Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band brings its blues revolution to Buffalo

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“Controlling the narrative” is a phrase we’ve heard a lot in 2019. Whether it’s Trump decrying the lack of journalistic objectivity in America or an A-List celebrity struggling to rationalize a 4:00 a.m. Tweet, everyone wants to tell their own story. Everyone appears eager to frame themselves as something other than what they really are, because, deep down, they know that Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective on human behavior has never gone out of style.

In the music world, the artists who present the most minuscule difference between their front stage and back stage personalities tend to be the most compelling, because what you see is what you get. There’s no question as to their true motivations. They’re confident enough in their art to let it stand on its own terms without shrouding everything in braggadocio.

Before he even picked up the phone, I knew that The Reverend Peyton was such an artist, because his songs control the narrative. He writes, sings, and plays from a deeply human place, which is something we’re not getting that often from the mainstream in the 21st century. Every note counts and every word goes a long way towards expressing something worth saying to an audience in search of authenticity.

The older I get, the less enamored I become with the style over substance mentality of the modern pop scene, so the fact that Buffalo still has a venue daring enough to book a three-piece band featuring a guitar, a washboard, and a minimalist drum kit that is the David to Neil Peart’s Goliath is enough to keep me going for years to come.

After hearing from The Reverend himself, I hope you’ll feel the same.

MNOD: You’ll be sharing the upcoming Buffalo bill with Colonel JD Wilkes and Dom Flemons. How did this tour initially come together?

Rev. Peyton: We’ve been talking about doing it for a few years now. We’re calling it the Blues Revolution Tour, because we don’t necessarily fit into one tiny box. I’ve been obsessed with the blues my entire life. I’ve loved it and studied it, so I know that a lot of people don’t consider Dom and JD to be traditional. We’re all a little underground or outside of the mainstream, which is good. For me, I’m fired up about this tour, because I’m able to bring along two people who are the best in the world at what they do. The Colonel JD Wilkes is arguably the best harmonica player on the planet and his knowledge of American music runs as deep as anyone you’ll ever meet. We’re not just fellow musicians, we’re friends. Kindred spirits, in a sense. Both JD and Dom are the real deal and legit artists. JD even petitioned the governor of Kentucky to make me an official colonel. Sometimes, the music industry can be overly competitive, but we all have a mutual respect for one another. I feel like a kid gearing up for summer vacation, because this is tour is going to be a unique showcase/blues revue that audiences haven’t really seen before.

MNOD: You mentioned that you’ve been doing this since you were a kid. Who were some of your early influences as a guitar player?

Rev. Peyton: Charley Patton was one of the first blues guys who fired me up and got me going. David Honeyboy Edwards, T-Model Ford, and Robert Belfour were guys that I really got into as I got older and I was fortunate to spend time with them. Also, guys like Son House and Robert Johnson. I wish that one day the whole world would understand just how great Honeyboy Edwards really was. We’re all a product of everything around us, so my influences have always been varied.

MNOD: How would you describe your band’s sound for those who have never heard you before?

Rev. Peyton: I call it ‘Front Porch Blues’ or ‘Rural Blues.’ I’m playing the bass and the lead at the same time on the guitar while my wife Breezy is on the washboard. She’s an amazing player and one of the most charismatic people you’ll ever see on stage. Our drummer, Max Senteney, is one of the best in the game and he’ll even play the cymbals with his feet.

MNOD: Your latest album, “Poor Until Payday,” is one of the most authentic releases I’ve heard in quite some time. Where did the idea behind the title track originate from?  

Rev. Peyton: That was just something that my mom said to me and it stuck. Thematically, I had been working on it for a while, but it just wasn’t there yet. For me, the idea of ‘Poor Until Payday’ isn’t as much about waiting on a check as it is about finally getting the bigger payday where you don’t have to worry so much anymore. It’s ultimately a more hopeful record than our past material.

MNOD: You’re currently running your own record label, which must be nice given the level of freedom you have regarding your musical direction. How has that been going so far?

Rev. Peyton: We’ve had a lot of help from Thirty Tigers. They’re the natural engine that has enabled us to keep going. We make the music that is inside of us and we can control how the message gets out there. PR decides what people think and we want to put the right stuff out there. Each record tells people who we are and we want people to know that we live, love, and breathe this music.

MNOD: The mainstream media always wants to paint Americans as being irreparably divided across just about every line you can think of. Do you notice that your shows are able to bring people from various backgrounds together for the cause?

Rev. Peyton: I’m proud to say that we have a really diverse following. I think our crowds have gotten more diverse as we’ve gone along. The media likes to label everything, but I love looking out into the crowd to guys who collect 78s next to kids with blue hair. We’ve gone from Mississippi to Canada and it’s never the same thing. We’ve been on the Vans Warped Tour and we’ve played the Sturgis Bike Rally, so we’re always up for anything. So much of the world comes down to what people believe or what they think the world is supposed to be, but we love our audiences everywhere we play.

