Archive Page 2

18
Mar
09

Neko Case storms through the heartland

Neko Case keeps pushing the frontier of her special blend of country rock to an expanse of thought-provoking songs and heartfelt performances. Her latest, Middle Cyclone, is perhaps her most satisfying mix.

case-middle-cycloneCase’s crystal clear voice, so pure and with seemingly limitless range, delivers lyrics of vivid imagery sometimes mixed with metaphor (I have waited with a glacier’s patience, smashed every transformer with every trailer, ’til nothing was standing), sometimes with doses of hard-nosed reality (The next time you say forever, I’ll punch you in your  face) over whirlwind muscianship. Her brand of country sounds rooted in the west rather than the south, and her songs stop short of radio-friendly hooks but exhibit beautiful melodies in unusual and creative constructions that invite revisiting after each listen.

The opening track, This Tornado Loves You, rushes at the listener like a lover running roughshod in search of her man. With rolling-wheel guitars sounding like banjos, Case and her band churn out a relentless chase over territory that belongs to the heart but evokes the wild center of a storm.

Whether using spare arrangements (many of the songs are co-arranged with her band’s guitarist Paul Rigby) as in The Next Time You Say Forever, Vengeance Is Sleeping and the title track, or with her full band on the uptempo People Got A Lotta Nerve, the ’50s  feel of Fever or the waltz time Magpie To The Morning, the performances are sparkling and appropriate. Of the sparsely played tunes, Middle Cyclone is the most poignant with only voice, guitar and music box.

neko-profile-2The haunting melodies of Polar Nettles and Prison Girls, with its droning guitar and pop sensibilities, stand apart starkly from much of the other material but still work perfectly. Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth (a tune by Sparks) plays like an anthem, the background vocals building to a wall of sound by the end. The track also shows Case’s tendency at times toward classical and Celtic sounding melody.

The lovely Harry Nilsson ballad Don’t Forget Me features a piano orchestra of eight players on second-hand pianos in various stages of disrepair, set up in a barn on Case’s Vermont property, where the album was recorded. The sound from the keyboards is drenched in echo as if it were coming from a vast canyon. Despite the funky surroundings of her farm as seen in a promotional video, or perhaps because of it, the album’s production matches the performances throughout – clear, full and distinct.

I’m An Animal is pushed by the driving beat of drummer Barry Mirochnick’s tom-toms on what is probably the album’s heaviest track. Case belts out The Pharaohs in a style reminscent of her tour de force Deep Red Bells from the album Blacklisted. She wrenches everything out of the melody’s sustained notes, sounding like a ringing bell, deep and vibrating. The closer, Red Tide, has Steve Berlin’s keyboard-generated sax section to propel the shuffle feel that Case glides over. There is actually one more cut, more than 31 minutes, of outdoor sounds, either crickets or frogs, Marais La Nuit.

One quibble I have with Case is the length of many of her songs. They’re so short, one clocking in at  1:46 (The Next Time You Say Forever) with most in the two-to-three minute range with the exception of Prison Girls (5:26). This is pretty standard for Case and sometimes I feel a song is not completely developed when it ends or I’m left wanting more of it. But I suppose that’s a good thing. Because that’s what this album does. Makes you want more.

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15
Mar
09

The lost boys

Boston-area rock ‘n roll legends Barry & the Remains are most noted as a great American band that never quite made it but deserved to.

the-remains-1The Remains were known for their intense live shows and I was lucky enough to see them twice, once in their neighborhood and once as the opening act for the Beatles at Shea Stadium on the Fab Four’s last tour (1966) of the States.

The Remains are the subject of a new documentary, America’s Lost Band, which will be screened at a number of film festivals this year, including the Southeast New England Film, Music & Arts Festival in Providence, R.I., April 2-5. The screening is April 3 at 9:30 p.m., to be followed by a live acoustic performance by the Remains with the original members, Barry Tashian (guitar, vocals), Chip Damiani (drums), Bill Briggs (keyboards) and Vern Miller Jr. (bass).

The first time I saw the Remains was definitely the best. A junior in high school in the spring of 1966, I went up to Boston for the weekend with a bunch of friends (all seniors) to visit the friend of a friend who was at a prep school in the area. He had a friend who was a friend of the Remains, and we went to see them at a mixer in a small hall in a Boston suburb. I had never heard of them.

