Category Archives: music

Pearl Jam, Scottrade Center, St. Louis, 10-03-2014

Yeah, yeah, I know… dormant blog… bla bla bla. I know I’ve promised to revive it before. I think I’ve just been unfocused about why I even have the thing. Let’s try to start back up with a little concert review, shall we?

When you are a serious fan (knows all the words, has lots of bootlegs, travels for shows, compares setlists, would instantly recognize any of the band members on the street, etc.) of one band and then you go to a concert by another band in a similar genre, it’s a little like attending services in a church that’s in your same religion but a rather different denomination. It’s both familiar and a little disorienting. As a pretty serious Springsteen/E Street Band fan, I attended my first Pearl Jam show in St. Louis on October 3, and while it didn’t feel like “home” the way a Bruce show does, it was good. Really, really good.

Pearl Jam St. Louis button

Shout-out to the guy sitting next to me, also a big Bruce fan, who gave me this button at the end of the show. Super nice of you, man!

I have been, for years, a pretty casual Pearl Jam fan. I know the radio hits, of course. I’ve got a few of their albums, though I don’t know those albums backwards and forwards. In the weeks before the show I did make an effort to listen to them more, and I picked up the most recent album (Lightning Bolt) and gave that one particular attention. While I’ve been a casual fan, I guess I have to qualify that a bit, because a lot of casual fans wouldn’t drive 200 miles to catch a show. I’m still not sure what tipped the scales; I’ve heard for years that they put on an excellent show, but it wasn’t until this tour that I decided I needed to see them. The most logical shows for me to catch were either Cincinnati (about a 2.5 hour drive) or St. Louis (about a 4 hour drive). I’d been to Cinci already this year for a Bruce show, and I have a couple of friends in STL that I knew I’d like to see; the fact that when tickets went on sale I wasn’t able to nab anything better than an upper level for Cinci but found a good lower for STL was the clincher. Also, STL has several reasonably priced hotels within walking distance of the arena, so you don’t have to pay “event” rates for parking. (A note for St. Louis traveling show-goers: if you stay at the Pear Tree Inn, just down Market Street from the Scottrade Center arena, the restaurant next door has a shuttle bus that will take you there and bring you back afterwards for two bucks a person each way. It’s walkable, but so nice to have another option that doesn’t involve shelling out money for parking.)

I do love a rock & roll road trip.

I will say this. If you’re a casual, or even relatively casual, fan and you go to a show, plan on being OK with hearing songs you don’t necessarily know, or know well. Don’t plan on talking through them. Plan on listening to them and enjoying them and maybe even falling in love with them (Footsteps, I’m talking to you – what a killer song!). The St. Louis setlist gave us a nicely-balanced mix of big hits (Jeremy, Daughter, Even Flow, etc.), deeper cuts, and a couple of covers. The first set was very solid, the band super tight and the audience extremely responsive. “Even Flow,” “Not For You,” and of course “Jeremy” were highlights of this set. The second set opened with Eddie Vedder seated alone onstage, where he gave us a stunning, utterly heartfelt cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Not a huge surprise to get this, I suppose, since he’s just released this song as a charity single on iTunes – but apparently it had never been performed at a PJ show before, only at Vedder’s solo shows. This was followed by “Just Breathe,” a song I got sick of on the radio but which sounded really lovely tonight. The aforementioned “Footsteps” is, I gather from reading some of the fan boards online, infrequently performed and one some fans have been chasing for a while – it was a highlight for me too, and I’d probably only heard it a couple of times in my life before. After a fun “Last Kiss” performed directly to the audience seated behind the stage (classy move, PJ!), the set returned to the louder material – “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns” was outstanding and “Porch” was a major face-melter.

The third set (officially the second encore) blew the roof off the place. “Alive” was a highlight for me, and “Baba O’Riley” was just a lot of fun. I tried hard all night to resist comparing the show to a Springsteen show, wanting to take it entirely on its own merits, but the late-in-the-show, house-lights-up, loudly-singing-audience atmosphere reminded me of, say, “Born to Run” followed by “Rosalita.” You know, the point in the show where it’s no longer even about the song itself but about the energy in the arena, the joy of collective release, and the need to throw yourself into it even though you’ve been rocking for well over two hours – both band and audience giving it everything they’ve got. A glorious feeling.

I was sorry to get neither “Black” (a song I’ve always absolutely loved, and the one that probably came closest to pulling me into PJ fandom way back when) nor “Sirens” (I guess some people think this is a bathroom-break song, but it’s probably my favorite on the new album) – but you can’t have all the songs in every show, and I have no quibbles with the setlist, which was nicely balanced and flowed very well.

The band’s energy seemed excellent; this was the second show on this US leg of the Lightning Bolt tour, and they seemed glad to be there and definitely back into the groove after three months of downtime. Next time I’m definitely aiming to sit on Mike McCready’s side of the stage – he was SO much fun to watch, and an interesting guitarist. I’d been a little concerned about Eddie Vedder, having heard that he did something to his leg in Cincinnati and was seen limping badly at the end of the show – he acknowledged the injury at one point in St. Louis, thanking the doctors who’d fixed him up. He seemed to be moving just fine, spending a lot of time looking intently into the audience and going into the crowd a bit. He also seemed to be in a great mood. At one point Vedder and McCready did this thing where they were leaning on each other’s backs and going lower and lower until they both lost control and crashed down on the stage; I looked up at the video screens then and Vedder was grinning like a fool. I LOVE it when the band members seem like they are having fun on the stage, enjoying the show, enjoying one another’s playing and one another’s company. (One of the reasons I love the E Street Band so much – every show has a lot of that.)

First Pearl Jam show – in the books! And it definitely won’t be my last. And you know, it does say something about a band when, twenty-plus years into their career, they can put on a performance strong enough to continue pulling in new fans, or at least to convert casual fans into the more serious variety. Well done, guys. Well done.