MNOD: You’re known for maintaining a rigorous touring schedule, so I was curious as to how you find time to write while on the road.

Rev. Peyton: When I’m home, I tend to get preoccupied with other things, so I’m always working on songs on the road. I’ll start a song on the road, but I don’t usually finish it until I get home. I don’t get into new material until I start to get sick of other songs, because a lot of it just being open to things you can’t control. Writing is like a lightning bolt that hits you.

MNOD: Given the variety of venues you’ve played throughout your career, do you find yourself tailoring your set to the setting or do you approach every show the same way? 

Rev. Peyton: I have to completely feel a song or I can’t sing it, so I often tailor a set to the feeling I’m getting from the crowd at that moment. Putting the necessary feeling into these songs is an emotional drain, because this is what we live for. Sometimes, we’ll be playing a particular venue and I’ll think that a certain song would sound great in that room, but mostly it’s based on the vibe of the audience.

MNOD: When you do find time away from music, is there anything that you like to do to decompress from life on the road? 

Rev. Peyton: Fishing is what I do to decompress. I love it.

Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band Blues Revolution Tour stops at Buffalo’s Tralf Music Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 20.

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

“Poor Until Payday” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.

 

No one knows what it’s like to be the sad man: Thoughts on “Joker”

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When you’ve spent as many hours studying the effect of violent media on human behavior as I have, you cringe a little whenever people in power advocate for the censorship of popular entertainment. You cringe, because you understand that what’s on TV is but a cog in the overall wheel of socialization that determines how we process the world around us. You cringe, because you’ve witnessed the unintended consequences of public policy birthed from emotion rather than statistically significant evidence. And, finally, you cringe, because you can’t consciously support a philosophy that takes aim at an easy target while the real issues continue to simmer below the surface.

The reality is that we’re exposed to way too many words and images on a daily basis to lay all the blame on an industry whose intentions have more to do with financial gain than moral corruption. It’s a classic American tactic to either ban or declare war on something that is considered the next great crisis, but seldom is the ensuing plan executed in a way that suggests any thinking was done beyond the initial identification of the problem.

Which brings me to “Joker,” the film that has held the Internet hostage for a week and angered the hive mind more than any other film I’ve seen this year. Much has been written about its depiction of mental illness and how director Todd Phillips offers little insight into Arthur’s deteriorating condition, but I don’t feel as if Phillips has taken the mental health aspect any more or less seriously than the country at-large has in the past 50 years. The stigma is real and pretending that we’ve always been committed to treatment is a by-product of everything being viewed through a 2019 lens.

In fact, a massive wave of deinstitutionalization in the 1970s and 1980s actually led to mentally ill citizens being out on the streets without any community services to help them assimilate back into society. Jimmy Carter facilitated the passage of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, but, by 1981, the year in which “Joker” is set, Reagan repealed the act, thus de-emphasizing the federal government’s role in formulating mental health policy. I’m not saying that help from the feds would have been up to par, but the move does say something about where the Reagan Administration’s priorities lied at that moment.

If we consider that context, watching Arthur wander aimlessly in search of a purpose appears to fit with how a lot of mentally ill Americans were treated during that time. He has no communal ties, no relationships beyond the gravitational pull of his mother, and no reason to believe that the system is built to include people like him in its success. His actions aren’t excused or condoned, but they aren’t all that far removed from what we’ve come to learn about certain mass shooters.

Whether you agree with the film’s vision or not, it’s hard to argue that Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t embody all of the anger, resentment, and frightening physicality of Arthur’s descent into madness brilliantly. He’s unhinged in a way that has led to numerous “Taxi Driver” comparisons, but, to me, he feels much more like DeNiro’s take on Max Cady in “Cape Fear” than Travis Bickle. Everything from his sinewy torso to the way he transitions from 0 to 100 with minimal provocation is mesmerizing and adds up to one of the finest performances of the year.

Some critics have accused Phillips of implying that all mentally ill people are violent or that the audience is supposed to sympathize with Arthur’s outbursts, but I don’t see it that way. The violence itself is jarring and Peckinpah-esque, which stands in direct contrast to how a lot of think pieces are making it sound. He’s telling an isolated story of a man whose illness left him susceptible to violent thoughts, so perhaps leaving the audience with a cold, unforgiving feeling upon exiting the theatre was the point all along.

Had this material been in the hands of a Scorsese or a Coppola, the expectation for a more penetrating macro-level examination would be appropriate, but that’s just not Phillips’ bag. He does what he does effectively and without a need to pander to the trolls who wish he would have never made the film in the first place. Phoenix himself has said that he wishes the film would have been titled “Arthur” instead of “Joker” and it’s easy to see why. The DC Universe brings with it a lot of fanboy bullshit that is vitriolic, destructive, and not worth the aggravation.

