clemons, and last but not least, the freezing rain. It was truly an epic, life-affirming experience. I am eternally grateful to Bruce. He has given me a great life. But the ride ain't quite over yet. Looking forward to Australia next year!
1. Badlands
2. No Surrender
3. We Take Care Of Our Own
4. Wrecking Ball
5. Death To My Hometown
6. My City Of Ruins
7. Spirit In The Night
8. The E Street Shuffle
9. Jack Of All Trades
10. Atlantic City
11. Prove It All Night (with the '78 intro)
12. Two Hearts
13. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
14. Darlington County
15. Shackled And Drawn
16. Waitin' On A Sunny Day
17. Save My Love
18. The Promise (solo piano)
19. The River
20. The Rising
21. Out In The Street
22. Land Of Hope And Dreams
23. We Are Alive
24. Thunder Road
25. Born To Run
26. Bobby Jean
27. Cadillac Ranch
28. Dancing In The Dark
29. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
30. Twist & Shout

Total running time - 3hrs 22mins

It's only rock & roll, but it feels like love

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band @ Stadium Of Light

"This is what it’s supposed to be like. I don’t want no 75 degrees and sunny. Gimme some of that English rain!" Those were the first things Bruce said when he took to the Sunderland stage last Thursday (21 Jun) at approximately 7:11pm. The rain had stopped falling an hour before, but the sky, still relatively bright, was looking gloomy and it was misty as hell. And COLD. But as the E Street Band launched into Badlands, you somehow forget that you've been freezing your ass off. Heat suddenly radiates from your body. At least that's how I felt at the time. The opening number was ferociously powerful. This is a song we've heard a thousand times on record, cd, radio, bootleg, but when you hear it live, goddamn it hits you harder than you could ever imagine. I actually teared up liked I did during my first Badlands at Hyde Park '09. And when the moment came, Jake Clemons strutted forward from stage left back (where the horn section is) and blew the shit out of his saxophone. His uncle couldn't have been prouder. Note for note, it was spot-on. There was the attitude too; he moved and sounded like a young Clarence Clemons from the '70s. The crowd went wild, just like they would with Big Man.
The next were the Wrecking Ball songs. I thought We Take Care Of Our Own sounded great; they even replicated the little drum machine hit in there. Death To My Hometown is slowed down, the horns made it more celebratory, and retains a bit of the Celtic taste. Bruce sounded more pissed off onstage. The music continued non-stop into My City Of Ruins, which took things down a notch. Here he introduces the E Street Band. Every tour he changes the way he introduces, and I must say this is the best E Street introduction yet. First were the five-piece horns, then the choir, then the newer members and then the old. Each one took a small solo; Bruce feels the need to draw this one out a bit and give everyone the spotlight. As expected, Nils Lofgren and Little Steven got the biggest cheers. He even gave a shout-out to his wife Patti, back home keeping the kids out of the drug stash. I also liked that Bruce introduced Garry Tallent the last. After all, he's the foundation of the E Street Nation and actually the sole remaining member of the original lineup. There couldn't be a better song choice; My City Of Ruins was no longer 9/11-specific; it meant different things to each one of us. And when Bruce asked in a singsong manner "Are we missing anybody?", he was referring to Clarence and Danny Federici, but then he was also referring to any close friends or family we in the audience have lost. "If you're here, and we're here, then they're here." Another tear-jerking moment. The 'rise up' finale was the most cathartic and healing of experiences I've ever had at a concert.
Spirit In The Night had always been one of those rare come-bys in setlists of the past decade, but since the start of the European leg, it has been a mainstay. The intro, rebuilt for the stadium, makes full use of the horns and the backup singers and gives it a sort of old-fashioned church revival vibe. And Bruce does the preacher bit very well. Great version. Next up was something they have not played in a while -- Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?. Never thought I'd hear this one. The version is similar to that from The Rising tour, this time with an added awesome drum and percussion duel between Max Weinberg and newcomer, Everett Bradley (who also sings background). Lots of people weren't familiar with this song, at least from where I was in the lower stands. Jack Of All Trades followed and I fully expected the crowd to cheer when Bruce sang "If I had me a gun, I'd find the bastards and shoot 'em on sight". The next few songs were interchangeable between shows. They are informally known as the "hard times/depression" three/four-pack, in keeping with the Wrecking Ball theme. Youngstown, my second time in a row. Great hearing Nils (his 61st birthday!) belt out that solo. He does that frenzy spinning around at the end that always gets the crowd going. Then came Murder Incorporated; I was really happy to get this one. Bruce could still pull off the high notes like the Reunion Tour versions. Johnny 99 I wasn't so crazy about initially, but Bruce really knows how to work the horns into it (they came out from the back and onto the lower stage, near the front pit); and out came a fiery rendition.
The songs flowed seamlessly one after another. The mood was more upbeat by the time we got to Working On The Highway. Fine version, beginning with Bruce on the acoustic. At one point, I recalled the band stopping cause it looked like he had forgotten the words (there was no teleprompter on the lower stage). For a band this size (17 people!), they're incredibly tight musically, but a lot of the time they rely on instinct to carry the music forward. It all sounds very raw, and surprisingly not bloated. The rhythm section especially pays very close attention to Bruce's moves and cues; you never know when an audible is gonna come. You'd think with a huge band, things are more calculated. Doesn't happen with the E Street Band at all. On one of the early songs, I forget which one, Bruce signaled to Soozie Tyrell to do a violin solo, but she was still holding on to the tambourine! Stuff like this makes the whole experience more unique. Shackled And Drawn is an absolute powerhouse live. It already sounds stellar on record, but the band takes it many levels higher onstage. Bruce gets Cindy Mizelle to come down and fire up the crowd in the extended outtro. And then at the end, everyone stands in one line on the stage and does this premeditated dance. It looked cheesy, but I was loving every second of it.
