Monday, July 30, 2012

The RAGBRAI Story: 25th Anniversary Edition

It’s been twenty-five years, so maybe the story can finally be told.

Last Thursday, my city hosted RAGBRAI, a yearly bike event where people gather and ride their bikes across the state of Iowa, from the Missouri river to the Mississippi. Thousands of bikers, both novices and serious riders, gather each year around the same time when Iowa’s temperatures reach their peak for a non-competitive, weeklong ride.

A quarter-century ago-try saying that fast ten times…you’ll still never understand how old it sounds-I participated in RAGBRAI and lived to tell about it.

The lessons I learned from that ride are with me to this day, with memories that continue to be shared with others while some remain unspoken.

The places where I stayed are the foggiest. Was it Storm Lake, or was it just a bad thunderstorm during that first night? Hartford or New Hartford, which one? There isn’t an airport in Guttenberg, is there? So how did I fly back across the state after RAGBRAI was all over?

You have to understand that RAGBRAI would literally just take over these small towns when they’d stroll in, usually mid-to-late afternoon, depending on how hard you rode from the previous town that day.

Once you arrived at your destination, a quick clean up (more on that later) and then head over to the local watering hole to get ripped.

You’ll get defenders claiming that RAGBRAI is a family oriented environment, fueled on wholesome American spirit and Midwestern values. There is a section of the massive bike camp where this is true; it’s the same section of the camp where local bike clubs or corporate participants submit their requests to the RAGBRAI organizers, paying their entry fees and having a legitimate pass to get into the event.

Then there’s the rest of the riders, teams made up of old drinking buddies or groups of adults that view the week as a chance to get lit and relive their college days, blissfully right next to a bunch of college bros that also see the ride as a chance to unwind.

I would have been part of the latter camp, securing the RAGBRAI idea from a friend across state who encouraged me to come up to his place and tag along for the event. He provided me with some vague details on who we’d be riding with, and how we would participate even without proper tickets or documentation. Then there was the fact that I didn’t even own a bike at the time.

I worked at the municipal pool during the summer, securing the necessary time off as a “vacation” and using a friend’s mountain bike for “training.” The local bluffs around the Mississippi river where I grew up provided a brutal training area.

So I decided not to train.

By the time we made it to the starting town on the Iowa border to Nebraska, my friend and I had already consumed a fair amount of hallucinogens around the Iowa Great Lakes area on the days leading up to our launch.

I learned two very important things on that first day, a seventy-five mile distance from  point A to point B. The first was that even if you haven’t properly trained, a young, resilient body would adapt. You will eventually reach a point where you break through the soreness and fatigue, finally conquering the notion that your body won’t be able to survive the entire ride.

I don't think it's the same case for a 45 year old man, and I'm not willing to find out.

We're on the road to nowhere. Literally.
The second thing that I learned is that bicycle shorts are a critical accessory to any bicyclist with testicles, particularly ones faced with daily rides of anywhere from 70 to 100 miles. The pain in my balls was so intense that on the first stop of the second day, I bought a pair of Cannondale bicycling shorts with a chamois gooch cushion at a ridiculously high price just so I could get to the next town without having to pedal the entire way standing up. Those bicycle shorts remained in close proximity with my junk for the entire trip, and I still own them to this day.

One thing that didn’t make it all the way was my Smiths Meat Is Murder concert-T that had become so encrusted with pit stains after years of continuous wear that I made the tattered remains into wife-beater jersey that complimented my dirty-blonde locks that had finally grown past my shoulders.

Wherever we ended up for the first night, it was very dark. As a storm approached the camp area, I became totally focused on the number of people sporting earrings made out of small plastic see-through containers of that glow-in-the-dark liquid they use in bracelets.

Someone gave me one of these earrings, and in my altered state I convinced myself that I needed to pierce my ear and wear my new earring so that I could be illuminated too.

You’ll notice that I said “ear” as in one ear, not the pair. You see, back in the 80’s scientists discovered that straight males did not wear earrings in both ears. After months of research and testing, these scientists noted irrefutable evidence that males that pierced only their right ear were homosexual, while straight men pierced only their left ear. I convinced one of my travel companions that he should help me with the process. He had a single earring in his left ear, so I gathered that he was somewhat familiar with the ear piercing protocol and that he wasn’t gay.

With dirty fingernails that smelled of spilled Miller Lite, he grabbed the post end of my glow-in-the-dark earring and pressed it through my fleshy earlobe. There was hardly any blood, but the popping sound that I distinctly heard as the post finally made its way through the other side of my earlobe made a massive popping noise.

Everybody else swore they never heard a popping sound, but maybe they just didn’t take enough LSD to hear it.

If the idea that some of the time during RAGBRAI was spent under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs seems weird to you, it really shouldn’t. No, the truly bizarre thing is how we ran out of acid the night before we hit Fort Dodge, Iowa and were able to secure more of it in a parking lot of this central Iowa town of 25,000 people.

Some of the towns in the stops along the way go all out in welcoming you and making you feel that you’re more than just another revenue source. As I entered one small town stop, I immediately began to scope out the community, looking first for our group’s camper, but then trying to locate shower sources, meal specials, and other points of interest, like which parking lots have the greatest potential for scoring LSD.

For this particular town, they had opened up the showers to the middle school for bikers to clean up a bit. The hot water was used up hours before, but with the heat of the July sun still a recent memory, the cool water was not much of a complaint.

And a cold shower in the local middle school was nothing to some of the other cleaning areas I saw in other towns. Like the town that let bikers use the outside faucets in the stalls of a local fairgrounds that were normally used to clean livestock. I felt uncomfortable with the obvious comparison to our farm animal brethren, and the fear that the muddy grounds directly outside of  the stalls would instantly defeat any notion of actually getting clean.

I didn’t feel like a cold shower in the local Middle school that day.

I wanted a real, warm shower.

I convinced my friend and another rider, that all we needed to do was to walk down one of the oak-lined streets in this God-fearing Iowa town and look for lawn ornaments.

There’s a certain age-bracket for anyone who considers lawn ornaments, and I reasoned that the age bracket would skew older. The idea was that an older couple would be more receptive than younger residents to let in random strangers into their home to take a shower.

All of this seems completely insane now-I mean, who would actually agree to letting strangers into their houses? But a quarter-century ago, there were towns in Iowa that would let acid-soaked bicyclists into the most private of areas of their homes, allowing them to dampen their towels and snoop around their medicine cabinets.

I say this with all certainty because the first home we saw with lawn ornaments let us use their shower for some nice, hot relief.

It was an older woman who opened the door, looking a bit surprised at my request, but sheepishly allowing us in to partake her indoor plumbing.

If anything, she seemed a little worried that her overnight guests may have used up all of her hot water. I noticed a couple of cyclists had camped out in her backyard, apparently part of the community’s hosting program which paired up cyclists with spare backyards, bedrooms, whatever kind of accommodations they could donate for one night of RAGBRAI. She must have surmised that someone from the city sent my group to her door, pleading for a chance to clean up before invading her community’s taverns.

If that event was the most redeeming story of humankind, then allow me to continue with what happened next in that same community.

The owners/renters/caretakers of the camper we were tagging with, were starting to get a bit intolerant of my friend and me for constantly retreating to the top of the camper. The concern was that our weight would cause damage to the roof of the camper, thereby ruining it and spoiling the thing for future fun.

