September 24, 2015

"A Polite Directive" - Put Harry in the Hall

For serious music geeks, campaign season isn't about Donald, Hillary, Bernie, nor the eyeroll-inducing Republican clown car. It's about artists that passionate, vocal fan bases are campaigning to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Let's consider some history around passed-over Rock Hall artists. There was a several-year public outcry for Rush's induction, remedied in 2013. There remains a hard rock legion out there smacking their forehead daily that Deep Purple isn't in yet. Guitar pioneer Link Wray has his evangelists as well. There is the steadfast, always impressive campaign of Induct Janet, there's Induct Whitney, and of course, untold millions of fans bleating on comment boards about Chicago, Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Carole King (as a performer this time!) and well, _____ (fill in the blank/your favorite artist [HERE]). 

A more recent entry to the Rock Hall campaign race gaining steam is "Harry in the Hall," which according to the website (, is a "polite directive" and was "created by the fans of the Harry Nilsson Facebook Community to promote, educate, and provide undeniable justification for the induction of Harry Nilsson into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016."

With a Facebook account, an active Twitter, and a sense of urgency, this appears to be one of the more organized and spirited efforts to encourage the nomination and induction of an artist.

Why not? Best of luck, Harry in the Hall. If he gets nominated (knock wood) and inducted (gasp!), your energies here in the service of this legendary, justifiably respected singer-songwriter will be a campaign that was worth running. And if not? As Cubs fans always say, there's always next year.

(Side note: As a Captain Beefheart fan, I might have to follow in Harry in the Hall's enthusiastic footsteps next year with the same strategy..."Beef in the Hall?" "Beef with the Hall?" Hmm... maybe I need to work on that moniker...)

September 3, 2015

Predictions: The 2016 Rock Hall Nominees

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - Don Henley, inducting Randy Newman in 2013, may have put it best when he called it a “peculiar, perplexing organization.” 

Can't argue with Don on that point; this is one unpredictable enterprise. And this month, the Rock Hall Nomination Committee, which recently underwent some dramatic membership changes, will reportedly meet to come up with a roster of artists for potential induction in 2016. That nominee list is typically announced in October.

Here are E-Rockracy's predictions of the 2016 nominees, based more on likelihood than personal taste, as well as a touch of guesswork based on some early buzz out there:

Chic - That sound you hear? It's Nile Rodgers shaking his head. This would be Chic's 10th nomination (!). But it took 10 nominations to get the legendary Solomon Burke in, so there is a precedent.

Deep Purple - As with Rush, years of hard rock/metal fans protesting their exclusion could earn them another nomination.

Electric Light Orchestra - Eligible for 18 years, and Jeff Lynne could wear Billy Corgan's "ZERO" shirt as that is the number of nominations his widely-respected group has had. That could change this year.

Janet Jackson - New tour, new album, multi-platinum pop legend. That could seal a nomination.

J. Geils Band - Vocalist Peter Wolf is a close-knit associate of the Rock Hall, previously inducting Jackie Wilson and, last year, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Plus, there seems to be some current chatter out there around the JGB, eligible since 1995. 

Ben E. King - Already in with the Drifters, but King, who died this year, has 3 previous nominations as a solo artist.

Kraftwerk 3 previous nominations, including one last year for these electronic music pioneers. If they're nominated yet don't make induction yet again, look to the committee to start jumping ahead to such Kraftwerk descendants as Joy Division/New Order and Depeche Mode in future years. That said, their induction would suitably pave the way for those acts, as well.

The Marvelettes - Two previous nominations in recent years, perhaps they'll give this beloved 60s girl group another shot.

Nine Inch Nails - Fairly shocking they weren't inducted last year, another try seems quite likely.

N.W.A. - There couldn't be more of a mainstream spotlight on them right now with the biopic and the new Dr. Dre album. A slam-dunk for nomination, but will the larger (and older-skewing) voting body cast enough votes to get them inducted? 

Smashing Pumpkins - Newly eligible and extremely likely to make the initial nominee pool.

The Smiths - A surprise nomination last year, but given Morrissey-Marr's undeniable influence on indie and alternative rock, it seems a solid bet they'll get another chance.

