Monday, September 23, 2013

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band rocked Rio

The two-year, 135-show, Wrecking Ball world tour finally came to a victorious close late last night at Brazil's Rock In Rio festival. Fans around the world got to join in the festivities as the show was being streamed live. Bruce was in top form (turning 64 today and still looking mighty fine!), the E Street Band was in top form, everyone was in high spirits, the fans were ecstatic -- many South Americans were probably seeing The Greatest Show On Earth for the first time, considering that Bruce and the band has not played the continent in a long, long time (25 years to be exact). Save for a rousing cover of a popular Brazilian song, the setlist, catered for a new market and festival audience, was a standard affair. There were no sign requests. I guess the one curveball was when he announced in Portuguese that they would be playing Born In The USA from start to finish. So the setlist may look 'boring' on paper, but actually seeing it translated to the stage, even if it meant watching on the iMac screen, was something else entirely. It looked like the band played with an intense fervor as if it were the last time they were gonna play these songs. Jake Clemons was especially on fire. Downbound Train was sublime as ever. It was fitting for Bruce to finish off with an acoustic rendition of This Hard Land [link]. It's got a certain farewell vibe to it, but farewell for now, not forever. As expected, he put more emphasis into the last verse by slowing it down, making the audience hang on to every single word and punctuation. It pretty much sums up what Bruce has been writing and singing about for most of his life.

Hey, Frank, won't you pack your bags
And meet me tonight down at Liberty Hall
Just one kiss from you, my brother
And we'll ride until we fall
Well sleep in the fields
We'll sleep by the rivers
And in the morning we'll make a plan
Well if you can't make it stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive if you can
And meet me in a dream of this hard land

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Sirens is the second single from the upcoming Lightning Bolt [link]. It is one of the most beautiful songs Pearl Jam has ever done. It's no Black though, and it's too early to tell where it stands among the band's other slow songs. It's very catchy by their standards, and it's something the wider, mainstream audience can latch on to. On first listen, the term, 'cheesy 80s rock ballad' did cross my mind, and I can understand why many fans may dislike it. But Eddie's vocals are so incredibly strong and sincere that he lifts the song way above 'cheesy 80s rock ballad' territory; unfortunately the thing that risks it almost sounding like one is Mike McCready's guitar solo. With all due respect, he's possibly the best guitarist of his generation, but his solo here is particularly weak. Sirens is certainly a very un-Pearl Jam song, but in a good way. It's got the conventions of a traditional ballad, but yet it's different. It's a love song, not your usual run-of-the-mill one, but expertly written, and it's something we have come to expect from a man approaching fifty years old. Boom's keyboards and McCready's twelve-string acoustic strumming make it all very pretty. I like the little pre-chorus section before the melody just builds up higher without ever going over the top. The chorus, with its simple yet hard-hittingly emotional chord progression, is downright great, and it's got a bit of modern country undertones (strangely it reminds me of Dixie Chicks). The ending is where it all comes together. Simple, beautiful harmonies. I was on the verge of tears on my second listen. It'll be interesting to see how Sirens works in relation to the narrative of the new album.

Hear the sirens
Hear the circus, so profound
I hear the sirens
more and more in this here town

Let me catch my breath to breathe
and reach across the bed
Just to know we’re safe
I am a grateful man
This life has been a light
and I can see clear
how to take your hand, and feel your breath
or feel this someday will be over
I hold you close, so much to lose
knowing that nothing lasts forever
I didn’t care before you were here
I danced with laughter
with the ever-after
But all things change. Let this remain

Hear the sirens covering distance in the night
The sound echoing closer, will they come for me next time?
Oh every choice, mistake I’ve made, it’s not my plan
to send you in the arms of another man
And if you choose to stay, I’ll wait, I’ll understand

It’s a fragile thing, this life we lead
If I think too much, I can’t get over
Wound by the grace by which we live
our lives with death over our shoulders
Want you to know that should I go
I always loved you, held you high above too
I study your face, and the fear goes away
The fear goes away
The fear goes away
The fear goes away

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

More Australian Shows

Frontier Touring has just announced more shows in Oz, to meet the overwhelming demand of ticket sales and also to discourage people from buying from illegitimate scalpers [link]. Additional shows were bound to happen, given the current gaps in the dates, but surprisingly, there's none for Sydney and Brisbane. Adelaide and Hunter Valley get one more each, and Perth, the most successful and popular of all the cities, gets an unprecedented third one. So now the tour will begin on Feb 5th instead. Here's the full, updated list.