They didn’t have so much of an issue of it when it was just the two of us sleeping up there, but we had a tendency to invite any and every passerby to join us on the roof of the camper. Particularly girls. 

Occasionally, a few more people would find their way up the ladder to the roof, admiring our stoned perspective from above, safe from the myriad of personalities that walked passed our parked campsite.

If you’re wondering why we didn’t just get inside the camper, it’s because it was a sausage fest in there. If we were going to roughneck it, we would do so outside in the elements, fearless of any unpredictable weather pattern.

That’s when another thunderstorm rolled in, waking us with the tentative rain drops that gave us fair warning for the heavier stuff that was about to hit.

My friend scrambled for the camper door, leaving me with the only open space, the passenger seat. There was no way that a passenger seat would provide me with the required rest that I needed for an 80-mile bike ride the following morning.

I spotted a dark porch across the street with no signs of awake life from inside the house. More importantly, I saw a porch swing hanging from the ceiling. I immediately recalled several times I’d fallen asleep on the porch swing just off my parent’s master bedroom back home. I scooted over to the porch across from our camper and determined that I could easily wake up before anyone inside the house noticed me the next morning.

It worked. I tip-toed off the porch just as soon as I noticed a kitchen light come on, visible from the big window that separated the porch from the living room inside. I scurried back across the street to more friendly territory where members of my group were starting to roll out of the camper.

Shortly before taking off, I noticed that someone had stolen my bicycle seat. Let me rephrase that: I noticed that someone had stolen the bicycle seat of my friend’s bicycle, the nice man who entrusted its well-being and safety explicitly to me for this week.

One of the guys in the camper decided that he was too hungover to ride that day, so he let me use his seat, making my all black mountain bike look silly with his all white seat.

We rolled into the next town where another round of LSD was passed out. Under this state, I suddenly reminded myself that I probably wouldn’t be able to borrow the seat again. We had finally arrived at the last stop of the night and nobody wants to enter the last town via a sag wagon. The roads approaching would be tough too, as RAGBRAI snaked its way through the bluffs of the Mississippi river until you reached the end of the line at the river itself.

Under the influence of a mind-altering substance, I decided I would simply steal someone else’s bike seat when the rider’s campsite had calmed down for the evening.

I didn’t account for two things: 1.) That people usually stay up very late on their last night of RAGBRAI and 2.) That it is impossible to determine the correct distance of people’s voices while tripping on LSD.

I walked past a group of bikes lying unsecured next to a camper. I quickly got in front of the camper and-swear to god-crawled underneath the camper to get back to the bicycles. I thought I was being clandestine in my efforts, even though I could clearly hear people’s conversations to what sounded to be right next to me.

I crawled out from under my victim’s camper and made my way over to the cluster of bikes. I grabbed the seat off the first quick-release bike I could find and walked back the quarter-mile or so from my own campsite.

After a bit of self-congratulations for my efforts, I could see nobody was nearly impressed with my efforts as I was, mainly because it was getting close to daylight at this point and they were all trying to sleep.

I would have, if I'd stolen the right kind of seat.
I fell asleep in my sleeping bag that I positioned on a grassy hill and got in at least a few hours of sleep before heading out on the road again, the voices of imaginary people gently whispering me to sleep.

That morning, I learned two things: 1.) Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma is the best album ever made when you’re under the influence of LSD and 2.) There are these things called “stems” in which bicycle seats are attached to and these “stems” come in different sizes.

I learned these things because we listened to Ummagumma practically every night of RAGBRAI and because the bicycle seat that I had stolen while tripping my balls off just hours prior would not fit into the frame of the bicycle I was riding.

I admitted defeat and rode in the camper during the last day of RAGBRAI.

Karma really had its way with me as we rolled into a primitive little town on the Mississippi called Guttenberg. My friend had secured a small twin propeller airplane for us through a friend of his father. While getting my gear ready, I noticed that I had lost my wallet. To make matters worse, the owners of the camper were in a rush to leave, so I gave them my address in case they found it while cleaning it out when they got home.

Our plane landed in Guttenberg’s airport, a small airfield with a grass runway that looked like there was no distance between start to finish. And at the finish was an old barn, that still looked sturdy enough that it could do some damage to a twin-propeller airplane with four occupants.

As the plane rose, I drifted off to sleep, dreaming that this would be my last RAGBRAI adventure ever.

Quick epilogue: I did get my wallet back when one of the camper dudes mailed it to the address I’d left with him.

I also got arrested the first day I got back home, evidently the result of some investigation on me while I was away on my bike trip. It was the first time I ever used the phrase “I’d like to speak to my lawyer” and, let me tell you, it’s something that I’d recommend to any of those yackers you see on Cops.

What I was arrested for is anther story, as this one has gone on for too long. I’ve never been on RAGBRAI since that time, but the funny thing is that I haven’t missed it, at least not until our city hosted the event this year and more and more people began talking about the impact to the city.

Cedar Rapids spent $250,000 on getting Counting Crows to come here, a concert that featured most riders staying away entirely, presumably because half of RAGBRAI’s participants didn’t know who Counting Crows were and the other half did, but they weren’t willing to fork over the $25 they were asking for as ticket prices.

It would have been $30 for a civilian like me.

No only that, but they put the concert a ways away from the campgrounds, leaving people with not much incentive to hop on their bikes after an already long day, just to pedal to our downtown district to hear “Round Here” or “Mr. Jones.”

Pink Floyd's got a can ride it if you'd like.
The riders complained that Cedar Rapids seemed to think that the riders were nothing but open pocketbooks, to which I’d suggest, “Absolutely!”

You see, we haven’t got too many visitors here since 2008 because of the floods, so any market that we can corner, we’ll try to get as much money from them as possible. They’re refurbishing our concrete arena for more Slipknot and Stone Sour shows and the ornate Paramount Theater that was covered in river water is not scheduled to reopen until November, when none other than Harry Connick Jr. is slated to appear for the grand re-opening festivities. Don’t laugh, I’ve heard numerous women at work who’ve already declared that they’ll be the first in line to get tickets.

I don’t question my town’s motivation for trying to swindle a buck or two, and I’d say it’s entirely up to the riders themselves if they want to pay for such offerings. I probably wouldn’t have spent $25 bucks on a ticket for a rock show either, choosing instead to spend my money on cheap domestic beer, weed and LSD.

And with those kinds of elements, the only other entertainment you need is a well-worn cassette copy of Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Japan's Metal Veterans Loudness Inexplicitly Release 26th Album

I don't know what is stranger, that I received this fairly unexcited press release or the fact that Loudness is still making music and set to release their 26th studio album. There is no word on if the chant "M Z A" has finally been translated so that English listeners can discover the significance of those three letters.

Hello Media,

International metal giants Loudness will release their new album EVE TO DAWN on August 14th via FrostByte Media.  EVE TO DAWN marks the legendary Japanese band's 26th studio album since their inception in 1981 (Loudness just celebrated their 30th anniversary last year).  EVE TO DAWN is a spectacularly heavy opus from the "beast from the east" and is Loudness' first North American release in years.