What followed was Waitin' On A Sunny Day, one that has never failed to appear since The Rising tour. On the other hand, many fans would like to see him retire it. No luck there; Bruce will keep on performing it for as long as he lives. But trust me, once you hear it in a live setting, especially in a stadium, you'll get it. It's just such a fun tune. This rendition stays close to The Rising tour's; Bruce expects everyone to sing out the melody to the acoustic guitar intro before the violins kick in. He usually picks out a kid at the side front to take a chorus, but tonight he decided to grab a security guy by the hand and dance; leaving the poor bloke looking damn embarrassed on the screens. The Promised Land was noticeably slowed down, don't know why. Not too bad a version, and Jake once again NAILED the sax solo. The next song I was really hoping for was Backstreets, but we got Point Blank. Intense vocals from Bruce. This performance stood out. Bruce then brought out his harp and I knew what was coming. We all went crazy for The River, and there was another massive singalong; I remember those around me sang like they were the loser character in the song; every single word cut right through the heart. The Rising has become another 'recent' song which has been deeply ingrained into the Springsteen vernacular. A straight-up classic, he has as much affinity for it as his stuff from the '70s and '80s. It's good to always have it in the show. Meanwhile, Out In The Street, another crowd-pleaser, now doesn't have the band members each taking a line at the end.
"This is Land Of Hope And Dreams!", Bruce exclaimed. I couldn't really make out the intro (the sound mix throughout the night wasn't up to standard, it was kinda all over the place, but still listenable -- could be due to the bloody wind). The horns added religious fervor to it. Similar to the 2012 studio version, but the outro goes back to the original familiar live version, and it was unbelievably astounding. People Get Ready. This was another highly emotional moment. I used to listen to the Live In NYC version religiously when I started getting into Bruce, and to finally hear it live more than ten years later, I felt like this journey of mine has come full circle. Technically there wasn't any encore, because the band never left the stage. At this point, I was expecting to hear Rocky Ground, but instead Bruce gave a monologue about writing We Are Alive, about how he needed a ghost story. In hindsight, it was really an appropriate song following Land. Translated onto the live stage, it is a monster. I mean it just floored me. And the crowd was really into it the second the band exploded.
Finally it arrived; my favorite song of all time. No words could describe it. As far as I'm concerned, Thunder Road is the most beautiful thing I'll ever hear in my life, now and forever. And it sure was wonderful experiencing it with 50,000 other people. Jake's sax solo was off the charts; if you close your eyes, he sounds EXACTLY like Clarence. The new horns arrangement at the end took the song to another stratosphere. And then straight they went into Born To Run; I don't think they have played Thunder Road into Born To Run in quite a long time. Stadium lights were slowly turned up. I clearly remember everyone singing so loud to every word that they totally drowned out Bruce's vocals. It just takes one song to whip the crowd into a frenzy, and after this, there was just no way the band could stop the music. From here on, it was hit after hit, beginning with Hungry Heart. Unfortunately the keyboards were mixed so low at the start I couldn't recognize it only until the crowd started singing the first verse. Another great Jake moment here (on a side note; I noticed Ed Manion, the other sax player, didn't take a lot of solos himself). Seven Nights To Rock was the only cover of the night. Dancing In The Dark -- used to dislike it (and Glory Days), but that's changed after witnessing them first time at Hyde Park. Man, the things Dancing can do to the audience. Another LOL moment came when two lads at the front held up a large flag, requesting to dance with birthday boy, Nils. Of course, Bruce obliged. This actually might be the first time this tour he got men to come up and dance! Priceless look on Nil's face on the big screen. The band also got a huge kick out of it.
Closing song of the night was the ultimate tear-jerker. Us fans need some closure; we need to miss Clarence, Bruce needs to miss Clarence, so does the band. I have to admit at the start of the show, I felt sad not seeing him onstage. When "the Big Man joined the band", there was a 'moment of silence'. Bruce, with his back towards the audience, turned to the giant HD screen behind the stage. The montage tribute couldn't have been more tastefully executed. The last image was an extreme close-up of C's face. It took the power of five horns to replicate the single signature sax lick after that, as if to tell us that Clarence can't be replaced. He was just too fucking big to die. What a way to end the concert; a celebration of life. It was still a long way to go before the curfew, three hours now isn't considered close to the average length of an E Street show, but it's still damn long by most standards. There were no tour premieres, fairly standard setlist, though flawlessly structured. Don't think there were any sign requests. But Land Of Hope And Dreams and Thunder Road on the same night sealed the deal for me (the last time this occurred was very early on in the U.S. leg).
It was miserable getting out of the stadium and back to Newcastle. But thank God the Metro strike didn't happen as planned, if not it would've been much worse. I was already thinking about the craziness that could go down the next night in Manchester. (I was actually closer to the stage than these pictures make it out to be.)