They were really something. Most of the material was blues-based rock and British Invasion covers with a few originals. We were used to mostly cover bands in Connecticut and the Remains smoked them all. The hall had two levels and we were in the balcony, where the band went in between sets. The group had a Rolling Stones look and sound to some extent, playing covers such as Mercy, Mercy, Like A Rolling Stone and a fiery rave-up of I’m A Man. They sported shoulder-length hair and Stones-like apparel, tight jeans-cut pants and colorful shirts, very British looking. Tashian was quite the front man, singing, playing stinging guitar in a melding of a Chuck Berry/Kinks style and on occasion pulling out a harmonica. At the time, one of the best bands I had seen live.

We met them in between sets. I talked with Barry. He was really nice, and there was some talk among us of trying to get them to come to Connecticut. That never happened.

By the time Shea Stadium rolled around in August, Damiani was gone, replaced by N.D. Smart, and their look had changed dramatically, more Beatle-ish with shorter Beatle cuts and suits to match. From my upper deck right-field perch, I couldn’t really hear them that well. But they went down fine with the crowd.

Several months later, when their album, The Remains, was finally released on Epic, I was a little disappointed. But I wasn’t the only one. It was generally perceived the studio tracks didn’t capture the live excitement of the band. This was a pretty common problem with some groups in the ’60s, getting that live sound on tape. Worse, the band was breaking up as the album was released.

When the album came out on CD with bonus tracks in the ’90s, I appreciated it a little more and I still enjoy most of it, particurlarly the originals Why Do I Cry and Heart and a Billy Vera tune Don’t Look Back. A Sundazed release in the late ’90s of essentially an audition in a Nashville studio for Capitol does a somewhat better job of  portraying the band’s strengths.

Tashian is now based in Nashville and plays and writes in a more country style of music with his wife, Holly. They have recorded five albums, some country award winners. The current Remains are also cut in that mold with a recent album (2002), Movin’ On. Smart went on to play with the late, great Gram Parsons, one of the early country-rock innovators. Tashian also played with Parsons and was in Emmylou Harris’ hot band for nine years.

Oh yeah, the Beatles. How were they? Believe it or not, you could hear the Beatles amid the outrageous screaming and they sounded very good. There is a website, provided by Jerry Lepore, that includes a set list from that show and I remember most of it but I have one quarrel with one of the tunes. I clearly remember Ringo’s spotlight as Yellow Submarine, not I Wanna Be Your Man, because it was disappointingly the only song from Revolver that they played!

The biggest impression, though, was that any time one of them, particularly Paul or John who were on opposite sides of the stage, turned or waved to one half of the stadium, it crested in an ocean of flash bulbs. An image I’ll never forget.

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11
Mar
09

Concerts Vol. 1

The first in a series that will focus on concerts I’ve seen and serve as companion pieces to the Connecticut rock ‘n roll scene posts I started with Connecticut’s Own and Pulse, Part 2.

butter-1I’ve been to quite a few concerts over the years, many influential, some inspiring. The earliest big venue shows were in the fall of 1965, both at the New Haven Arena. In early November, it was the Rolling Stones with Brian Jones on second guitar in the wake of their summer mega-hit Satisfaction. The Stones sounded and looked great, but it was a relatively sedate performance compared with ones for which the band became infamous. A side note on the Stones show is that the first time they were booked for the Arena, the summer of ’64, the show was actually canceled because of insufficient ticket sales. Amazing. The second show, the Beach Boys with Brian Wilson on bass, on Thanksgiving Day. The Boys wore yellow short-sleeved oxford shirts with gray slacks, not their customary black-and-white and white khakis (I guess because it was a holiday) and with Brian in the fold sounded like angels. Two rather different groups but both rode the singles charts and that’s what drove the music industry at the time.

But the earliest show that made a huge impression on me was in a much smaller venue, the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village in the winter of 1967. The headliner was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. But let’s back up a little.

I had been playing bass since 1964 in a couple of garage bands, most notably the Vanguards with Gary Gerard and Peter Neri, whom I would later play with in Bram Rigg Set and Pulse. I also played with and learned quite a bit from the Aiardo brothers, Tony and Peter, from North Haven who played first as the Highlights and later as New England Jam. They played everthing from weddings to proms to clubs such as the House of Zodiac on Route 34 on the West Haven/New Haven line. They were schooled more than most musicians in the area and worked constantly. I’ll never forget a few years later when working with them again temporarily, we played a wedding in the afternoon, a dinner-dance in the early evening and an after-prom into the early hours. This was pretty typical and I learned a great deal from both of them, particularly Peter, who was a brilliant guitarist and was my second bass teacher.