Known for their blistering technical ability, Loudness was formed in Japan in 1981 by guitarist Akira Takasaki and late drummer Munetaka Higuchi.  With four very successful and critically-acclaimed albums under their belt in their native Japan, Loudness became the first Japanese heavy metal band to sign to a major label in the United States.  With an astonishing 26 studio albums, numerous EPs, live albums and videos, Loudness show no signs of slowing down as the band continues to tour the world extensively in support of EVE TO DAWN.  To date, Loudness has sold upwards of one million albums worldwide.   Loudness is: Minoru Niihara (vocals), Akira Takasaki (guitars), Masayoshi Yamashita (bass guitar) and Masayuki Suzuki (drums).

Please consider EVE TO DAWN for feature and album review coverage; I can give you immediate access to the album.  Loudness is available for interviews, please let me know if you would like to set something up.  For more information, please visit:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Testament - The Formation Of Damnation

The reasons why San Francisco’s Testament have never been able to achieve the same notoriety as fellow Bay-area stalwarts like Metallica or Slayer could easily be spun into an intriguing story for VH1’s Behind The Music. It’s filled with medical drama, numerous line-up changes, a revolving door of record companies and more than a few creative missteps. In fact, you could even draw assumptions that the band’s lack of real commercial success is a culmination of these events. But the reality, as pointed out by their latest release The Formation Of Damnation, is that all of these events have seemed to provide the band with a creative spark, motivating the band to turn in what is their strongest effort since their initial offerings some two decades ago.

The Formation Of Damnation sounds nothing like a band navigating through a mid-life crisis. Instead, it sounds like a band believing that they can outgun any metal outfit on the block, regardless of age. Believing that you can shred heavier than everyone else is one thing; being able to deliver that bravado is another, and Testament rips with enviable ease throughout Damnation’s eleven tracks.

From start to finish, Testament takes a deep breath of the wisdom that comes with age while paying attention to how they’ll ultimately be perceived by younger audiences. Metal is a young man’s game, and while those of us up in years stick to the comforts of our familiarity with hair metal festivals in Oklahoma and endless Motley Crue reunions, the real future of metal, those currently sulking through the halls of your local high school, alienated and socially shunned, need every fucking role model they can muster. Make no mistake about it; Testament is a perfect role model, providing the disenfranchised with a blueprint of how metal bands (and fans) should enter their middle ages. And if you follow Testament’s lead, the proper way to grow old gracefully is to bang your head every step of the way.

As long as you focus on this, you may overlook the occasional lyric misfires like “The Evil Has Landed.” It’s forgivable that Testament, because of their inactivity, waited seven years after the fact to give us their 9/11 song…hell, with a great title like “The Evil Has Landed” one has to wonder why nobody has thought of a song title that fucking clever…but with lines like “So many people killed/2,974/Innocent blood spilled/Extremist fighting a holy war,” you start to wish that they’d found a more topical subject matter for their riffage.

That guitar shredding, by the way, is spectacular. There’s enough jugg-jugging, fingertapping, and dexterous tempo changes to please any denim-clad fan and it’s done at speeds that should impress all ages of thrash metal supporters.

Credit vocalist Chuck Billy for bridging the generational gap. He alternates between traditional metal vocalizations to modern death growls, providing Testament with a wide texture of sounds. It’s impressive, particularly considering his age, the polyp-inducing nature of this style, and the fact that Billy battled a rare form of cancer not too long ago that most assuredly took some toll on his energy level.

Let Damnation be considered his declaration of a clean bill of health then. “I stand tall defiantly!” he barks on the title track, and nearly every song afterwards continues with the vitality and terror of a man half his age.
Yes, the middle section of Damnation is as good as metal can get, setting a fairly high bar for the more notable Cali thrash metal outfits, including those that are currently working double-time to return back to a time when their integrity wasn’t questioned.

So let’s not pull any punches here: replace Testament’s name on Damnation with Metallica and we’d all be talking about that band’s amazing return to form. But we’re not; we’re talking about their low-rent neighbors who’ve been through enough drama for their own Some Kind Of Monster documentary and have emerged from it with an album with such joie de vivre that it will be tough to match. 

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Accept - Stalingrad

To admit to liking the German heavy metal band Accept requires an understanding that you’ll always end up defending the sheer ridiculous of the video to the band’s biggest stateside song, 1983’s “Balls To The Wall.” If the image of a short, chubby vocalist with short-cropped blonde hair and a penchant for camouflage isn’t enough to put your infatuation through easy ridicule, then the image of a dummy version of Udo Dirkschneider actually riding a wrecking ball as it slams into a fake wall of bricks should surely do the trick.

I make no effort to defend that video, only offering that the riff on “Balls To The Wall” is so awesome that most guitarists would gladly give their left testicle to come up with a guitar part as spectacular. I’d also add that Sebastian Bach was spot on when he declared “Udo Dirkschneider” as the most metal name in rock music.

Accept circa 2012 is not the same band as it was thirty years ago during the heyday when they could afford things like Styrofoam bricks, stuffed Udos and videos recorded in bullet time. Hell, Udo isn’t even in the band anymore and only two of the band’s original line up remains active: guitarist Wolf Hoffman and bassist Peter Baltes.

To put it bluntly, why should you even give a shit about Accept circa 2012? For most of you, you probably shouldn’t, but for anyone else who can appreciate the beauty of metal’s adhesion to the riff itself and admire the sheer power of a male chorus chanting in an ominous Wagnerian manner such phrases as “Hellfire!” “Hung, Drawn and Quartered!” and “Stalingrad!” then Accept’s 13th offering is worth considering.

Stalingrad is the second record featuring former TT Quick vocalist Mark Tornillo as frontman. Tornillo possesses a larynx scraping vocal style that resembles Dirkschneider, but certain performances also demonstrate a greater range that’s similar to legendary British vocalist Graham Bonnet.

That’s fine for when the band makes a go of all the Accept songs that most fans will end up wanting during the subsequent tour, but it does nothing for the sake of the band’s relevance, seemingly two decades beyond their welcome.

Remarkably, guitarist Wolf Hoffman has put together a line-up and a set of songs that defy the perception of Accept beating a dead horse, making Stalingrad a legitimate contender in the metal community and a source of inspiration to anyone who isn’t quite ready to let their dreams die.

Hoffman unleashes 11 tracks of uncompromising Flying V action, and he does it with such ferocity that it sounds too good to be a second wind. He also catches everyone off guard with an entire concept album about the battle of Stalingrad that’s as heavy as the subject matter.

Utilizing the same epic approach found in many Power Metal bands, Accept is distinctively European even with Tornillo’s New Jersey heritage as the voice of their recent insurgence.

Much of the Stalingrad’s success comes at the hands of producer Andy Sneap, who presents each member with stunning clarity. He leant the same skills to Testament’s The Formation of Damnation and Megadeth’s recent releases, proving that he’s clearly adept at bringing old metal bands into the sonic landscape of the twenty-first century while retaining certain highlights of their catalog.

With Stalingrad, he’s helped renew Accept’s good fortunes, streamlining all of their talents into one tight package that suggests the band’s metal heart transplant is an overwhelming success.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Scorpions - Lovedrive

If Animal Magnetism caught my ear, Blackout confirmed the hard rock abilities of Germany’s Scorpions. Of course, this was before I had any knowledge of their 70’s output. This was at the point in the band relationship where one begins the awesome task of digging into an established band’s back catalog.
For many fans, that can only be a rewarding experience if the previous work happens to be good as isn’t too far from the excitement of what caught your ear to begin with.