1. Badlands
2. We Take Care Of Our Own
3. Wrecking Ball
4. Death To My Hometown
5. My City Of Ruins
6. Spirit In The Night
7. Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?
8. Jack Of All Trades
9. Youngstown
10. Murder Incorporated
11. Johnny 99
12. Working On The Highway
13. Shackled And Drawn
14. Waitin' On A Sunny Day
15. The Promised Land
16. Point Blank
17. The River
18. The Rising
19. Out In The Street
20. Land Of Hope And Dreams
21. We Are Alive
22. Thunder Road
23. Born To Run
24. Hungry Heart
25. Seven Nights To Rock
26. Glory Days
27. Dancing In The Dark
28. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Total running time - 3hrs 5mins

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pearl Jam @ Manchester Arena

Wednesday, 20 June 2012. I traveled from London to Manchester for the first time, for Pearl Jam's first show of 2012. The gig took place at Manchester Arena, more commonly known as the MEN Arena, as it was previously called. PJ last played there in '09. It's a huge venue. I was sitting at Section 112, not too far, not too close. The front half of the floor, filled with many Ten Club members, was already very packed early on. The opening band, X, came on punctually. They plowed through half an hour's worth of their back catalog. I enjoyed them immensely. It's a pity the crowd didn't go wild for them, which kinda sucked. I thought they deserved more respect. Maybe that's why Eddie Vedder didn't come out and do Devil Doll with the band, like he frequently did last November during the South American tour.
The signature Philip Glass tune, Metamorphosis, played over the PA as the lights went out. As soon as the opening riff of Release started, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I've always wanted to hear PJ open with this, and for a brief moment I fell into a dreamlike state. As expected, the crowd knew and sang along to every word. I was amazed how strong Eddie's voice was; I mean really really good, the best he's ever sounded in the past decade. The onslaught began with Do The Evolution, followed by several more crowd pleasers, all of which I've heard the first time I saw the band live. But unlike the Perth crowd in '09, this UK crowd were much more into the performances; almost everyone in the seats were standing up and rocking to them.
Eddie asked how everyone was doing, and he went on to say that he meant it in an individual sense, not as a collective. Funny, but heartfelt; don't think I've ever heard any frontman or singer say this before. After the awesome singalong in Small Town, the next song was introduced as being written by Jeff Ament, and there was Pilate. I mean, wow! What were the chances of getting that song twice in a row? Not a fan of it, and it was one of the very few songs that flew over most people's heads that night. Even Flow (Mike McCready on fire as always) and Unthought Known followed; again I've heard those before, and in my mind I was going 'give me something new!' Don't get me wrong, it was all good so far, I guess I was expecting something unexpected. And then came Nothing Man, and I was in stoke mode again. Another fantastic singalong. 1/2 Full and Insignificance, were considered deeper cuts, and I took in every second of it. Love it when Ed exclaims 'what the fuck?!' during 1/2 Full. After a brief improv Buzzcocks cover came my first 'holy shit' moment. I went crazy when Ed strummed the first notes of Immortality. But then he stopped before Matt Cameron could enter with the drums, and realized he had been playing the wrong guitar! Yes, it did sound kinda weird without the Fender Strat. So they took it from the top again and it sounded magnificent. The outtro to that was pure rock & roll bliss.
The main set was short, but the best was yet to come. Just Breathe opened the first encore, and it was goddamn beautiful as it could ever be. Ed stood and plucked this time (he used to sit a few tours ago). Then Stone Gossard strummed the first chords of Black and the crowd reaction wasn't as deafening as one would think; they sounded stunned if anything. Still, it was a great version that prompted another mass singalong. State Of Love And Trust had the floor back to bouncing up and down, and there was some mild moshing going on near the front, and the occasional body surfing. Arms Aloft was my second 'holy shit' moment. I've heard a few versions on bootleg but it was mindblowing to hear it live. Ed sang the hell outta that. He talked a bit about Joe Strummer and how he has been gone for quite a while now, but since we listen to his music all the time, it still seemed recent. He went on to talk about the recent tragedy where a Radiohead stage in Toronto collapsed and took the life of a crew member. When he mentioned how PJ and the crew were like family, he was being sincere about it; I could tell in his voice he was extremely grateful for the men and women who work behind the scenes to make the tour happen. Porch ended encore no.1, complete with the middle jam that seemed to never end. Great stuff. By the way, I'm glad Eddie's right hand is working well again.
The band came onstage to another tremendous roar. I knew Better Man would be played at this point. The crowd sang every word, and it was nice to hear Eddie sing along with us too (very often he just lets the audience take the first verse and chorus on their own). Come Back was a request and it was my highlight of the show. I've never heard Eddie sound this good before. And Mike, in his usual self, gave us another blistering solo. I was hoping Ed would pay some tribute to Adam Yauch, nevertheless I was thinking of him during Come Back. Third and final 'holy shit' moment was Jeremy. Doesn't get played as much as the other stuff from Ten, so what a treat it was to finally witness it in person. Played at breakneck speed, this was the show's best crowd participation. Alive might be one of PJ's most played songs, but it's one of those no one ever gets sick of. After Alive, the show could either end with Yellow Ledbetter or something else. During Rockin' In The Free World, the house lights came on. X's John Doe came out to provide background vocals. Eddie broke a few tambourines in the process. Ass-kicking ending to an ass-kicking show. Good vibes all around. Band chemistry was high throughout the night. On paper, it isn't the best of setlists (night 2 trumped night 1), but when you are there, it's a whole different thing altogether. I walked out of the venue a satisfied customer. After every time you see Pearl Jam, your love for the band just gets stronger.
1. Release
2. Do The Evolution
3. Corduroy
4. The Fixer
5. Given To Fly
6. Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
7. Pilate
8. Even Flow
9. Unthought Known
10. Nothing Man
11. 1/2 Full
12. Insignificance
13. Why Can't I Touch It?
14. Immortality
15. Got Some
16. Why Go
(Encore 1)
17. Just Breathe
18. Black
19. State Of Love And Trust
20. Arms Aloft
21. Porch
(Encore 2)
22. Better Man / Save It For Later
23. Come Back
24. Jeremy
25. Alive
26. Rockin' In The Free World