But that’s the reality of filmmaking in 2019. Social media has emboldened those with no tangible power to destroy anything that doesn’t jell with the hive’s idea of what acceptable entertainment should be. Sometimes, it feels like an awful lot of cultural criticism nowadays boils down to a bunch of writers trying to out-woke one another with their incessant hot takes, but I’m not interested in that. I encourage intellectual disagreement and don’t feel compelled to make others feel subhuman if they don’t share my worldview.

Jewish professor George Gerbner posited a theory called “Mean World Syndrome” in 1968 to describe how exposure to violent media didn’t necessarily make people more violent, but it did make them more fearful of being victimized due to seeing the world as a dangerous and frightening place. After seeing theatres beef up security and audiences initiate their own evacuations during weekend screenings of “Joker,” I can only imagine what the now-deceased Gerbner would have to say about where we’re at as a society.

 

 

 

 

 

Long Island-based journalist Greg Prato chronicles Soundgarden in latest book ‘Dark Black and Blue’

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May 18, 2017 is a day that I will never forget. I awoke around 7:00 a.m. after working a 10-hour shift at a juvenile detention center and all I could think about was driving to Columbus, OH to see Soundgarden headline the first night of Rock on the Range. My bags were packed the day before, my ticket was purchased months in advance, and the only thing standing between me and seeing Seattle’s Son live for the first time was a six-hour haul down the interstate.

Alas, the moment wasn’t meant to be, as word of Chris Cornell’s untimely death permeated my consciousness before I even made it out of bed. He had taken his own life shortly after performing a show at Detroit’s Fox Theatre in which the band concluded with a mashup of “Slaves & Bulldozers” and Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying” that many considered to be an eerie slice of foreshadowing. Regardless of how or why he did it, the fact that he was gone cast a dark cloud over the festival and left everyone to speculate as to what the promoters could do to fill a seemingly unfillable void.

Three days of hard rock under the Midwest sun had become an extended vigil for an artist whose cultural footprint spanned multiple genres and generations. Live took on “I Am the Highway,” The Pretty Reckless, who opened for Soundgarden that night in Detroit, weeped through “Like a Stone,” and Corey Taylor churned out a stirring rendition of “Hunger Strike” as 40,000 strong sang Chris’s parts back to him. It was the most emotional concert moment I’ve ever experienced and even writing about it two years later fills my soul with sorrow.

I shared it with you, because Greg Prato’s new book, ‘Dark Black and Blue: The Soundgarden Story,’ echoes a lot of the feelings I had while trying to make sense of the loss. Prato talks about how he had difficulty listening to the band’s catalog in the immediate aftermath and why telling their story now serves as a way to finally come to grips with losing one of the greatest voices in the history of recorded music.

He’s first and foremost a fan, but don’t walk away thinking this is yet another exercise in modern day hagiography. The seasoned music journalist dissects the band’s history in riveting detail without glossing over any of the complicated elements that made their chemistry what it was. Cornell admitting that “From eleven to fourteen, I did drugs every single day,” guitarist Kim Thayil saying that “I was bummed, but I didn’t shed a tear” following the group’s 1997 split, and an ugly incident in which bassist Ben Shepherd was reportedly spitting in the direction of his bandmates during a show in Hawaii are all here to provide the reader with the full-scale examination Soundgarden has always deserved.

By structuring the narrative in a straightforward fashion, Prato touches on each phase of the band’s ascent with a healthy balance of oral history and author insight. He dives into the early days of the Seattle scene when Chris wanted to be a drummer, he shares his personal reactions to hearing masterpieces like “Badmotorfinger” and “Superunknown” for the very first time, and, most significantly, he further dispels the myth that the so-called grunge movement boiled down to Nirvana vs. the Field. “Nevermind” may have captivated the globe, but Soundgarden was tirelessly chipping away at success for seven years before Kurt Cobain became a household name.

They earned it the old-fashioned way and held it together for 12 years until the tension could no longer be contained. Cornell, Thayil, Shepherd, and drummer Matt Cameron went their separate ways in 1997, a sad yet not entirely shocking dissolution of the brand that would last until a 2010 reunion tour got the creative juices flowing again. I still consider 2012’s “King Animal” to be an underrated addition to the oeuvre, so the fact that we’ll never get the chance to hear a follow-up adds another layer to the mystique.

Even the moderate fans should find plenty to chew on here, because Prato includes a lot of insider tidbits that weren’t previously compiled in the same space. We learn more about why founding bassist Hiro Yamamoto left the band just as they started to break through, we discover that Kirk Hammett’s riff for “Enter Sandman” was inspired by “Louder Than Love,” and we’re treated to such classic band lingo as “soft-on” and “Meat Puppets fuck up.”

He concludes with a chapter dedicated to everything that happened in the wake of Chris’s death as well as interviews with other industry figures discussing the breadth of Soundgarden’s influence on the music world. What I took away from reading this will be different from what others do, but, in the end, the one thing we can all agree on is that the cultural landscape in 2019 is richer because of their existence.