* * * * *
Slideshow: Pearl Jam at Scottrade Arena, from the Riverfront Times

Setlist, review and photos from Speakers in Code

 

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A little Jersey in Cincinnati: Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes

Hearts of Stone album coverI’m not sure how a 17-year-old northern Indiana girl in the seventies stumbled across Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, the quintessential New Jersey bar band. I suspect I must have read a review, possibly in Rolling Stone, of their great album Hearts of Stone. The review would surely have mentioned that Bruce Springsteen had written a couple of the songs and that Miami Steve Van Zandt was prominently featured.  I was a big Springsteen fan by then, so that would have been enough to send me to the record store to pick up the album. And I was hooked from the first time I spun that disc. Phenomenal songwriting, impeccable arrangements, passionate performances. I played that sucker over and over, especially “Trapped Again” which was simultaneously propelled and restrained by a super funky bass line, straining against its own architecture.

But the Jukes didn’t get radio play in Indiana, and they didn’t tour here, and I didn’t have any friends who were into them – so I lost  track of them for many years. They never broke as big as they deserved to, and I suppose there are all kinds of reasons for that, few of which have to do with the quality of the actual music they kept making. Personally I think some good rock writer needs to do a biography on Southside Johnny. It would be a fascinating look at the Jersey Shore music scene, and at someone who neither hit it big like his colleagues Springsteen and Bon Jovi nor bombed out completely and quit the business.

Anyway, the rise of social media & my connection with the international network of Springsteen fans put them back on my radar a few years ago. They’ve had a lot of personnel changes over the years, and a lot of cross-pollination with other bands including E Street, Bon Jovi, the Max Weinberg band on Conan O’Brien’s old show, etc. There’s a lot of Jukes and ex-Jukes running around out there, though Southside has always been at the helm. They tour, but hardly ever in my neck of the woods; Chicago now and then, but the dates never quite worked out for me. Plus, to he honest, there are a lot of bands out there touring on their past glory with most of the original members long gone off to greener pastures, and sometimes it is just not a good concert experience. So I was a little nervous about committing a big chunk of time and money to catch a show.

Fast forward to this year. I really, really wanted to make an epic early-autumn road trip out to the Jersey shore. I’ve never been, and so much of the music I love comes from there – plus I just plain haven’t seen the ocean in a few years. I schemed and plotted but between finding a good time to take that much time off & the financial thing, it started to become clear that this wasn’t the year for me and Jersey.

So I started looking around for something I could do on a three- or four-day weekend. Chicago, Louisville, Nashville, Cleveland, St. Louis… Cincinnati. I scoured the tour schedules of every artist I could think of that I liked enough to drive for, knowing that the road trip itself was half the goal. And there it was. Southside & the Jukes, at Bogart’s in Cincinnati on a Saturday night. I dithered and fussed. I tweeted. @msaleski tweeted back that the Jukes were killin’ it on this tour. And whoever runs the Jukes’ Twitter account pointed out:

Which I thought was a very good point.

So yeah. I bought a ticket and booked a hotel room. Decided to stay two nights so I could do a little sightseeing in a city I hadn’t set foot in for many years. I planned my ass off, like I always do, making a Google map and reading endless hotel and restaurant reviews. I spent more time planning than I was actually going to spend in Cincinnati but that is half the fun of it for me.

Bogart's marqueeFinally the weekend came. I enjoyed kicking back in my hotel room Friday night, sleeping in on Saturday (it’s my vacation and I can sleep if I want to), and spending a few hours at the zoo Saturday afternoon. As often happens, serendipity got me to Bogart’s at the perfect time; there were maybe half a dozen people waiting outside about half an hour before the doors were scheduled to open, so I knew I’d be able to snag a great spot on the floor. I chatted with folks as we waited and was pleased to find out I was neither the only one who’d driven in from out of town nor the only longtime fan who’d never managed to catch the band live.

I ended up smack dab in front, leaning on the barrier separating the audience from the stage, not too far off center. Not having people in front of you makes a huge difference when you’re 5 foot 1. I killed time chatting with the folks around me, sharing music recommendations. I love the anticipation before the show almost as much as I love the show itself.

As for the show itself? They flat-out killed it. I was looking forward to the show, but it exceeded my expectations by a fair margin. Very loose, very high-energy. What got played was pretty radically different from the written setlist, with Southside Johnny and former Cincinnati resident Jeff Kazee (who got a lot of the spotlight that night & was clearly relishing his return to his old stomping grounds) kicking into songs and letting the rest of the band catch up. A little ragged at times, but in the best way – and you gotta love an unexpected Elvis medley, not to mention THREE encores.

Southside Johnny and Jeff Kazee onstage

If one were a purist, one could argue about whether the current touring band is really the Asbury Jukes. It’s true that the only guy in this lineup who appeared on Hearts of Stone is Southside Johnny himself. But it’s not like the band was the same core group of guys for decades and now it’s a bunch of ringers; the lineup has always changed frequently. As noted in the Wikipedia article about the band, more than 100 people can claim to have been Jukes. Sure, you can make the case that when they play the older material, the current group is basically a cover band fronted by the original singer. But you know what? These guys sounded GREAT and I pretty much couldn’t stop dancing all night. And to me, that’s what matters. Great music played well, with humor and heart and energy. And you gotta love Southside for putting it all out there on the stage, playing a longer show (I didn’t time it, but definitely over two hours) than lots of guys half his age, leaving the audience sweaty and exhilarated. (One mark of a great rock show, for me: my feet hurt like hell when I got back to my room.)

Horn section

Musical highlights for me: “Till the Good is Gone” (which is just a great great song), “Talk To Me” (featuring a hilarious interlude in which Southside tried to get one of the security dudes at the front of the stage to sing along), and – the third encore, the one song I didn’t dare hope to get that night, one of the cornerstones of 17-year-old Anne’s soundtrack – “Trapped Again.” But really, it wasn’t the individual songs as much as it was the  whole sweaty, exuberant evening, which reaffirmed everything about why I love this music, why I love going to concerts, why it’s worth the 340-mile round trip (would have been less if Einstein here hadn’t booked a hotel way the heck up in Blue Ash, but oh well), and why I need to remember that if there’s ever any doubt I should always, always, always just buy the damn ticket and go to the show.

