Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed dead at 71: A Look Back at His Life and Career

Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed
March 2, 1942- October 27, 2013

Photo credit: http://flickr.com/photos/dannynorton/186795352/

Singer/songwriter Lou Reed, one of the founding members of rock legends Velvet Underground, has passed away today. The cause of death has not been confirmed though it has been reported Reed did have a liver transplant earlier this year. Reed was 71.

Born in New York, Reed started his career in 1964 with a minor hit single called "The Ostrich".  It was around this time that Reed met a Welsh multi-instrumentalist named John Cale. With Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Angus MacLise- the Velvet Underground were formed in 1965. Before they played their first show, MacLise left the band. Replacing MacLise was drummer/percussionist Maureen "Moe" Tucker. Tucker was different from other drummers, as she chose to stand while playing the drums. 

With Tucker, the band played around New York until they caught the eye of artist Andy Warhol. Warhol offered to be the band's manager and managed to get them signed to Verve/MGM Records. Warhol also insisted they add German model/singer Nico to the band as their lead singer. The band were against this idea but Reed managed to write three songs for Nico to sing on the band's debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico. The album was released in 1967 to mixed reviews and as a result, the album fell out of the Billboard charts. Tensions between the band and Warhol led to Warhol's departure, taking Nico with him.

The Velvet Underground continued as a four-piece band, releasing the aggressive White Light/White Heat in early 1968. Cale left shortly after due to tensions between he and Reed. Doug Yule replaced him for the band's  1969 self-titled album, which was more acoustic and tame compared to the loudness of the band's first two albums. Before the release of 1970's Loaded, Reed left the band. In fact, Reed had gone missing for a period of time. He decided he would stay home with his parents and find a "real" job.

Reed eventually came back with a self-titled album in 1971, which did close to nothing. This was when David Bowie came to the rescue. Bowie, an avid Velvet Underground fan, decided he would produce Reed's next album. That album, 1972's Transformer, would become the most successful album of Reed's career. It even earned Reed an unexpected hit single with "Walk on the Wild Side", a song that paid tribute to Warhol's Factory. 

Transformer  was followed with the ambitious Berlin in 1973. While not well received by the critics at the time of its release, it is regarded as a classic today. The rest of Reed's solo career could be best described as "hit or miss": when he made a good album, it was good (The Blue Mask, New York and Magic and Loss are examples). When he made a bad album, it was BAD. Take 1975's Metal Machine Music: although the album served as the perfect "f*ck you" to the record label, it alienated fans as the double-album was filled with nothing but endless guitar feedback. 

Reed would reunite with his Velvet Underground band mates in the early 1990's. In 1990, he and John Cale release a studio album entitled Songs For Drella, a heartfelt tribute to the recently deceased Andy Warhol. The Velvet Underground briefly reunited in 1992-1993 for a European tour with Reed, Cale, Morrison and Tucker in tact. 

 Before his death, Reed kept recording and performing. His last album was 2011's ill-fated Lulu, a collaboration with Metallica. The album was universally panned by critics and fans. Metallica fans even went as far to sending death threats to both Reed and Metallica. This did not bother Reed, citing that he thought he lost all his fans after Metal Machine Music

Reed is survived by wife and performance artist, Laurie Anderson. 

As you can tell by my post, I'm deeply saddened by Lou Reed's passing. He's truly one of the greatest rock musicians ever. As a singer/songwriter, the man was amazing. I also have to give credit to the Velvet Underground for expanding my music tastes when it comes to both experimental music and alternative rock. 

Goodbye, Lou. 

Say hello to Nico, Andy and Sterling for us. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Alice Cooper Raises the Dead in Wilkes Barre

In this era of music, it seems that some of these newer bands lack a great stage show. If an artist is going to perform live, they got to give their fans a show. This is something that Alice Cooper would muss about. The godfather of shock rock, now 65, gave his fans in Wilkes Barre, PA a show on October 18, 2013 in a sold-out concert at the FM Kirby Center.

            The show began a little after 8 pm to the sounds of screaming fans. The lights went out and the curtain dropped, ushering in a mushroom of smoke. Out the smoke came the one and only, Alice Cooper. The audiences roared with applause as Alice and his band went into “Hello Hooray”, a perfect song to open the show as it opened the Billion Dollar Babies album 40 years ago.  Next came “House of Fire” from 1989’s Trash and then came the hits- “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Under My Wheels”. During the former, Alice led the crowd in singing the chorus- conducting the high notes with the lift of his cane.

            Props came out during songs such as “Billion Dollar Babies” and “Caffeine”, in which Alice came out with a sword stuffed with big dollar bills and a large white mug respectively.  One thing to note about Alice Cooper is that when he is on stage, he is in character (that is also named Alice Cooper). Some might note that Alice doesn’t talk in between songs. His is because he’s in character. This show was no different: during “Dirty Diamonds” in which Alice threw out necklaces into the crowd, he made eye contact with one of the audience members as if he was going to give this person one. But no: Alice gleefully threw the necklace elsewhere.

