Geoff Tate talks ‘Rage For Order’ and 30 years of ‘Empire’ ahead of Town Ballroom date

Empire-30th-Anniversary-Tour2-cropped-proof

“A young man now in a private chair
I’ve seen the world through a bitter stare
But my dream is still alive
I’m going to be the best I can”

Few opening tracks seared my prepubescent consciousness more than Queensrÿche’s “Best I Can,” the five-minute, 34-second declaration of independence that served as a narrative point of entry to their triple-platinum 1990 album “Empire.” Everything from Chris DeGarmo’s evocative keyboard intro to Geoff Tate’s vocal firestorm hooked me from the moment my parents popped the cassette into our 1979 Pontiac Grand Prix.

You don’t forget moments like that and you don’t forget albums like “Empire.”

I remember reading a review from Entertainment Weekly that attempted to proselytize by noting the dire nature of the lyrics and referring to the band members as “relentless killjoys,” but all it did for me was calcify the disconnect between myself and the trend-hopping mainstream music publications of the era. The world is a scary place and criticizing the band for tackling issues such as poverty, homelessness, and drug trafficking within a progressive metal context makes about as much sense as Trump taking sole credit for the present-day economy.

I caught up with Geoff Tate this week to discuss the album and why Sunday’s show inside Town Ballroom should go a long way towards re-establishing its legacy.  If you’ve been on the fence about going, take $60 out of your income tax return and make it happen.

MNOD: Given how long and successful the run with “Operation: Mindcrime” was, what was the band’s mindset going into the “Empire” sessions?

GT: We wanted to do something different. It had always been our practice to do a story or a concept, but this album was a way to balance our thoughts and write more standalone songs. I remember talking a lot about stripping back the production and simplifying things, which we did, but we also experimented in ways we hadn’t before.

MNOD: How well do you think it holds up today?

GT: I’m enjoying playing the entire thing live, because there a few of the songs that I’ve never played live before. It’s interesting, because I get to revisit them and immerse myself in the experience. It certainly holds up for me.

MNOD: “Della Brown” has always been the song that stood out to me. What was the inspiration behind that character?

GT: There was a homeless woman who lived near me and I would see her every day. I knew her somewhat. The song was inspired by her life and what could’ve happened to lead her to that point.

MNOD: The band also played an MTV Unplugged show as part of the “Building Empires” tour. What are your memories of that experience?

GT: That was a fun presentation. We rehearsed in a big barn in the middle of a field for a few days and the MTV special really stood out, because it was lighthearted and we were able to rework the material for an acoustic setting. It was a cool show.

MNOD: You’ll also be playing “Rage For Order” in its entirety at this show. How did you decide that the pairing would work?

GT: I’ve always wanted to play the whole thing live. It’s a bucket list thing for me. The contrast between the dark and the light really interests me, because Rage is a darker album and Empire is a little more upbeat and lighter in mood. I have to warm up a lot, though, because the songs on Rage are sung in a higher register while Empire is more mid-range and lower register.

MNOD: 2020 also marks the 40th anniversary of you and the rest of the guys from Queensrÿche initially joining together as The Mob. What were your expectations for the band at the time?

GT: Not too high, really. I’ve never been one for expectations, because I prefer to be pleasantly surprised. Our first Queensrÿche EP got a lot of attention and then our ensuing success allowed us to move into a different financial bracket, so we all just kind of threw our hat in the ring.

MNOD: Are there any differences that you notice between playing with the guys from Queensÿche and the band you currently have in place?

GT: The guys I’m playing with now are so enthusiastic. They’re young and energetic and they love playing live. It’s nice to surround yourself with people who care about presenting the music exactly the way people remember it and want to hear it. They have a respect for the music and it makes me happy to see that.

MNOD: Would you consider a reunion with Queensrÿche down the road?

GT: I’m very happy doing what I’m doing now and I really don’t have any desire to jump in that boat. I don’t need to. I would never say never, but it’s unlikely. The current lineup they have is just the original bass player and guitarist now that drummer Scott Rockenfield is no longer with them. If (original guitarist) Chris (DeGarmo) and Scott called me up, I would definitely listen, but Chris has been disconnected from that lifestyle for a long time now. Although, we do still talk occasionally.

MNOD: We last spoke in 2012 when your solo album, “Kings and Thieves,” was about to be released. Have you considered a follow-up in the future?

GT: I have a lot of material ready, but I’m not sure what the best way to release anything is in 2020. I have a lot of options, so I’m still in the research mode to find the best fit for me.

Geoff Tate plays both “Rage For Order” and “Empire” in their entirety on Feb. 23 at Town Ballroom. 

Tickets are $30 and showtime is 7:00 p.m.