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers @ Royal Albert Hall

Just got back from the UK after spending slightly over a week there. Saw the sights I wanted to see, ate what I wanted to eat, and most of all, managed to get the albums I was setting out to find. Also went to Heddon Street, to the spot where the Ziggy Stardust cover was shot 40 years ago -- there's a commemorative plague there now. There are tons of record shops in London, many of them specializing in certain specific genres. As for HMV, many outlets around the country have closed down, but the big one along Oxford Street is still up. Lots of stuff too; I got all the new releases there -- Joey Ramone's posthumous and very good ...Ya Know?, Chris Robinson Brotherhood Big Moon Ritual (only seven songs, but full of long, awesome jams), and the reissues by Paul Simon (Graceland), McCartney (Ram) and Bowie (Ziggy).
My rarest find was Bruce Springsteen's The River, from the Japanese limited 'reissues' series that came out back in '05. Only 8pds! I stumbled upon it in this place called Reckless Records while trying to look for Sister Ray Records, which was actually along the same street. The best record store experience I had was at Rough Trade West located in quaint Notting Hill, where the owner recommended me to buy the debut albums of Television and Suicide. He played the latter over the speakers and I was immediately blown away. We got to talking a bit about New York punk and post-punk stuff.
I don't really do 'holidays' anymore. The purpose of this trip was seeing the concerts, four in five days. I've not done this many in such a short span. It was gonna be tiring, with the traveling between cities and all, but it was gonna be fun. Having Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen all in UK during the same week is like witnessing the solar eclipse or something. Seriously. Three classic American bands. It happened just last week, and it'll never happen again. Ever. Their Isle Of Wight headlining slots were just icing on the cake. The real draw was their own non-festival shows they did.
Monday, 18 June 2012. The Royal Albert Hall. What can I say about this place? Many greats have played there. It looked magnificent from the outside. But walking into the hall itself gave me extreme goosebumps. I felt like I just stepped into a sacred, holy place. From the third floor balcony where I was, it was breathtaking looking out into the box seats and the arena floor. The view of the stage was surprisingly good, for 60 quid. Unrestricted, that is if you lean forward pressed against the balcony rail. The opening act was Jonathan Wilson. I only knew him previously as the guy who produced Dawes' second album last year. He's got mainly a Laurel Canyon sound going, with some jam-band, Southern rock styles thrown in. Very chilled, mellow vibe throughout the set. The place wasn't packed yet, and the audience was quiet and respectful. 
The main event started on the dot. The band came out onstage in the dark. As they launched into Listen To Her Heart and the stage lights came on, I couldn't believe how close to them I was. Essentially a side view, but you could see the expressions of the band's faces. From the get-go, it looked like they were really happy to be there. Tom especially. At same points, he was clearly taken aback by the majestic view of the hall in front of him. I could also see the band interacting, smiling to each other. It was a total joy to watch. Tom takes his time between each song. He and Mike Campbell change guitars after every song, and usually they like using the vintage guitars (I love it when the Rickenbackers come out). He feels like he's in no rush, and gets really settled in first before counting off to the next song. And when the music kicks in, I swear I've never heard a band this tight. I said last year that Bob Dylan's backing band was the tightest I've ever seen yet. The Heartbreakers just took the top spot in my book. Each one of them are consummate professionals of the highest musical caliber.