Still as late as spring 1966, I had never heard of Butterfield and found out about him through an unlikely source. I had a very unorthodox chemistry teacher at North Haven High, Peter Kelman, who was young, probably about 23, innovative and interested in a lot more than teaching his students chemistry. He had us do open-ended, special projects once a month that had nothing to do with the subject he taught.

When he found out I was interested in music and was a bass player, he asked me if I’d ever heard anything by Charlie Mingus or the Butterfield Blues Band. I said no, and he told me I should check them out right away. A trip to Cutler’s Music on Broadway in New Haven yielded Blues & Roots by Mingus and the first self-titled Butterfield Blues Band album, with Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop on guitars. I listened to both religiously. Around the same time, I started picking up the Village Voice and by the late fall I noticed Butterfield was scheduled to play the Cafe Au Go Go in the Village.

That was it, I decided I was going. Without my parents knowing where I was headed, I took the family’s blue Chevy Biscayne and along with a friend, Holly Lovig, we headed for Greenwich Village. I knew my way to the West Side Highway, from family trips, and it was fairly easy getting to the village from 14th St. We found the club on Bleeker St., paid for tickets that were probably less than six bucks total and walked down the flight of stairs to the underground club that was no more than a long narrow room with a stage on the left in the center, tables on each side. The stage faced the right wall, so there was only one line of tables directly opposite it. We wound up on the far side of the stage. Alcohol was not served at the club, only large fruit drinks and a large bowl of snacks, potato chips and pretzels.

The opening acts were Richie Havens and Steve Miller, both of whom we had never heard of. Havens was actually well-known in the Village but wouldn’t attract wider interest until his performance at Woodstock near the end of the decade. Miller, I had no idea where he was from.

Havens was startling. I’d never seen anyone quite like him with his intensity, furious open-tuned strumming, slight lisp and unique interpretations of songs such as Dylan’s Just Like A Woman. By the end of his set, he was drenched in sweat and had also played High Flyin’ Bird, from Mixed Bag, an album I later bought.

Miller was an enigma. First his band came out and played a couple of bluesy numbers and sounded good. I would learn later that the band included Boz Scaggs on guitar and Ben Sidran on keyboards, two outstanding musicians who would later produce interesting solo catalogues of their own.

But then Miller came out and it looked like this guy thought he was Elvis Presley or something. I didn’t take to his posturing and sort of I’m a star with my outrageous stage presence attitude. I was unimpressed. I don’t have anything against Miller particularly and later appreciated, though never loved, some of his ’70s tunes. But that night, he just didn’t make it.

Then came Butterfield and I’d never seen anything like it. These guys were so competent, tight, powerful and playing a different brand of the blues, electrified but tasteful. I have often felt this band, which although sometimes labeled a white blues band was always integrated, never got as much credit as it deserved for being the major influence on the American blues and rock scene. Live, they were something else.

Being a bass player, I appreciated Jerome Arnold and their new drummer Billy Davenport, who had replaced Sam Lay following the first album. But what stood out were Bloomfield, who was facing directly toward the back of the club opposite us, playing a gold top Les Paul and the sound of Butterfield’s harmonica, which was gigantic. It was so big, it sounded like a horn, like a sax or something. It was commanding. Bishop was solid on mostly rhythm guitar, but his time would come later.

They played Born In Chicago, Shake Your Money-Maker, Look Over Yonders Wall and Mystery Train  from their first album, but the most interesting material was from the second, East-West, released in August. Work Song, which had been in their repertoire for a while was an instrumental workout for all the solists, including Bishop, and crescendoed to an intense call-and-answer among all four players, Butter, Bloomfield, Bishop and keyboardist Mark Naftalin.

butter-2The highlight, though, was another instrumental, the album’s title cut East-West, a piece that had Indian influences before many groups started incorporating them. It was played modally rather than over a series of chord changes and was longer than the 13-minute album track. Bloomfield took it down to a whisper twice after the other soloists and built it to a chaotic, wailing wall of sound. Bloomfield’s sound was something in between the woman tone made popular by English guitarists Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, who were starting to push amplification, and a reverb-drenched quality reminiscent of the Chicago sound. It was more of a screaming tone. Although I’ve always liked his playing and held great admiration for him, he was not among my top favorites in the long run. But on this night he was on fire and his creativity and intensity during this phase of the band has always stayed with me. I felt as good as his playing was with Butterfield, he reached a high as someone who fit into an ensemble perfectly with his own band the Electric Flag, which was never quite captured faithfully in the studio the way it sounded live.