See http://www.townballroom.com or http://www.geofftate.com for details.

 

Carl Dixon to sing The Guess Who at The Riviera Theatre

TGW

“It’s a miracle I survived and lived long enough to get to the hospital,” said Carl Dixon when reflecting back on the 2008 car accident that prematurely brought his tenure in The Guess Who to an end. He was in a coma for 10 days and suffered 52 injuries that required him to rethink his approach to life moving forward, but his story was far from over.

With the love and support of family, friends, and a dedicated medical team, Dixon fought his way back to the stage, and, in many ways, is playing and singing better than he ever did before. I had the pleasure of chatting with him this week to promote his upcoming date at The Riviera Theatre and the respect for life with which he speaks is something we should all aspire to.

As a Western New Yorker who grew up obsessed with Canadian radio, I can only hope that Dixon’s musical canon finally gets the respect it deserves.

MNOD: Your latest solo album, “Unbroken,” was released on Nov. 29 of last year. What was the road like to get those songs ready for the studio?

CD: After my previous record, ‘Whole ‘Nother Thing,’ came out in 2017, I was ready to move on to the next project. A German record label actually approached me about releasing ‘Unbroken’ and I had a drummer friend of mine play on the album as well as another guitar player.

MNOD: What was your relationship to the music of The Guess Who before you became a member of the band?

CD: It’s a long history. The first 45rpm I ever owned as a kid had ‘Laughing’ on one side and ‘Undun’ on the other. The first big show I ever attended was The Guess Who at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto when I was about 12 or 13, so I love all those albums. For Canadians, they were our Beatles. I had no idea about Winnipeg as a kid, but we all felt connected to them instantly. They were the first Canadian band to really make an impact on the global stage. They had a lot of songs that were hits in Canada yet never charted in the U.S., so, in the show, we try to mix the set up while still focusing on the most popular songs people remember.

MNOD: How did you assemble the band for the current tour?

CD: The band I’m playing with now actually contains a few of the former members I played with in The Guess Who. Laurie MacKenzie plays with me as well as Bill Wallace on bass, who co-wrote ‘Clap For the Wolfman,’ Lou Pomanti on keyboards, and Mark Santer on drums, who had a group in Toronto with his brother called Santers in the ’80s.

MNOD: Following your accident in 2008, what role did music play in motivating you during your recovery?

CD:  The accident was the reason I couldn’t be in The Guess Who anymore, so I knew I had to return to the life I was living before it happened. It was terrible. I was broken, torn apart, and, by most accounts, shouldn’t have survived. I experienced a miraculous result and used that as motivation to return to playing and performing even better than I did before. There was never a moment where I didn’t envision returning to music, because it was my life.

MNOD: When did you decide that inspirational speaking was something that you wanted to add to your repertoire?

CD: After my recover, I had a lot of gratitude towards everyone that helped me get through the worst experience of my life and I wanted to share what I learned about myself. I speak at mostly corporate events, but, the more I do it, the more I find that what I’m saying really strikes a chord with people. I learn a lot about myself in the process, because it’s a different audience than a live concert. People may know me from my musical background, but that’s not the primary reason they’re listening to me speak. I still get that performance high, but it’s in a different way. I’m not hiding behind a guitar, so the intimacy is very real. I do include some music in my speeches, but, if anyone in the crowd is familiar with my bands, it’s purely happenstance.

MNOD: How did you develop your S.T.A.R.T. philsophy?

CD: That’s really an encapsulation of everything I learned coming out of the accident. Something terrible happened to me and I instantly thought ‘How do I get through this?’ Stop, Think, Accept, Renew, and Thank is the process I went through to get to where I am today. Nobody succeeds alone and I had an incredible medical team behind me. I found inner strength and new friendships along the way that I continue to be thankful for every day.

MNOD: How is your relationship with the guys from Coney Hatch today?

CD: We have a long history together and Andy Curran is still one of my closest friends. We met in 1981 and we’ve been through a lot. The band still plays half a dozen or so shows a year and we were actually just in the studio last week working on some stuff.

MNOD: At this point in your career, is there anything that you still want to accomplish?

CD: Probably having a really super successful song would be nice. I don’t even know if it’s possible to have a million-seller anymore, but having a hit would be great. Aside from that, hitting new territories such as Japan or South America is something I’d love to do.

Carl Dixon sings The Guess Who at The Riviera Theatre on Feb. 21 at 8:00 p.m.

See http://www.carldixon.com or http://www.rivieratheatre.org for details.

For further information regarding Carl’s speaking engagements, visit http://www.carldixonspeaks.com

Carl Dixon’s latest solo release, “Unbroken,” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.

