January 28, 2016

Rock Hall 2016: Feelin' the Berns

So... Bert Berns is receiving the Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement. Rock Hall followers might be scratching their heads today, but it's fair to look at the basic facts. From the Rock Hall website: 

"Bert Berns was one of the great record men of the New York rhythm and blues scene of the 60s. Berns produced 51 chart records in seven years, most of which he also wrote. His songs have been recorded by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin. Janis Joplin made her career with her version of his “Piece Of My Heart,” a song he wrote and produced for Erma Franklin, Aretha Franklin’s sister, only weeks before his death on December 30, 1967 at age 38."

Also a fact, and blowing up up the Rock Hall social media channels today is that Steven Van Zandt and Paul Shaffer are producing a Broadway musical about Bert Berns. And per the Future Rock Legends Twitter (@futurerocklgnds), Van Zandt and Shaffer are both on the committee that picked Berns for this honor, raising the issue of a conflict of interest. Wow.

But let's take one step back here. One positive to extract is that a rock n' roll luminary from the '60s is being inducted, giving hope to many a snubbed artist of that era and maybe earlier. Despite recent Nomination Committee purges, the door is evidently still open, in theory, to worthy artists such as Mary Wells, Link Wray, Joe Tex, the Zombies, Chuck Willis, Dick Dale, and Captain Beefheart. Berns deserves the honor, but the timing feels suspect now. He could have been honored previously, maybe even in an inductee-heavy year like 2012, where producers Glyn Johns, Tom Dowd, and Cosima Matassa got the Award for Musical Excellence, and Don Kirschner was given the Ahmet Ertegun Award. What's another Ahmet Ertegun Award when there were multiple "Musical Excellence" honorees? 

In any case, the Rock Hall, true to form, continues to confound. Not only with inductees vs. snubs, and the worsening inductee gender gap that people are really starting to pay attention to, but also with the relatively meager count of inductees they're putting in this year (now 6 total). Speculation that ceremony length is an issue seems legitimate, but ultimately, the HBO broadcast will be edited. So if say, the J.B.'s were announced alongside of Berns last night in the "Musical Excellence" category, at least we would have gotten Bootsy Collins out of the deal, bringing some bass magic to the end-of-night jam.

Berns, with all due respect, isn't bringing viewers to HBO nor is his name selling tickets to the ceremony. So the question becomes, "Why Bert Berns, and why now?" Honoring someone overdue? Well, there's a long list of those. Yet another head-scratcher is waiting until January 27 to "officially" announce this decidedly non-flashy inductee choice, especially when as of January 12, Bert Berns' Facebook page had already announced it. Couldn't they have determined last month that Berns was going in, and then rolled his name out on December 17 alongside of Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, Steve Miller, and N.W.A.? There's some unprecedented stuff happening, and it raises legitimate questions.

But, here we are. Six inductees, five of them mostly mainstream and crowd-pleasing, and this last one controversial out of the gate. 

January 1, 2016

Living in the Limelight: A 2015 Concert Recap

Too many concerts, you say? To quote a line from the Grateful Dead, celebrating a 50th anniversary this past year in "Touch of Trey" fashion, "too much of everything is just enough." With that in mind, here's a recap of the live music experiences E-Rockracy was lucky enough to have in 2015:

April

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony - Public Hall - Cleveland, OH
It took nearly 6 hours to arrive at this moment, but Paul and Ringo singing "I Wanna Be Your Man" together at the end, with other icons and future Hall of Famers singing and jamming behind them, was historic. Joan Jett opened the show with a gusto that folks 1/3 her age would be happy to muster. Otherwise, fellow inductees Green Day performed, to the chagrin of my wife and the apparent delight of most of the Public Hall audience. 

Ringo Starr gets inducted at Public Hall in Cleveland (photo by Eric Layton)

June

Doobie Brothers - McMenamins Edgefield - Troutdale, OR
There are few acts of the Doobies' era still doing it with such class and professionalism. They sounded terrific and played the hits, smiling all the way. Their songs are simply in the American air at this point. With Steve Miller, another FM radio staple, entering the Rock Hall in 2016, perhaps there's hope for this other Bay Area-forged act. It's rather easy to imagine them on the induction ceremony stage.

Listen to the Music: The Doobies (photo by Eric Layton)

July

Rush - Moda Center - Portland, OR
With R40, Geddy, Alex, and Neil wound their way backwards chronologically from their most recent material to their oldest material, suggesting that this was the outing they should have called "The Time Machine Tour"(and not their Moving Pictures extravaganza from a few years back). Featuring elaborate, morphing stage sets matching each concert era, the beloved trio more than met fanboy expectations. If this was your first Rush show (it was my wife's), this was probably way too much of a good thing. Personal highlights were "Distant Early Warning," "Jacob's Ladder," and "Xanadu" (complete with the Professor on bells). If this was truly "exit the warriors," bravo, guys (and arena janitors, sorry about having to mop up the gallons of geek tears that were on the floor after).

Rush play "Jacob's Ladder" (top), and "Roll the Bones" (photos by Eric Layton)

Phish - The Forum - Los Angeles, CA
A Saturday night in Inglewood, and California... knows how to party. This was the highest energy show of the year that I saw crowd-wise, and it was something to behold. The tremendous Phish Summer 2015 tour really started heating up here, with show number four. Blasting off with the previous Halloween's Disney soundtrack cover "Martian Monster," then careening forward with a commanding "Fuego," and ending with a soaring "Walls of Cave," the first set put fans on notice that this was a special night. Set II's "Tweezer"/"My Friend, My Friend"/"Roggae" segment was at turns dramatic, sinister, and beautiful . Finally, the encore, "You Enjoy Myself," featured three explosive peaks, and was tension-and-release nirvana. Trey Anastasio's stint as the Dead's lead guitarist earlier in the summer clearly paid high dividends for fans of his day gig. 

