Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Who, LIVE from Nokia Theater, Los Angeles, California.

The problem with any opening act for an iconic band is that, no matter how good they are, you've forgotten them by the end of the show.

"Who were they?""

"Yeah, they played the concert that we went to."

"No, I mean the other guys. Who were they?"

"Woncha tell me who are you? Hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo--"

"No, I really want to know--"

"--Whooooooo are you? Hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo

Seriously, it can be exasperating.

Fortunately, I wrote down the name: Inward Eye, from Winnepeg, Manitoba, Canada. I have no idea how successful they're going to be, but they were fun to watch and had a song or two worth mentioning. "Hypocrite Hop" and others from their forthcoming EP, "soon to be available on iTunes." I'll have to ask my kids what that means, but it doesn't sound like you can actually buy a CD or a record or a tape. Ah, the good old days, when your music collection consisted of objects too big to lose, rather than kilobytes of data that disappeared when your hard drive crashed.

Music has changed.

That riff sounds remarkably like Alice Cooper's "School's Out," doesn't it? It's not a cover; the song, "Shame" is on their upcoming EP. But other than a cover of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles' "Tears of a Clown," it was the only lack of originality they showed for the night. Inward eye performed with high energy and got the crowd amped up for the Who. Not many of us left our seats, but that had more to do with the median age of the audience than with the opening act's ability to move us. If you like high-energy Indie-Rock, you will definitely like Inward Eye.
4/5 "Circle A"s

* * *

I've gotten used to concerts where the lights go down just before the headliner comes on stage, often preceded by some canned music or even a video. So it was a pleasant surprise when the spotlights shown on Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, who simply walked out on stage and greeted the audience. Absent were Keith Moon and John Entwistle, who died on June 27, 1978 and June 27, 2002, respectively. In their place were Zak Starkey (drums) and Pino Palladino (bass), as well as John Bundrick (keyboards) and Simon Townshend (second guitar), Pete's brother.

The Who's six man lineup opened with "I Can't Explain," their first single, released in 1965. Many of the classic "Who moves" were present: Daltrey twirling the microphone with the cord (let's see him try that with a wireless mic); Townshend jumped in the air and swung his arm in his trademark, counter-clockwise strumming move. But there were no guitars smashed, no sliding across the stage on his knees.

Wannabe Scott Halpins, hoping for their big break were out of luck: there was to be no appeal to the audience to provide the band with a drummer. Starkey was highly energetic and by all appearances, had not taken horse tranquilizers prior to the show. Sadly, there was no performance of "Boris the Spider" or "My Wife," although Palladino mimicked Entwistle's jazzy bass style on "My Generation."

At some point, the crew strapped an acoustic guitar on Daltrey for "Who are You," "Real Good Looking Boy," and others. Prior to the latter beginning, Daltrey discussed The Who receiving an honor from the Kennedy Center for their contributions to our culture. He indicated that he found this ironic, since his primary influence on him, musically, had come from the United States. "I know Pete probably didn't write it for this guy, but I sing it for Elvis Presley," Daltrey said. "Real Good Looking Boy" began with Bundrick playing "Can't Help Falling in Love With You," while the "draft" clips of Elvis Presley shown on the screen behind them. Their much appreciated rescue of "Behind Blue Eyes" from the mediocre grasp of Limp Bizkit (who left out the spirited, second half of the song, opting to keep the melody of "no one knows what it's like," and then further degrading it by adding new lyrics) was spot on. I choose to believe that there is a special place in Hell for hacks that employ sampling from, or dissect great songs in order to "remake" such treasures in their own image. Dante placed the Titans in the ninth circle, only because wasn't alive to hear pop divas like Janet Jackson butcher "Ventura Highway."

I took some video on my phone. Problem was, I can only take thirty seconds at a time:

For those of you that didn't recognize the song through the garbled mess the small microphone on my cell made of it, that was "Baba O'Reilly." Townshend said that he always imagined a mobile home traveling across Nevada. He was pleased that Americans appeared to have adopted the song, and said, "We gift it to you."