Jackson Stokes embraces history to create something new

Stokes Album
Photo Courtesy of Big Hassle PR

The Allman Brothers Band’s “Brothers and Sisters” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd” are two of the finest rock albums of 1973. As a teenager in the early ’00s, these works were about as cool to bring up in the cafeteria as admitting that you hung out with your parents on the weekend, but I didn’t care. Everything from the singing to the playing to the blatant disregard for conformity spoke to me more deeply than whatever dreck the DJ happened to be spinning at the 2003 Winter Formal.

Fast-forward to 2020, and I find myself encouraged to discover an artist from the next generation whose sound is seasoned with the flavors of the past just enough to give his own voice the foundation it needs to flourish.

Jackson Stokes was 10-years-old when his father told him that Devon Allman, son of the late, great Gregg Allman, was their neighbor and the decision to go knock on the door with guitar in hand would prove to be life-changing. To those of you out there who complain that there isn’t any good music being made anymore, Stokes’ debut album is proof that you’re just not looking hard enough.

If you don’t believe me, then perhaps the man himself can convince you.

MNOD: What was it about Create Records that made it such an appealing home for your first album?

Jackson Stokes: I thought Create Records was a great home, because it was a natural fit after making the record due to the closeness Devon already had with the record. I’m really honored to be the first signing. My favorite part about Create is the mission of it. That is to both be label putting out great new music in the world but bringing new artists up and helping them out. My goal is to be able to do well so that I can give back into helping the next person who needs that push in the industry. I know that Devon and the whole Create team believes that and wants that, that is a powerful thing.

MNOD: How was Devon Allman able to bring out your best during the recording process?

JS: Devon really helped me learn about myself. I think a producer is best when they know you and can teach you about your strengths and weaknesses, but also things about yourself you didn’t know before. We are very honest when we communicate and I learned a lot about how others would perceive my voice and songs, as well as lots of songwriting techniques of trimming the fat of a tune, mixing, and parts fitting into a sonic space. Since the record was made over a decent period of time we both kind of grew with it too, I know I did.

MNOD: Who are some of your influences as a songwriter?

JS: Influences as a songwriter…well I love groove, groove is so important to me. But lately I have learned to love a simple melody even more. I def take a lot of influence from Bill Withers, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye on mixing content with groove, and they are my favorites but I also love classic country songwriting like Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, and current Americana artists like Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton.

MNOD: What role did growing up in St. Louis play in your musical direction?

JS: I take a lot of pride in my hometown and the music scene/culture there. It’s a musical city with a super rich history in blues and soul (Mike Davis, Albert King, Johnnie Johnson, Chuck Berry), I think being around the blues clubs in my early teens and then early twenties shaped me a lot. Getting to watch some of the OG greats do their thing or talking with Gus Thornton about playing with Albert King in a corner of a bar at 3am, all those little moments add up to shape you. I used to take notes in my phone on how Roland Johnson (great STL soul artist) worked a room. Also, I feel a city just soaks in to you to where you can’t shake it off, nor do I want to. I could go in for days about STL but just come to figure it out! I’ll give you a tour.

MNOD: Your sound suggests an old-school influence that a lot of people wouldn’t expect from a younger artist. What type of music did you listen to as a kid?

JS: I grew up on classic rock and blues, cranked on a vinyl player in my room. I first fell in love with Lynyrd Skynyrd and that grew into a full classic rock obsession. My parents had all the old records and refused to buy CD’s saying, “we already got all these records.” Best thing they could have ever done! I have always loved older music, it speaks to me. I love 40s and 50s just blues as well as 30s acoustic blues, anything classic and roots. I always felt like going to the source of a music is the best way to learn it. History is so important! As I’ve grown older and smarter I do realize that there is beautiful music being made all the time, just sometimes it’s harder to find than others, but it’s there.

MNOD: What role did your parents play in encouraging your musical career?

JS: My parents are the people who wouldn’t want to be talked about in an interview and that’s why I love them even more. They have done everything for me, they don’t come to every show, they like for me to get to work and focus on my job, so people don’t see them but they are behind the scenes. They have given me everything in their power to succeed, yes we used hand me down guitars and amps but they found me all of them. My dad hung out until 3am sometimes watching me play (I wasn’t allowed without an adult in the bar) and then go to work the next day. People ask me if I had a musical family and neither parents play a note, but I have a very artistic family, and they had beautiful music all the time growing up around the house. You don’t have to play to know good music. They taught me to work my ass off everyday, be the best man I can be, and have good taste (mom taught me that one), and I am grateful for all they still do.

MNOD: What was the moment in your journey when you realized that music was what you wanted to do with your life?