The Spinners - A legendary R&B act that never seems to leave the Rock Hall conversation. Two previous nominations.

Yes - A passionate fan base and a formidable body of work, to be certain. As sad as it is to contemplate, too, bassist Chris Squire's passing could nudge them onto the nominee list.

Warren Zevon - Would be a worthy addition to the seemingly annual singer-songwriter slot. Never nominated.

June 2, 2015

Rock Hall First-Ballot Predictions 2016-2029

As Rock and Roll Hall of Fame first-ballot inductee Tom Petty once sang, "the waiting... is the hardest part." However, like him, some artists won't have to wait at all to be enshrined into that museum on Lake Erie. Here are some predictions on which artists will enter the hall in their very first year of eligibility. (Note, the format is eligibility year/ceremony year; for example, Pearl Jam is eligible in 2016, and if they are voted in, they would be inducted during the actual ceremony in 2017.)  

Just for fun, there is the also the addition of a dream induction speaker for each artist. 

2015/2016 - Prediction? Zero first balloters. Smashing Pumpkins will move into the nominee pool but not quite make the cut. There have been first-ballot inductees the last four years in a row (Guns N' Roses, Public Enemy, Nirvana, Green Day), so it wouldn't be surprising if there are no brand new faces in 2016. This should come as good news to you Deep Purple, N.W.A., and Spinners fans, though.

2016/2017 - Pearl Jam  You want a no-brainer? This is perhaps the easiest first-ballot prediction on the radar. Arriving fully-formed with their staggering, monolithic debut album Ten in 1991, Pearl Jam has never wavered or looked back. They've held an unrelenting grip on that elusive, all-too-rare thing artists like Neil Young and R.E.M. possess: artistic integrity. They've got the anthems, the rabid followers, and they still sell out arenas. And what a story: They outlasted "grunge," battled Ticketmaster, withstood tragedy, and have forged a contemplative yet triumphant identity that is unique, earning fans from Pete Townshend to your little sister. Spin the black circle, and roll out the red carpet. Dream induction speaker: Pete Townshend.

2017/2018 - Beck and Radiohead  O -delay and -K Computer. Any questions? Some pundits also like first-year-eligibles Rage Against the Machine, but despite Rock Hall brass being tight with RATM guitar wizard (and HOF nominating committee member) Tom Morello, his old band will have to wait. On a side note, Green Day performed at the 2012 ceremony and were then inducted in 2015; expect the same for 2015 ceremony performer Beck in 2018. Dream induction speakers: David Byrne (Beck); Roger Waters (Radiohead).

2019/2020Oasis and Jeff Buckley There's a temptation to say "Weezer and Elliott Smith" for this class as both are also first-year eligible, but I think the "induce a reunion fever" will once again strike the Rock Hall (remember GNR in 2012?), in hopes the complicated Gallagher brothers will show up and perform. Whatever happens, the instant-classic album (What's the Story) Morning Glory is sufficient to get them in. In the other slot, the angelic-voiced Jeff Buckley is the rock world's James Dean - a blazingly gifted comet of a soul who left us too soon, and tragically. His essential album Grace is a soaring achievement, and contains the best version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" ever recorded. Dream induction speakers: Ryan Adams (Oasis); Thom Yorke (Jeff Buckley).

2020/2021Foo Fighters Does anyone see these guys not going in first ballot? Like them or not, the high-energy Foo Fighters are one of the most popular American rock bands of the past few decades, and Dave Grohl is the art form's biggest cheerleader. Allow Grohl this much: He stepped out from behind the drums, and did one hell of a job reinventing himself post-Nirvana. As far as HOF activities are concerned, he's inducted Rush and performed at the galas, most recently with Joan Jett. Debate the Foos' music if you will; some think they're overrated if competent, while others react like Jack Black doing air guitar when they hear "Everlong." That's rock n' roll for you. Dream induction speakers: Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick.

And beyond 2021, briefly:

2021/2022Eminem He's not Vanilla Ice. 

2024/2025The White Stripes Because it would take 13 more years to induct Jack White solo. He gets in with this class, with Meg. The Rock Hall probably wishes they could put him in tomorrow. 