Southside Johnny and Glenn Alexander onstage

Setlist for October 5, 2013
Bogarts, Cincinnati, OH
(list via Natalie Ellis, as posted on the Asbury Jukes’ Facebook page)

I Only Want to Be With You
Passion Street
Lead Me On
Keep On Moving
I Played the Fool
You’re My Girl
All the Way Home
This Time It’s For Real
Till the Good Is Gone
Help Me
Without Love
Love On the Wrong Side of Town
Walk Away Renee
You Don’t Know Like I Know
Soul Man
Drown in My Own Tears (Jeff Kazee vocal)
Shake ‘Em Down
Don’t Be Cruel
Heartbreak Hotel
Fever
One More Night to Rock
Stand By Me
I Don’t Want to Go Home

First encore:
Talk to Me
Hearts of Stone

Second encore:
Better Way Home

Third encore:
Trapped Again

Band lineup:
Southside Johnny
Jeff Kazee
Glenn Alexander
Tony Tino
Tom Seguso
Neal Pawley
John Isley
Chris Anderson

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Macca’s Magic: Paul McCartney in Indianapolis, parts 2 and 3

Paul McCartney and band onstage

[Read Part 1, in which I experience Concert Ticket Drama and Kerfuffle.]

Part 2: Rock Show

After racing around deciding what to wear (and being thankful that I’d done laundry the night before instead of saving it for Sunday evening as I usually do), printing out my ticket, feeding the cats, getting cash for parking, and gassing up the car, I plugged the Bankers Life Fieldhouse address into my GPS (yes, I’ve lived 50 miles from downtown Indianapolis for many years, but I often get lost enough to make the GPS worthwhile) and was on my way. To my delight, the Indianapolis radio station I listen to most often, WTTS, was playing an hour and a half of Beatles and McCartney music for those of us on our way to the show. I turned it way up. Few things put me in my happy place more than singing along at the top of my lungs while driving to a show, and I was definitely in my very happy place by now.

I arrived at the arena well ahead of showtime, took a few minutes to ogle the shiny shiny tour buses parked outside, went in and found my seat. To my delight, although I was pretty far towards the back of the arena floor, I was dead center and just three rows in front of the soundboard – which guaranteed that I would get the best sound in the place. Sweet! Based on the seating diagram I’d seen on Ticketmaster, the original plan was that Section F on the floor would be split into left and right halves on either side of the soundboard, so my guess is that the board ended up requiring a little less floor space than anticipated and they were able to open up five rows in front of it at the last minute.

I chatted with the folks around me a bit, all of whom had similar last-minute ticket-buying stories. We were all pretty grateful to be there, I think! Finally the lights dimmed, and for the next half-hour we watched a sort of scrolling photo/video collage on the big screens on either side of the stage – beginning with pictures of Paul as a small child and continuing on with photos from the Beatles and Wings days, augmented with painting (if I’m not mistaken, done by McCartney himself). It was really nice, although to be honest I could have lived without most of the DJ’d cover versions of McCartney’s songs that accompanied it…

McCartney and band took the stage about 8:30 to absolutely thunderous applause. Bankers Life (formerly Conseco) Fieldhouse was sold out from the floor all the way up to the rafters, and the audience was into it from the get-go. He opened with “Eight Days a Week” and it could have been the Beatles in Shea Stadium for all the screaming in there. Pure, pure joy.

Musical highlights included:

Paul McCartney playing guitar

“Paperback Writer”

• All of the early Beatles songs – “Eight Days a Week,” “All My Loving,” “Paperback Writer” (using the guitar that was used for the original recording!), “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “We Can Work It Out,” “And I Love Her,” and later on in the encores “Day Tripper,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and of course “Yesterday” (sigh…!). These songs never get old, do they? God, just so brilliant.
• “The Long and Winding Road,” followed by “Maybe I’m Amazed” – two of my favorite McCartney songs, and I will admit that the room got awfully dusty there for a few minutes (sniffle). “Maybe I’m Amazed” seemed a particularly heartfelt performance of the song Paul noted he’d written for Linda.
• “Blackbird.” McCartney introduced this one by saying he’d written it in England with the intention of writing a song for the American civil rights movement. Less than 24 hours after the Zimmerman verdict, still feeling wrenched and heartsick, the song felt especially poignant to me. He played it solo on acoustic guitar, standing on a small platform that rose up as he played until he was standing high above the stage – a neat effect. One of my very favorite Beatles songs, both utterly timely and utterly timeless. I think this was my favorite moment of the show – and one of my favorite concert moments ever.
• That was followed by “Here Today,” which Paul said he’d written in memory of his friend John. “If you need to tell somebody something, do it now, because you never know when it will be too late,” he told us. Such a simple human thing, the sadness of losing a friend before you can say what you need to say – of course when you remember that the friend was John Lennon, and the absolute wrenching heartbreak of his murder and what the world lost, the grief is both personal and public. A lovely tribute to what must have been a complicated friendship.
• After that it was the fun and games section of the set (it really was a very well-constructed setlist overall): “Your Mother Should Know,” “Lady Madonna,” “All Together Now,” and “Lovely Rita.” So lighthearted, so much singing along!
• Another tribute to a lost friend: Paul got out a ukulele, and told us about hanging out with George Harrison and figuring out how to play one of George’s songs on the ukulele. The one he was playing tonight, he told us, had been given him by George himself. He began “Something” solo on said ukulele as images of George played on the giant screen; eventually the band came in for a really, really lovely version of one of my favorite songs of all time. (Sniffle. Again.)
• And there was “Let Me Roll It”! And “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five”! And “Eleanor Rigby” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Band on the Run”! So many highlights. You start to realize after a while just how many incredible songs this guy has written and it blows your mind, it does.
• “Back in the U.S.S.R.” was an absolutely killer performance that had me dancing my butt off. I loved the “FREE PUSSY RIOT” graphic that flashed on the screen for a few moments among all the other Soviet-inspired imagery – and the loud roar of approval it elicited from the audience. Go Paul!
• “Let It Be” was – as always and ever – a religious experience. Something about that song is so completely comforting to me. I know he’s played it a thousand million times, but to hear Paul McCartney singing this song in person is just … it’s something that will stay with me for a long long time.
• And then “Live and Let Die,” a song I’ve always loved, came complete with GIANT JETS OF FIRE and actual FIREWORKS inside the arena! It was just spectacular. You know, I’ve always said that good musical performances don’t need laser shows and pyrotechnics and what-not… but this was SO MUCH FUN. Holy cats, it was fun. Following that up with “Hey Jude,” which gets its own brand of pyrotechnics from the utterly epic audience sing-along… nearly twenty thousand people, every single one of us at the top of our lungs… epic, epic, epic.
• And the encores! Two encores, three songs each – “I Saw Her Standing There” was loose and such a great damn song and SO much fun. The second encore opened with Paul standing alone in the spotlight with an acoustic guitar, singing “Yesterday” – followed by an insanely loud, psychedelic-light-show rendition of “Helter Skelter.” An awkward segue? Maybe, but also brilliant; you realize at that moment that this man has written, not just dozens of the best songs ever written, but both “Yesterday” which is the simplest, purest pop ballad in the world AND “Helter Skelter” which is one of the most furious, manic, heaviest rock songs ever. I loved the contrast.
• And of course, he has to end with “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End.” It’s the perfect ending to the show, and as Paul and band leave the stage we are showered with giant cannons full of red, white, and blue confetti. It’s perfect.