JS: I fell deeply in love with music and the guitar in high school and my friend and I went to Robert Randolph and the Family Band in STL. Robert always had someone come out of the crowd and play guitar on stage, that night, it happened to be me (I was about 15). We jammed two long songs in front of 2,000 people and the rush was amazing! That was the moment, I didn’t realize it at the time but when I look back on it, that was the first time I felt that feeling and was hooked. Side note: I recently got to play a song again with Robert at the Allman Family Revival at the Beacon theater. Talk about a full circle moment, it was special.

MNOD: When sitting down to write, do you find that the music or the lyrics come more easily to you?

JS: Depends on the song but it’s usually the music. I was mainly a guitar player before a songwriter so that’s where I go first but lately I’ve been focusing on just singing a melody and not letting an instrument inhibit my natural inclination. That can happen sometimes when you are familiar with an instrument. Lately it has been a mix of both, for better or for worse, lyrics usually comes last for me, sometimes the feel of a song dictates the words, scenario, and meaning I use.

MNOD: Now that your first album has been sent out into the world, what has the reaction been like so far?

JS: It has been good! It has done as well as I thought, since this is the first record, the release was really the beginning of people hearing it. I will know more after six months of touring. I am proud of where it has gone and now working hard to just push it out to the world.

MNOD: You’ll be opening for The Allman Betts Band in Buffalo on Feb. 12. What can the audience expect from your live set?

JS: The live show is fun, a little more full throttle! We like to extend solos a bit and put some more live flashes of musicality in there. The cats in the band are amazing musicians so I like to highlight them when we can. We just try to keep the music going forward and evolving, the beauty of a live show is it makes a song alive again every night. With a live show, a song doesn’t have to stop at the recording, it could be different in three months, and as long as you don’t force things and let he changes happen naturally, it can become even more beautiful over time.

Don’t miss Jackson Stokes with the Allman Betts Band and J.D. Simo at Town Ballroom on Feb. 12.

See http://www.townballroom.com or https://www.facebook.com/tylerjacksonstokes/ for further details.

Jackson Stokes’ debut self-titled album is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor a pay for physical copy. 

 

 

 

Finding My Way: My Favorite Interviews of the 2010s

chuck-d

Interviewing, in essence, is all about trust.

The interviewer trusts that the person they’re talking to is invested in giving a response worthy of their time, and, in turn, the interviewee trusts that the writer isn’t going to manipulate said response to suit their own agenda.

For me, I have no agenda other than delivering pieces that cause both the artist and the audience to think critically about the topic at-hand. I’m not interested in scandal, selfies, or anything resembling salacious clickbait. I’m also not interested in being cozy with bands or showing off how many famous people I’ve met on social media. I’m simply dedicated to the work for the sake of doing it, because mainstream pop culture journalism just doesn’t cut it for me anymore.

That said, I’ve gone back through my archives and dug out a dozen subjects that I consider to be my favorites for reasons both personal and professional. I hope that you enjoy reading them again as much I did.

Chuck D (2010) – This is the one that really got the ball rolling for me. I only had a year as a music journalist under my belt and Chuck decided to give me an opportunity.

Chuck D is still mad as hell (2010)

Jon Anderson (2011) – Jon is one of the most gracious artists I’ve ever spoken with and his willingness to discuss anything was greatly appreciated.

Gathering ’round “The Living Tree” with Jon Anderson (2011)

Glenn Hughes (2011) – One of my favorite singers in the history of recorded music.

Glenn Hughes’ love for the music still burns (2011)

Rik Emmett (2012) – As a Canadian music aficionado, this one was huge.

Rik Emmett looks back on a life of triumphs (2012)

Wayne Coyne (2013) – I couldn’t believe that it happened then and still can’t now.

Wayne Coyne discusses ‘The Terror’ that is The Flaming Lips (2013)

Ian Thornley (2013) – What I said about Rik Emmett also applies here.

Ian Thornley discusses the return of Big Wreck (2013)

Ian Anderson (2014) – The fact that another living legend agreed to speak with an unknown writer from WNY still amazes me.

Don’t Call Him Jethro: An Interview with Ian Anderson (2014)

Scott Stapp (2014 and 2016) – Regardless of your opinion of him or the band that he fronted, I think that these pieces really allowed his humanity to shine through.

Scott Stapp wants to see your proof of life (2014)

Scott Stapp is back and plays Buffalo Iron Works on Jan. 26 (2016)

Sophie B. Hawkins (2018) – This was my first interview after a two-year hiatus from writing and it couldn’t have been with a more underrated yet passionate artist.

Sophie B. Hawkins talks music and motherhood ahead of Niagara Falls show

Steven Wilson (2018) – They say that interviewing your idols can be a bad thing, but this was everything but.