2028/2029Arcade Fire The epitome of a critic's band, they are also an indie-rock juggernaut that could pave the way for a lot of other Pitchfork-approved bands that followed them to start entering the HOF. And like their stateside influencers Talking Heads, they're in first ballot.

April 28, 2015

2016 Induction Ceremony: Who Goes In?

So now what? 

For the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class, set to be inducted in the 2016 induction ceremony in Los Angeles, there seems to be a total lack of "no brainer" first-ballot inductees. The most likely newly eligible act is Smashing Pumpkins, but as we saw with Nine Inch Nails, 90s alt-rock/Lollapalooza participants are no slam dunk. Imagine the howls of outrage (yes, worse than usual) if Hole gets nominated, let alone inducted. Blur is an interesting thought, but not before Oasis (eligible in 2019). Mariah Carey? Not before Ms. Jackson (if you're nasty). Ween would be a nifty dark horse nominee, but it's difficult to see the larger voting body checking a box for them. A Tribe Called Quest? Not before other rap/hip-hop artists that should go first.

However, a lack of clarity could be a positive thing for the Hall; this could build toward a moderately face-saving "make-up" year, that is, if the public image-battered Rock Hall wants to reclaim some hearts and minds after the rather controversial, premature induction of Green Day in 2015. It would also be exceptionally cool if the Rock Hall could find a way to honor a local act or two when the induction ceremony takes place in that artist's city; the 2015 Cleveland ceremony would have been a perfect opportunity to induct such deserving Ohio-spawned acts as Nine Inch Nails and Devo. But I digress. Since eight artists were just inducted in Cleveland, here are eight non-first-balloters that the Hall of Fame should seriously consider inducting at Los Angeles' ceremony in 2016:

Deep Purple22 years eligible now, nominated twice. Jann Wenner claims all the "no brainers" have been inducted, but the hard rock community would beg to differ. Deep Purple still tours (sadly minus deceased keyboardist Jon Lord) and would deliver a high-voltage performance, with or without famously estranged founding guitarist Ritchie Blackmore (Steve Morse has filled the guitar slot for decades). Fan favorite Rush was inducted last time the ceremony was in Los Angeles; putting Deep Purple in would be a nice parallel and would tie up one of the Hall's major loose ends.

YesBefore you say "No!", consider the fact that not only are their prog-rock brethren Genesis in, but Genesis' Peter Gabriel is in solo. 21 years eligible, and only one nomination, so the Long Distance Runaround should end now, especially now that Rush is in. Unfortunately, there have been dozens of Yes members through the years, so the speeches will be longer than...well, a prog-rock song. Or the E Street Band speeches.

N.W.A. - Eligible for 3 years now, and with the ceremony in L.A., it would be the perfect time. Much-publicized biopic in theaters this year, and at this point Dr. Dre could be inducted by himself (and should be inducted for his production work alone, eventually). One could also make an eventual induction case for Ice Cube and his solo work, but, really, let's go back to where it started: Straight Outta Compton and right into the Rock Hall.

Warren Zevon21 years eligible now, and never once nominated, the late, Los Angeles-based bard of cynical, debauched songcraft should finally get his due and fill the HOF's annual singer-songwriter slot. David Letterman is currently vouching for him, and for god's sake, Bob Dylan has covered this guy's songs in concert. Another dead inductee, it's true, but imagine what former Zevon collaborator Bruce Springsteen or even artistic descendant Father John Misty could do with one of his songs during the performance. Zevon's catalog is a rich, highly rewarding one, and much more than simply "Werewolves of London."

Janet Jackson8 years eligible now, never nominated. Rock fans will predictably hate this choice, but each induction class is diverse, and Janet's superstar prestige and influence are undeniable. If Madonna and Donna Summer are both in, then Janet certainly deserves induction as well. 

Pat Benatar - Technically eligible since 2004, but somehow never really part of the Rock Hall conversation, Benatar has been a hard-rocking, fiery fixture of FM radio, MTV and the touring circuit since 1979. She's more than paid her dues, and if the Rock Hall wants to start honoring more women, there are few finer examples than her. Her "shimmy the pimp away" scene in the "Love is a Battlefield" video is reason enough to hand her the trophy. Oh, and legendary songs like  "Heartbreaker," "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," "Fire and Ice," and, as seen during MTV's very first hour of broadcasting, "You Better Run." 