The sound mix wasn't perfect at the beginning, but it got better and better. And very loud too, considering that I was sitting close to the PA stack aimed directly at the side audience. The songs definitely sound better live. It was pretty much a greatest hits affair. The Waiting wasn't played though, it would've seemed very appropriate given the fact that this was their first UK show in 13 years. One of the very few deep cuts was Something Big, which had Tom taking the main solo. He makes for a better-than-average guitar player himself. Handle With Care was dedicated to The Traveling Wilburys, wherever they might be; and Scott Thurston nailed Roy Orbison's parts. The cover of Fleetwood Mac's Oh Well was great (listen to the Live Anthology boxset for proof), and Tom mentioned Peter Green as one of their British heroes. Don't Come Around Here No More in the middle of the set was an absolute monster (the strobing lights were used to great effect during the climax). So was Here Comes My Girl -- Tom isn't able to hit the high notes anymore, but still it was great to finally hear it. I love love love the outro.
Now, Mike Campbell. The MVP of the show. He melted faces everytime he took a solo. From Oh Well to the 10min-plus version of It's Good To Be King, to the newer cuts from Mojo like Good Enough and the Led Zeppelin-inspired I Should Have Known It. The electrifying double-header came at the end of the main set, Refugee and Runnin' Down A Dream; these two in particular are best when played live. One interesting thing I noticed was how the band finished their songs, they were all splendid, a lot of oomph to them, even more so during the encore. The second MVP is of course, Benmont Tench. One of the best backing keyboardists in rock & roll; an economical musician, not too flashy, plays what needs to be played, and instinctive as hell. Without these two guys (Ben and Mike), there would be no Heartbreakers. And then you have the rhythm section of Ron Blair and Steve Ferrone, who got a huge reception when Tom introduced him as the only British in the band. From my vantage point, I was able to see clearly every drum hit. Steve's playing style, similar to Levon Helm's, is so incredibly fluid.
Though there were plenty of standing ovations, the sold-out crowd still seemed quite tame. You would think that those sitting on the floor would get up and dance early on, but there was nothing of that sort, save for one or two hardcore fans doing it along the aisles. From what I recall, it was only after the beautiful sing-along of Learning To Fly (stripped-down, acoustic rendition) that the audience was fired up. There wasn't much singing around where I was sitting though. Yer So Bad was fun, and it was surprisingly well-received. The gig was short, clocking in at just under two hours, and it left us wanting more. But it sure was memorable. The atmosphere couldn't have been better. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers performing at the Royal Albert Hall has been a long time coming. It was a match made in heaven.
Listen to Her Heart
You Wreck Me
I Won't Back Down
Here Comes My Girl
Handle With Care
Good Enough
Oh Well
Something Big
Don't Come Around Here No More
Free Fallin'
It's Good To Be King
Something Good Coming
Learning To Fly
Yer So Bad
I Should Have Known It
Runnin' Down A Dream
Mary Jane's Last Dance
American Girl

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Late Night Listening, vol. 2