‘Dark Black and Blue: The Soundgarden Story’ is available now on Amazon.

 

 

 

The Glorious Sons aren’t afraid to get messy on third LP “A War on Everything”

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The title track of The Glorious Sons’ latest LP “A War on Everything” is a “Born to Run”-style plea for escape from a guy who believes that life would be better if he and his girl skipped town immediately. Damn the phone, damn the weather, damn the lies. He’s not concerned with anything but himself, her happiness, and a possessionless future that promises to be brighter simply because they’re together.

While the “me and you against the world” yarn has been spun countless times before, vocalist Brett Emmons makes it stick with a die-tomorrow delivery that can’t be contained. We’re hooked from the start and can easily envision a scenario in which he’s singing about a real person as opposed to just channeling a character. It’s also not a stretch to picture these star-crossed lovers craving a fresh start after losing their car, their jobs, or anything other item trotted out by the band on 2017’s zeitgeist-capturing “S.O.S. (Sawed Off Shotgun),” so, if innocuous nostalgia is what you seek, I believe that there’s a new Maroon 5 single dropping this week that might be more your speed.

Leave it to some guys from Canada to capture the rage and disillusionment so many Americans have been experiencing since the economy took a gargantuan, Lehman Brothers-induced shit back in 2008. People deserve rock music that is capable of addressing the sociological elephants in the room without coming off as patronizing, and, in Emmons, they’ve found a voice whose force is surpassed only by its innate relatability. He might as well be speaking for all of us when he wails “I’m tired, I’m sick, I’m waging war on everything” during “Panic Attack,” the album’s lead-off shot that sets the tone for what the remaining 13 tracks will bring to the table.

“Spirit to Break” and “Closer to the Sky” delve further into the muck, as the rest of the band strikes just the right balance between tender melody and the scrappy, live-off-the-floor surge they’re known for. The looseness with which guitarists Jay Emmons and Chris Koster attack their instruments reflects the reality of the lyrics perfectly, because this material wouldn’t resonate the same way with a slick 1980s production value. Life is messy, and, to be honest, I think we’ve reached a point in 2019 where escapism just doesn’t cut it anymore, so the door is ajar for the Sons to tackle modern generational angst with an honesty seldom appreciated by the mainstream rock scene this millennium.

Other highlights include “Wild Eyes,” “The Ongoing Speculation Into the Death of Rock and Roll,” and “Pink Motel,” the last of which finds Emmons lamenting a failed relationship with a Zevon-esque causticity that puts the finishing touch on what is one of the finest albums I’ve heard this year.

Chris Cornell once said that music driven by money deserves to fail, so it’s a good thing, then, that The Glorious Sons appear motivated by the desire to make sense of this fucked up world through art that is raw, open, and uncompromising. A lot has been written about how Greta Van Fleet is bringing rock back from extinction, but the contributions from Kingston, Ontario’s latest powerhouse can’t be denied.

“A War on Everything” is available now wherever music in disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.

 

 

 

 

 

It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive: Springsteen at 70

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There’s a scene from Gurinder Chadha’s 2019 film “Blinded by the Light” in which the Pakistani protagonist has an epiphany upon ingesting the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 smash “Dancing in the Dark” for the first time. It’s as if an atomic bomb has been dropped on his consciousness and life as he knows it will never be the same again. From that moment on, everything he does is filtered through The Boss’ affinity for yearning and unbridled curiosity for what lies beyond the confines of one’s insular existence.

I experienced a similar moment of clarity on Nov. 22, 2009 when I caught Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in Buffalo for what would later become their final show with Clarence Clemons manning the saxophone. The defiance of “The Promised Land,” Bruce’s snarling solo on “Lost in the Flood,” Steven Van Zandt’s 59th birthday present in the form of “Restless Nights,” an overlooked power-pop ditty that suggested even Springsteen’s “B” material could be stronger than anything that passed for top-40 gold during the aughts. It all sent a wrecking ball (pun intended) straight through my soul and left me feeling as if the three-and-a-half hours I spent inside HSBC Arena was a catalyst for deeper self-discovery.

As a 21-year-old intellectual introvert who spent more time studying human interaction than engaging in any, the confidence with which Springsteen presented himself lyrically spoke to me, because he validated a lot of the feelings I had but never externalized until I started living and writing on my own terms. I wanted to find a girl who would meet me in the fields out behind the dynamo. I was ready to keep pushing until it was understood that I deserved to be taken seriously as a writer. And, most importantly, I respected my roots yet recognized that the desire for something greater didn’t make me a bad person, just somebody whose ambition was beginning to outgrow his surroundings.

Whether it was the life-affirming jolt of “Born to Run” or the sparse, DIY demons of “Nebraska,” Bruce had an album for every situation. His catalog fueled me through multiple college degrees and provided the soundtrack to my life at a time when I desperately needed something other than myself to believe in.