There is an album on Winner Records that’s still available called East-West Live, produced by Naftalin from recordings he made of nightclub performances with a portable tape recorder. It has three versions of the piece showing the development of the Bloomfield composition from early 1966 to winter 1967 .

I would see Butterfield many times over the next few years and almost every time the makeup of his band would change. I went to see him at the Au Go Go around Thanksgiving break 1967 with Bishop now the centerpiece and Bugsy Maugh on bass, Phil Wilson, drums, Naftalin and a horn section of David Sanborn, alto sax, Gene Dinwiddie, tenor and Keith Johnson, trumpet. Later in Boston that winter I caught him at the Pyschedelic Supermarket, essentially an underground garage, the Back Bay Theatre and that summer at Oakdale in Wallingford with about the same band. They played Oakdale the next summer, Bishop gone by this time, replaced by a young, precocious Buzzy Feiten. Despite the personnel changes, each time the band didn’t disappoint.

That first time though was quite an experience for a high school senior. I’ll never forget the ride home, which was in pea soup fog most of the way, arriving at about 3 a.m. I don’t really understand how I got away with that, taking the car to New York, getting back so late and never being questioned, but somehow I did. It certainly would have been worth it no matter what.

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09
Mar
09

Astral return for Van the Man

Last fall, when I read Van Morrison would be revisiting his acknowledged masterpiece Astral Weeks in a live performance at the Hollywood Bowl, I was startled. Morrison has rarely played any of the tunes from the 1968 album in a live performance during his five-decade career. In fact, known for his sometimes surly attitude on stage, it’s been reported more than a few times that he’s scoffed at audience requests for some of those tunes admonishing “I don’t play those songs anymore.”

astralliveHe’s also known to be, at times, a tempermental live artist. I saw him play at  Lake Compounce in Bristol, CT in the early ’90s when that venue put on concerts. The highlight of the show was when Morrison wasn’t even on stage. At the time, jazz-pop vocalist Georgie Fame, who had several worldwide hits in the ’60s including Yeh, Yeh and The Ballad Of Bonnie & Clyde, was leading Van’s band. Fame came out alone and played two songs accompanying himself on Hammond B-3, Willie Dixon’s I Love The Life I Live in a Mose Allison style and Yeh, Yeh, both outstanding solo renditions. Van then came out, played a 50-minute set, left the stage and did not return despite a standing ovation.

He’s also been known for giving brilliant live performances and he looks positively happy on the cover of the CD release for Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl, which will also be released on DVD (no date yet). There’s good reason. Morrison returns to this unique and inspired collection of songs and adds something new to each of them, starting with his impassioned, eccentric vocal phrasing to the impeccable arrangements for the ensemble, which expands on the original six-piece lineup.

The performance stays true to the acoustic concept of the original album but adds two acoustic guitars, including Jay Berliner who played on Astral Weeks, to Van’s acoustic, grand piano by Roger Kellaway, a member of several of Van’s bands in the past three decades, Paul Moran’s trumpet to Morrison stalwart Richie Buckley on flute and sax, and a four-piece string section, two violins, two violas.  Longime band member David Hayes plays upright bass and iconic Van guitarist John Platania, who played on some of Morrison’s great early ’70s work, is added on two non-Astral Weeks tracks along with backing vocalist Bianca Thornton.

Morrison also loves to interpolate songs and he does this on Astral Weeks with I Believe I’ve Transcended, Slim Slow Slider/I Start Breaking Down, Cypress Avenue/You Came Walking Down, Ballerina/Move On Up and one of the encores Listen To The Lion/The Lion Speaks.

Morrison’s voice is in great shape for this outing. His lyrics are often almost unintelligible, except for the track Beside You on which he enunciates letter perfect throughout, but that is a defining trait to his vocal stylings. No one has mastered the combination of scatting and vamping on a single line over and over as well as Morrison, lending multiple meanings to a repeated lyric as in his stutter over “my tongue gets tired’ in Cypress Avenue. Truly one of our great R&B singers of the past half-century.

In many ways, each song is not only updated but somehow improved a little over the original. He makes use of a 6/8 jazz waltz on three of the tunes – Astral Weeks, Sweet Thing and The Way Young Lovers Do – and they all swing.