Wednesday, February 5 – Perth Arena, Perth
Friday, February 7 – Perth Arena, Perth (SOLD OUT)
Saturday, February 8 – Perth Arena, Perth (SOLD OUT)
Tuesday, February 11 – Entertainment Centre, Adelaide (SOLD OUT)
Wednesday, February 12 – Entertainment Centre, Adelaide
Saturday, February 15 – AAMI Park, Melbourne
Sunday, February 16 – AAMI Park, Melbourne 
Wednesday, February 19 – Allphones Arena, Sydney
Saturday, February 22 – Hope Estate Winery, Hunter Valley (SOLD OUT)
Sunday, February 23 – Hope Estate Winery, Hunter Valley
Wednesday, February 26 – Entertainment Centre, Brisbane (SOLD OUT)
Saturday, March 1 – Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland (SOLD OUT)
Sunday, March 2 – Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland

On a related note, Steven Jump, the co-founder of Badlands Travel and Records [link] has passed away unexpectedly. I have never met him personally, but thanks to him, I've secured tickets and good hotel rooms for the UK Springsteen and Pearl Jam shows in June last year. He couldn't have been more helpful and accommodating in assisting a 'worrywart' fan from Singapore who kept emailing him, asking lots of questions. I'm aware he and his brother, Philip, has done much for the UK Bruce fan community since the late '80s and are also tireless supporters of the record store and rock & roll music. He'll be sorely missed by many. My condolences to his family and friends. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Manifesto - Bruce Springsteen pays tribute to Victor Jara

In 1988 we played for Amnesty International in Mendoza, Argentina, but Chile was in our hearts. We met many families of Desaparecidos, which had pictures of their loved ones. It was a moment that stays with me forever. A political musician, Victor Jara, remains a great inspiration. It’s a gift to be here and I take it with humbleness.
- Santiago, Chile (12 Sep 2013)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Another Self Portrait: The Bootleg Series Vol. 10

I took the plunge on the (unfairly overpriced) deluxe edition because it was the only way to get the Isle Of Wight disc. I hope they don't go and release this concert as a stand-alone disc in the future! Also included in the box set is a newly remastered Self Portrait (heard it before, but never thought it was worth owning it). Listening to the newly unearthed alternate takes and demos from the original Self Portrait sessions doesn't really make me appreciate the 1970 album even more, nor does it make me wanna revisit its songs. For one thing, most of these 'bootleg' versions were so much better than what eventually appeared on the album, because they worked best when they were as stripped-down as possible, sans the harmonies and overdubs, and occasionally augmented by organist Al Kooper and guitarist Dave Bromberg.

These tracks, most of which were covers of traditionals, are so raw, so intimate, and through Dylan's very tender vocals, so earnest it'd be crazy for one not to fall in love with them during the first few listens. I think his best singing voice came from this particular period. Dylan wasn't betraying and turning his back on his audience as much as he was embracing his past, going back to the Great American Songbook, making it known to the world the music that made him aspire to become an artist and performer in the first place. Pretty Saro, Spanish Is The Loving Tongue, Copper Kettle, Railroad Bill, This Evening So Soon, Belle Isle, Tattle O' Day....

The original ones have their ups and downs. The set begins with a very good acoustic demo of Went To See The Gypsy. There's a cool version of New Morning with horns; on the flipside, the hornless Wigmam works better than with horns, and so does Days Of '49 without the unnecessary overdubs. There's an interesting take of If Not For You with violins. On the other hand, Sign On The Window is a bit too over-the-top with the orchestra. There are two alternate versions of Time Passes Slowly, the first one featuring George Harrison on guitar and vocals. Another one in which he has a ball playing the guitar on is the almost-comical Working On A Guru. If Dogs Run Free is average at best, but I prefer this folky version compared to the awful, jazzy one. I feel that the Nashville Skyline tracks; the alternate takes of I Threw It All Away and Country Pie are nothing more than filler. The fitting final track of Disc Two, a piano demo of When I Paint My Masterpiece, is a revelation.

Also a revelation is the entire Isle Of Wight performance. Like David Fricke mentioned in his RS review, 'it doesn't sound that distant from his shows of the past 20 years'. I loved how they reworked Maggie's Farm, One Too Many Mornings (a departure from the '66 live version, but much more suited to Levon Helm's style), and Highway 61 Revisited (now that's a wild one). Dylan brought back with him to the stage his Nashville Skyline soft, crooner voice and during the acoustic portion, he sung his folk 'classics' so shockingly different it felt like someone else was singing them. It Ain't Me Babe, To Ramona, and Mr. Tambourine Man were considered 'recent' at the time, but when he performed them, it was as if he had written them many lifetimes ago.