Steven Wilson continues to push boundaries ‘to the bone’

Steve Hackett (2019) – My inner music nerd was tweaking.

Inside the wizarding world of Steve Hackett

Bruce Cockburn (2019) – What I said about Rik Emmett and Ian Thornley applies yet again.

“Saint” Bruce comes to Babeville: A Conversation with Bruce Cockburn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Albums of the 2010s

Let’s face it.

A lot of shit went down in the past decade, and, if you’re anything like me, you needed a soundtrack to get through the toughest times.

What follows is a list of 30 albums that resonated more deeply than everything else I’ve heard since the ball dropped on 2010. I considered writing a capsule review for each selection, but the best way to absorb the impact of these works is to just listen for yourself.

The Black Keys – “Brothers” (2010)

Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs” (2010)

Son of the Sun – “The Happy Loss” (2010)

The Civil Wars – “Barton Hollow” (2011)

Beastie Boys – “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two” (2011)

Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers – “Teenage and Torture” (2011)

Foo Fighters – “Wasting Light” (2011)

Rush – “Clockwork Angels” (2012)

Bob Dylan – “Tempest” (2012)

Neil Young and Crazy Horse – “Psychedelic Pill” (2012)

Steven Wilson – “The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)” (2013)

Savages – “Silence Yourself” (2013)

Queens of the Stone Age – “…Like Clockwork” (2013)

David Bowie – “The Next Day” (2013)

The War on Drugs –  “Lost in the Dream” (2014)

Lana Del Rey – “Ultraviolence” (2014)

You + Me – “Rose Ave.” (2014)

Jackson Browne – “Standing in the Breach” (2014)

The Black Keys – “Turn Blue” (2014)

Kendrick Lamar – “To Pimp a Butterfly” (2015)

Iron Maiden – “The Book of Souls” (2015)

Sleater Kinney – “No Cities to Love” (2015)

Radiohead – “A Moon Shaped Pool” (2016)

David Bowie – “Blackstar” (2016)

Kendrick Lamar – “Damn.” (2017)

Spoon – “Hot Thoughts” (2017)

Beck – “Colors” (2017)

Judas Priest – “Firepower” (2018)

3.2 – “The Rules Have Changed” (2018)

Tool – “Fear Inoculum” (2019)

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Films of the 2010s

Parasite

The way in which we experience cinema has changed significantly since 2010. Streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ are all fighting for the same pool of consumers that used to have no problem shelling out cash on a Saturday night at the theater.Now, the joy of being in a dark room with complete strangers has been replaced by the isolated ritual of watching the latest masterpiece in the comfort of one’s living room.

While nothing will ever supersede the big screen for me, I must admit that the option to catch Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” at home is appealing given that I have a four-year-old son who doesn’t allow me to watch anything other than Disney’s “Descendants” that often.

A lot of people have complained about the ubiquity of streaming, but, as long as the competition leads to an increase in quality, what’s the problem?

What follows is a list of the 30 best films I either reviewed or simply sought out on my own time during the past decade. If you have time off coming up this holiday season, consider this a starting point for what to catch up on during your vacation.

“Black Swan” – Dir. Darren Aronofsky (2010)

“Dogtooth” – Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos (2010)

“The Social Network” – Dir. David Fincher (2010)

“The Tree of Life” – Dir. Terence Malick (2011)

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” – Dir. Lynne Ramsay (2011)

“Bridesmaids” – Dir. Paul Feig (2011)

“Zero Dark Thirty” – Dir. Kathryn Bigelow (2012)

“The Master” – Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson (2012)

“Life of Pi” – Dir. Ang Lee (2012)

“The Act of Killing” – Dir. Joshua Oppenheimer (2012)

“12 Years a Slave” – Dir. Steve McQueen (2013)

“Spring Breakers” – Dir. Harmony Korine (2013)

“Captain Phillips” – Dir. Paul Greengrass (2013)

“Boyhood” – Dir. Richard Linklater (2014)

“Birdman” – Dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (2014)

“Under the Skin” – Dir. Jonathan Glazer (2014)

“Whiplash” – Dir. Damien Chazelle (2014)

“Room” – Dir. Lenny Abrahamson (2015)

“Inside Out” – Dir. Pete Docter (2015)

“O.J.: Made in America” – Dir. Ezra Edelman (2016)

“Nocturnal Animals” – Dir. Tom Ford (2016)

“Fences” – Dir. Denzel Washington (2016)

“Moonlight” – Dir. Barry Jenkins (2016)

“Get Out” – Dir. Jordan Peele (2017)

“mother!” – Dir. Darren Aronofsky (2017)

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” – Dir. Martin McDonagh (2017)

“If Beale Street Could Talk” – Dir. Barry Jenkins (2018)

“Sorry to Bother You” – Dir. Boots Riley (2018)

“Widows” – Dir. Steve McQueen (2018)

“Parasite” – Dir. Bong Joon-Ho (2019)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Albums of 2019

The fact that more than half of these selections are from female artists isn’t significant for any other reason than the fact that they’re brilliant records. I’m not interested in quotas or pity votes. The women on this list are here, because they deserve to be.