Black Flag - Like HOF member Freddie King (stay with me), or 2015 entrant The Five Royales, these brutally uncompromising Southern California punk pioneers could be inducted under the "Early Influence" category. Rock Hall of Famer Kurt Cobain worshipped these guys and their DIY ethic, and their in-your-face influence is all over the place, with disciples as diverse as Bad Brains, Sonic Youth, Melvins, and Faith No More, among countless others. After Green Day's induction, putting Black Flag in would lend the Hall some needed punk credibility. Bonus: They're also from Los Angeles.

Rick RubinDeserves induction in the "Non-Performer" slot often given to producers. Production credits range from Johnny Cash to Slayer to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Plus, he co-founded hip-hop label Def Jam Records in the early 80s with Russell Simmons and is more or less the reason we know the names Beastie Boys and LL Cool J, among many others.

April 15, 2015

Cleveland Rocks! (for Better or Worse): Considering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...yes, my friend, that's screaming you're hearing. Now synonymous with controversy (i.e. publicity), the Rock Hall is the manifestation of what happens when "expert tastes" collide with fans' subjective feelings about an art form that means a hell of a lot to them. Year after year, the Hall's committee and voting body make a very tricky attempt to formalize the value of popular music artists by way of induction. In essence, they're throwing down popular music's version of a Supreme Court ruling with every announced Rock Hall class (yes, there is a fan vote, but let's not overstate its impact). This process is kinda acceptable to some, infuriating to others, and let's face it, probably ignored by the vast majority of the American populace (probably millennials and anyone over 60). Still, this institution persists, just like the shrill, often Midwestern-based howls of protest for the overdue inductions of such artists as Deep Purple, Chicago, The Moody Blues, and Yes.

Apart from the ceremonies and HBO broadcasts, the Rock Hall has been physically embodied by a glass pyramid building on Lake Erie since 1995.  For all its legitimate merits, this entire enterprise could be justifiably accused of flaunting elitist, high-art pretensions as populist in an economically depressed, working class Rust Belt city. This is especially noticeable when the ceremony is actually held at Public Hall in downtown Cleveland, as it is every three years. In Ohio, the entire Rock Hall thing can seem akin to that pinky ring-wearing, fat-cat rich couple that go slumming in the dance club in ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" video. 

As far as this year's class, I have plenty of issues of my own with the inductees (Green Day?), presenters (Miley?!), or the rather murky nomination/induction process (oh, Jann really wanted the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in, didn't you?). Despite such protests, it's still a magnificent show - the ultimate rock concert. So I'll pick the Tre Cool and Cyrus anchovies off an otherwise delicious pizza and enjoy. As a dead-serious lifelong music fan, it's a rare opportunity to be in the same room with so many icons and see speeches and performances that will never happen again. I'll never forget how cool it was, in 2012, to see folk legend Donovan sing "Sunshine Superman," witness Chris Rock giving the Red Hot Chili Peppers' induction speech, or see The Faces (with the since-passed keyboardist Ian McClagan) just blow the roof off with "Stay With Me." These are peak-experience, Halley's Comet-like moments for me, like seeing Tom Waits at the Wiltern in 1999, or watching the original five members of Guns N' Roses open for Aerosmith at Merriweather Post Pavilion in 1988.

The HOF ceremonies used to be closed-door industry events held at the Waldorf-Astoria in NYC, but they were eventually opened to the public in 2009, with the galas rotating between Cleveland, Los Angeles, and NYC. I used to watch the clips of the annual events on MTV in the early 90s, and read about them in Rolling Stone. However, they seemed to happen on another planet, and never did I dream I'd someday be able to attend. But then again, rock and roll is a universal language and it should be inclusive, especially by way of race and gender. So yes, closet racists/sexists, that means Run D.M.C. (inducted), Public Enemy (inducted), Grandmaster Flash (inducted), N.W.A. (not yet inducted), Donna Summer (inducted), Janet Jackson (not yet inducted), Pat Benatar (not yet inducted), and many, many others all deserve a place at the Rock Hall table. Deal with it. 