Thankfully with the Scorpions, you really can’t go too wrong with picking up anything from their older material when you’re looking for further listening. Aside from the debut, which is misguided weak-sauce, the band gets progressively better, and they barely miss a beat when they lost their incredible lead guitarist Uli-Jon Roth towards the end of the decade.

That’s where I started. Under the recommendation of a friend, I was steered towards Lovedrive. I learned later that this was the album that began to get some consistent airplay across America, particularly with the opener “Loving You Sunday Morning” and the infectiously silly ballad, “Holiday.”

I remember thinking that Lovedrive was not as intense as the album’s I had heard, but in the years since I’ve grown fonder of some of the album’s tracks that I wasn’t too keen on upon first listen.

Lyrically, the band continues to string broken English with common themes like loose women, touring, and missing the loose women from back in Germany when they’re on tour. After a bit, the humor of some of the couplets transition from hilarious to hilariously awesome.

Particularly on “Another Piece Of Meat,” an ode to a Japanese fan who told Klaus “I’ve been too long alone/I need hot love, you know/And I need it now.” The entire song plays out like it was written by someone who’s never had sex in their life and the fact that the potty-mouthed chick was from Japan is the equivalent of a thirteen year-old saying that their girlfriend lives in Indiana.

Yes, I want the wallet sized school picture of this woman, Klaus. Prove it.

More incredulous is the part where Klaus tries to make up for the fact that his partner only refers to him as another piece of meat, bragging “She was screaming for more blood/Loved it more than any slut/I couldn’t stand it!”

But you consider the language barrier-a recurring excuse for Scorpions-you begin to see how utterly innocent these songwriters are. The band simply takes their second language (third, maybe, if you consider Tokyo Tapes) and tries to add provocative English words together that phonetically rhyme without fully realizing how utterly ridiculous they really sound  together.

God bless ‘em for trying, and God bless ‘em for coming up with the amount of riffage that they do for such unintentionally funny words.

Lovedrive is a surprisingly tentative affair as the band tiptoes around new guitarist Mathias Jabs, even letting  younger brother Michael Schenker guests as a guitarist for a few tracks just as a precaution.

All of this must have led to an awful amount of ambivalence when it came time to collect enough songs for the record. At one point, even “Is There Anybody There,” a misguided stab at reggae, finds its way on to the album.

They’d get more comfortable with this line-up for the next album, and they’d find enormous success around the corner. Lovedrive is the first Scorpions record that points the way to their commercial zenith while doing little to damage the high reputation of Uli Jon Roth’s era of the band where they used brute force to get your attention.

The cover is certainly attention grabbing to say the least, but there are hints throughout Lovedrive that show how their formula for a U.S. Arachnid invasion is proving to be successful.

Utopia - Utopia

If Rundgren’s The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect was the sound of Todd trying to get out of his record contract, his work on Utopia’s self-titled 1982 release is the sound of him celebrating the arrival of a new label for his democratically minded band.

The eponymous album title is intentional. Despite releasing a half-dozen other records under the very same moniker, Utopia is clearly attempting to wipe the slate clean with lucky seven. And they would love nothing more than to start the relationship with their new label than with a big hit.

Utopia became the band’s only release for Network records, and all of the MTV-schlocking that Todd and company did for this album only got it to #84 on the Billboard charts.

The poor commercial showing has little to do with the music within Utopia, a three-sided exploration of the same kind of pop buzz that Rundgren began with Nazz. The 15 tracks presented here run the gamut to Todd’s attraction to Philly Soul, to the power-pop infatuation of Deface The Music, to the melting walls vibe of his own psychedelic garage origins. Utopia bounces along like an alternate universe top 40 station if it were programmed by four nerdy white guys who just bought a bunch of new wave records at Musicland.

It’s not Rundgren’s best production work, either. That distinction would come with the next Utopia album, Oblivion. Nothing bites and the instruments just kind of belches out of the mix. On one of the album’s best tracks-the tight package of opener “Libertine”-always seemed to sound like the record’s pressing was just a tad off-center, causing the song to have this strange warping effect that was prevalent on each spin or every cassette copy. I’m happy to report that I wasn’t on too much dope and my vinyl copy played just fine; the same effect is noticeable to me on my compressed digital file.

There’s a track like “Libertine” on every side: tight, simple, and enormously catchy. “Princess Of The Universe,” “Call It What You Will,” and the MTV light-rotation lead single “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” all could have been contenders on a larger scale if this band was marketable beyond the cult of Todd and fans of new wave pop.

The thing is, Utopia is made up of Todd Rundgren and his circle of very seasoned musicians. This stuff should be a cakewalk with these guys, so when things get a bit too goofy, too easy, and too clichéd, there’s not a lot of room to hide from the necessary finger wagging.

“Burn Three Times” takes the entire “love is like cooking in the kitchen” motif a step too far and “There Goes My Inspiration” does the same with art, somehow equating the idea that name-checking notable artists in a song is somehow clever. There’s very little shelf life with a line like “Me and Gaugin used to party down/I was hung in the Louvre, I was Renoir’s pal” after hearing it a few times. Particularly when Rundgren practically wrote the book on cleverness with that incredible “And when we’re through with you/We’ll get me one too” ending to “We Gotta Get You A Woman.”
Utopia stands as the band’s most unified piece of work, sounding like the work of four band members working together instead of the democratic arrangements of records past, where the main contributor had the majority rule on how the final mix would sound.

Gone is the stitched-up running order where the songwriter could be easily identified upon first listen. Utopia gives legs to the entire reinvention motif, impressively putting a lid on Todd’s ego for a moment while the entire band works together at selflessly helping their most notable member achieve one of his best performances of the entire decade.

It’s a pop record of decent proportions, marred only by a few missteps and the creepy marketing ploy where the band members look like over-the-hill relics dressed up in New Wave clothing for the cover shot. Every one of Utopia’s talented line-up should have known that you don’t need to dress anything up when it you tailor a perfectly good two-and-a-half minute long pop song.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Todd vs. Todd Part 2

Monitor owned by Bearsville.

So, as you can probably guess, I’ve been revisiting some of my past history concerning Todd Rundgren, and I can already tell that I’m going to have to revisit his 70’s material, because the garbage from the 80’s has really got me disenchanted with him.

At least the Utopia stuff was spread across a few members so that the bulk of the record wasn’t entirely on Todd’s shoulders.

And maybe that was the problem: Rundgren just spread himself around too thin and then relied on the synthesizer to help him fill out his arrangements. The thing was, the instrument was still in its infancy as a device that could adequately fulfill the tones that Rundgren was trying to achieve.