Paul McCartney at piano

“Maybe I’m Amazed”

38 songs. Over two and a half hours of music, by my calculation. (Here’s the complete setlist.) Some of the greatest songs ever written, performed very, very, very well by the excellent band that’s been touring with McCartney for many years. Paul himself has lost very little with age; all evening he kept doing little dances in between songs, grinning and pointing at the audience, clearly enjoying himself immensely. His voice is perhaps not as strong as it once was; at times he faltered slightly and at times he seemed to be singing with a certain carefulness. But that didn’t detract from the performance at all and in fact it made the music seem more precious in a way, just enough of a crack in the perfection to remind us all to cherish this experience while we can. Time eventually takes a toll on everyone – but for now, Paul McCartney is definitely still charming (dare I say, even downright adorable), still jaunty, and above all still rocking as hard as anybody out there.

A couple of other notes. I have read some complaints about the sound in the venue, and I would not be surprised if indeed it was bad up in the rafters – it’s almost impossible to get great sound in every part of an arena that size. From where I was sitting, three rows in front of the soundboard and dead center on the floor, the sound was absolutely pristine – resonant, crisp, and clear. I could understand every word spoken and sung, all of the instruments sounded great, and the volume was perfect (LOUD but not distorted).

The lighting and stage design were a wonder to behold. Like I said, I’m normally not one for a big light show or elaborate staging at a concert – the music should hold its own. Obviously, McCartney’s music needs no augmentation. But the way the lighting and staging were done, it was like we got a completely different stage every so often – the big screen behind the band was used in some incredibly creative ways, and the lighting set so many different moods. I felt like I’d been taken on a journey through a bunch of different places and times, and the lighting made the experience utterly immersive. It was incredibly creative and beautifully accomplished. If anybody knows who’s responsible, please do leave that information in the comments!

Finally, McCartney’s longtime band deserves a mention: Abe Laboriel (drums, percussion, vocals), Paul “Wix” Wickens (vocals, keyboards, guitar, percussion), Brian Ray (guitar, bass, vocals), and Rusty Anderson (guitar, vocals). All four of these guys knocked my socks off with their musicianship and versatility.

Part 3: I Have Seen the Future of Rock & Roll…

Lastly, just a little bit about the crowd. Totally sold-out show, so there was a little of everyone there. Lots of people my age (mid-fifties) and up. Lots of Beatles t-shirts. But also… LOTS of young folks, many there with their parents. I love that! To say the audience was enthusiastic would be a pretty humongous understatement. Everyone was on their feet, all the way up into the rafters, for most of the show; during the encore breaks I took a moment to look around me and saw a gorgeous glittering sea of cellphones being waved. Before the show, such a huge sense of anticipation and excitement. After the show, some of the biggest smiles I’ve seen in a very long time. It was a beautiful thing.

Red, white, and blue confetti in the air.

confetti!

The show ended with a giant blast of red, white, and blue confetti into the audience. Some of us (okay, ME) immediately became little kids and started reaching up into the air to catch the stuff, scooping up handfuls of it to save. I realized as I danced around catching confetti that the young lady a few seats down from me was doing the same thing. I’d noticed her before the show – probably about 14 years old, wearing a McCartney t-shirt, shorts, and Beatle boots, carrying a super cool bag designed from an actual record album and painted with Paul’s face on it. We grinned at each other as we scooped up confetti, and started chatting. Her eyes were shining and then she melted into tears, utterly overwhelmed by how much she loved the show. “It’s life-changing,” she said.

And that, friends, THAT made my already full heart just about burst with happiness and joy. To witness somebody her age falling head over heels in love with rock & roll, with the exuberance and celebration of a show like that – it just gave me a pile of hope that I have been needing, you know? I told her “when I was about your age, maybe a little bit older, I went to my first Springsteen show and it changed my life too.” I know she probably feels like a lot of her peers, the ones who listen to Justin Bieber and One Direction and Taylor Swift, don’t understand the diehard Beatles fan in their midst. I know she probably feels like she’s not quite like the other kids, sometimes. I hope that by telling her that I’d had the same experience, she realizes that she’s on a wonderful journey that will carry her through the rest of her life.

Can music change the world? I don’t know (okay, I do know, and the answer is yes, but we’ll accept that there’s room for argument here) – but I do know for sure, for absolute sure, that it can change a person. And that person can then change the world. All you need is love, and all that. It’s hard to hold on to that level of optimism sometimes, in the face of the really hard things that happen. But then you go to a concert, and one guy stands there alone in the spotlight singing a song he wrote more than half a lifetime ago, and everything somehow makes sense – love, and hope, and belief. And you go home and you go back to your regular life but that song stays with you forever, cradled inside where you can reach in when you need it and hold on to it a bit.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night…

Was that concert ticket worth all the drama and the kerfuffle and the number of dollars that no sane person with my salary would think of spending on one rock show?

Yes. Yes, in fact, it was.

Thank you, Paul McCartney. Thank you, young woman in Section F Row 2, whose name I never got. Thank you, rock and roll. Thank you.