It’s both the universality and immediacy of his message that enables him to surge into his seventies, a reality that even the detractors can acknowledge as impressive. He’s still out there proving it all night, still out on that hill giving it everything he’s got in pursuit of keeping the American Dream alive. He’s always understood that the dream is only as strong as those willing to fight for its survival, so, as we barrel towards what promises to be one of the defining election cycles of our time, consider that none of us should be persecuted for how we choose to live in our American skin.

Bruce brought us together with the post-9/11 lament, “The Rising,” and, given how deep our divide continues to get, it may be time for him to do it again.

Steve Grimmett’s Grim Reaper returns with blistering fifth album “At the Gates”

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What the establishment has never understood about heavy metal is that it’s not about promoting the death, demise, and degradation of the human race. In fact, I can think of a few cultural institutions that are far more in tune with that agenda than metal ever could be, but listening to reason has never been the political machine’s forte.

Those who listen and attend shows regularly do so, because it’s reassuring to discover that there are others out there feeling the same way that they’re feeling. At a time when society is trending in an increasingly impersonal direction, there are few things more personal than sharing a space with an army of fans whose love for the movement runs as deeply as your own.

When Steve Grimmett lost his leg due to an infection in 2017, members of the heavy metal community came together to raise $16,000 to help mitigate medical costs. If such a selfless gesture is truly the mark of deplorables, consider me just that.

Grimmett and his band Grim Reaper are set to release their fifth full-length studio album, “At the Gates,” on Oct. 11, but, first, he was kind enough to grant me some time to discuss how the music motivated him throughout his recovery. If you lost touch with the band following the NWOBHM’s late ’80s heyday, here’s your chance to get re-acquainted.

MNOD: How did it feel to be back in the studio once again after everything you went through health-wise?

Grimmett: It felt pretty good. This is our second release under the name Steve Grimmett’s Grim Reaper and I still get so much enjoyment out of the process. We’re playing and sounding as good as ever, because we’re still able to do what we love for the fans. I still love being in the studio, because I love the challenge of capturing being able to capture what we do live on record.

MNOD: How did the creative process for “At the Gates” compare to your past work?

Grimmett: It was very similar, but I wasn’t as involved in the writing as much as I normally am due to some mental health issues I was dealing with. My anxiety attacks put a freeze on the writing for a bit, but, thankfully, the rest of the guys came together to make up for that.

MNOD: When your leg was amputated in 2017, what role did music play in your recovery?

Grimmett: When I was lying in bed in Ecuador, all I thought about was how I would get back up to what I love again. The hospital allowed me 30 minutes of Internet each day, so half of that time would be devoted to corresponding with family and the other half was dedicated to figuring out how I was going to walk again. I was determined to not let the situation beat me. I didn’t want to let the fans down, because we wouldn’t be still doing this if it weren’t for them. Six months after I lost my leg, we were playing a festival in Germany and the crowd was very supportive.

MNOD: What was the support of the heavy metal community like once you returned to the stage?

Grimmett: We were playing a show in which the stage had two levels and I wanted to get out to the crowd during “See You in Hell.” My wife helped me down the stairs and everyone was shouting and screaming. The crowd was deafening. It was really cool. I had fans come up to me and ask how I was doing as well as the former members of Grim Reaper reaching out, so the support was widespread. I went through some really tough times, but that was what I needed.

MNOD: What are your feelings about the current lineup compared to the one that old-school fans remember?

Grimmett: I think it’s as strong as it’s ever been. We all get on really well with each other and have no falling out moments. Sure, we get into heated arguments from time to time, but they’re over and done with quickly. Being out on the road with each other isn’t an easy task, but I believe we’ll still be together years down the line.

MNOD: How do you feel about the presence of social media in today’s musical climate?

Grimmett: It’s the only way, really. Magazines don’t play a significant role anymore, so social media is the best way to relay what we’re doing to our fans. Bands would be mad not to do it. Of course, there are some negatives, because we’ll post our tour dates and then have people commenting about how we’re not coming to their town. They don’t understand that booking a tour is more in the hands of local promoters than us, so that part can be frustrating. I log in every day to keep the fans updated on what’s going on and we’ll also do it once we finish a show.

MNOD: What is touring like for you nowadays?

Grimmett: Wherever we’re playing, I still love it. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing to 600 or 6000, because the passion is the same. I remember we played a show in Brazil for about 60 people and it was great, because the people who were there wanted to be there. The audiences are pretty similar to what they’ve always been, because it’s still mostly made up of teenagers or younger people.

MNOD: 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of Onslaught’s “In Search of Sanity,” which you recorded vocals for. Does that album still hold up for you?

Grimmett: It’s still really good. It’s the best album they ever did from both a creative and commercial perspective. It represented a departure from what they were doing, but it was what the record company wanted. I’d say it definitely holds up to anything.

MNOD: Is there anything that you enjoy doing when you’re not on stage?