Here’s a few nifty things I learned from diving back in to Todd’s body of work from the 80’s:

  • He’s admitted that The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect hasn’t aged well, specifically, it was a rush job that now houses some of his least favorite material. Could you imagine being told you’re a genius for a decade and then having people bark “Play Bang On The Drum All Day!” at you for every gig? And Todd seems to have an ego large enough where things like this would seem beneath him. I mean, he once told an audience to shut up between songs because he was recording a “live” album but didn’t want to be pestered with all of those nasty audience noises that happens when you, um, play live.
  • Side one of Healing was nearly unlistenable to me. For real: I had to pause the thing and listen to a bunch of heavy metal just to get the gunk out of my ears. It’d been over 20 years since I’d heard that thing, and I thought for a moment that’d I’d been on dope for ever liking that album. Then I played side two and remembered.
  • Tortured Artist was even worse than Healing.
  • I think Rundgren is a pussy for devoting an entire album to the idea of spirituality and then declares on the shitass song “Chant” on the next album that “I’m not pushing some religion/Don’t get me wrong, I never mess with such things.” Kind of makes the entire credibility of Healing go out the window.
  • I was too scared to by whatever album “The Want Of A Nail” was on. The song rocks, but by this point, I’d gotten tired of spending good money on bargain bin Todd Rundgren albums when I could have easily been spending it on things like Human League 12 inchers or imported Yazoo dance remixes.
  • I’ve got a Utopia album…Utopia, the one with three sides…signed by all of the members of Utopia that I’ll sell to the highest bidder.
  • I read where Rundgren set up a quadraphonic sound system for one of his tours in the mid-70’s where he demanded to be in charge of the nightly audio testing. The crew members would have to work ahead just to get the audio equipment set up. When the other equipment arrived, they’d have to set up and do what’s called a pink noise test before any audience members arrived, then they’d have to do another with the audience members present, because the dynamics of the venue had changed, and they have to readjust the levels. The entire process drove Todd to the brink, never mind the audience who had to endure the annoying pink noise tests while they waited for the show to begin.
  • I used to want an equalizer with a pink noise generator when I was younger.  Do they even make equalizers any more?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Todd Rundgren - The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect

By the time Todd Rundgren began work on the follow-up to 1981’s , he had grown disenfranchised with his long-time label Bearsville, even taking the step of moving his band Utopia off the label for another.

The fact that Bearsville still wanted Todd’s solo material as part of their roster led to the tongue-in-cheek album title, but it was Rundgren himself that made the choice to provide the last effort for his label as yet another example of his inability to provide enough material to coat an elpee worth of solid tunes.

The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect is a rushed, choppy, contractual obligation with very little effort and even fewer memorable performances.

How ironic is it that it’s most famous track, “Bang The Drum All Day,” has become ubiquitous at sporting events around the country. Prior to that, it was a “clever” little bit of A.O.R. radio gold that they used to play on Friday afternoons, right alongside Loverboy’s “Working For The Weekend.”

It was a neat little comedic song when Tortured was release, but now it’s become an annoying cliché because some radio programmer equated it with the weekend release mantra of the proletariat.

The song that should have been the hit is the perfect rock radio cut “Drive,” where Todd screams “Don’t sit and cry while the world passes by/Stop tagging after the other guy/Just get a line on that mother…and drive” in a bit of awesome motivational technique.

The rest of Tortured Artist could have used some of that very same motivation, as Todd sleepwalks through cheesy synthesizer-laden tune that have little depth or hooks within them. A telling point is when Todd covers the Small Faces “Tin Soldier,” itself a throwaway move, but the emotion that he delivers the song with is more than double what he can muster for his own material.

Another one of my Todd Rundgren cut-out purchases, The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect came in the form of a cassette that pretty much retained all of its oxide due to lack of playback, except for the one-two punch of “Drum” and “Drive.,”  Both tracks make the highpoint list within the context of this sub-par album while not being anywhere close to what Rundgren was capable of had he put his label politics aside and focused on a delivering a record that compliments his career instead of merely reflecting his business discontent.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Todd Rundgren - Healing

The thing about Todd Rundgren’s seminal Something/Anything is that it is so good…so inspiring…that you immediately begin searching for other records in his catalog that will provide the same rate of return.

Chances are good you’ll never find one.

Within seconds of listening to anything post S/A, you’ll also discover that Rundgren follows his irreverent muse to places that not only aren’t fulfilling, but nowhere near the caliber of what he’s capable of.

I learned this by acquiring a bunch of Todd Rundgren records in the cutout bins throughout America, discovering firsthand why they ended up in the cheap seats to begin with.

Healing was one of those records, Rundgren’s 1981’s release, which shows him exploring the idea of spirituality, and one that listeners will finally begin to question the artist’s fixation with keyboards and synthesizers.

The reality is that these types of devices generally bring out the laziness in Rundgren, giving him the false sense of security that the record is over when it may actually require a little more time and effort from him.

The case is painfully obvious on Healing, a record plagued with half-baked concepts and woefully inept arrangements that sounded dated the moment they were released.

It wasn’t the first time Todd used his electronic equipment as a crutch again more organic outlets, but it may have been the first time where getting through an entire side of a Todd Rundgren album proves to be such a chore.

Beginning with “Healer,” the record’s mission statement, if you will, that comes a few years too late to qualify as a Peter Gabriel outtake, yet sounds like Todd just discovered him for the first time.

“Flesh” continues the album’s thematic approach, complete with a near a Capella delivery, complete with pointless gaps in between each preachy verse.

“Golden Goose” is completely uncoordinated with the rest of this record, a pointless oom-pah up-tempo novelty that jars the listener out of any holistic qualities the album portends to channel.

The rest of side one flows in and out of mundane MOR flourishes that try to incorporate atmospheric textures and soulful vocal scales in an obvious attempt to fool listeners-particularly in the cult of Todd-which Healing is more than its minimalistic approach suggests.

But before you can get completely cynical on Todd and declare that Healing was the first hint at Rundgren’s incredibly self-centered and ego-driven 80’s decade, side two suggests that this album definitely stood a chance.

Essentially the record’s centerpiece, “Healing” is presented in a three-song suite that takes up the entire second side. It is here that the atmospherics seem to match Rundgren’s intent of blending the power of healing by actually creating music with healing qualities.

As a result, side-two of Healing became an instant favorite, with side one seldom finding any companionship with my turntable’s needle. The original pressing contained a bonus 7” single of “Time Heals” and “Tiny Demons,” two distinctively separate yet enjoyable cuts that probably deserve better than their “bonus single” status. They certainly deserve better than being tacked on at the end of Healing, which is what every edition of the record has done with them since the original vinyl edition fell out of print.

As a Todd Rundgren document, Healing is arguably a release that is deserving of attention beyond the completists, and beyond the loyal faithful that will place it higher than it actually is. It is indicative of Todd’s problem of failing to live up to the expectations that everyone placed on him after his early masterstrokes, by conveniently side-stepping any attempt to try to challenge them.

You could make the argument that Healing is a notable challenge and a worthy attempt at greatness, but the music within it demonstrates otherwise. It is an effort that literally hinges on two sides: one that feels like a simplistic bit of patchwork that barely adheres to the lofty themes that its title suggests.

The other side does manage to reflect something special, but unfortunately, it’s not enough to excuse the inherent frustrations of his career or the reasons why Healing came into my own life through the bargain bins than are already littered with remnants of Rundgren’s fickle muse.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Blitzen Trapper - Girl In A Coat

American Goldwing has been out for nearly a year now, and the band continues to pump out singles from it like it's 1990 or something. And yet Sub Pop can't forward over a zip file for me to review the fucking thing.

If I didn't think that Blitzen Trapper were such a good band and American Goldwing such a good album, I would have let this thing end up in the recycle bin. But gosh, is it good and a bit close to home.

I went over to my Grandparent's house once, on a whim, with nothing but a pair of clothes and a cheap Radio Shack tape recorder that I bought along the way. The idea was to record them telling old stories. What I came away with was nothing much than bickering and self-consciousness. My grandmother would interrupt each story with "Todd, are you recording this? You know I hate the sound of my voice! Turn that thing off!"