Phish at The Forum (photo by Eric Layton)
Aerosmith/Living Colour - Amphitheater Northwest - Ridgefield, WA
That the original five members of Aerosmith are still touring and playing at a high level feels more miraculous as time goes by. A tumultuous, drug-addled history, but no wear and tear was apparent as they burst out of the gate with "Train Kept a Rollin'" and churned out everything from their most ridiculous hits ("I Don't Want to Miss a Thing") to MTV-era gems (the slide guitar-driven"Rag Doll") to hardcore fan-pleasing deep cuts ("One Way Street" from their debut - wow). Living Colour, still atop their game, was the support act, which in this context vividly recalled their opening slot on the Rolling Stones' "Steel Wheels Tour" back in 1989.

Tyler-Perry (photo by Mary Layton)
September

Def Leppard/Styx/Tesla - Amphitheater Northwest
This tour could fairly be categorized as a "living jukebox," but it was a fun evening. Tesla got the singalongs going early (every last person in the venue screaming "KNOW!" during "Love Song" was a standout moment), and Styx pretty much won the night with a polished yet hard-driving show that exceeded expectations (do I need to list the hits?). Headliner Def Leppard unfurled a punchy, slick show of their own, and it was genuinely nice to see that guitarist Vivian Campbell, recently suffering from cancer, was onstage. Their set was most powerful during the High and Dry cuts "Let It Go" and "Switch 625" but Euphoria's "Paper Sun" was a strange tonal deviation, with its serious lyrics and projected images of global suffering and calamity. It's an outdoor summer rock show, guys, I'm not convinced the blue collar man hoisting a Coors Light and screaming for "Rock of Ages" is really registering the message.

Tesla opens for Def Leppard and Styx (photo by Eric Layton)
My Morning Jacket/Strand of Oaks - Keller Auditorium - Portland, OR
Louisville, Kentucky's My Morning Jacket are now a well-oiled machine, but they can still mix things up in epic fashion. "Masterplan" from It Still Moves was excellent, but their most recent material from The Waterfall also resonated. The opener of a long touring leg, this was probably just an average night for MMJ (and the sound at the Keller was a bit too boomy), yet it speaks volumes that Jim James and co. still summoned the thunder and the triumph, particularly with the hyperspace-bound, one-two punch of "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt. 2"/"One Big Holiday." Strand of Oaks opened the night with an auspicious set of emotional battle cries that recalled early MMJ but had its own unique vibe.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space: MMJ (photo by Mary Layton)
October

Death/Guantanomo Baywatch - Mississippi Studios - Portland, OR
"A Band Called Death" was a 2012 documentary that blew the lid off of Death, one of America's first punk bands. Despite a brand new album to pull from, Bobby and Dannis Hackney seem to be on a permanent victory lap, but a deserving one that enlightens people at every show about who they are, and why they're so significant, as an African-American punk band that predated the Ramones and Bad Brains. Their gig in Portland was fast, frenetic, and uplifting, and the gratitude coming from the stage was palpable. Their late brother, David, the original architect of Death, would be proud. Guantanamo Baywatch opened the night with a skewed version of surf rock that, while feeling rather hipster-approved, was well done. It just wasn't weird enough, though; they need to go full Cramps.

Death at Mississippi Studios (photo by Mary Layton)

December

Mötley Crüe/Alice Cooper - Moda Center - Portland, OR
On their final tour (no, really - they signed a contract, you guys!), our buddies Vince, Sixx, Mick, and Tom spared no expense; on this point there can be absolutely no debate. Gigantic flaming pentagrams, skull-cracking pyrotechnic explosions, Rammstein-caliber flame torches spitting out Hell itself, and, most of all the "Crüecifly," Tommy Lee's most spectacular and comically over-the-top drum contraption. Effectively a contiguous roller coaster that stretched from the stage, to the ceiling, to behind the soundboard, it spun Lee 360 degrees and glided him across the arena as, admirably at one point, he drummed to Kendrick Lamar's "King Kunta." That was the most artistically forward moment of this farewell show, everything else was pretty much a pummeling, nostalgic ride through the classics. Neil huffs and puffs and still can't sing live (he never could, really), but one has to feel a bit of a soft spot for the stricken Mick Mars, peeling off agile, monstrous guitar riffs that by all appearances should not be coming from a guy in his condition. Ridiculous they skipped "Too  Young to Fall in Love" (possibly their best song) in favor of the Theatre of Pain obscurity "Louder than Hell" and did two covers (forehead slap) where better songs might have been slotted in, but this show was still 100% Mötley. And kudos to Crüe for providing snake-encrusted shock-rock titan Alice Cooper a full hour for his tremendous opening set. Despite the haunted house theatrics, he put on a clinic in rock showmanship and performance, armed with three guitarists, to boot. An inspired opening act if there ever was one. 

Going full Rammstein
Roller Coaster... of drums.
Crüecifly (photos by Mary and Eric Layton)
And now, onto 2016, which will bring Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's "The River Tour," the Who's rescheduled jaunt, and Leon Bridges. Hoping for a Grandaddy show as well. Happy New Year!