Grimmett: I build radio-controlled model aircraft. I’ve been doing that for years, but there’s not really much besides that.

Steve Grimmett’s Grim Reaper has no Buffalo date on the horizon, but Aug. 29 at The Rockpile in Toronto would make a hell of an end-of-summer road trip.

“At the Gates” will be released on Oct. 11

See https://www.facebook.com/grimreaperofficial/ for details.

 

Beck and Cage the Elephant own the night at Darien Lake Amphitheatre

 

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I’ve been going to Darien Lake Amphitheatre for 20 years, but what happened following Cage the Elephant’s flawless 19-song sprint last Tuesday night was something I’d never seen before. In his own Russell Hammond moment, vocalist Matt Shultz crowd-surfed  across the lawn and climbed on top of the concession building wearing even fewer articles of clothing than when he initially appeared on stage. His antics elicited a rapturous response from the audience and solidified his status as one of the most charismatic frontmen to arise from a decade where streaming is the new spinning.

After all, such a moment was tailor-made for the current era, because the number of views that fan-shot footage will amass in the coming days promises to outweigh the amount of people who actually experienced the show in real time. What would have been a “you had to be there” scenario not that long ago is now just another leaf on the social media vine. The truth is that you don’t really have to be there anymore, which, given the ever-growing disconnect between artist and audience, is an unfortunate yet not totally unforeseen byproduct of the Information Age.

Are people going to concerts out of love for music or are they looking for the narcissistic stamp of approval that comes with everyone else out there being able to see how exciting their life is?

Answering that question would require a degree of self-awareness that far too few possess in 2019, so don’t expect the dynamic to change anytime soon. For now, we can simply revel in the reality of western New York being deemed worthy enough to host Beck, Cage the Elephant, Spoon, and Sunflower Bean all in the same evening.

Prior to opening for U2 at New Era Field in 2017, Beck hadn’t played a show in the area since 1998 on his Pre-Mutations tour. Last Tuesday night was his third consecutive appearance on the summer schedule and arguably his strongest of the bunch. The whimsical electrofunk behind “Up All Night,” “Dreams,” and “Colors” blended seamlessly with the earsplitting churn of “Devil’s Haircut” and “E-Pro” to create a sensation that couldn’t be conveyed through a screen.

The band was locked in from the start and Beck spent an hour-plus confirming what those of us who have been purchasing his records for the last 25 years already knew: That he’s a musical chameleon whose work is limited only by the breadth of his own imagination.

A sparkling “New Pollution” and a surprising spin through Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” rounded out the set with an appropriate bang seeing as how anyone would have had a difficult time following what Cage the Elephant had done.

It’s astonishing to see how far Cage has come in 10 years, because the success of “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked” belies what the band has become in the wake of their fifth studio album. Their lyrics are deeper, their arrangements are more expansive, and they’ve sonically matured to the extent that no stage is safe. Regardless of where they fall on the bill, they’ve acquired a particular set of skills that enable them to steal the show without warning.

“Social Cues,” “Come a Little Closer,” and “Cigarette Daydreams” each contained a piece of what makes the band so good, but it was Shultz’s use of Butoh, the Japanese dance of utter darkness, that made the show what it was. His performance brought an air of unpredictability back to the rock ‘n’ roll circus at a time when everything feels over-rehearsed, and, for that, I can’t thank him enough.

Texas-bred indie outfit Spoon got the most out of the 40 minutes they were given by keeping the talking to minimum. They sandwiched 2017’s saucy smash “Hot Thoughts” between a smattering of other choice cuts from the catalog and frontman Britt Daniel held it all together with his electric stage presence.

Sunflower Bean had even less time to make an impression on a half full venue, so, if you arrived late and want to see what they’re all about, perhaps this is one of the rare occasions in which seeking out a viral video is an acceptable consolation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smashing Pumpkins shine ‘oh so bright’ during rare WNY appearance

 

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“This guy is fucking great.”

I overheard this pithy little nugget while the Smashing Pumpkins were putting the finishing touches on a show that was apt to go down as one of the top-three I’ve ever consumed at Darien Lake Amphitheatre. The “guy” in question is William Patrick Corgan and the fan’s assessment is accurate when you consider he’s the architect behind some of the finest rock formations of the last 30 years.

Of all the eccentric personalities to emerge from the 1990s, Corgan continues to compel, because his intellect and self-awareness are such that any acquiescence to clickbait culture is never going to happen. He knows what people think of him and his well-publicized exchanges regarding former bassist D’arcy Wretzky being absent from the reunion, and, quite frankly, he doesn’t care. His focus is on the Pumpkins as they are in 2019, which is exactly how it should be.

After all, the hive mind’s motive for wanting D’arcy to return has more to do with its own selfish thirst for nostalgia than any empirical evidence suggesting she would be better than the lineup that asserted its collective dominance on Saturday night. If their chemistry is really no more, they shouldn’t be roped into faking it for just one more show.