Daltrey managed to struggle through, his voice gaining strength, ironically, in the midst of the song "Getting in Tune." He even reached down and found the old screams for "Love, Reign O'er Me" and "Won't Get Fooled Again."

The Who wrapped up the show with an instrumentally heavy (long) version of "My Generation." The audience gave them a standing ovation (except for the drunk behind me that risked his life by booing them) until they returned to the stage.

Townshend began with a descending dissonant chord progression that sparked cheers of recognition from a few, until he began the syncopated, strumming rhythm that characterizes Tommy's "Pinball Wizard." What remained was a medley from Tommy (see Encore, below). The show concluded with the surviving original members, Pete and Roger, performing a moving rendition of Tea and Theatre; they seemed to cling to those last fleeting moments as the Los Angeles night unfolded and welcomed these pioneers of rock into its warm embrace:

Will you have some tea
After theatre with me?

We did it all - didn't we?
Jumped every wall - instinctively
Unravelled codes - ingeniously
Wired all the roads - so seamlessly

We made it work
But one of us failed
That makes it so sad
A great dream derailed

One of us gone
One of us mad
One of us, me
All of us sad

All of us sad - lean on my shoulder now
The story is done - 's getting colder now
A thousand songs - still smoulder now
We played them as one - we're older now

All of us sad
All of us free
Before we walk from the stage
Two of us
Will you have some tea?
Will you have some tea
At the theatre with me?

5 out of 5
Part nostalgia, part gratitude for the many years of music and the chance to see them play, if only once.

Set List
I Can't Explain
The Seeker
Who Are You
Behind Blue Eyes
Real Good Looking Boy
Sister Disco
Baba O'Riley
Getting In Tune
Eminence Front
Love Reign O'er Me
Won't Get Fooled Again
My Generation

Pinball Wizard
Amazing Journey/Sparks
See Me Feel Me/Listening to You
Tea And Theatre

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Metal Masters: Headbangers in Heaven, Hell and Glen Helen

I missed the opening number by Testament- of all things - to buy a Testament t-shirt. But it really wasn't my fault. The ushers waited to tell us that no cameras were allowed until I was about a hundred feet from the gate. I tried hiding my camera in the crotch of my shorts, took a step and it dropped onto the pavement. "Damn boxer shorts," I said in a low voice.

"Yeah," said a sympathizer in front of me, "one of the first rules of contraband is follow Klaus Meine's example from the video for 'No One Like You:' wear tighty whities."

Realizing that it was pointless to waste more time on getting my camera in, I beat a path back to my car and shoved an empty camera into the glove box. By the time I got back, I was near the end of the line. We went through the gate and got in line for shirts. The show started. We ran to our seats.

Testament: Short, Sweet and Savage
We arrived at the end of the opening number, but were in our seats for the second - the classic title track from The New Order. Alex Skolnick opened with the lightning riff as Eric Peterson, Greg Christian and Paul Bostaph offered thunderous support. The band then attacked the thrash-laden intro, which had us banging our heads and stabbing our "horns" in the air. Chuck Billy entered the fray with his characterically gritty vocals. The audience thrashed, played air guitar, and banged its collective head. "Practice what You Preach" brought home the nature of metal and why its been such an enduring force worldwide: as outsiders from the mainstream metal and its patrons have been marginalized and dismissed by a culture unwilling to accept its own hypocrisy. Testament hasn't slowed down, changed or sold out; The Formation of Damnation has the same lightning riffs, unpredictable changes and underground, anti-social themes a fan would have expected from The Legacy or Demonic. Though I haven't purchased Damnation yet, it's at the top of my list. I recognized two tracks from the new album from their MySpace webpage: "More than Meets the Eye" and "The Henchmen Ride" (which Billy dedicated to the Harley-riders in his audience). When I wasn't watching the band, I was banging my head or singing myself hoarse.