But back to the 2015 ceremony. This year, McCartney inducts Ringo, so there's that "seeing the living Beatles perform together in person" thing. That alone is worth the price of admission. Otherwise, Joan Jett  will jam with Dave Grohl; Double Trouble, Stevie Ray Vaughan's sharp backing band, will perform with Gary Clark, Jr.; the poetic Patti Smith will induct Lou Reed; Beck will do a Reed tune; and guitar alchemist Tom Morello will churn out some Paul Butterfield Blues Band riffs, and plenty more.

When it's all over and the final notes of "With a Little Help From My Friends" bounces off of the walls of Public Hall in Cleveland, another group of artists will be officially enshrined, and if nothing else, a tremendous concert will have taken place. Long live rock... and oh yeah, can we please induct Devo, N.W.A., Black Flag, Captain Beefheart, New York Dolls, Warren Zevon, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Nick Cave, Cheap Trick, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Jane's Addiction? Appreciate that, Jann.

July 14, 2014

Baritones for the Painfully Alone

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds/Mark Lanegan
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
July 5
"It's very dark up here," said a squinting Nick Cave after his first song. While the black-clad transgressor was referring to the lack of stage lighting in that moment, it seemed natural to take it in reference to the Cave and Bad Seeds gestalt. But "dark" is far too facile, it does no justice to the wide-ranging, pysche-bashing storm of music this septet gathers up and throws at their audience. From the pulsing, flute-accented opener "We Real Cool" to actual pin-drop whispering (the faith-satirizing "God is in the House") to the jagged, bullet-ridden trauma of "Stagger Lee," Cave was a sinister minister, a piano bar romantic, a lanky scarecrow being electrocuted. It was like witnessing a pagan ceremony, bar brawl, and chamber music recital all mashed together; a post-punk tent revival with howls of desolation going unanswered.

Considering Cave himself, they just don't build them like this anymore. With the exception of Leonard Cohen, one is hard-pressed to identify another living music figure armed with such a varied, literary, and gallows humor-flecked body of work that can meet the challenge of his best songs on the concert stage, with charisma to spare. Cave was especially masterful at achieving oneness with his congregation: Not only did he use three small, jutting platforms to step out and immerse himself among his faithful (he was surrounded by, and occasionally leaning on, outstretched arms), he startled the room by wading deep into the orchestra section, corded microphone be damned, and planted himself to sing the jolting "Tupelo" and later, the brooding "Push the Sky Away."

Push the Sky Away (Photo by Eric Layton)

This rare, direct mingling of artist and audience served as a reminder that there's a complete lack of danger and unpredictability in the rock pantheon anymore; if Cave was a stalking, emotional Quasimodo ringing bells on this night, this in-your-face convergence with his worshipful fans was the toll that rung loudest. While all this might be taken as a stunt akin to stage-diving, it felt more like he was kicking against the strictures of live rock n' roll. Roger Waters once dreamt up a "wall" at the apotheosis of his rock star alienation; in Cave's world, that barrier needn't exist, and it's rather silly, anyway. The conspicuous absence of security guards anywhere near the stage was refreshing, and suggested that this Antipodean poet would rather throw caution to the wind and trust his ticket-buying public. It was a move that paid off exponentially.

On the road in support of his latest album Push the Sky Away, Cave disturbed the Schnitz quite handily, but he was aided and abetted by the Bad Seeds (violinist/string-mauler Warren Ellis; drummer Jim Sclavunos; pianist/organist Conway Savage; bassist Martyn P. Casey; multi-instrumentalist Barry Adamson; and guitarist George Vjestica), a murder of crows that mostly stood in place and emitted atmosphere like a warm arterial spray, while their leader defiled, debriefed, and descended. Cave raised goosebumps with "Red Right Hand," reached back 30 years to his debut with the turbulent "From Her to Eternity," and invited opening act Mark Lanegan out for a shivering duet on "The Weeping Song." The setlist was satisfyingly career-spanning, and after the galloping death march "Papa Won't Leave You Henry," it featured the deep cut "The Lyre of Orpheus," an ominous recasting of a Greek myth. But on this night, recanting such fables seemed redundant as this rock n' roll outlier continued to build on his own myth, unleashing a performance that should be rightfully talked about in Portland for years to come.