That and the incredible fidelity of those Radio Shack cassettes rendered the entire project useless and I found the ruined tape of the interview in the trunk of my old Honda moments after selling it and cleaning the thing out.

Then they were gone.

I hate death. And I hate the idea of getting old and dying. Ironically, I'm totally looking forward to retirement and all the laziness and grumpiness that comes with it, but I resent the idea that all of this comes in a body that is slowly breaking.

The video for Blitzen Trapper's "Girl In A Coat" kind of captures that, at least from the perspective from a man reaching the end of his life with a firm recount of a love from many years passed.

I hope love is this powerful in real life.

The assclowns at Sub Pop wrote the following:

Blitzen Trapper have premiered a poignant and heartfelt video for American Goldwing track, "Girl In A Coat" via a shitty magazine website that only lets you read their articles online only when you subscribe to their toilet paper publication. The clip was directed by Daniel Elkayam (Blitzen Trapper's "Black River Killer" & "The Tree") and stars band drummer Brian Koch and his grandfather, Arthur Koch.  Brian Koch, who also wrote and produced the video, stated "Four years ago I interviewed my Grandfather at the age of 96 to talk about his life.  I was struck by how, even though so much had become blurry, confused or completely fallen away from his memory, some things remained.  Just shy of his 100th birthday, Daniel and I began to create a video from my Grandfather's perspective, blurring the boundaries of time and space in memory.  "Girl In A Coat," with its wearied narrative of retrospection, seemed the perfect match for the concept."

Blitzen Trapper are currently on a headline tour supporting American Goldwing. The tour will visit Alexandria, VA tomorrow night, July 17th with a performance at The Birchmere, and wraps up on September 2 in Seattle, WA at Bumbershoot. Along the way, the band has additional festival appearances to mention: Newport Folk Festival in Newport, RI on July 27th; Pickathon in Happy Valley, OR August 3rd-5th; Doe Bay Festival In Olga, WA on August 11th-12th; And Summer Meltdown Festival in Arlington, WA on August 10th;. Immediately following the late summer headline jaunt, the band will act as main support for label mates The Head and The Heart, which begins on September 18th in Spokane, WA at Knitting Factory and wraps up on October 10th in Eugene, OR at the McDonald Theatre.  The entire tour schedule is listed below.

In related news, fans can stream Blitzen Trapper’s forthcoming set at Newport Folk Fest on July 27th via NPR.
Tour Dates:
Jul. 17 - Alexandria, VA - The Birchmere
Jul. 18 - Richmond, VA - The National
Jul. 19 - Charlotte, NC - Casbah at Tremont Music Hall
Jul. 20 - Charleston, SC - The Charleston Pourhouse
Jul. 21 - Wilmington, NC - The Soapbox
Jul. 22 - Knoxville, TN - Cider House
Jul. 24 - Cincinnati, OH  - Taft Ballroom
Jul. 25 - Millvale, PA - Mr. Small’s Theatre
Jul. 26 - York, PA - Capitol Theater
Jul. 27 - Newport, RI - Newport Folk Festival 
Jul. 30 - Indianapolis, IN - Deluxe @ Old National Centre
Jul. 31 - Columbia, MO - Mojo’s
Aug. 03-05 - Happy Valley, OR - Pickathon Festival 
Aug.10 - Arlington, WA - Summer Meltdown Festival
Aug. 11 - 12 - Olga, WA - Doe Bay Music Festival
Sep. 01 - Bend, OR - Les Schwab Amphitheatre**
Sep. 02 - Seattle, WA - Bumbershoot Festival
Sep. 18 - Spokane, WA - Knitting Factory*
Sep. 19 - Missoula, MT - Wilma Theatre*
Sep. 20 - Boise, ID - Knitting Factory*
Sep. 02- Salt Lake City, UT - The Depot*
Sep. 23 - Boulder, CO - Boulder Theater*
Sep. 25 - Kansas City, MO - Uptown Theater*
Sep. 26 - Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue*
Sep. 28 - Madison, WI - Orpheum Theatre*
Sep. 30 - Tulsa, OK - Cain’s Ballroom*
Oct. 02 - Tucson, AZ - Rialto Theatre*
Oct. 03- San Diego, CA - Spreckels Theatre*
Oct. 05 - Los Angeles, CA - The Wiltern*
Oct. 07 - Santa Cruz, CA - Rio Theatre*
Oct. 10 - Eugene, OR - McDonald Theatre*
*w/ The Head And The Heart
** w/ Brandi Carlile
*** w/ no Iowa dates to speak of. Mojo's in Columbia would be a good place to see 'em, plus they have good bbq there.

Monday, July 9, 2012

80/35 2012 Recap

Before I get to the live review of the sets that I saw during 2012’s 80/35 Festival, I have to mention the events preceding it.

For those of you not familiar with this obscure music festival held in Des Moines, Iowa every summer around Independence Day, let me share the particular. It’s in the downtown section and they close off a few blocks in the area, have vendors and booths line the streets, and there are two separate stage areas playing music of the alternative variety.

I’ve been accused of being a buzz kill when visiting this even in year’s past, but I’m a moody fucker and I follow the Osmond’s mantra of one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch.

I’m also a cheap bastard, so when I learned of this year’s line-up, I didn’t see a lot of bands that made me want to fork over the “early bird special” price that they offered. At that time, there were some bands that I wasn’t interested in and one-Death Cab For Cutie-that I’ve seen twice before and my affection towards them has kind of run its course anyway.

Then some of the open slots started to fill up and I noticed well after the discounted ticket period that the opening night of the two-day festival had two bands that I needed to see: Dinosaur Jr. and Fucked Up.

While I’ve seen Dino previously in the most intimate of settings, I’d gladly pay to see them again. And I get the impression that Fucked Up aren’t going to be around for much longer, as each of the band members get older and start examining other life options, most of which don’t entail performing in a band with an incredibly obscene band name.

Moreover, if you appreciate David Comes To Life as much as I do, you kind of want a band like Fucked Up to reach as many people as possible. You get a little bummed when their name alone prevents a wider audience from learning about them, because the truth is, we need more bands like Fucked Up, challenging people in the same manner that punk rock challenged me when I was a youngster.

Plus, I heard that they were just an awesomely great live act.

The great news was that Fucked Up would open this year’s 80/35 Festival, and Dinosaur Jr. would immediately follow them. This meant that I didn’t need a weekend pass at all, just the one-day pass would be fine, and there was a good possibility that I could be in the comforts of my parent’s house before the nightly news came on.

So I waited, patiently scanning Craigslist for one-day pass deals that only seemed to get better as the date approached.

On the night before the Friday opening, an ad appeared in the local section of the website for exactly what I was looking for: a one-day pass for $20. To see two bands for $20 was a great deal, I thought, so I made contact with the seller.

A response came back from a chick named Astrid, which made me think of Hamburg era Beatles, which made me feel pretty good about the entire transaction. On the morning of the festival, I prepped for the two-hour travel time to my parent’s place with a swing by the bank and a quick torque of the wheels that I had rotated a hundred miles previously.