Nightcall - Kavinsky
Blue In Green - Miles Davis
Distant Lover - Marvin Gaye
Hearts Of Stone - Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes
When You're Young In The City - Patti Scialfa
She - Gram Parsons
Way Over Yonder - Carole King
When The Night Was Young - Robbie Robertson
Highlands - Bob Dylan
O Death - Ralph Stanley
West - Lucinda Williams
My Traveling Star - James Taylor
For The Good Times - Jamey Johnson
Running Scared - Roy Orbison
The Things We Did Last Summer - Frank Sinatra
My Blue Eyed Jane - Jimmie Rodgers
Moanin' At Midnight - Howlin' Wolf
Death Letter Blues - Son House
Me And The Devil Blues - Robert Johnson (or just about any song of his)
Down On Rodeo - Lindsey Buckingham

Vol. 1 [link]

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


My copy of the new U2 live compilation arrived surprisingly early. It's an official fanclub exclusive, the best one so far, because this time the subscribers were allowed to vote for their top 22 songs out of 46, culled from the band's two-year 360 world tour (2009-11), the highest grossing tour of all time. The two cds are stored in this vinyl-size booklet, filled with high-res photos taken from various shows, and they got Adam Clayton to provide the liner notes for each song. If only they put this much effort into the sound.

I'm a stickler when it comes to sound mixes for live albums. It's always a difficult thing to get right; engineers are always striving for a good balance of crowd noise and music. In this case, you can barely hear the crowd during the quieter moments (I like that), and for the louder, high-energy ones, the crowd volume is turned up, sometimes a bit too overpowering. The instrument mix can be a bit uneven, varying from song to song. Overall the guitars sound good; at times I can almost feel as if Edge were playing in front of me. Bono's voice resonates too. But I think Larry Mullen's drums are just too far back in the mix. For those who don't know, U2's rhythm section happens to be one of the tightest in rock & roll, and on official live recordings when Adam's bass is much louder than the drumming, it can get kinda annoying.

For the most part, the music is better live than on the albums. The 22 songs are sequenced in a way that it feels like a typical 360 show. Towards the end of the tour, the band started breaking out more Achtung-era stuff -- Even Better Than The Real Thing (great disco-rock rendition), The Fly (always great to hear), the return of the acoustic version of Stay and the rarely-played my opinion, U2's sexiest song (just listen to those sick bass lines and echo-drenched guitar).

I'm glad the fans chose Bad (voted no.1), All I Want Is You, One Tree Hill, Out Of Control, and The Unforgettable Fire (I voted for them too, and other rarities like Miss Sarajevo, Your Blue Room, Electrical Storm, Spanish Eyes and 40). The other songs are the standard hits that U2 had to play every night. No Vertigo, thank God. Ultraviolet isn't a hit, but a fan-favorite, so it's inclusion here is no-brainer. Also it's nice to hear something taken from the show I attended; Moment Of Surrender at Perth's Subiaco Oval, in which I totally forgot Bono sang a bit of Party Girl at the start!

At the end of the day, no matter how many times I listen to this compilation, it's never ever gonna be the same as being there in person, and it's all thanks to the CLAW. Even watching the Rose Bowl DVD, you can't fully replicate the majesty of the claw at home. It's the claw, together with the accompanying lights and LED screen, that provides you with that 'in-your-face' experience. I'm not complaining though; I couldn't think of a better tour souvenir than this. Well done, team!

1. Even Better Than The Real Thing
2. The Fly
3. Mysterious Ways
4. Magnificent
5. Until The End Of The World
6. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
7. Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
8. One Tree Hill
9. Beautiful Day
10. Elevation
11. Bad
12. All I Want Is You / Love Rescue Me
13. The Unforgettable Fire
14. Zooropa
15. City Of Blinding Lights
16. MLK / Walk On
17. One
18. Where The Streets Have No Name
19. Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
20. With Or Without You
21. Moment Of Surrender
22. Out Of Control


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Singin' In The Rain

all pictures taken by Jo Lopez (c)

Bruce and the band has finished the Italian portion of the tour, playing in Milan (second longest E Street show ever), Florence and Trieste [link]. The hard rain certainly didn't dampen the spirits of the 'fuckin' die-hards', as he calls the fans. Go to YouTube for proof. This Sunday, the Wrecking Ball rolls into Madrid for Spain's sixth and final show, followed by Montpelier in France, and then SUNDERLAND and MANCHESTER!!!!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Making of Handwritten