Paul McCartney alone in spotlight playing acoustic guitar

“Yesterday”

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Macca’s Magic: Paul McCartney in Indianapolis, 7/14/13 (Part 1)

Paul McCartney

Part 1: The Miracle

I’d known for a while that Paul McCartney was coming to Indianapolis. I don’t remember why I missed the initial on-sale date for tickets, which was back in April; perhaps I was expecting some stateside Springsteen dates to show up and didn’t want to spend the money, or perhaps I just wasn’t thinking. Whatever happened, by the time I wised up and realized I really wanted to go (aided & abetted by friends who saw the tour in other towns and raved about how terrific the show was), it was way past sold out. I kept on checking Ticketmaster daily, and a few weeks ago some “obstructed view” seats off to the side of the stage showed up (and for a reasonable price), but I was boneheaded and said “eh, obstructed view, I’ll wait for better.” Then when the “PILLAR – NO VIEW” seats showed up for 70-some bucks, I flat-out refused. No view? No thanks. (Seriously, Bankers Life Fieldhouse? I’m hoping these seats weren’t as bad as they sounded. They did get bought, so I guess there were enough people really desperate just to be in the building.)

Now, it’s not like I’m a new McCartney fan. I was fairly obsessed with the Beatles through junior high and high school and college or thereabouts, and in fact the very first album I bought with my own money was “Wings at the Speed of Sound,” which had just come out. But somehow, inexplicably, I had never managed to see him (or in fact any of the ex-Beatles) in concert before. In recent years I’ve come to realize that you can’t just say “eh, I’ll catch ‘em next time around” because things happen. I really should have bought that ticket in April, you know. I had only myself to blame at this point.

As it got closer to showtime, I started checking StubHub for scalped tickets. I’m pretty firmly against ticket scalping in general, and in the past have refused to patronize StubHub on principle. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and I started looking. There were some balcony seats ($70 face value I think), way up in the upper stratosphere of the arena, that somebody was asking $250 for. I just couldn’t do that. There were, of course, plenty of lovely seats to be had for $400 and up – in some cases way up. Again… uh no. The other problem with StubHub is that most of the tickets are sold in pairs, and can’t be split up to purchase a single, so if I was going to fly solo it was starting to look like my best option was to purchase a pair of $250 balcony seats and give somebody a really nice present… UH NO.

I’m something of a veteran of Springsteen-related ticket drama, my own and others’, and I do know that very few shows are ever truly sold out. I know that, almost always, there’s a “drop” of tickets that are released within a few days of the show for one reason or another – they were being held for VIPs or press, or it wasn’t clear that they would be usable until the production crew got the stage set up and equipment loaded in – and often these are pretty darn good tickets. I also know that people sometimes get desperate when it gets really close to the show and start dropping their prices on StubHub. So I didn’t lose hope, but by the time Saturday night rolled around and it was 24 hours till showtime, I was feeling pessimistic.

Cue up Sunday morning. I’m hanging out on Twitter (who me?), checking Ticketmaster every so often, poking at the TM iPad app in hopes of seeing anything other than “sorry, no tickets are available.” A bunch of my Twitter friends, big music fans who’ve mostly gone through similar drama at one time or another, commiserated with me and encouraged me not to give up. My Twitter friends rock.

Then about 1:30 a music journalist from Indianapolis tweeted that he’d just been notified of a drop. I went into action – pounding away at the TM site on my laptop and my iPad as well as the iPad app, and calling the phone line. No dice anywhere – no tickets to be found. The Indy journalist kindly tweeted me the number for the box office at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which was great because I got a real human being … who confirmed that there had been a drop about an hour ago, but it was just a tiny handful of seats and they were sold immediately, and they had no more tickets.

At this point StubHub was starting to loosen up – some of the prices were dropping (I had my eye on a single club seat that was originally listed for $500 but had dropped to something in the $300s, as well as some balcony seats that were down to less than double their face value) and there were more tickets available than there had been the day before. And there was also the possibility that there’d be a drop right before the show; Brian Ray (one of McCartney’s guitarists) tweeted that people should check the box office about an hour before the show just in case. But did I want to drive an hour, pay premium event-parking prices downtown, and risk being shut out anyway? That would just be SO DEPRESSING.

Oh well, I thought. I’d been about to fix some brunch when the drop drama had happened, so I went back to that. I’m OK whatever happens, I tweeted, life goes on. “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah!” I sang as I chopped veggies. As I finished sautéing mushrooms and went to get eggs out of the fridge, I saw my phone where I’d left it on the counter. What the hell, I thought, picked it up and poked the Ticketmaster app one more time.

Wait a minute. That screen doesn’t say “sorry” on it anywhere. THAT SCREEN HAS A ROW AND SEAT NUMBER ON IT HOLY SHIT! I managed not to drop the phone as I processed the fact that I was being offered a floor seat for … well, let’s just say more than double the highest price I’d ever paid for a ticket before in my life. I’d told myself I wouldn’t go for the top-tier tickets, only the club level or balcony. But … it seemed like this might be my only option. And… and… and…

Reader, I bought it.

You know, it’s fairly difficult to type in your debit card number on a little touchscreen while your hands are absolutely shaking. And my reaction when I got all the way through and got the purchase confirmation email told me that I was definitely making the right choice. Is it possible to tremble all over and at the same time dance a jig while you are tweeting some pretty excited tweets? Yes, yes, it is. I’m going to see a Beatle tonight! I’m going to see a Beatle! I’m going to see A BEATLE!

Stay tuned for part 2, in which a good time is had by all and sundry…

 

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Some Valentines

So, I’ll make no bones about it. I’m basically allergic to sappy mushy love songs. Not only don’t they apply to me (I am very happy to be a spinster – and isn’t “spinster” just a fantastic word? I’m serious!), but they are also, more often than not, either one-dimensional, badly written, trite, or just dishonest.