4/5 Circle A

Motörhead: Rock'n'Roll
Lemmy's intro wasn't instrumental, it was direct, and simple: "We are Motörhead. We play rock'n'roll." For those of you that only associated Lemmy and Co. with "Ace of Spaces," there may not have been much to do except bang your head, which is something Motörhead fans do a lot. There was a mix of old and new, drawn from early records, such as Ace of Spades and the live No Sleep 'til Hammersmith to the 2006 release, Kiss of Death. The purpose of joining the Metal Masters tour, I imagine, was to promote their recent release of Motörizer (in stores about three days prior to the show - another must have on my list). We Motörhead fans, however, were banging our heads to classics such as "Metropolis," "Overkill" and "Stay Clean" (from Overkill) "Over the Top," (first appeared on Hammersmith) "Killed by Death," (first appearing on the live No Sleep at All) and yes, of course, "Ace of Spades." I confess to feeling a little disappointed that "Iron Fist" wasn't played, but it was a short show with no more than eleven tracks (Hammersmith had that many on the original vynil LP), and I enjoyed the entire performance.

One highlight of Motörhead's show was Mickey Dee's drum solo, as visually stimulating as it was aural. at one point, Dee started chucking his right drum stick, one after the other in rapid succession, twirling high in the air before falling. If I had been allowed to take a camera in, I would have posted video, it was that amazing. Guitarist Phil Campbell, 25-year veteran of Motörhead not only kept up with Kilmister, but brought his own flair to the stage on such new classics as "Be my Baby" (Kiss of Death). He took the mic a few times to plug the new album. He also did a synchronized step with Lemmy during the intro of "Metropolis," an unexpected bit of choreography. But Motörhead shows are now, and have always been, a celebration of the JD guzzling, Dorito-chomping, Muttonchop-wearing, bass-thumping, Godfather of Metal, Lemmy Kilmister, who brought it full circle for us at the end of his show, reminding us of our metallic roots: "We are Motörhead and we play rock'n'roll!" With that, he turned up his amp full blast, leaned his signature bass against the amp and let it feed back endlessly as he left the stage.


5/5 Circle A

Heaven and Hell: Why the Mob Still Rules
No one wants to get kicked out of a show that they paid hard-earned money for, which is the only reason the seat jumpers that crept forward during Black Sabbath's performance have any teeth left. No less than ten of you creeps climbed over the seat behind me, smiled at me like I was your best friend, then climbed over the row in front of me and blocked my view. Then there was the drunk seat jumper who kept hugging me and everyone else, trying to grope every chick that he saw. Someone finally brought an usher, who tried to ask him to leave. I suggested he get help, since the guy clearly wasn't going anywhere on his own. By this time, a six-foot-three headbanger who appeared to weight about 250 pounds had placed himself between the drunk and his girlfriend, who the drunk had been molesting. The usher looked at me helplessly: "I'm not security."

Bullshit. You yellow-shirted bastards tackled no less than four stage jumpers, so don't piss down my leg and tell me it's fucking raining. But I didn't say that. I said, "Then get someone who is before someone puts this shitheel in a fucking coma." Ultimately, it was the drunk's friend who dragged him to the aisle. I don't know what happened next, but let it be said that there is no subsititute for friends in a situation like this one. If the asshole, drunk seatjumper is reading this, thank your friend with the bands in his goat-tee; when the usher abdicated his responsibility to eject you, it gave the rest of us that you were hassling some very limited options. But I'm pretty sure the party line would have been, "He was drunk, and he just . . . fell."

Not that I blame anyone for wanting a better view of Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio and Vinnie Appice. Or that fucking set! Four pillars adorned with spherical lamps (or crystal balls, if you prefer) mounted on skeletal hands. A chain fence joined the pillars, with Vinnie's drum kit at the "gate" between them. The band was flanked on either side by winged gargoyles perched in dead treetops, whose eyes glowed and breathed smoke. Additional special effects included four pillars of flame that turned the set from a cemetery to Sixth Circle of Hell.