Enjoy.

Tool

Tool – “Fear Inoculum”


They made us wait 13 years, but we should all be grateful that we’re alive at a time when Tool is still making new music.

Jaime.jpg

Brittany Howard – “Jaime”

Her solo debut is as fearless and impassioned as anything I’ve heard this decade, let alone this year.

Highwomen

The Highwomen – “The Highwomen”

Country as it was meant to be sung, played, and written, as opposed to the pablum that has dominated the airwaves this decade.

Western

Bruce Springsteen – “Western Stars”

The Boss harnesses the intimacy he found on Broadway and directs it toward a mythical exploration of the American West.

Wildcard.jpg

Miranda Lambert – “Wildcard”

The finest release of her career thus far and further proof that Blake Shelton was only dragging her down.

Del Rey

Lana Del Rey – “Norman Fucking Rockwell”

A lot has been said about the level of authenticity (or lack thereof) that Del Rey brings to her work, but, when the work is this good, does it really matter?

Eilish

Billie Eilish – “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go”

Her lyrical obsession with death rivals Lydia Deetz and the simplicity of the production is something too often missing from modern pop music.

Lizzo.jpg

Lizzo – “Cuz I Love You”

A vibrant, millennial update of Aretha Franklin’s 1967 staple “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.”

Glorious Sons

The Glorious Sons – “A War on Everything”

I wrote at-length about this record earlier in the fall and its disheveled rock aesthetic still resonates.

Who.jpg

The Who – “WHO”

I might be the only writer in America to put this on a year-end list, but that’s just fine with me. It was a late addition and a reminder that the bloody Who can still make a bloody good album.

 

 

 

The Best and Worst Films of 2019

Irishman

2019 will be remembered as the year in which Martin Scorsese told fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to go home and get their fucking shinebox. Fair or not, that’s how his comments were perceived and that perception is why I’ve lost even more respect for a Twitter hive that reacted without really digging into the marrow of what he said. We’re living in an era where 50 Million people can’t wait to bury the next person who dares to diverge from the new groupthink, so an unintended consequence of the Information/Oversharing Age appears to be that we’re all better off keeping our opinions to ourselves.

Whether or not comic book movies are cinema is a debate that can rage on all day and all night, but Scorsese’s point about studios churning out low-risk product with an emphasis on profit over individual artistry is something that can’t be denied. They want cash and they want it now.

For example, let’s say that an executive is presented with two scripts. One is the tale of a marginalized Vietnam veteran whose disgust with society ultimately ends in a bloody mess and the other is “Iron Man 4.” Which project is more likely to get the green light in the modern marketplace?

The latter, of course, because we’re talking about a proven commodity with a fanbase that will keep coming back regardless of how saturated the market becomes. What started out as a fresh, unexpected turn for Robert Downey, Jr. back in 2008 has defined the last decade of films he’s made, because, when Disney is making the schedule, the opportunity to veer into a “Zodiac” or a “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” along the way becomes a near-impossibility.

I’m not saying that these films can’t be entertaining or that the people who love them are abnormal. I just don’t find my life as changed by The Avengers battling Ultron as it was when I saw that bravura extended tracking shot of Henry Hill and Karen Friedman entering the Copacabana in “GoodFellas” for the first time.

Call me old-school, but that sequence IS what cinema is all about.

That said, what follows is a list of the best and worst films I experienced in 2019. You’ll probably disagree with one or all of them, but that’s your right. I just hope that I can incite a more intelligent, well-rounded discussion moving forward.

1. “Parasite” – Bong Joon-Ho slices through the upstairs-downstairs class structure of South Korea with surgical precision.

2. “Marriage Story” – Not since “Kramer vs. Kramer” has the dissolution of an onscreen relationship landed such an emotional haymaker. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson leave it all on the table.

3. “Pain and Glory” –  Pedro Almodovar’s tale of a director reflecting back on his legacy while in the midst of a physical decline lays the groundwork for the finest performance of Antonio Banderas’s career.

4. “The Irishman” – Those looking for another “GoodFellas” or “Casino” may be disappointed in Martin Scorsese’s late-career masterpiece, because that’s just not what he was going for here. Frank Sheeran lived long enough to contemplate both the emptiness of the organized crime lifestyle and how his allegiance to it alienated him from the family he kept in the dark.