Here is an 11-minute short film by photographer Danny Clinch, documenting the creative process behind The Gaslight Anthem's upcoming record. Aside from 45, we're hearing for the first time snippets of the title track, and two other songs, Here Comes My Man and Too Much Blood. And they all sound very very promising.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Honest, passionate and uncompromising. Banga marks a very welcome return for Patti Smith and her band (Lenny Kaye, Jay Dee Daugherty and Tony Shanahan). This is her first collection of new music since 2004. It's absolutely without a doubt her best since 1997's Peace And Noise. These are some stunningly well-crafted songs, most of them not as 'punk rock' as you'd think; April Fool (with Tom Verlaine on guitar), Maria, Mosaic, the epic haunting mediation of Constantine's Dream, which slowly builds up to an orgasmic climax amidst a sea of moving poetry and storytelling. There are also heartfelt tributes; the soul ballad, This Is The Girl in memory of Amy Winehouse, Nine dedicated to Johnny Depp (the guitars are just plain fucking awesome), the uplifting anthem, Fuji-San for the victims of the Japan earthquake last year. They're all very intimate, very in-your-face. Finally, After The Gold Rush is possibly the greatest song I've heard Patti Smith cover. It couldn't be sung any simpler than how she sings it, but the conviction she brings to it is tenfold. There are really no words to describe it. It's so goddamn beautiful. It's so pure. She made it her own. Believe or explode. 

Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st Century.

Patti talks about her record in this short film directed by Steven Sebring, who also did her documentary, Dream Of Life [link]. It's more or less a summary of the album's detailed liner notes.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Patti & Neil

Yesterday at the Book Expo America in New York City, Patti Smith sat down with Neil Young to discuss his upcoming book, Waging Heavy Peace, and his music. CLICK HERE to read what went down. I for one couldn't be more ecstatic that Neil's finally releasing his memoir. Thus far the only biography about him worth reading is Shakey, and in the foreword written by the man himself, he swore he'd never ever write a book of his own. And look what he's doing now! It's already up for pre-order at Amazon [link]. Patti Smith and her longtime band will be opening for Neil Young & Crazy Horse this fall in the States and Canada, and I reckon it'll be a total sonic mindfuck. I'm pretty bumped I'll miss seeing her live by just two days this last week of June in the UK. But I'll definitely be there if she's touring Japan or down under next year. Same for the Horse.

UPDATE: NPR Fresh Air interview about Americana [link]
                  BBC Radio 4 Front Row interview [link]

Friday, June 8, 2012


shot at the Stone Pony

This is the song that will catapult The Gaslight Anthem into the mainstream. The new album, Handwritten, will be released July 24th. Stay tuned for the official fanclub. Meanwhile, put 45 on loop over the weekend.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Haven't been covering much Pearl Jam here lately, but I thought this is worth mentioning: the official website just got a makeover. Check it out [link]. There's more cool stuff on the activism page. And under the shop's bootleg section, there is a new live release, part of the ongoing Vault Series. This one's from a special 10c-only show at Chicago's Vic Theater back in '07; I'll hold off making a purchase until the site is more up and running. Also we should see the PJ20 (Alpine Valley) boots available for sale soon. We're less than two weeks away from PJ's European tour. It's the band's first show this year, and Manchester is only my second show (my first one was the opening show of the '09 Australian tour). So much of the excitement comes from not knowing exactly what they'll play. No other mainstream act mixes up setlists on a nightly basis like they do. It's just incredible, their dedication to their audiences. There are couple of songs I'm hoping to hear, usually the elusive ones; Immortality, Faithfull, Hold On, I Got ID, In Hiding. And Release and Baba O'Riley to open and close the show respectively would be something. But whatever it is, I know I'm still gonna get a great show.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

That's Why God Made The Radio

This is the The Beach Boys comeback album many would come to expect. Their first in almost twenty years, this is a very safe, very listenable, almost formulaic record, not that there's anything wrong with that. Don't go in expecting a Pet Sounds or Smile type of incarnation. But at the same time, don't go in thinking this is some sort of full-on nostalgic trip. The album starts out with a solemn wordless mediation, reminiscent of Our Prayer, with piano. From here on out, the mood is pretty upbeat. The single and title track sounds like it could've come out of the '60s, though it can't hold a candle to their hit singles of that era.  

Isn't It Time incorporates sparse percussion, and has Mike Love, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine trading off verses. It's catchy as hell, and so is the following Spring Vacation, though its cheery lyrics are a bit on the cheesy side. There's a little line in the chorus about them getting back together for 'easy money'. I guess it's partly true in a way; you can't dismiss the fact that the green plays a large part in old bands reforming today.

The Private Life Of Bill And Sue reminds me of Brian Wilson's solo records, something he would've put on 1998's Imagination. The positive, joyous summer mood continues with Shelter, featuring co-lead vocals from long-time collaborator Jeff Foskett, who sounds most like the late Carl Wilson, who still leaves a gaping hole in the band's harmonies today. It's not hard to believe they still sing so good after all this time, but you can hear quite a bit of auto-tuning and stuff like that done to make the production very sleek and modern, sometimes to a point it makes my skin crawl. I prefer the production of Brian Wilson's past few solo records, especially 2004's Smile, where it was more organic-sounding.