What WAS evident from the opening salvo of “Today,” “Zero,” and “Solara,” however, is that this material has lost none of its multi-generational bite. Corgan’s signature snarl and undervalued six-string fury were in full bloom throughout the evening, as he and fellow OGs James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin reminded the fans why they fell in love with this music once upon a time. Old wounds appear to have healed and the joie de vivre with which they resurrected these tracks made for a resplendent experience.

The acoustic devastation of “Disarm” peaked my dopamine levels in a way that few other pieces can while a psychedelic re-imagining of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” was as stunning as it was unexpected. Corgan’s voice has always been a polarizing ingredient for the Pumpkins’ recipe, but I couldn’t envision him expressing the pain, yearning, and deep-seated introspection behind those lyrics in any other style. We’re hearing the ghosts of his dysfunctional childhood manifested in vocal form, so, when he cries out “The killer in me is the killer in you,” his authenticity is never in doubt.

Other gems culled from the catalog included “Ava Adore,” “1979,” and “Tonight, Tonight,” the last of which was still B-E-A-Utiful despite missing the 30-piece string section heard on the original recording. By the time Jimmy Chamberlin’s drum roll dropped on “Cherub Rock,” the audience had already been treated to a set that demonstrated the Pumpkins’ ability to transition from alt-rock chaos to expansive instrumentation with equal aplomb.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds provided a strong lead-in with a set comprised of both Oasis classics and various original compositions that were bolstered by a buoyant brass section intent on making the people dance. A ferocious spin on “Little by Little” and a muted “Don’t Look Back in Anger” were easily the best of the bunch as Gallagher’s performance remained committed throughout.

California rockers AFI worked hard to rally a half-empty venue, but, outside of the 2006 crossover hit “Miss Murder,” the crowd never felt invested enough to care one way or another about what was happening.

Is that fair?

Not at all, but it’s difficult enough for Smashing Pumpkins to compete with smart phones in 2019, let alone a band whose name appears in significantly smaller font on the marquee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cobblestone Live! is once again the place to be in Buffalo

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There’s something happening here and what it is should be clear to everyone who soaked up the vibe at Cobblestone Live! this past weekend. Downtown Buffalo has once again become a canvas worthy of painting artistic events on thanks in part to the organizers behind this two-day musical smorgasbord mastering the art of the urban festival experience. While a number of factors had to converge en route to bringing The Queen City back from the depths of industrial purgatory, everything from the dedication of the staff to the diversity of the performers was indicative of the overall rejuvenation of the community.

I arrived on the scene just as Buffalo’s Women of Country were igniting the Illinois St. stage, which definitively snuffed out any notion of this being a testosterone-laced “jam band” gathering. Jillian Eliza, Amanda Nagurney, Caitlin Koch, and Katie Mallaber-Prestia took turns baptizing the crowd in the resplendent sounds of yore – that is to say, a time when there was more coming out of Nashville than just inconsequential pop chatter with a Southern accent. Their individual strengths and collective harmonies were utilized to great effect throughout the set, but Mallaber-Prestia’s knockout interpretation of Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons” was the moment when I knew that getting there early was the right move. Whether or not any of them become the next Kacey Musgraves is at the mercy of cosmic forces, because, from a purely vocal perspective, their ability can’t be denied.

Next, I decided to saunter over to Columbia St. to see what Tim Britt was all about, but not before stopping off at Fat Bob’s Smokehouse for a taste of what everyone in WNY has been raving about since Eve first took a bite of the forbidden fruit. Anyone attending music festivals regularly knows how the food can make or break your approach to the rest of the evening, so I was pleasantly surprised when my $7 pulled chicken sandwich with cornbread heartily carried me through until the outdoor stages began to settle down.

As for Britt, he and his band played to a modest yet enthusiastic crowd of wanderers who maintained just enough proximity to avoid missing the sparkling melodies emanating from the stage. Their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” was solid, but it was the verve of the original material that made me want to hear more from them in the future.

I stuck around Columbia St. to catch The Sadies, a Toronto-bred country/rock outfit led by brothers Dallas and Travis Good. If you were a fan of crushing guitars with a robust rockabilly twinge, this was the place to be, as every song torpedoed into the next without skipping a beat. They were loud, focused, and determined to deliver the finest set of the daylight hours.

Never was the variety of styles more pronounced than when I made my way back to Illinois St. to find TAUK in the middle of eviscerating people’s inhibitions with a dizzying display of rock, funk, jazz, prog, and whatever else they felt like pulling out of the trunk.

Guitarist Matt Jalbert, bassist Charlie Dolan, keyboardist Alric Carter, and drummer Isaac Teel are ridiculously gifted players whose onstage chemistry conjured up one of the most life-affirming festival vibrations I’ve ever been a part of. They turned “Black Hole Sun” into a sultry instrumental slow-jam and concluded their time not with a song so much as an explosion of epically musical proportions.