All the soloists are inventive and interesting, including a section of Slim Slow Slider in which three are back-to-back, including Buckley’s frantic alto sax. Sweet Thing features a poignant and fleeting string accompaniment, including Tony Fitzgibbon’s violin solo, and Morrison pulls out the harmonica to good effect on the tag.

Vibraphone is added to the opening of The Way That Young Lovers Do, a jazz waltz groove that burns for a scant three minutes, accented by tasteful strings and horns. Ballerina and Madame George complete the Astral portion of the set, leading into the first encore Listen To The Lion. It would be difficult to improve on the Saint Dominic’s Preview’s version of Lion, which breathes and swells as a living entity. This one doesn’t but is a fine rendition with complementing strings and Morrison’s mouthy harp in the instrumental section.

Common One, the second encore, is perhaps the highlight of the set. Morrison’s call-and-answer lyrics with Buckley, something they perfected in the ’80s and ’90s, is riveting and drives to a scorching Buckley solo before a reprise on the lyrics.

The last time I saw Morrison was at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, CT on a tour in support of 2002’s Down The Road, one of his best albums from this decade. That night, as on this recording, Morrison was in fine form and good humor, perhaps because of the addition of Solomon Burke, who opened for him and joined him on Fast Train.

It’s forty years on since Astral Weeks, an album that didn’t sell that well on first release but almost instantly became one of the most influential records of all time. This release is a wonderful reminder of that touchstone work and does the original justice and more. Rave on, Van, rave on.

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06
Mar
09

The story behind the Blind Faith cover

In response to a previous post about Blind Faith, a friend expressed interest in the genesis of the infamous 1969 album cover, how it all came about.

mariora-goschenBelow is a rather long excerpt from an even longer note about the creation of the Blind Faith cover by Bob Seidemann, the photographer who came up with the concept and shot the model holding the “spaceship.” To read the entire note you can go here. It’s interesting to observe that the name of the photograph was Blind Faith and that was then taken by Eric Clapton as the name of the band. Also the model was actually 11 years old at the time, Mariora Goschen. The cover is here juxtaposed with a recent photo of Gorschen, who is now in her 50s, and is a massage therapist and shiatsu practitioner.

Seidemann mentions this is the first time the name of the band was not on the album cover. That’s not exactly correct. The first Stones album in England had no name on the cover and the second Traffic album also has no name. There were probably others.

blind-faith-returnsIf you think the cover was an alarming image, check out this cover to the band’s tour program with a nude covered by her long hair in all the vital places blind-folded and on a crucifix.

Another interesting tidbit is that the poster commisioned for the three Clapton-Winwood Madison Square Garden concerts in 2008 shows the spaceship, which has been likened to a hood ornament of either a 1953 Oldsmobile or 1956 Chevrolet.

The relevant portions of Seidemann’s note about the actual circumstances and how it all came about follow.

 

 

 

By Bob Seidemann (excerpt)

Detroit was burning. The police were rioting in Chicago, cultural icons were dropping like flies, the love generation had been kicked to death by CBS, NBC, Life, Look and Newsweek and I wanted out. I called Eric Clapton in London to ask if he would put me up for while. He did. I stayed at his flat in Chelsea with a wild crowd of ravers. The party had been going on for some time when I arrived. Other residences of the never-ending, day-for-night, multi-colored fling were Martin Sharp, a graphic artist and poet with an uncanny resemblance to Peter O’Toole, and the wildest of ravers, Philippe Mora a young film maker who looked like a cheery Peter Lorre and their handsome girl friends. I bunked on a ledge under a skylight in the living room. All of the London scene came through. It was wild and wooly.

         A year passed and I had my own room in a basement flat in the same part of town with another bunch of ravers. The phone rang. It was Robert Stigwood’s office, Clapton’s manager. Cream was over and Eric was putting a new band together. The fellow on the phone asked if I would make a cover for the new unnamed group. This was big time. It seems as though the western world had for lack of a more substantial icon, settled on the rock and roll star as the golden calf of the moment. The record cover had become the place to be seen as an artist.

         I had sold my cameras in San Francisco after the Pieta poster  (A controversial 1967 photo that reversed roles of the famous Michelangelo painting – editor’s note) because it scared me so much, vowing never to pick up a camera again. The picture gave me the heebee jeebees and the willies all at the same time. If you pinned it to the wall, the wall would smoke. It was a picture of death alright. If I was going take up a camera again to make a cover for Eric’s new band it would have be the antidote to the Pieta image, a picture of life.