But a couple of love songs came up on random shuffle as I was listening to music the other day, and they made me think. There are some love songs that I love despite themselves. I decided to set up a few criteria and make a list:

  1. Sincere love songs only – not ironic, mostly sad, or primarily humorous ones.
  2. “I love you” is a different sentiment from “I wish you loved me.” I’m mostly looking for the former, here. This rules out “if only you were mine” songs, “why don’t you love me back” songs, the “since my baby left me” blues, and so on.
  3. Along those lines, no “this love is so great because it is doomed” songs. Likewise, no “love hurts and that’s what I like about it” songs. Looking for, I know this is radical, evidence of actual healthy relationships and human understanding here. Which also means no songs in which everything is perfect, always has been, always will be. Gag me.
  4. Finally they have to be songs I like. Which isn’t that hard because I like a lot of songs. But this is my list, and my taste. :)

So without further ado, sort of a bloggish mixtape – a few musical Valentines from me to you.

Little Steven, “Forever.” People who know Steven Van Zandt from the Sopranos or the E Street Band don’t always realize he is a hellaciously great songwriter in his own right. This song is maybe a little more of an invitation than a declaration of love, but it’s so purely celebratory that I had to include it. The studio version on the great “Men Without Women” album is better, but this live version with Southside Johnny is fun too. “If I give you my heart, would you love me forever? Will you pick up the pieces if I stumble and fall?

Patti Smith, “Because the Night.” I loved this song before I knew that Bruce Springsteen co-wrote it. It’s certainly hyper-romantic, but it has an edge. I love both Patti’s and Bruce’s versions of it, so I chose the one I heard first and fell in love with when I was 16 years old. “Love is a banquet on which we feed.

Ani DiFranco, “Pulse.” You gotta love a love song that starts out by comparing the beloved to a giant bug. And I love the wistful, downtempo, sort of gently obsessive musical bed Ani’s lyrics rest upon. “I would offer you my pulse/ give you my breath.

Indigo Girls, “Starkville.” It’s maybe as much “longing” as “love,” but having fallen for someone who was physically far away (okay, more than once… damn you, Internet), the sentiment at the heart of this song rings true. And I love how the lyrics place you firmly in the real, geographical world. “Now I’m haunted by geography/ and the flora and the fauna of your heart.”

Lucinda Williams, “Something About What Happens When We Talk.” Speaking of long-distance thangs and the magic that can happen when the only way you can touch someone is with words. I just rediscovered this song tonight, actually, after not having listened to it in ages. It’s a song of regret, a little bit, but mostly it’s about realizing how that too-brief intersection with somebody can be pure magic. I love that sense of purity in this song. “Conversation with you was like a drug/ it wasn’t your face so much as it was your words.”

Nils Lofgren, “Valentine.” Nobody does “sincere” quite as well as this guy. I think this is just a really sweet song, simple and direct. The studio version has Bruce Springsteen on harmony, which is always a lovely thing, and Ringo Starr on drums – but this live version has so much great guitar (Lofgren is one of the all-time great rock guitarists) that I had to use it here instead. “So let your blue heart open wide…

Bruce Springsteen, “Kingdom of Days.” Now, Bruce doesn’t have a shortage of songs about women, sex, love, whatever… but a lot of them are about wanting something good, not so much about actually having something good. This song is a gorgeous exception, and one that includes the joys of quietly growing old with someone. You gotta love that. “We’ll laugh beneath the covers, count the wrinkles and the grays…” (Honorable mention in the Springsteen category: Tunnel of Love – “the lights go out and it’s just the three of us: you, me, and all that stuff we’re so scared of.”)

Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Soul Companion.” I’m including this less because of the song (which is lovely) than because of the videos made for it. Fans were invited to submit photos of themselves with their “soul companion” and the resulting videos – six of them, which you can see on MCC’s YouTube channel – were compiled from those photos. There’s so much real love in the photos: couples of all genders, colors, sizes, ages; friends; parents and children; people with their pets; animals cuddled up together. The videos remind me that love is love, no matter what shape it takes, and it’s all worth celebrating. And in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about? Oh yeah, you might see a familiar face right around the 3:04 mark in this video.

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Movie reviewish: “Not Fade Away”

Caveat lector: This isn’t really a proper movie review. I don’t know much about movies, and wouldn’t begin to try to critique a film from an artistic standpoint – I think you have to really understand a genre in order to do that. For a good example of a proper film review, I liked Leonard Maltin’s. This is pretty much just my own personal reaction to the movie; very personal, as you will see by the end.

"Not Fade Away" movie posterGiven that David Chase’s coming-of-age film  “Not Fade Away” is basically a love letter to rock & roll, it won’t surprise anyone that I liked it. Okay, I think it had some issues with pacing – there are times when scenes blow by quickly and I wasn’t really sure whether I had maybe missed something. There were some subplots that were interesting but never got fleshed out – the bit about Grace‘s hippie sister, for example. I was disappointed that the female characters were generally pretty two-dimensional, especially Grace herself; she’s just the pretty but slightly confused girlfriend, and though she’s on screen a lot, we never really get to know what makes her tick. And while I loved the last three minutes or so, the final arc towards the ending (the L.A. part) seemed a little muddled and out-of-place to me.

But you know what, I still loved this movie. I loved it a lot. The soundtrack, as one would expect given the involvement of Steven Van Zandt, is absolutely killer. The Van Zandt original featured in the film, “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” is catchy as hell and just a great song. (You can read my review of the soundtrack album over at Blogness.)  The scenes where the band is learning to play are beautiful; the one where they’re working out “Bo Diddley” in particular made me want to run out of the theater and go start a band. There’s a hilarious cameo by Jay Weinberg (son of E Street drummer Max Weinberg, and until recently the drummer for punk band Against Me) as a drummer entirely ill-suited for the band he’s playing with; for the benefit of those who get it I will mutter here “No junior Ginger Bakers.” The acting is generally very good, especially leading man John Magaro, of whom I bet we will be seeing a lot more, as well as Meg Guzulescu who plays his sister – a tiny role, but she really shines. Anyone who grew up in the sixties will appreciate the attention to authenticity and detail throughout the film; it felt absolutely real. And I dare you not to walk out of the theater humming and/or dancing.

But mostly, and this really isn’t that much of a spoiler, I love that “Not Fade Away” isn’t a success story. It would have been easy to make a movie about a band that makes it big, or for that matter about one that crashes & burns dramatically. But as the lead character’s younger sister says at the beginning of the movie, this band is like most bands – you never heard of them. Does this mean this is a film about failure? No. The message of the film, to me, is that following your dream and doing what you love is not wasted time, regardless of whether you find “success” or “failure” or something in between. More specifically, the movie posits rock & roll as something worth pursuing and holding on to and in fact as the greatest thing American culture has produced.*  You can argue about that latter point, but you can’t argue that the movie and its characters come most alive when they are playing or listening to the music they love. And that has nothing to do with recording contracts, commercial success, or anything else.