            The band Alice had with him was great throughout the show. Of the people in Alice’s band, Australian guitarist Orianthi stands out the most. She might sound familiar as she was the guitarist for Michael Jackson for his ill-fated This Is It concerts in 2009. She won the crowd over with her impressive guitar solos. She was dressed in a black coat and hat, as if she were a female Ritchie Blackmore.

            Fan favorites such as “Welcome to My Nightmare”, “Go to Hell” and “Feed My Frankenstein” came next. Much to my surprise, Alice and the band played “He’s Back”- the song he made for Friday the 13th Part VI. One of Alice’s actors came out as Jason Voorhees during the song. More theatrics came into play during “Feed My Frankenstein”, in which Alice was put into a contraption to disappear and turn into a tall Frankenstein looking monster that took up nearly the entire stage! Alice came back, decked out in a straitjacket for “Ballad of Dwight Fry” which was followed by Alice’s traditional death by guillotine.

            After the beheading, Alice was rolled back in on a hospital stretcher for the next part of his show: cover tunes. While many may roll their eyes at this, I actually found the concept for this part of the show to be clever. When Alice came back on stage, a voiceover explained how Alice has cheated death and has now joined his dead rock star friends- the Hollywood Vampires. Alice then covered “Break On Through” (for Jim Morrison), “Revolution” (for John Lennon), “Foxy Lady” (for Jimi Hendrix) and “My Generation” (for Keith Moon). The covers were all pretty good and fun to hear. Alice is actually planning for his next album to be all covers. I wasn’t crazy about the idea when I first heard it but after seeing this, I’ll be interested in what Alice comes up with.

            The covers were followed by “I’m Eighteen” and “Poison”, both of which were crowd pleasers and had the audience singing along. For the encore, the band went into “School’s Out”. A bubble machine was on during the performance, much like the original Alice Cooper band had when they were on Top of the Pops performing the song. Alice led the audience in singing the song’s famous chorus before yelling “It’s party time!” Alice was not kidding: confetti and streamers went off and fell onto the audience while big balloons were thrown into the audience, which Alice popped with his cane. Alice then introduced his band before saying,

“Thank you, Wilkes Barre! Happy Halloween!”

            Seeing Alice Cooper in concert was amazing. Even at his age, he still knows how to put on a show. This was my second time seeing him, the first time being in 2006. I think I preferred this show because of the setlist and location. With this being my senior year at King’s College, I’m glad I was able to see at least one of my favorite artists while here in Wilkes Barre. I guess I am worthy. Thanks, Alice!
           

Setlist
1.      Hello Hooray
2.      House of Fire
3.      No More Mr. Nice Guy
4.      Under My Wheels
5.      I’ll Bite Your Face Off
6.      Billion Dollar Babies
7.      Caffeine
8.      Department of Youth
9.      Hey Stoopid
10.  Dirty Diamonds (with drum and guitar solo)
11.  Welcome to My Nightmare
12.  Go To Hell
13.  He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)
14.  Feed My Frankenstein
15.  Ballad of Dwight Fry (with excerpt of Killer)
16.  I Love The Dead
17.  Break On Through
18.  Revolution
19.  Foxy Lady
20.  My Generation
21.  I’m Eighteen
22.  Poison

Encore

23.  School’s Out (with Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rock N Roll Hall of Fame 2014 Nominees are announced- my breakdown

Finally after weeks and weeks, the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame have announced the 16 nominees. The list, in all honesty, is pretty good. I would like to see many of these artists get in. However, there are those that the Hall will just not give up on. Also, the Hall is letting the public vote once again for the second time. So this is my breakdown of how I see the Hall's nominees this year.


Put them in!: My ballot

Deep Purple- Deep Purple have been nominated once again, the first time being just last year. I think they should've gotten in last year with Rush and Heart. I think it's a joke that they aren't in the Hall yet. Deep Purple are one of the most influential rock bands of all time and are seen as one of the pioneers in heavy metal music. I think all the members of Mach II should get in, including the late Jon Lord.

Kiss- Kiss have been nominated, their first time since the 2010 nominees. Love them or hate them, Kiss are one of the most successful rock bands of all time. Despite their haters, Kiss have managed to build up a loyal fan base known as the Kiss Army. I was bummed when they didn't get in for 2010 but obviously, you had to put Alice Cooper in first. Rolling Stone are known to not be the biggest Kiss fans but even their haters have to admit: they deserve it. As for who to induct- the original line-up. I wouldn't hold your breath for a reunion.

Yes- The Hall is lacking very much in progressive rock. Yes are obviously one of prog's best bands and like Deep Purple, they should've been in years ago. As for the members who should be inducted, I would pick the members who were on Fragile and Close to the Edge.