Setting the table for Cave's musical "Red Wedding" was Lanegan, armed with only a guitar player and his stark baritone. Having fashioned a respectable solo career for himself after years in the Seattle rock trenches with the Screaming Trees, the stoic singer held listeners rapt with his signature voice. Bleak tales ensued, complete with lyrics of blades upon wrists, gravediggers, and one way streets. His cover of Bertold Brecht's "Mack the Knife" was unsettling, and under dusky stage lights, Lanegan established the right mood for what was to transpire next.

June 9, 2014

Leg-Kick Out the Jams

Guided by Voices
Wonder Ballroom - Portland, OR
June 7, 2014
You wanna hear something old school? How does a 56-year-old fronting a 31-year-old band sound? To anyone in the know, and to those at the Wonder Ballroom, it sounded mighty fine indeed. Dayton, Ohio's unsinkable Guided by Voices, now grayer and possibly a tad more moderate than during their 90s/early 2000s campaigns of Miller Lite stockpile destruction, came, saw, and leg-kicked out the jams.

If they had stopped writing new music 10 years ago, GBV would already be wielding a staggering song inventory, but no chance. Ceaselessly creative, mic-twirling dynamo Robert Pollard and his classic-formula GBV (from circa 1992-1996, guitarists Tobin Sprout/Mitch Mitchell, and bassist Greg Demos, along with later-period drummer Kevin March) arrived in town with not one but two new 2014 records, May's Cool Planet and February's Motivational Jumpsuit. If these worthwhile releases demonstrate anything, it's that the state of the GBV union is strong, and fans really ought to be grateful they live in a world where the unstoppable, avuncular Bob still holds court in their local nightclub.

Perhaps GBV never broke big, but the level of fame and adoration they currently enjoy seems ideal. Given the band's working-class-hero fervor at the Wonder Ballroom, their constituents could simply not want it any other way. This strange world of inscrutable song titles and transcendent rock and roll glory belongs to them, after all. Imagine a private club where beer bottles are hoisted in triumph, and nearly 50 songs are dropped in two hours. Presiding over it all is Captain Bob, damning torpedoes of power chords and melody that could lay waste to even the most jaded hipster mind, leaving pretension and PBR cans bobbing on the surface, like so much flotsam and jetsam.

In Portland, catering to every generation of fan like an indie rock Rolling Stones, the quintet broke out vintage tunes (Propeller's hard-charging "Exit Flagger"); fresh material ("Authoritarian Zoo," "Alex and the Omegas," the cleverly self-referential "Littlest League Possible"); Tobin Sprout-sung delicacies ("Awful Bliss"); and, in the "Shocker in Stumptown" given it was conceived by an entirely different membership of GBV, the very welcome mid-period jangler "Fair Touching" from 2001's Isolation Drills.

Pollard noted from the stage that it was the 20th anniversary of Bee Thousand, a peerless GBV classic, and the one with the anthems the crowd was hungriest for. Nine selections from the album were aired, and "Gold Star for Robot Boy" and the riffing, zigzagging gem "Echos Myron" even inspired mosh pits that were not so much violent as they were refreshing, cynicism-free moments of communal joy.

It's telling that so many goods were delivered by GBV, yet so many of their stellar works weren't even played; "My Valuable Hunting Knife," "The Official Ironmen Rally Song," and "Watch Me Jumpstart" were all conspicuous in their absence. It seems a grown-up, get-it-done efficiency and a slight sense of holding back is the new approach of this enterprise, and it's most glaringly obvious in Pollard's reduced alcohol consumption on stage (well, relatively speaking). Rather than continuing to exult in the shambolic, beer-hoisting Bacchanalia like he did in the 90s and 2000s, the frontman has chosen to hand lightly-used bottles of Jose Cuervo and Crown Royal over to the front rows (sheesh, someone's getting mono, bro...), and he even handed over several unopened Miller Lites at the end of the night. It's a bit like throwing a party in your forties. You buy way too much beer, and send the surplus home with your friends.

Has GBV grown up slightly? Gotten older and wiser? Perhaps necessarily so. But to call this evening anything less than a celebratory slice of underdog indie rock heaven would be inaccurate.