It still blows my mind sometimes to think that Dylan wasn't the same man he was just three, four years back. Wild Mountain Thyme, a traditional ballad, is heart-achingly beautiful. The live version of Minstrel Boy here makes the one found on Disc One pretty much forgettable -- it's quite odd this never-circulated-before Basement Tapes track was even considered for inclusion in this volume. The Band, of course, played bloody great. They didn't sound like any other group then (and now); it's like one listen to this and you immediately know it's The Band. I LOVE Levon's drumming and harmonies. Another Self Portrait is yet another Bootleg Series essential.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Crystal Cat Wembley Night

The Wrecking Ball Tour is hitting up South America this week, before it finally wraps up at Rock In Rio next Saturday. Let's rewind back to June 15. This newly released Wembley concert bootleg is thus far the best sounding boot of the 2013 leg, and one of the top five overall from the tour, just behind Paris 2 and Gothenburg 2. Speaking of which, the latter had an epic setlist, and it's most deserving of a home video release. Wembley, on the other hand, was probably the one of the most hyped up and highly anticipated Springsteen stadium shows in a long time, and the folks at CC did it justice. Very clear separation of instruments, albeit the guitars were pretty low in the mix, and the audience noise level was just right. It kinda makes me feel like I'm in the pit.....or right at the back at least. Killer setlist too.....Darkness fell upon London that night. Get it at [link].

1. Land Of Hope And Dreams
2. Jackson Cage
3. Radio Nowhere
4. Save My Love
5. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
6. This Hard Land
7. Lost In The Flood
8. Wrecking Ball
9. Death To My Hometown
10. Hungry Heart
11. Badlands
12. Adam Raised A Cain
13. Something In The Night
14. Candy's Room
15. Racing In The Street
16. The Promised Land
17. Factory
18. Streets Of Fire
19. Prove It All Night
20. Darkness On The Edge Of Town
21. Shackled And Drawn
22. Waitin' On A Sunny Day
23. The Rising
24. Light Of Day
25. Pay Me My Money Down
26. Born To Run
27. Bobby Jean
28. Dancing In The Dark
29. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
30. Twist And Shout
31. Thunder Road (acoustic)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Made Up Mind

This past week has been a blues kinda week. I've been soaked deep in Tedeschi Truck Band's latest album. Their debut, Revelator, was great stuff, but this new one is simply off the charts. I'm pleased that the songwriting is so much stronger this time, and the horns are more prominent, resulting in some elaborate and thought-out arrangements. There's just more 'music' happening than before. Phenomenal vocals by Susan Tedeschi as usual, and of course Derek Trucks, the greatest guitarist since Eric Clapton (I'm not kidding) continues to knock it out of the park. He's a very expressive player who already has a very distinctive style he can call his own, and knows when to let loose and when to blend in with the 11-piece band, which boasts a very HOT rhythm section, and channels the best of what R&S (rock & soul) and R&B has to offer today.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Document Records Reissues

Earlier this year, Third Man Records teamed up with Document Records for a new groundbreaking project that aims to re-release music by some of the greatest and most influential blues artists of the 20th Century on the 12 inch vinyl. The first few volumes in this ongoing series features the completed recorded works in chronological order of Charley Patton, Blind Willie McTell and The Mississippi Sheiks. Besides an old Columbia compilation CD of Robert Johnson recordings, this is my first time owning something from the '20s and '30s. I am just absolutely blown away by the sound. It really is a truly unique and mindblowing experience, listening to music that was recorded over eighty years ago, the way it's always meant to be listened to, on analog. It can't get any purer than this. As Bruce recently said, it's magic......but without the tricks, which is exactly what this feels like. I am grateful to Jack White for making these essential works of art easily accessible to everyone, and of course for those who will benefit the most -- the younger and future generations of blues lovers.

The recordings we'll be presenting in this reissue series are the building blocks and DNA of American culture. Blues, R&B, Elvis, teenagerism, punk rock... it all goes back to these vital, breathtaking recordings. Third Man Records is proud to present these landmark albums in conjunction with Document Records, with brand new, jaw-dropping artwork by Rob Jones and new insightful liner notes, on vinyl for the first time in decades. Every record collection should have ample room for these highly important and endlessly listenable albums.
- Third Man Records 

P.S. The new White Stripes Elephant 10th Anniversary reissue is now available at the TMR store. It's fantastic!!