Monday, September 24, 2018

Truths in Storytelling with John Prine and Todd Snider at the Paramount, Seattle WA 9/22/18


In 2015, I saw John Prine with his mentor Kris Kristofferson in San Diego. I wrote a little blog about it called,  The difference of 10 years and heroes with the premise that our heroes or mentors come from the immediate preceding generation.

On Saturday night, Mary Kit and I had the pleasure to see Todd Snider and John Prine in Seattle thanks to the warm invite from our old Santa Maria friends Ken and Vicki Forman whose daughter Emily lives in Seattle with her family.  Mary Kit's three kids and their families also live in the greater Seattle area. So the four of us decided to meet up here, spend the day together and see the concert.

Before the show at dinner, Ken was telling me how John Prine took Todd Snider under his wing and that Todd has opened many shows for John over the years and helped build his career as a singer-songwriter. For me, it was a perfect connection of mentorship from Kristofferson to Prine and Prine to Snider.  These unique individuals all have the gift of storytelling in their songwriting.  It is a gift that reveals the plain and simple truths about men and women, working people, people living in a simpler time, injustice, the amusing, the open and shut doors, and the wide open spaces.

Todd opened the show with his stories and songs and I don't think I've ever seen such a perfect opener for the main attraction. If you have never seen or heard Todd Snider, he is funny as hell but can turn that emotion around quickly with a darker perspective. His gift is his balance between stupid funny, serious satire, and folk singer. I became a convert in a sold out theater of the Todd Snider faithful with a lot of hoots and a standing ovation at the end of his set. Thanks to Ken and Vicki for the introduction.

Now John Prine at 71 has 20 years on Todd Snider, and the master came out ready for spit and fire. He has a new album, The Tree of Forgiveness, which had me at the title before I even listened to the album when it came out in April. Prine backed by his fantastic band moved through the new songs intertwined with his famous standards and I felt the audience embrace every song like a winding stream. (Here is the setlist.)

So why does everyone love John Prine these days? I think we are all needing real stories, stories John Prine communicates through his songs of our shared humanity to love and respect each other.

For me, Saturday night was a range of emotions from laughter to tears. This is something you go to a theater for when you see a play. It was an Americana Folk passion play of plain truths about ourselves, past and present. In our current times, where bullshit and hate have become king and queen on our national stage, truth has mostly taken a back seat.

The audience at the Paramount on Saturday night was ready to be entertained. They came to see a couple of their heroes who represent genuine honesty, humor and truth in song. I walked into the building to be entertained too, and I was.  But what I came away with more than anything, was the wonderful feeling that it was simply nice to escape from the news of the day and hear from a couple of authentic Americans on a very friendly stage.

Here's a little mix of Todd Snider and Americana Music Awards 2018 Artist of the Year Award, John Prine. Note - I found several phone videos from the tour the night before in Portland, Oregon and thought that close enough to Saturday night.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Eagles at The Fabulous Forum 9/12/18

Andy Keilen / Forum Photos
It's been 43 years since the Eagles played The Fabulous Forum for the first time. I did not see any of those famous Forum shows, but did see the band in 1979 at the Sports Arena in San Diego. Back in the day, both the Forum and the Sports Arena were designed for sporting events, not music concerts. But as rock 'n' roll acts got bigger and bigger arenas became prime locations for rock concerts. 

I saw Elton John at the Forum in 1974 and remember what many would call "the sound bounce" off the walls, but nothing was worse than the Sports Arena bounce if you were sitting up high. Speaking of high, most were, so I guess the acoustics didn't matter much but to a nerd like me.

The Sports Arena today is a tad better with probably a $1000 worth of hanging ceiling panels to baffle the sound. I did still hear the sound bounce several times at a James Taylor concert at the Sports Arena (now called the Valley View Casino Center) in 2015. James Taylor, really... Yeah James Taylor and his wall of Marshall amplifiers!

Now the Forum is a whole different story these days and truly a horse of a different color. In 2012, the Madison Square Garden Company purchased the Forum and immediately put $50 million into a complete renovation including $18 million more by the City of Inglewood. A good deal of that money went into transforming the acoustics in the building. In 2015, I saw Don Henley on his Cass County Tour, I couldn't believe the sound quality of not only the excellent band, but the building itself, it was well, fabulous!

So this past week on September 12th, we continued (my wife) Mary Kit's passion of seeing either the Eagles or Don Henley somewhere on the west coast of the United States, as much as possible. This time it was the Eagles first night stay at the Forum.