         It was nineteen sixty nine and man was landing on the moon. Our species was making its first steps into limitless space and I had a shot at immortality. That’s what every artist hopes to achieve, a stab at greatness, to make something that will last for a little while. To scratch an image on a wall and hope the wall outlives him. The lights were on, the curtain was going up, and I was coming down. Down from San Francisco. Down from the height of blinding insight. Down from the top of the mountain. Down from that lofty battlefield. Down from Dr. Strangelove and 2001. The pop world was awaiting the new pop idols, and I had been asked to create their emblem.

         Technology and innocence crashed through the tatters of my mind. Only a thread of an idea, something I couldn’t see, something out there just beyond my vision, an impulse rippling through the interstellar plasma. I stumbled through the streets of London for weeks, bumping into things, gibbering like a mad man. I could not get my hands on the image until out of the mist a concept began to emerge. To symbolize the achievement of human creativity and its expression through technology a space ship was the material object. To carry this new spore into the universe, innocence would be the ideal bearer, a young girl, a girl as young as Shakespeare’s Juliet. The space ship would be the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the girl, the fruit of the tree of life.

         The space ship could be made by Mick Milligan, a jeweler at the Royal College or Art. The girl was another matter. If she were too old it would be cheesecake, too young and it would be nothing. The beginning of the transition from girl to woman, that is what I was after. That temporal point, that singular flare of radiant innocence. Where is that girl?

         I was riding the London Tube on the way to Stigwood’s office to expose Clapton’s management to this revelation when the tube doors opened and she stepped into the car. She was wearing a school uniform, plaid skirt, blue blazer, white socks and ball point pen drawings on her hands. It was as though the air began to crackle with an electrostatic charge. She was buoyant and fresh as the morning air.

         I must have looked like something out of Dickens. Somewhere between Fagan, Quasimodo, Albert Einstein and John the Baptist. The car was full of passengers. I approached her and said that I would like her to pose for a record cover for Eric Clapton’s new band. Everyone in the car tensed up.

         She said, do I have to take off my clothes?   My answer was yes, I gave her my card and begged her to call. I would have to ask her parent’s consent if she agreed. When I got to Stigwood’s office I called the flat and said that if this girl called not to let her off the phone without getting her phone number. When I returned she had called and left her number.

         Stanley Mouse, my close friend and one of the five originators of psychedelic art in San Francisco, was holed up at the flat. He helped me make a layout and we headed out to meet with the girl’s parents.

         It was a Mayfair address. This is a swank part of town, class in the English sense of the word. The parents were charming and worldly with a bohemian air. He was large and robust, she was demure. They knew the poet Alan Ginsberg, owned a tenth century manor house outside of London and were distantly related to two royal families, one English, the other German. The odds against this circumstance were astronomical and unsurprising.

         Mouse and I made our presentation, I told my story, the parents agreed. The girl on the tube train would not be the one, she was shy, she had just past the point of complete innocence and could not pose. Her younger sister had been saying the whole time, “Oh Mommy, Mommy, I want to do it, I want to do it”. She was glorious sunshine. Botticelli’s angel, the picture of innocence, a face which in a brief time could launch a thousand space ships.

         claptonwinwood-posterWe asked her what her fee should be for modeling, she said a young horse. I called the image ‘Blind Faith’ and Clapton made that the name of his band. When the cover was shown in the trades it hit the market like a runaway train, causing a storm of controversy. At one point the record company considered not releasing the cover at all. It was Eric Clapton who fought for it. If this was not to be the cover, there would be no record. It was Eric who elected to not print the name of the band on the cover. This had never been done before. The name was printed on the wrapper, when the wrapper came off, so did the type.

         This was an image created out of ferment and storm, out of revolution and chaos. It was an image in the mind of one who strove for that moment of glory, that blinding flash of singular inspiration. To etch an image on a stone in our cultural wall with the hope that that wall will last. To say with his heart and his eyes, at a time when it mattered, this is what I see and this is what I feel. It was created out of hope and a wish for a new beginning, innocence propelled by BLIND FAITH.                        ©Bob Seidemann

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04
Mar
09

Bird, bee buzz through Fairfield

To give you an idea how intimate a setting the Fairfield Theatre Company’s Stage One is – think mini-Long Wharf or Hartford Stage – during the intro to the third song in the Bird and the Bee’s set Tuesday night, an audience member got up from one of the seats at the left side of the stage, perhaps to go to the bar, and stumbled over a chair falling on the floor, causing quite a commotion. The audience ooo-ed.