The show kicked off with Mob Rules' E5150 (abridged version) before moving on to the title track from the same album. Dio's soaring vocals seemed effortless, his movements choreographed to reach the audience watching from the lawn behind the amphitheater seats at Glen Helen. He was characteristically low-key when addressing the audience, saving his "strong" voice for the power-vocal he's known for . . . that and the "horns up" salute. Dio kept the energy high, moving freely about the stage and twirling the feet of his mike stand.

I found myself looking up at the monitor to watch Iommi's fingers as they made his trademark Gibson SG an extension of his musical genius; one can't help but notice the digital prosthetics he'd fashioned to help him continue playing guitar following his horrible accident at the Birmingham, England sheet metal fabrication shop, in which he lost the tips of his fingers. Having worked in metal fabrication, I have always felt a certain kinship to Iommi, who arguably, fathered the metal genre when he invoked "the Devil's chord" in their self-titled track, "Black Sabbath." I find myself optimistically referring to him as "Sir Tony." It'll probably never happen; a former steel worker from Birmingham, though revered by headbangers far and wide, isn't exactly the sort of person Queen Elizabeth II has been knighting lately. But we can hope. Frankly, he's the closest thing we in heavy metal have to nobility.

This is to take nothing away from bassist "Geezer" Butler. Sabbath wouldn't have been Sabbath without him. He showed that he was always an innovator, and continues to be. Likewise, Vinnie Appice put his own signature style on the Dio-era Sabbath sound, the focus of the Metal Masters tour and The Rules of Hell boxed-set this tour promotes. Appice's drum solo rivaled Mickey Dee's in its intensity, though not in visual appeal. His drum kit, however, featured some "wobbly" vertical toms, that oscillated when he hit them like . . . well, a weeble (if you don't know what that is, ask your parents).

Their closing number ("Heaven and Hell" - of course) was the long version found on Live Evil. Yes, the one where Dio shouts, "Leave me alone, I want to burn in HELL!" adding, "with you, and you and you," pointing to us in the crowd. The Glen Helen audience gave them a standing ovation, cheering until they returned for a single-song encore, playing "Neon Knights." The place rocked, we banged our heads, and enjoyed the opportunity to hear them play one last number for us. For me, the show was my privilege to attend.


5/5 Circle A

Judas Priest: Nostradamas Prophesies the Return of the Metal Gods
The Nostradamus backdrop featured a representation of the prophet with glowing eyes - which moved from side to side. This almost made up for the canned music that preceded the band's entrance onto stage. While I appreciate that one salient criterion for heavy metal is its employment of stage theatrics, I couldn't help but feel cheated by the fact that I was listening to a recording. For me, the show officially began when Scott Travis struck the skins and Downing, Tipton and Hill cut through bullshit with British Steel. When I first heard Halford's voice on the title track from Nostradamas, I couldn't see him; it wasn't that he was offstage, I had simply mistaken him for a stage prop. A space blanket-cloaked figure holding a chrome staff, symbolically fashioned with the Judas Priest cross at the top (circa 1988 or so). Doffing his hood, (replacing one chrome-dome for another) Halford moved across upper platforms of the stage like an elderly man, before returning to his perch stage left and descending down an apparent elevator shaft. He later emerged from Star Trek style sliding doors beneath Travis' drum kit to conclude the song.

Their show was also hampered by their camera crew. After four shows and constant headbanging, I wanted to sit down a little. There was a huge monitor from which to watch the show. Unfortunately, the cameras focused on Halford at the expense of the musicians. Even during Tipton and Downing's blistering solos, the cameras followed Halford as he stomped around on stage. I doubt this was his doing, as he often moved next to the guitarists during their solos, pointing at them in deference. "Painkiller," sadly, was appropriately named. The opera-trained Rob Halford, while his performance was flawless, sounded like he strained himself on this number, and may have needed some extra-strength Tylenol afterwards.