On this first night of three concerts at the Forum, Don opened the show with the announcement that their manager, Irvin Azoff would probably be making a boxed set of these shows. I'm thinking to myself, how many boxed sets can the Eagles make of their 1970's material and who's going to buy that? Well, I looked to my immediate right, and my lovely wife says to me, "Oh I'm getting that!"

Okay, if you read or watch TV you know that Glenn Frey died in 2016 and the Eagles then added Vince Gill and Glenn's son, Deacon Frey to the band. This has literally proven to be a sound move on the band's part to first- continue the legacy of Glenn through Deacon and then, bring in one of the finest singers and guitar players in Country music with Vince Gill. Both add tremendous new elements to a very familiar act and harmony of sound that has defined this band and a generation of fans. You'd think the sea of gray at the Forum was an AARP convention.

This new version of the Eagles were perfect from my old ear, and I mean perfect musically and vocally. Both the band and building made the sound magical, and this is an audience who knows every word of every song in this sing-along night with every guitar lick as clean and clear as their album recordings.

Now that brings me to Don Felder and his famous dismissal from the Eagles in 2001. Much has been made of this over the years. My idealistic hope was that after Glenn's death, maybe Don Henley would see the light like both Glenn and Don did on their 2014, History of the Eagles Tour when they invited Bernie Leadon back for that tour. I will say when I saw that that tour here in San Diego, I had tears in my eyes on that night when Bernie come on stage. Nobody even dreamed of Glenn's passing just two years later, but I was hoping against hope that bygones would some how be bygones, but that wasn't going to be. If you don't understand what I'm saying, just watch the 2013 documentary, History of the Eagles on Netflix.

Photo by Jon Gitchoff
So whatever you think of Don Felder, nobody can deny his contribution to the songs and sound of the Eagles. Today that lead guitar sound and back up vocals is filled by a very accomplished musician named Steuart Smith. Steuart replaced Don Felder in 2001 and has been with the band ever since. He is also a band member in Don Henley's band on his solo tours. In 2007, the Eagles last album of original material, Long Road out of Eden has five songs where Steuart Smith shares cowriting credits.

I thought for this post, I would be writing about Vince Gill, who was fantastic in his own right on backup vocals and guitars with also some great shining moments on several lead (Glenn) songs. I was glad they let him sing one of his solo hits, Don't Let Our Love Start Slippin' Away. I guess if Joe Walsh gets to do his solo hits at Eagles concerts then the others can now get a solo hit into the Eagles' setlist. Hell, they even did Don's, Boys of Summer to our delight!

But for me, I kind of zeroed in on Steuart Smith as he has a unique position in the band- a first tier player on the front line, but with second citizen status as a band partner. He plays right next to Joe Walsh and shares as many lead guitar duties as Felder always did. In fact Steuart Smith had so many close up shots on the big screens behind the band simply because he's doing so much of the lead guitar playing.

I'm sorry but I was kind of appalled that he was never introduced during the evening, not even a shout-out after several great songs where he did most of the heavy guitar work. This just struck me as odd. He should have been out there with the band taking their final bow at the end of concert, especially with the future box set cameras rolling. (At a Paul Simon concert this year, Paul literally introduced every member of his large ensemble band, and that goes a long way with enduring fans.)

I'm sure Steuart Smith has no complaints, is paid extremely well, and is as happy as punch to be in the Eagles for the long run.

(And if the Eagles [=Don Henley] won't do it in their show, here's my appreciation for the man on the far right of this picture below. And to be fair to Don... here's an entertaining article of Don ejecting a concertgoer for shouting Don Felder's name while introducing Steuart Smith at a 2015 show in Detroit.)
Left, Vince Gill, Timothy B. Schmit, Don Henley, Deacon Frey, Joe Walsh and Steuart Smith @ the Forum 9/12/18
(Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

I haven't found a good Steuart Smith clip at the Forum (so far) so here's a phone video I found on YouTube from the Eagles 2017 show at Safeco Park in Seattle that Mary Kit and I attended, featuring Timothy B. Schmit and Steuart Smith on I Can't Tell You Why.



Here's a quality clip of Don and Steuart doing Boys of Summer with Don's solo band and Steuart playing the Mike Campbell guitar composition for the song.



If you get a chance, try to see a concert at The Forum, you'll have a great experience. As for the Eagles, they are still flying high with their two new band mates. Deacon Frey is not a gimmick. At 25 he has big shoes to fill and is doing a great journeymen's job. The new pairing with Vince Gill is brilliant marketing but backed with a quality of sound that is unmatched, not even by the original members of the Eagles.

I decided not to do a playlist this week because you've already have heard the Eagles tunes a million times. If you can, try to see the Eagles live (see current tour) once before they are gone as a group; it's as crisp a sound as putting on a new vinyl record of the best selling album of the 20th century, Eagles Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975).