birdbee-1Imara George stopped singing, although her partner keyboard player Greg Kurstin continued vamping on the chords of the intro, and asked, “Are you all right?” Then when she’d seen he recovered, she laughed and the audience broke into laughter as well. She said, “I didn’t mean to laugh but after he said he was all right, I realized it was kind of funny. Don’t worry I do shit like that all the time.” More laughter. Then she repeated the opening line of Ray Gun from their latest release Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future and was fully immersed in their set, a wonderful mix of pop/rock melodies ladened with jazz sensibilities and George’s sense of humor.

Going to a Bird and the Bee concert is a little like intruding on a George slumber party. She and her three backup singers come out in brightly colored mini-baby dolls and tights with matching ballet slippers. One of her singers plays guitar and occasional bass and one picks up a keyboard – Edgar Winter style – on some tunes. But most of the music is coming from Kurstin with his array of electric pianos, synthsizer and computerized drums. George also plays bass on about half the tunes.

The sound from essentially two or three pieces is amazing, overpowering at times, as the group runs through its infectious melodies, sunny harmonies and elaborate keyboard work. But it’s all focused on George’s voice, which is light and airy but when needed powerful and soulful. And the stage presence is definitely upbeat and fun as George and her singers dance, do semi-unison moves and claps and banter in between songs.

The audience of about 200 loved the set, roaring for an encore, although George noted that it was a bit sedate compared with some of the dance clubs they’ve  played. She admonished with a wicked smile after applause for one of the tunes, “OK, you can be quiet now. Shut up.” She did get a little audience participation with a sing-a-long in the chorus of  Fucking Boyfriend, from their self-titled first album, and two covers she sang, Hall & Oates’ I Can’t Go For That and the Bee Gees’ How Deep Is Your Love, the encore.

The set included the exquisite Again And Again from the first album, but most of it came from the new album: the pop-perfect My Love, Diamond Dave, a jazzy tribute to the slick David Lee Roth, the dance single Love Letter To Japan, Birthday and the show-stopping set ender Polite Dance Song.

The Bird and the Bee are cruising up and down the East Coast, with two stops coming up in New York, including Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall Saturday. Like many West Coast performers George observed how nice it is in the East but how cold it is, coming from temps in the 70s in southern California. But she said, “We have our own problems in L.A. Fires, earthquakes and plastic surgery. Sometimes you don’t know if that person is 20 or 80.”

Here is an example of the duo’s quirky humor in a video of Polite Dance Song.


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01
Mar
09

Performing now … the one and only Jeff Beck

Late last year, Jeff Beck released his third live album since 2006, Performing This Week … Live At Ronnie Scott’s, recorded at the legendary London jazz club. Later this month, a DVD of the performance will be released by Eagle Rock Entertainment.

beckronnies-2Beck, acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest guitar players, has had a varied career that started in earnest with the Yardbirds, replacing Eric Clapton, through two versions of the blues-rock based Jeff Beck Group and on to a long run at the forefront of fusion music. When Beck made the transition to jazz-rock  in the ’70s, he finally started garnering appropriate accolades for his prowess. As the guitarist in the Yardbirds, he was well-known to the general public in England but not so much in the States. Still, as early as the mid-’60s he was experimenting with extraordinary sounds on the guitar before many of the decade’s guitar heroes, including Jimi Hendrix, who cited Beck as an influence.

He is currently on tour with the proficient and powerful quartet that recorded at Ronnie Scott’s with him and includes Jason Rebello, keyboards, Vinnie Colaiuta, drums and young Australian wunderkind Tal Wilkenfeld, bass. Beck will be stopping in Connecticut at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods April 11.

So why three live albums since 2006? Well, the latest is really the first of the three to enjoy a wide-ranging release. Live at B.B. King’s (from 2003, released in ’06) was an import that is now apparently out of print and only available through places like the Amazon Marketplace for about $45. Official Live Bootleg USA ’06 (2007), originally sold at shows, is also fetching the same price on the open market but is actually also available at Jeff Beck’s website for $15.

Ronnie Scott’s has 11 of its 16 tracks in common with Official Live Bootleg’s 14, and nine in common with Live At B.B. King’s 16. So it would seem there isn’t a great deal of difference among the three, at least in repertoire. But if you had to own one it should be Ronnie Scott’s. The sound is the best of the three and the performances are standard-bearers for Beck’s catalogue.