As the daughter of a musician who made a modest (very modest) living for a while playing in your basic hotel-lounge cover band, and as someone who took guitar lessons for a while and came close enough to not sucking at it to have some pretty daydreams, I have a complicated relationship with the idea of musical “success.” When you spend hours and hours practicing your craft and you never have the kind of success you daydream about, have you wasted all that time and effort?

I think about that a lot, actually. When my dad got a “real job” teaching psychology at a university and moved us to Indiana, he pretty much stopped playing music. He probably could have found some guys to play with on weekends for fun. But having been good enough to play professionally, I think he recognized that no longer practicing regularly meant that his chops deteriorated quickly, and I think it was hard for him to enjoy playing if he didn’t have the facility with it that he used to have. So he stopped. Like him, I have enough of an ear to hear that when I pick up the guitar to bash around on it now, I kind of suck. I was never a professional-level musician but I was coffeehouse-level good once, and now I can’t even play that well. It’s hard for me to do things just for kicks, without wanting to be good at them. And so, mostly, I don’t play.

And what “Not Fade Away” tells me is, fuck that shit, just play. If it makes you feel alive, it doesn’t much matter if you suck or if you’re good enough to get a record contract. Being good enough to get a contract doesn’t mean you’re going to end up famous anyway. Like all those other bands you’ve never heard of, you probably won’t. You may find yourself in a strange city living a life entirely different from the life you were dreaming of, but on some street corner you might hear music and remember what it feels like to be alive again. And that, this movie says, that is what matters.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have a guitar that needs my attention now. Rock on.

___________________

*At the very end of the movie Evelyn, younger sister of main character Douglas, turns to the camera and says “I had to write a term paper, and I wrote about how America has given the world two inventions of enormous power. One is nuclear weapons. The other is rock & roll. Which one is going to win out in the end?” The question is left verbally unanswered, but Evelyn begins dancing in the middle of the deserted street, a graceful little go-go sequence that celebrates youth, rock & roll, and life itself. I would argue that her dancing answers the question pretty definitively. Rock & roll wins out – if we let it.

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Crazy Kindness: Some thoughts on love and authenticity

This past weekend I made a whirlwind trip to Kansas City for, yes, a Springsteen show. Drove there on Friday, went to the show Saturday, drove back home Sunday – a total of about 960 miles round trip. I got what I expected – hours in the car to listen to music and sing at the top of my lungs where nobody will hear me, some time spent with friends I don’t see often enough, and an absolutely fantastic concert (see my review on Blogness). I also got some surprises along the way, all of them good ones, all of them occasioned by kindness.

Anne Haines and Steven Van Zandt

Anybody know this guy? He seems cool.

Yep, that is me with Little Steven, aka Stevie Van Zandt, aka Miami Steve, aka Silvio Dante, aka someone who has been one of my heroes for many years. I had the incredible good fortune to be offered a pass to his pre-show meet & greet, and so I doubled my lifetime count of E Street Band members I have met (readers of my previous blog will recall that I met Max Weinberg when he came to Indianapolis with his big band a couple years ago). He was exactly like you expect him to be: relaxed, funny, a little sarcastic, charming, and definitely the center of attention in the room.

They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, because you will inevitably be disappointed. But that hasn’t generally been my experience. I mean, I don’t expect them to walk on water. I’m old and I’ve seen a few things and I’ve gotten over thinking anybody walks on water. I haven’t met anybody, ever, who was fully incapable of being a jerk now and then. (Okay, I never met Mother Teresa, but I bet she lost her sense of humor a lot.) I think sometimes people have ridiculous expectations when they meet somebody they admire. It’s a real test, sometimes, to just make yourself stay in the moment and enjoy it for what it is. I’ve had varying levels of success with that (not that I’ve met THAT many famous people, mind).

The thing I have always admired about SVZ, perhaps most of all, is that he seems to be someone who’s determined to be exactly who he is at all times, no matter what, and not try to change himself to fit somebody else’s idea of who he should be – even his own idea of who he should be. He’s been known to piss people off by making political or artistic statements, by wearing what he likes to wear, by doing all kinds of things. And the sense that I got (in the oh, minute and a half that I got to chat with him, and the half-hour or so – ok, I don’t know, I wasn’t exactly checking my watch! – that he was in the room with the group of us that were there that night) was that he’s someone who is very comfortable with who he is. Yeah, being who he is has paid off pretty well for mister rockstar/actor/DJ/record label guy. But you get the impression that he’d be the same person regardless. If he were, I don’t know, a factory worker or an elementary teacher instead of a rockstar, he’d probably be out there supporting local bands in the evenings – as it is, his “local” is international in scope, and when he discovers a band he loves he has the means to help them get a wider audience instead of just being one guy going to their shows and maybe dragging his friends along sometimes. Just for example. There are things that he cares about pretty deeply, and you get the sense that he would care about those things whatever his position in life happened to be, it’s just that he’s got the wherewithal to care about them louder than most people do.

I could be completely wrong about the guy, of course. This is just what I’ve surmised about him from following his career(s) for a few decades, and from the deep sense of authenticity I got from him in the brief time we were in the same room. (Okay, we were also in the same room for three hours afterwards, but the Sprint Center arena is a REALLY BIG ROOM and he was pretty busy at the time.) I’m sure he is thoroughly human. I’m sure he has bad days, and I’m sure I don’t ever want to piss him off. *grin* But he inspires me to try to be more authentic myself, to let myself care deeply about the stuff I care about, and to work hard while still managing to laugh a lot of the time. Not a bad sort of hero to have, methinks.

[And before anybody else asks. No, I do not have any advice to give you on how to arrange for a meet'n'greet with anyone in the E Street Band or anyone else. I really have no idea how these things usually happen. Mine came about via the good fortune of being in the right place, in the right time, and perhaps with the right attitude about such things although who knows. All I can say for sure is, enjoy the experiences you get and be kind to the people you meet, and you won't have too many regrets.]