Let me emphasize that Judas Priest, consumate professionals all, gave a flawless performance. As the set changed, the canned music started up once again with "The Hellion" as a lead into "Electric Eye"(both from Screaming for Vengeance, 1982). I remember the latter from highshool, where it created a lot of buzz at the time. Back then LANDSAT and SPOT were in their resolutionary infancy. Satellite imagery was learning how to map in infrared, but didn't have the high resolution of QuickBird or contemporary SPOT; the institutional resolution used to be 90 metres, now submeter imagery is available on the open market. It is reasonable to assume that government spy satellites are have reached at least decimeter resolution - enough to watch people and exert power over them. Indeed, these spy satellites were used recently to watch Iraqi troop movements - though these billion-dollar, publicly-owned surveillance systems have somehow failed, as yet, to zero in on Osama bin Laden and lead to his capture. As I recall, the warning inherent in "Electric Eye" was that the people had "elected" this system for security, and in so doing, traded not only their freedom, but sacrificed the coveted safety as well:

Electric eye, in the sky
Feel my stare, always there
There's nothing you can do about it
Develop and expose
I feed upon your every thought
And so my power grows

"Elected, protective, detective, Electric Eye!" was a warning. I felt a sense of irony at the prophetic nature of the song, and the themes of prophecy associated with Nostradamas (stay tuned for the album review).

"Breakin' the what?"

"LAW!" we yelled back

"Breakin' the what?"


"Breakin' the WHAT?"


"Good, let's break the law!" And the sympathetic metal narrative of Daryl, an out-of-work druggie, had the audience on its feet (even those of us who had headbanged our way through the three preceding shows). Canned music aside, going to a Priest concert has roughly the same effect its audience as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Our host's sexual orientation doesn't keep him from getting the audience to go along with pretty much everything he does. He made us sing a cadence with him, made us sway our arms from side to side with our "horns" up during "Angel," and otherwise just made us have a kick-ass time all around. Such a kick-ass time, in fact, that it won the band not one, but two standing ovations.

The first won us Halford on a Harley through the Star-Trek doors. Travis, Tipton, Hill and Downing began the slow, thunderous intro to "Hell Bent for Leather," with Tipton beating the shit out of his whammy bar for a full thirty seconds before he and Downing attacked the rapid-fire guitars leading into the vocal. They followed up with "The Green Manalishi (with the Two-Pronged Crown)." Halford also professed his love for his adopted country by kissing the American flag, respectfully draping it over the handlebars of his Harley so it wouldn't touch the ground.


4/5 Circle A

The crowd may have won a second encore from Judas Priest, but I didn't stay to find out. I suspect that I'll find out on someone's blog - or from a comment here - that the Metal Gods returned to the stage a second time. But my feet were blistered and I had an hour commute home from Glen Helen. Many of the fans in the audience weren't even born when Priest began forging British Steel - much less when Iommi struck the Devil's chord. It is a testament (no pun intended) to the enduring nature of metal. No less than three generations of headbangers turned out to celebrate the genre in its most influential forms; Primordial Metal, Power Metal, Thrash and just plain Rock'n'Roll. Metal became the music of a people that punk could no longer reach: the working-class, the disadvantaged, the poor. Those who cried out, you don't know what it's like! Those who would stand up to the mainstream, confronting them by saying, just 'cos you got the power, doesn't mean you got the right. Those who would warn us of the failure of democracy as a result of an uninformed public following the ignorant: if you listen to fools, the mob rules. And those who called a changing of the guard: takers of humanity, elders paranoid, the time is now, give up this world you once destroyed.
It is the music of frustration, of anger, of alienation. Metal is a dark reflection of the society which continues to reject it, ignore it, dismiss it and everything else, except face it. The music and lyrics are as relevant today as they were 25 years ago. It is a celebration of the human spirit of resistance in the face of economic, social and political adversity.