The Replacements- Though younger than most of the other artists, I think the Replacements deserve to be in the Hall. They're one those bands that you only know of if someone tell you about them but with the internet and the way it is, I've been hearing many good things about the Replacements. I recently got their installment in the Original Album Series box sets, which came with their first 5 albums. I think they're a great band. As for who to induct- the original line-up of course (though Bob Stinson has been dead for nearly 20 years). The band recently reunited with singer Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson at the helm.

Cat Stevens- It's hard to believe this man has not be nominated once. Cat Stevens is a well-respected folk artist. Personally, I don't really own any of his albums but rather borrowed a few. I think his contributions to the soundtrack for Harold and Maude should get him in automatically.

Sure, why not?: I wouldn't mind seeing getting inducted

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band- I don't own an album of theirs but I had them on my ballot last year. I really wouldn't mind seeing them in. I believe they were the first rock band signed to Elektra along with Love.

The Zombies- They should've been in a long time ago given how much people talk about them.

Hall and Oates- Not a fan but they deserve it.

Peter Gabriel- I'm surprised to see Peter Gabriel nominated for his solo career given it's been since 2010 when Genesis was inducted. Personally, I haven't really been able to get into his solo material. I only own his third album, which is a great album. I should give that another listen soon. But seriously- the guy's solo career is so diverse: he's tried African music, pop music, and experimental music. I wouldn't mind seeing him get in but I think it's a little too soon.

Linda Ronstadt- I've never been a fan of her's but seriously, it's an absolute joke that she's not in the Hall yet. That should've happened eons ago. Also given her recent retirement, I think she's a shoe-in. She sure could sing!

Whatever: A band that'll get in no matter what

Nirvana- Oh boy, where do I begin? I don't think I've said it in my blog before: I'm not a fan of Kurt Cobain and/or Nirvana. I just think they're a little bit overrated and the music is just okay. I will not argue that they don't deserve to be in because I think they do deserve to be in even though I'm not a fan. However, this is their first time being nominated since their debut recording came out in 1988. There are at least a dozen other bands that should be in first before Nirvana. However, if Nirvana get in it could be the "Metallica effect" in which the members of Nirvana could now go around and try getting vote for their favorite bands. Once a band is inducted, they are allowed to vote in the nominating process. Dave Grohl is a man with good taste (as evident in his speech inducting Rush earlier this year). So yeah...

Who?: I don't get why they are nominated

Chic, Link Wray, The Meters- I have some knowledge as to who these people are but seriously, how many times does the Hall have to nominate Chic? I just don't get it. If one of the three gets in, I really don't care.

GO AWAY!: Keep 'em out!

N.W.A. and LL Cool J- How many times do I have to tell you all?: RAP DOES NOT BELONG IN THE ROCK N ROLL HALL OF FAME!! Jesus, I feel like a broken record. Just please, leave them out.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Paul McCartney- New album review

 Paul McCartney - New
Paul McCartney
New
Rating: ****


Believe it or not, Paul McCartney has released a new studio album. The album, New, is McCartney’s first album since last year’s Kisses On The Bottom, which saw McCartney taking on American standards. So this makes New McCartney’s first studio album of all original material since 2007’s Memory Almost Full. McCartney, now 71, has made an album that sounds very modern but also reminiscent of his work with the Beatles, Wings and his solo career.

            For this album, McCartney decided to do something interesting: for each song, they are produced by either one of four producers- Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer, George Martin), Ethan Johns, Mark Ronson and Paul Epworth. This is an interesting move for McCartney since it’s not common for someone like him to have multiple producers. Still, the final product is impressive.

            The album opens with “Save Us”, a fuzz guitar-driven rock song. The song is pretty catchy while McCartney sounds fine. It’s no lie: McCartney’s voice has seen better days but for what he can pull off at his age is remarkable. “Alligator” is a bouncy track with slightly whimsical lyrics while a song like “On My Way To Work” is somewhat autobiographical. “On my way to work/I rode a big green bus” McCartney sings. “I could see everything/From the upper deck/People came and went/Smoking cigarettes.” The acoustic dominating “Early Days” is another autobiographical song, in which McCartney recalls the days of his youth with his “hair slicked back with Vaseline” and visiting the local record shops.

            Even at 71, McCartney still delivers with great pop songs. “Queenie Eye” is very catchy bopping pop tune as is the self-titled track, which is the lead single from the album. The latter is a personal favorite; as it sounds surprisingly much like something the Beatles would’ve done in the mid to late 1960s (“Penny Lane” comes to mind).  “I Can Bet” yet another catchy tune that sounds like something he would’ve made with Wings except modernized with voice effects and electronics. McCartney even knows how to end an album with class- the piano line in “Road” brings back memories of the piano heard in “Nineteen Hundred Eighty Five” from Band On The Run. There’s even a hidden track called “Scared”, similar to how “Her Majesty” is a hidden track from Abbey Road.

            New is a surprisingly good album from Paul McCartney. I’m quite impressed. I would go as far to saying this is his first solid album since 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, in which all of the songs are good. If you’re a fan of McCartney, I don’t see why you shouldn’t have the album already.