* * * * * * * * * *

Getting to meet someone I admire so much was just one of several memorable kindnesses that were extended to me over the course of the weekend. I was a lucky, lucky girl. I got to spend time with some friends I don’t get to see often enough, and I got to meet some new friends I liked a great deal. Even the crescent moon over the gleaming silver Sprint Center seemed to be shining down with a particular benevolence on Saturday night.

After the meet & greet I found my way to the arena floor and, because it was the sort of weekend when things happen easily (like walking near the arena and turning around to realize that a Twitter friend that I’d hoped to meet just happened to be walking right behind me), I almost immediately located two different groups of friends at the back of the pit. I said hi to both groups, filled them in on a bit of where I’d been and what I’d been doing; and then because I had to choose one group to hang with during the show, I chose the ones who were over towards the side of the back of the pit. There was a lot of room there, which meant we’d have room to dance and an unobstructed view of the stage. And since I probably would have been hanging with these folks during the lottery anyway, I was in the same spot I would’ve been in regardless, which assuaged any lingering guilt feelings I might have had over my good fortune that evening.

Given the events of the evening, I will never be able to be objective about the show itself. I was in a happy place and there wasn’t anything that was going to shake that. Luckily, it’s easy to say that the show was great and feel confident about that. Personal highlight for me was “Incident on 57th Street” – an early song I absolutely love, and one I’d never gotten in concert (and consider that, although I haven’t been to nearly as many shows as a lot of folks, my first Springsteen show was in 1978 so I go way back). I may have hyperventilated a bit when the song began, and it was just gorgeous. I’m now down to two “all-time favorites I’ve never heard in concert” songs: “The Promise” and “Lost in the Flood.”

My other highlight was “My Beautiful Reward,” which opened the encore. Bruce dedicated this very rarely-performed song to his cousin and road manager, Lenny Sullivan, whose unexpected death forced the last-minute cancellation of the Kansas City show in 2009. It was hauntingly beautiful, exquisitely performed with a spare arrangement featuring Soozie Tyrell and Nils Lofgren, and clearly deeply felt by Bruce. I still had a lump in my throat when the lights roared up and “Born to Run” ripped the arena wide open – I think it might have been the first time I wasn’t ready for the full-on celebration that song always elicits.

Since I was in the very back of the pit, I had a great view of Bruce whenever he sang from the platform between the pit and the main GA floor. I’ve seen the “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” tribute to Clarence Clemons a few times on this tour, and it’s always moving as the audience gets its chance to celebrate the Big Man’s memory. The recent addition of the late Danny Federici to the memorial slideshow has made it bigger and better, I think; a celebration of everything about the E Street Band that is now lost to the past – just as time causes all of us to lose aspects of our youth.

Bruce always stands on the rear  platform, mic held high to catch the audience’s cheers, and silently watches the slideshow. I’ve thought a lot about those moments – how it must feel to him to look at what are in a sense old family photos in front of thousands of screaming fans, what led to his decision to perform this particular tribute in this particular way. Because it is, make no doubt about it, a performance. I’ve seen fans commenting as though Bruce is putting his private grief on display as he watches the images – and I think it’s way more complex than that. I think it’s very possible that what he feels at that moment may be anything but grief (it’s been a couple of years, and he’s been through this tribute many many times now, and it can’t possibly be the fresh raw wound that some fans seem to want it to be) – but I think that he is performing grief in such a way that the audience, and for that matter the band, and for that matter Bruce himself, can access grief from the past, or the future, or the depths of the present.

I guess this is old news to people who are performers, but I’m just beginning to understand it myself – even though I’ve had some small experience with performance via poetry readings. I know that when I read a poem, I’m not exposing my deep inner self or whatever; I’m voicing a made thing that has, in a funny way, a life of its own outside of me even though I wrote it. I’m pretty sure it’s the same for a singer. He doesn’t have to feel terribly sad in order to make the audience weep during “My City of Ruins” – he only has to embody the feeling of sadness, which is a different thing. By offering up the grief performance of the “Tenth Avenue” tribute, Bruce is offering access to a set of feelings that the audience may choose to participate in. Which is not to say that it is a dishonest thing – and here we are, back to authenticity again. The feelings, even while being a performance, are very real. It’s like the important difference between facts and truth. Bruce may not necessarily be offering facts in his songs, even the ones that sound pretty damned autobiographical. But he is, absolutely, offering truth. And in the case of a Bruce Springsteen performance, that truth is conveyed in the music, in the lyrics, in the tone of voice, in every muscle of his body (he is perhaps the most physical performer I’ve ever witnessed, taking bodily risks as he crowd-surfs, making himself physically vulnerable to the audience, pushing himself to muscular limits).

Sometimes I am very aware of the performance as performance, as Springsteen enacts the persona of Springsteen. Now we’re going to have Goofy Bruce, now Mighty Rocker Bruce, now Serious Intense Bruce. It’s not that he is being inauthentic, but he is definitely in character. And sometimes, at moments, despite all that I know about it being performance, the truth of it shines so brightly that it makes me catch my breath. During “Tenth Avenue” in Kansas City, there was one of those moments: as a full-face portrait of Danny Federici filled the screen, Bruce reached his hand out towards it as if to touch — as if he could reach through time and mortality and use the genius of his physicality to touch his lost friend again. Yes, performance. Yes, he may even have rehearsed that precise gesture. But it was authentic, it was truth, and it pretty much broke my heart right there.

Bruce Springsteen and projected image of Danny Federici

photo / Stephanie Korby @PenskeMaterial

And in a weekend filled with acts of kindness and generosity, maybe that was the biggest one. Bruce isn’t standing there on that stage saying to the audience “Hey! I’m having feelings! Look at me!” (Okay, he’s definitely saying “look at me” sometimes – a performer’s got to have an ego! – but bear with me.) No – he’s saying “Here. I made this thing out of feelings and memories and muscles and sweat. I made it for you and I am giving it to you now, here, tonight. Keep it in your heart and maybe you can use it for something someday.”

Maybe that is kindness. Maybe that is even, in its own way, love.

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