Monday, September 10, 2018

Paul McCartney - Egypt Station release

Photograph: MJ Kim/MPL Communications


Awhile back I did a sneak preview of Paul McCartney's new album, Egypt Station with a couple of YouTube songs released before the official September 7th release date. The highlight of that blog was my inclusion of the James Corden piece with Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke which I have included here again at the end of the playlist.

For this week's release of the album, I was able to snag every song from the new album off YouTube from various sources. Here's the album on Amazon Music if you have a subscription.

This is Sir Paul's 17th solo album that he's calling 'a concept album' but I couldn't hear the travel or any other connected themes other than love or want of. I still think its a very good album that is worthy of a start to finish listen to as we used to do back in the day. I've only seen pictures as shown above of the album cover, but Paul's really put a great deal of visual art into the vinyl album that I think many fans will love to look at and read the liner notes while listening. Here's a link to buy on Amazon.

I start this playlist with three Jimmy Fallon videos with Paul on his show promoting the album last Friday, September 7th. I always enjoy Jimmy's love for Paul that now extends across several generations of fans.

If you want to read a review of this album, just read Rob Sheffield's Rolling Stone review here, with the opening line - "Make a list of all the songwriters who were composing great tunes in 1958. Now make an overlapping list of the ones who are still writing brilliant songs in 2018. Your list reads: Paul McCartney."

So happy Monday and start (or end) your day enjoying Paul's new music and sense of humor here!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at the San Diego Copley Symphony Hall, 10/1/18

photo source
On Saturday night, I got to see Jason Isbell in my own backyard at the San Diego Copley Symphony Hall. It was special on several fronts. First, it was my first time seeing Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit live. Second, Amanda Shires who is Jason's wife and has her own solo career (and currently on tour) was in the band for the night. Third, Jason's and Amanda's daughter turned three that day, and came out for a song with the band as the entire audience sang Happy Birthday to Mercy Rose.

During the set up between opening act Aimee Mann and Jason's band hitting the stage, I saw a roadie bring out Amanda's violin and set it up on it's stand next to a smaller microphone stand to the left of Jason's center mic. I turned to my wife Mary Kit at that moment and told her, "It's going to a great night!" This past week, as I poured through a bunch of Isbell videos onYouTube, I listened to how Amanda's violin and harmony singing completes Jason's voice and the 400 Unit's sound.

By the way, guess what the '400 Unit' means? My guess was- it was some kind or type of farming equipment. The name actually comes from the annex of the "the psychiatric ward of Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital in Florence, Alabama." The things you learn on Wikipedia.

If you spend anytime looking into Jason Isbell you will learn he was born in Alabama and who's mother was only 17 at his birth. On my playlist this week, check out Children of Children and you'll get an insight to where and how Jason's songwriting developed with his upbringing.

In 2001, Jason joined the Drive-By Truckers and established himself as a solid songwriter and performer. However, with a long history of substance abuse he was kicked out of the band in 2007.

In 2012 with help from Amanda Shires, her manager Traci Thomas and Ryan Adams, Isbell entered a treatment center in Nashville. In 2013, Jason and Amanda were married by Todd Snider, who I'll be seeing September 22nd with John Prine in Seattle. (I had to throw that in, in my continuing game of '6 degrees' of rock 'n' roll.)

I'm happy to say, the happy ending is always a daily process, but it's really exciting to see that happiness on stage right in front of your eyes. Jason, Amanda, and Mercy Rose have the world in front of them, with a lifetime of love and song.

That brings me to Jason's song, If We Were Vampires, from his 2017 album, The Nashville Sound. If We Were Vampires is in my opinion one of the best love songs of the 21st century. I can't get enough of the lyrics and watching these two artist's sing this song live facing each other made this a special evening indeed.

If We Were Vampires
It's not the long, flowing dress that you're in
Or the light coming off of your skin
The fragile heart you protected for so long
Or the mercy in your sense of right and wrong
It's not your hands searching slow in the dark
Or your nails leaving love's watermark
It's not the way you talk me off the roof
Your questions like directions to the truth
It's knowing that this can't go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we'll get forty years together
But one day I'll be gone
Or one day you'll be gone
If we were vampires and death was a joke
We'd go out on the sidewalk and smoke
And laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn't feel the need to hold your hand
Maybe time running out is a gift
I'll work hard 'til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn't me who's left behind
It's knowing that this can't go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we'll get forty years together
But one day I'll be gone
Or one day you'll be gone
It's knowing that this can't go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we'll get forty years together
But one day I'll be gone
One day you'll be gone