5. “Amazing Grace” – Magic was made when Aretha Franklin stepped into LA’s New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in 1972 and thankfully Warner Bros. kept the footage around long enough for us to see it.

6. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” – Tarantino may have done the best work of his career with this poignant ode to the old school, but I’ll have to see it a few more times before making that call.

7. “Us” –  Jordan Peele dives deeper into the well of socio-political horror and Lupita Nyong’o delivers one of the performances of the year.

8. “Dolemite is My Name” – Eddie Murphy hasn’t been this invested in a live action film in years, which means that he gets to remind the world of his genius again.

9. “Knives Out” – Oh, what a tangled web Rian Johnson weaves in this masterful mystery about an eccentric writer and the family that may have killed him.

10. “Blinded By the Light” – The universality of Bruce Springsteen’s music comes alive in this true story about a disaffected Indian teenager and his father struggling to understand each other.

Honorable Mentions – “Joker,” “Ad Astra,” “Hustlers,” “Booksmart,” “Rocketman,” “Atlantics,” and “Jojo Rabbit”

The Worst – “Yesterday,” “The Dirt,” and “3 From Hell”

 

 

 

 

The Best WNY Concerts of the Decade

A lot has changed in 10 years.

In 2010, I had a bachelor’s degree, an uncertain career path, aspirations to become a music journalist at a national publication, and zero relationship prospects of any kind.

As 2020 approaches, I have a master’s degree, a great job, a reputation among readers and industry professionals as a serious writer, and a wife and son whose collective impact on everything I do can’t be overstated.

Yes, things changed for me, but they changed for the outside world, as well.

What should be a conscientious, über-literate society that uses social media as a catalyst for good is actually a vitriolic cesspool that allows the uninformed to spew digital dysentery on Twitter without consequence. What should be a culture predicated on intellectual disagreement is actually a breeding ground for ad hominem attacks that contribute absolutely nothing to the elevation of public discourse.

Mark Zuckerberg didn’t ruin us. He simply provided an avenue for us to ruin ourselves, and, if we don’t stop and smell the avocado toast, the damage could be irreparable.

That said, I’m going to do my part by continuing to bring depth to the work and not shaming people for having an opinion that isn’t in sync with the hive. We all like different things and respectfully debating the merits of what we love with others is what makes being a consumer of pop culture so much fun in the first place.

What follows is a list of the finest local shows that I experienced during the past decade, and, while there was a point early on where I attended three shows a week, keep in mind that I couldn’t see everything.

Public Enemy – Aug. 11, 2010 at Town Ballroom 

The Black Keys – Sept. 2, 2010 at Town Ballroom

Megadeth, Testament, and Exodus – March 13, 2010 at Town Ballroom

Pearl Jam and Band of Horses – May 10, 2010 at HSBC Arena 

Stone Temple Pilots – May 7, 2011 at Main Street Armory 

Sully Erna – June 14, 2011 at The Riviera Theatre

The Tragically Hip and Arkells – July 30, 2011 at Canalside

Ice Cube – March 11, 2011 at Town Ballroom

Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman – Oct. 26, 2011 at Kleinhans Music Hall 

Marcus Miller – June 7, 2013 at The Bear’s Den

Steven Wilson – April 21, 2013 at Town Ballroom

Jewel – March 16, 2013 at Seneca Niagara Events Center

Puscifer – June 20, 2012 at The Riviera Theatre

Joan Osborne – June 1, 2012 at The Bear’s Den

Bad Company – July 16, 2013 at Artpark

The Flaming Lips – July 17, 2013 at Artpark

Aretha Franklin – March 2, 2013 at Seneca Niagara Events Center

Our Lady Peace – April 6, 2012 at Club Infinity

Goo Goo Dolls – April 29, 2014 at North Park Theatre

Justin Hayward – May 15, 2014 at The Bear’s Den

Jackson Browne – Aug. 11, 2014 at Artpark 

My Morning Jacket – July 22, 2015 at Artpark

Pixies – May 19, 2015 at The Rapids Theatre

U2 and Beck – Sept. 5, 2017 at New Era Field

Dave Davies – Nov. 16, 2013 at The Bear’s Den

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – Feb. 25, 2016 at First Niagara Center

Lindsey Buckingham and J.S. Ondara – Nov. 27, 2018 at The Riviera Theatre

Smashing Pumpkins, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, and AFI – Aug. 10, 2019 at Darien Lake Amphitheatre

Ted Nugent – Aug. 16, 2011 at Artpark 

The Who – May 9, 2019 at KeyBank Center

Scott Stapp – June 27, 2014 at The Bear’s Den

Deep Purple, Judas Priest, and The Temperance Movement – Sept. 5, 2018 at Darien Lake Amphitheatre

The Tea Party  – July 22, 2011 at  Ulrich City Centre

Johnny Marr – Oct. 20, 2018 at Town Ballroom

Anthrax, Testament, and Death Angel – Nov. 15, 2011 at Town Ballroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amy Helm set to soothe your holiday blues at The Tralf

AmyHelm_ThisTooShallLight_COVER

Despite efforts from the industry at-large to eviscerate the sacred art of making records, there’s still plenty of great music out in the wild. You may have to stop Instagramming your breakfast long enough to find it, but it’s there and it’s spectacular.