My phone buzzed that I’d received a new email, and I noticed that it was from Astrid who explained that she wouldn’t be able to meet me to purchase the ticket. She graciously just gave me the link to her ticket, which contained her name on the actual ticket image and stated on the “instructions” section that I needed to present a photo id or the credit card used to purchase the thing just to gain access.

This is the part where I tell you that the people actually taking the tickets for the 80/35 Festival don’t give a shit if your name is Astrid, Todd, or Charles Nelson Reilly. The volunteer staff seemed completely chill, and upon entry, my ticket was quickly scanned and the obligatory access bracelet was attached to my right wrist.

Maybe it was the heat that caused everyone to create a drama free environment in what was already a very oppressive one, temperature wise. You see, the Midwest had been enduring a weeklong heat wave during the festival, most assuredly concerning the promoters that everyone would just stay home for fear of that pesky heat stroke.

A sponsor handed out empty water bottles and the city opened up a few hydrants with makeshift water refill stations, making sure that if anyone was going to collapse from heat exhaustion, it wouldn’t be from their neglect.
Photo by Tony Galloro courtesy of 

Walking up the closed off street to get to the main stage area, I could hear the sounds of guitars and screams of “Dying on the inside! Dying on the inside!” bouncing off the brick buildings of downtown Des Moines.

I found a spot directly in front of the stage (I’d put the crowd at conservative number of 150-200 deep) and gazed upon the image of a shirtless Damian Abraham screaming at the surrounding buildings, housing a bunch of financial institutions like Wells Fargo and other wealth management corporations. I smiled at the thought of someone stuck at work a little late on that Friday afternoon, distracted by the punk rock band from Canada playing just outside their window.

It wasn’t long before Damian found his way off stage and into the crowd, giving a sweaty hug to anyone who poured water on him or rubbed ice on his hairy back. He seemed like a big, gentle bear, appreciative of the few who had braved the heat to see them. His stage banter included an update on his family, an appreciation of cheese curds (thereby becoming totally relatable to his Iowan fan base) and a quick story of a Canadian punk band that influenced him.

Quick side note: a friend of mine in college had a collection of punk and hardcore songs as performed by Canadian punk bands. I think it was designed as some introduction to Canadian punk, but one of the songs-I remember the name of the tune was “Equal Time”-featured a slam on the United States at the end of it. The singer declared “You fucking Americans/Can’t even read” at the end of the song, to which my friend and I felt was a pretty chickenshit way of trying to disrespect our country. We were like: “Dude, you’re from fucking Canada!” trying to point out the folly of his complaints. Just for reference, have you ever noticed how many Canadians get busted in bait cars? At least in America, we have enough smarts to take our keys with us and lock the doors.

The band looked miserable, particularly Sandy Miranda who appeared on the verge of passing out during a few moments.

Abraham was the biggest sweat lodge of them all, climbing on top of camera towers and, eventually crawling on the ground back to the stage as the band was reaching the end of their set.

With every venture off stage, the younger bums would start to thrash. Before long, a swirling pit arose, which prompted the very metro looking twenty-something to take notice. He locked in on Abraham, in what I couldn’t decipher, was friend or foe. You see, I’ve been to shows in the past where a few head knockers show up, with their only intent seeming to be to hurt a musician or artist who is perceived to be of the more “physical” type.

Damian Abraham does not strike me as one of those artists. The look of joy he had just watching the crowd work, basking in the moment while staying close to the edge of any resemblance of thrash pit shenanigans. He’d smile as the dervish gained speed, and then he’d focus his attention on what I’d call the more literal fan base. The crowd members that knew every word to every song, relishing the chance to scream a verse into Abraham’s microphone, possibly even a cheek-to-cheek duet.

It was all there. And then it was over.

I swear the set was done in a prompt forty-five minutes. And while I’m usually a fan of brevity and encores only when they’re deserved (there would be no encore from Fucked Up tonight), I could have easily enjoyed an extra hour of this band. Yes, I’d take the heat if that was the only requirement, but I must confess that there is no human on Earth that could have rocked as hard as Fucked Up did in this solar panel conditions for anything much longer than what they gave Friday night.

See this band before you die or before they collapse under the rigors of middle age responsibility.

How hot was it? I came well hydrated to the show and knew instinctively after the Fucked Up set that I would require more aqua. I began looking for those free water bottles that I kept seeing everyone use, so that I too could take advantage of the blessed water courtesy of the Des Moines Water Department, but after a few blocks I gave up. Just looking at the dead eyes of everyone walking past the lefty booths and liberal causes was exhausting. The representatives of these progressive and artsy spots barely wanted you to check their displays out for fear of the additional body heat, and for me the feeling was completely mutual.

One larger, heavily tattooed woman took advantage of the increased traffic in front of her tent that she encouraged people to stop by, sweetening the deal with an offer of “free hugs.” The exact type of hug was bartered out to a crew of four young dudes, one of whom declined immediately, stating the obvious “It’s too hot for a hug.”

Finally, my body realized that all of this walking was not going a bit of good in keeping cool, so I broke down and spent the $3 bucks one food vendor was asking for Aquafinas. By the time I got back to the stage, securing a front row spot for Dinosaur Jr’s set, my water was already half consumed. It forced me to refill my bottle and lose my sweet spot in the process as the crowd had grown noticeably larger for J., Lou and Murph.

Photo by Sami Villwock courtesy
Poor Lou Barlow came on stage to battle a slowly setting sun with an ill-advised pair of black slacks and a black polo with thin red and white stripes. With the sun came the sweat, and by the soft section of set opener “Thumb,” Lou’s sweat began taking his glasses down his nose like a waterslide, prompting Barlow to finally just put them on top of his bass amp for future need.

Throughout the show, Barlow was the band’s primary banter-maker, yelling at the sun for being too bright, challenging the light-maker to a dual and encouraging it to go away. It caused him to refer to Des Moines as one of the low points of his tour, not because of the city, but because of how shitty his performance was because of the heat.

Personally, I didn’t notice that poor of a showing from him, but it was clear that the heat would definitely contribute to the misery of yet another bassist this evening.

Murph still does that annoying fill thing in between songs, hammering out a brief beat, groove, or fill while Barlow drinks fluids and Mascis tunes his guitar. He provided a solid beat throughout the set, but give us some time to recuperate from the sonic assault of each song instead of banging for the sake of making noise.

Because J. was certainly providing ample amounts of noise with his trio of Marshall stacks and a rack the size of a twin bed housing all of the dude’s fucking guitar pedals. He started out a bit flat, but his solos began to get crazier as the set progressed.

By the end of the set, the band brought out “Freak Scene” which got a few ladies dancing. Whenever Mascis went to the “jugga jugga” bridge part, he’d hit a pedal that made his guitar sound like a jet airplane.

I took an earplug out just to get a taste and immediately felt sympathy for all the morons that came down without them. The crowd would get worked up enough to start a bit a of jostling, before eventually getting beat down by the added heat. The “troublemakers” were so polite that I saw a crowd surfer reaching the end of the line near stage right, lightly smacking the heads of two unsuspecting girls as he made his way to the ground.
The young man, being the polite young Iowan that he was, apologized to the girls without saying a word or taking off his sunglasses, offering a parting handshake before heading back into the pushers and the shovers to locate his original crew.

I saw a couple in their early forties taking in the vibe with their young teenage son and daughter, gently enjoying each other’s company before the show. They looked very suburban, a picture of Mom and Dad bringing their kids down to an old school alternative rock show to relive a bit of the history when Dad had an airshift down at the campus radio station.