Homegrown sensations Aqueous closed down the outdoor celebration Friday with an extended headlining set due to Canadian alt-rock heroes Sloan being turned away by the border patrol earlier in the day. Their infectious energy, combustible jams, and occasional forays into danceable prog-pop were all sonically superior to what they did last year, which, if you recall that night, was no small feat.

Michael Lang has spent the last 50 years trying to bring people back to the garden, but little does he know that the brains behind Cobblestone Live! have been able to accomplish just that in less than three. They may not be able to accommodate half a million strong, but the egalitarian atmosphere presented is as close to the original Woodstock as you’ll get in 2019.

 

 

 

“Young & Dangerous” glam rockers The Struts set to storm Canalside on July 25

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Foo Fighters founder Dave Grohl has referred to The Struts as “the best opening band we’ve ever had,” which is high praise from the guy who has been keeping the heart of rock ‘n’ roll pumping since the mainstream essentially gave up back around the turn of the millennium.

The fiery quartet from Derbyshire, England has two albums under its belt and are throwing it back to a time when Slade, The Sweet, and T. Rex were in heavy rotation. You might think that doing so is a thankless task given the amount of plastic pop and meandering trap music that is being celebrated these days, but The Struts remain committed to the cause.

I spoke with frontman Luke Spiller regarding the band’s latest release, “Young & Dangerous,” and how they plan to give Buffalo fans the greatest rock ‘n’ roll show they’ve ever seen. With Canadian up-and-comers The Glorious Sons sharing the bill, their date at Canalside on July 25 should be the best $5 you’ll spend all summer.

MNOD: After experiencing success with the first album, how did the creative process for “Young and Dangerous” change?

Spiller: The first record was lovely. It was very casual and quite enjoyable. It didn’t feel like work. “Young & Dangerous” was super stressful at times, because most of it was written during our time off in between extensive touring. It was a complete mindfuck, but I’m super proud of what we made and the work of everyone involved.

MNOD: Do you feel as if the band reached another level on this album?

Spiller: It’s kinda hard to judge records against one another, because I feel like each album represents a particular moment in time. The songs track where we were at in our lives and career. I was definitely more excited this time, though. We had been working on these songs for quite a while and we were excited to get them out there to the people.

MNOD: Who were some of your greatest influences as a younger musician?

Spiller: I grew up adoring Michael Jackson, which led me to Motown, James Brown, and eventually more rock-based music. Queen, AC/DC, the Stones, The Darkness. I was obsessed with Led Zeppelin when I was younger, as well. Those bands planted the musical seed that has stayed with me ever since.

MNOD: Now that you’ve gotten a healthy dose of touring in America, what are some differences you’ve noticed between here and England?

Spiller: America is another fucking planet. Your parking lots are like the size of a whole town in England. One thing I’ve noticed is that Americans love to talk. They love to fucking chit chat. They’ll strike up a conversation with a total stranger without hesitation. That’s actually something I miss when I’m back in England, because I’ll take an Uber and be disappointed when the driver doesn’t ask where I’m from or if I’m in a band. In terms of audiences, we’re blessed to have a fanbase that loves what we do and is into our particular style of music, so the fans aren’t really that different here.  Of course, our touring in America is still relatively small compared to England, so any overall comparisons aren’t super accurate given how one-sided they are.

MNOD: You’ve been covering “Dancing in the Street” during your recent shows. Where did the idea for that cover come from?

Spiller: That’s a random one. We were approached by Dodge about doing a version of the song for a car commercial and decided to do it. We had been listening to the Van Halen version, but I’m not a fan of that cover so much. I prefer the original, so our version is an interesting hybrid of each. It was actually forgotten about for a while until Dodge told us they loved it and said they were going to use it in a commercial to be shown throughout America. It’s something we never expected, but it’s exciting.

MNOD: “Body Talks” features a collaboration with Kesha that may not have been expected by fans. How did that come about?

Spiller: We met her at a college show that we were playing and we just started chatting. She’s a rock ‘n’ roll chick at heart, so it was easy to see her fitting in with us. We were thinking about who would work on the song and she was the first person who came to mind. We were super lucky, because we flew to LA and knocked the vocals out while having a lot of laughs. It was very genuine.

MNOD: Because of how de-emphasized rock music has become in 2019, do you ever feel as if the band is struggling against a changing tide?

Spiller: We’ve never been deterred. I actually like it that rock is kind of in a mainstream slumber, because that means that there aren’t too many others doing what we do. We can set the bar. I’ve always felt that if you’re writing and playing with passion, then people can’t ignore you. We do what we love and it doesn’t matter what the outside trends are.

MNOD: What can fans expect when you play Canalside?

Spiller: The greatest rock ‘n’ roll show on Earth is what the fans in Buffalo can expect.

The Struts play Canalside on July 25 with The Glorious Sons.

See http://www.thestruts.com or http://www.buffalowaterfront.com for details.

“Young and Dangerous” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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