Halfway through however, the album takes a slight hit; Mike Love's Daybreak Over The Ocean and Beaches In Mind sound inferior to the first half of songs. The mood then takes a sudden turn into more reflective, with Brian singing on Strange World. The man can write some of the happiest lyrics and melodies you'll ever hear, and at the same time some of the most depressing, sometimes almost devastating. His talent is evident in the last three songs, which lift this whole record above mediocrity. They form some kind of suite, and together they result in the best music The Beach Boys have ever done. Period. It starts From There To Back Again, my favorite song on the album, with its unconventional, Surf's Up kinda structure. Al Jardine is the best vocalist in the band now, and he nails it so heartbreakingly perfect here. His voice remains remarkably unchanged since the '60s.

The short but sweet Pacific Coast Highway could be a tribute to Dennis Wilson, the first Beach Boy to pass away. It segues into Summer's Gone (co-written with Jon Bon Jovi, out of all people), which really hits right in the saddest spot of your heart, like how you felt when you heard Carolina, No at the end of Pet Sounds. I like that the record ends this way, not on a celebratory note. I mean, the band is well into their early '70s, and they must be constantly subjecting themselves to their own mortality. Nevertheless, they're in a privileged position right now and I think they got about two more albums left in them.

"Summer's gone/It's finally sinking in/We laugh and cry/We live, then die/And dream about our yesterdays" 

I'm really looking forward to their reunion concert in August. I've been wanting to see Brian Wilson and his band live for the longest time, and having the remaining band members onstage is a huge bonus. My God, fifty years!


Monday, June 4, 2012


I foresee this as yet another hit-and-miss record among Neil Young fans. The reactions will be somewhat polarizing. Those expecting something brand new from the Horse will be disappointed.....Americana is essentially a covers album. Those who would like to hear a Ragged Glory rehash of sorts may eat this one up. One thing's for certain though; no rock band can wreck sonic havoc on your ears like Crazy Horse can....and Frank "Poncho" Sampedro's guitar playing hasn't really improved. Let us all put away our prior judgements about the album and crank up the CD or vinyl or FLAC first. I've already heard the four songs released officially online, but like most of his records, listening to the album proper from start to finish is rewarding and makes more sense.

The more I listen to Americana, the more I understand why Neil chose to make this kind of album. He had a giant American songbook to choose from, and these eleven songs are selected and re-interpreted for a specific purpose, to inform and remind people. It's not just putting a heavy, grungy sound to traditional tunes. The dirty electric guitar, the rollicking bass, the frantic drumming all give added urgency to the music and words. They're meant to grab us by the collar and pull us in. The children choir singing retains that old-timey feeling of the songs, working their magic on Gallows Pole and the closing God Save The Queen, which is the least 'American' song here. 

Neil revisits the original, lesser-known lyrics of the songs. The ambiguity of some of the words can be applied to modern American life, 'scarily' enough, they say a lot about the state of the country today. Different chord progressions are used; most of them give the songs a darker, more apocalyptic tone, like Jesus Chariot for example. Now that I've already seen the video (with the Birth Of Nation footage), I get a little freaked out. The new versions of Clementine and Gallows Pole sound more somber and melancholic. (side note: for the definitive rock & roll take on Gallows Pole, check out Led Zeppelin)

The Crazy Horse guys aren't known for their background harmonies, but their out-of-tune, imperfect singing does complement their imperfect playing of the instruments. Meanwhile, Neil's voice hasn't changed all that much in a long time. I can enjoy most of the tunes except Get A Job, in which its weird doo-wop style just seems out of place here (interesting to note that the Horse started out as a doo-wop outfit in the '60s). The brief banter between the band at the end of each song suggests that they might have nailed the take very early on. Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land, one of the 'newer' compositions here, receives a faithful recreation, and Neil does good by including all the verses. Stephen Stills contributes some background vocals too.

Americana is more than another middle-of-the-road Neil Young album for me; it's a commendable effort. The moment you hear the drums and guitars casually tumble in at the start of Oh Susannah, it's like the Horse never left. There are the brilliant moments -- I especially dig Tom Dula, High Flyin' Bird, Clementine, Gallows Pole, God Save The Queen. But at the end of the day, I don't really share that 'special connection' with the songs, it doesn't stir me up that much emotionally. I slightly prefer Greendale over this. The last great Crazy Horse album was 1994's Sleeps With Angels, still sadly underrated today. Now that this is out of the way, maybe Neil can finally release Toast in the near future. But if there's one thing we've all come to expect from Neil Young, is that always expect the unexpected.