Amy Helm’s 2018 release, “This Too Shall Light,” is one such example, a vibrant, spacious sermon from an artist whose lineage is deeply rooted in a swell of American musical traditions. In other words, she draws inspiration from genres that the mainstream no longer deems worthy of attention, which allows her the freedom to release the kind of material worth investing in. Just as life finds a way in “Jurassic Park,” Helm finds a way to rise above the inconsequentiality of the modern age to create something beautiful.

I spoke with her recently to preview her upcoming show in Buffalo on Dec. 8, so, if you’re still searching for a way to spend all that Black Friday money, may I suggest going to http://www.tralfmusichall.com to snag a few seats before it’s too late.

Your friends and family will thank you.

MNOD: Last year’s “This Too Shall Light” was just the second album you’ve released under your own name. How do you feel as if you’ve evolved as a solo artist from 2015’s “Didn’t It Rain” to now?

Helm: Hopefully, I’ve gotten better. I think every artist wants put out the best record possible and I’m no different. I’m really proud of the collaborative effort of everyone involved in making this album, because I had terrific musicians backing me up.

MNOD: I read that you recorded these songs in very few takes. What role did that rawness play in the finished product?

Helm: It really contributed the overall sound and vibe of the record. Producer Joe Henry didn’t want me to sing them too much before cutting the record, because he wanted to capture our initial instinct. The beauty of the four-part harmonies is that we were all together in the same room making it happen.

MNOD: What drew you to these particular songs?

Helm: Some of them were suggestions and others were songs that I felt could live within the context of the album. They have a very free and loose feeling, which was enhanced by the presence of the choir. ‘Long Daddy Green’ is a song by Blossom Dearie that I especially love. I remember sneaking out to a jazz club in New York City when I was 13 to see her and that really influence me. I also wanted to include some challenging songs and some standards that I could really get into. A lot of them I was able to find a way into as I went along, because the songs continue to grow the more you sing them.

MNOD: You’ve described the sound of the album as ‘circular’ in the past. What did you mean by that?

Helm: The record is really about the harmonies and the joyful noise of a bunch of voices in the same room. The harmonies are constant throughout the record and really become its defining sound. I think what I meant by that is just the repetition of that formula and how it contributes to the fullness of each song. Joe and I patterned this album off a 1971 release from Delaney and Bonnie called ‘Motel Shot,’ which had a strong Southern gospel vibe to it.

MNOD: At what point did you begin to realize how influential your dad was on the industry?

Helm: When I was younger, I didn’t really know. He was already into a phase of obscurity by that point, so it wasn’t until we started doing ‘Dirt Farmer’ and ‘The Midnight Ramble Music Sessions’ that I understood the level of influence and reach he had. I would always meet drummers who would tell me how highly regarded he was among the drumming community. He was 1000% supportive of me getting into music and pulled me back into it when I was waiting tables, working at a flower shop, or just being lazy. He always encouraged me to get back into the fray.

MNOD: Who were some of your early influences besides your family?

Helm: Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton, Jimi Hendrix, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash among others. There were so many.

MNOD: I played ‘This Too Shall Light’ for my wife and she said that you reminded her of Stevie Nicks. Is that something you’ve ever heard before?

Helm: No one has ever told me that before, but I’ll take it. She’s one of the greats. If there is any influence there, it definitely came out subconsciously.

MNOD: What can fans expect during the upcoming live show in Buffalo?

Helm: One of the best things about being on the road is that the songs evolve as the tour goes on, so there’s always room to change things up. I love artists who reinvent songs and keep the audience surprised as to what comes next. I’ll have a great band with me at this show and it’s going to be very energetic. I think it’ll be more rock ‘n’ roll and probably louder than people expect.

MNOD: When can we expect new music to emerge?

Helm: I’m actually working on new material now. I’ve been home a lot and working weekends, so I have time to spend with my boys.

Amy Helm will be at the Tralf Music Hall on Dec. 8 as part of The Rockin’ Twangy Blue Holiday Bash with special guests Tripi and Jony James.

See http://www.tralfmusichall.com or http://www.amyhelm.com for details.

“This Too Shall Light” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.