By the time of Dinosaur Jr’s set, that same Dad was witnessed spending more time eyeballing the pit that had started immediately next to his family, causing him to become the protector while Mascis bent notes and damaged our hearing. It was a lovely bit of chaos and Mascis seemed to be enjoying himself, as evidenced by a few extended solos.

And the dude seemed to barely break a sweat, and I was right up in front to witness this as the god’s honest truth. Mascis hardly went away from the back and forth rocking, eyes locked on the fretboard (when you could see his eyes, that is) while smacking us in the face with an occasional scream of his wah-wah. It was out of this world at times, and with the abrupt close of “Just Like Heaven,” they were off stage after a tidy 80 minute set.

Simply wonderful.

Here’s a little clip of the musky scene back stage and thanks to the folks at for catching some nice shots while my camera phone managed to catch nothing but smudges thanks to a nice layer of sunscreen covering the lenses.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day

The Escalade next to us was that of a surgeon...still in his scrubs
Well Papa go to bed now...It's getting late.

Nothing we can say is gonna change anything now.

I'll be leaving in the morning for Pyro City

Gonna bring some illegal fireworks into town.

They've got fountains and rockets and a helpful staff

They'll make sure you blow up real good

The cops may come around with a hairy eye

They can't stop you no matter if they could

So say goodbye, it's Independence Day

It's Independence Day all down the line

So say goodbye, it's Independence Day

Gonna got a set a bunch of shit on fire

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Jackson Browne Announces Acoustic Tour

Is that water bottle BPA free?
Always liked Jackson Browne...Even the corny Lawyers In Love material. I'm sorry, I have a soft spot for "Tender Is The Night." An acoustic tour might be just the thing, if he can keep ticket prices in check, which it looks like he can't.

The spiel:

LOS ANGELES, CA, June 18, 2011: Singer-songwriter Jackson Browne has added a string of Fall dates to his 2012 U.S. Acoustic Tour. The tour, which begins this summer on July 14 in Charlotte, NC runs thru mid-August, before picking up again mid-October and ending on November 15 in Colorado Springs, CO. Playing guitar and piano, Jackson will perform songs from his entire body of work, with varying set lists each night.  Singer-songwriter and fiddle player Sara Watkins will open the Acoustic Tour as a special guest. Tickets are on-sale now for the summer tour and the pre-sales for the fall tour begin this week; information is available at  

Sara Watkinsfirst gained recognition as a founding member of the GRAMMY-winning trio Nickel Creek. Sun Midnight Sun, the second solo album from acclaimed singer, songwriter, and fiddle player will be released May 8 on Nonesuch Records. Produced by guitarist, singer, and songwriter Blake Mills, co-founder of the band Simon Dawes, the album features special guest appearances by Fiona Apple, Jackson Browne, Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Benmont Tench,and Sean Watkins. “I’m really excited to have Sara joining me on this tour,” says Jackson.  “We've played together a number of times in the last few years, sometimes on her show and sometimes mine, and it's always been a thrill for me. I'm floored by her amazing instrumental virtuosity and by her beautiful voice, and most of all, I love her songs.”

The summer run of the 2012 U.S. Acoustic Tour includes Jackson's first-ever performance at the legendary Newport Folk Festival in Newport, RI (7/29), founded in 1954; the tour's other festival stop is the 11th annual carbon-conscious Floyd Fest on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Floyd, VA (7/26). Other tour highlights include concerts at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN (7/18)Filene Center at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA (7/23), the Beacon Theatre in New York City (8/3), and Cain Park in Cleveland Heights, OH (8/15).  The fall leg runs through mid-November, with dates that span from the Virginia’s to Colorado with several stops in between. Tour highlights include concerts at the stunningRiverside Theater in Milwaukee, WI (10/21), Chicago Theater in Chicago, IL (10/26) and the Paramount Theater in Denver, CO (11/14).

Jackson will be donating $1 from each ticket sold on the U.S. Acoustic Tour to charity.  In addition, premium benefit seats are available for purchase through The Guacamole Fund:  Pre-sale is available at

Jackson Brownehas written and performed some of the most literate and moving songs in popular music and has defined a genre of songwriting charged with honesty, emotion and personal politics. He was honored with induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2007. Beyond his music, he is known for his advocacy on behalf of the environment, human rights, and arts education. He's a co-founder of the groups Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE),, and, Success Through the Arts Foundation, which provides education opportunities for students in South Los Angeles.

For more information:

Jackson Browne 2012 Acoustic Tour Dates with special guest Sara Watkins:

DATE                       CITY                                                        VENUE
7/14/12                Charlotte, NC                         Belk Theater of the North Carolina Blumenthal                                                                                                     Performing Arts Center
7/15/12                North Charleston, SC           North Charleston Performing Arts Center
7/17/12                Greenville, SC                        Peace Center Concert Hall
7/18/12                 Nashville, TN                         Ryman Auditorium
7/20/12                Richmond, VA                         Carpenter Center
7/22/12                Durham, NC                            Durham Performing Arts Center
7/23/12                Vienna, VA                                Filene Center at Wolf Trap
7/25/12                Philadelphia, PA                     Academy of Music
7/26/12                Floyd, VA                                   Blue Cow Pavilion/Floyd Fest
7/29/12                Newport, RI                              Newport Folk Festival
7/30/12                Gilford, NH                                Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion
8/1/12                  Holyoke, MA                               Mountain Park
8/3/12                  New York, NY                            Beacon Theatre
8/5/12                  West Long Branch, NJ           MAC Center – Monmouth University
8/7/12                  Shippensburg, PA                    Luhrs Performing Arts Center
8/8/12                  Greenberg, PA                          The Palace Theater
8/9/12                  Williamsport, PA                        Community Arts Center
8/11/12                Cincinnati, OH                           PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center
8/12/12                Louisville, KY                             Whitney Hall
8/14/12                Indianapolis, IN                         Murat Theatre
8/15/12                Cleveland Heights, OH            Cain Park
10/15/12              Morgantown, WV                     West Virginia University Creative Arts Center
10/17/12              Newport News, VA                   Ferguson Center for the Performing Arts
10/20/12              Detroit, MI                                   Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts
10/21/12              Milwaukee, WI                           The Riverside Theater
10/23/12              Springfield, IL                             Sangamon Auditorium
10/25/12              South Bend, IN                            Morris Performing Arts Center
10/26/12              Chicago, IL                                  Chicago Theatre
10/28/12              Minneapolis, MN                       State Theater
10/29/12              Duluth, MN                                  Duluth Entertainment Convention Center
11/1/12                Davenport, IA                              Adler Theater
11/2/12                St. Louis, MO                              Fox Theatre
11/4/12                Grand Prairie, TX                       Verizon Theatre
11/5/12                 Linden, TX                                   Music Vity Texas Theatre
11/7/12                 Houston, TX                                Bayou Music Center
11/8/12                 Austin, TX                                    Bass Concert Hall
11/10/12               Catoosa, OK                               The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
11/11/12               Wichita, KS                                  Orpheum Theatre
11/12/12               Omaha, NE                                   Orpheum Theatre
11/14/12               Denver, CO                                   Paramount Theatre
11/15/12               Colorado Springs, CO                Pikes Peak Center