The set opens with Beck’s Bolero from the seminal blues-rock album Truth by the Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. Originally the B-side of a Beck single that preceded Truth, the bombastic production of the recorded version that featured one-half of the future Led Zeppelin (John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page, who wrote it), Nicky Hopkins on piano and Keith Moon on drums, is replaced here with a tight sounding masterpiece of economy and passion, featuring the recognizable melodic lines of the original with improvised segments.

It’s followed by John McLaughlin’s Eternity’s Breath, which serves as an intro to Billy Cobham’s classic Stratus, from the album Spectrum, a record that helped establish the fusion movement in the early 1970s. It’s also probably a bow to Tommy Bolin, who played lead on the original and died in the mid-1970s of an overdose while on tour with Beck. The tune fits Beck like a glove and one wonders why it’s taken him so long to make it  his own.

The first 10 songs on the album are by other writers, including three by Tony Hymas (Behind The Veil, Blast From The Past and Angel), who produced Beck’s most successful album artistically in the past two decades, Who Else? The Jan Hammer tune You Never Know, Stevie Wonder’s Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers and Max Middleton’s Led Boots from the album Wired are also among the first 10 tracks and all presented here in note perfect and heartfelt performances. Angel is Beck at his most lyrical employing the hybrid technique of only using his thumb and fingers, having eschewed using a pick long ago.

The frantic Scatterbrain, from Blow By Blow, is kicked up a notch higher in tempo than its recorded version, the Mingus tune Goodbye Pork Pie Hat intros to Beck’s own Brush With The Blues, the two of which share a similar feel, and Hymas’ Space Boogie, Big Block, a Hymas-Beck-Terry Bozio composition, and the exquisite interpretation of the Beatles’ Day In The Life lead to the finale Where Were You, another Hymas-Beck-Bozio tune.

Where Were You is particularly noteworthy. It features Beck’s technique of playing the strings with just the vibrato arm after producing a harmonic with his left fingertips, something he originated with this tune on the album Guitar Shop.

A word about his band members. Colaiuta has probably been with Beck the longest and he is a consummate drummer, dynamic, driving, explosive and technically rarely equalled. Rebello exhibits tasteful wizardry on keys and Wilkenfeld, 22, is matured as a player well beyond her years. She takes an inspired solo on Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers and is solid throughout matching Beck on all the uptempo unison lines.

The DVD will include 13 of the tracks on the CD and one additional tune, People Get Ready with Joss Stone guesting.

I’ve seen Beck three times since 1969 and plan on seeing the Foxwoods show. The most recent was at Oakdale in 1999, with a band that included Colaiuta and guitarist Jennifer Batten, in a mind-boggling performance that has been preserved on a widely distributed gray-market item. Previous to that, I caught him on his Wired tour at the Waterbury Palace in the mid-1970s with Jan Hammer, a tour that would later produce a live album. It was another stellar night of pyrotechnics.

The first time though was probably the most interesting from a historical viewpoint if not from a performance one. In support of the Truth album in May, 1969, the original Jeff Beck Group was booked for two shows at Woolsey Hall at Yale. I had tickets for the second show, so we didn’t show up until about 9 p.m.

The opening act was Rhinoceros, a New York based heavy rock outfit, with an album on Elektra. Although we didn’t know it at the time we arrived, Rhinoceros evidently blew the audience away in the first show leaving little reaction for Beck and his group. I’ve seen this happen to headliners a few times over the years and it’s a very strange phenomenon.

So we were startled from our second-row seats to the right of the stage when the Jeff Beck Group opened the second show. As to Beck’s performance, it was fine. They played most of the material from Truth and sounded good if not great with the addition of Hopkins on an upright piano. It was a joy to finally see him and hear Stewart sing live (I didn’t realize Beck actually sang part of Let Me Love You), but they did seem in a bit of a hurry to leave the premises.

We later heard Rhinoceros’ set was a good one, but we weren’t really interested in seeing them and didn’t stay. It wasn’t until talking with James Velvet, a fixture on the New Haven rock circuit for years, about different concerts we’d seen in common that he told me the details about the first Rhinoceros set. Now Beck opening the second set finally made sense to me. The group evidently didn’t want their crew to bother breaking down and resetting the equipment only to be upstaged again, so they opened their own concert for the second show! Then they made a quick getaway, never to return to New Haven.

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