Monthly Archives: March 2016

Will Axl Put the “A” in AC/DC?

From the files of “Too Strange For Fiction” comes the rumor that W. Axl Rose, your friend and mine, is going to step-in as lead singer and finish AC/DC’s current tour. Excuse me, what? Seriously, this is without a doubt the weirdest story I can personally recall involving modern rock music. But let’s take a step back to see just how we got to this (really freaking weird) place.

The former-current lead singer, Brian Johnson, announced on March 7th that he would be unable to finish the last 10 dates of the band’s tour. The reason? His doctor told him that continuing to perform would cost him his hearing. Let that sink in for a moment. Brian Johnson no doubt has access to the best healthcare available to human-kind (dude is in one of the biggest rock bands in history). I’m sure there was much “are you sure?” and second-opinioning made before such a lucrative tour was essentially placed on pause. When this story first broke, I thought “damn that sucks, but that’s the price you pay for being in a rock band.” Then it came out that Johnson lost his hearing as a result of driving race cars. Could there be anything crazier than losing your hearing from race car driving? Not being in one of the biggest, hardest rocking bands of all time…no driving a really loud car did his ears in.

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Like most people (I think) yours truly thought that this was finally the end of AC/DC. I remember thinking “Damn, first they lose Malcolm Young to dementia…then kick Phil Rudd out for going bananas/plotting murder…losing their lead singer is the end of this band.” Of course, I should have known better. AC/DC is the band that deified the death of their original (and best) lead singer Bon Scott. A true hellraiser, Scott was AC/DC and yet…after his death in 1980 after basically drinking himself into a stupor. Brian Johnson joined the band, and AC/DC released BACK IN BLACK. You know, the band’s most popular album, the one that even non-fans know entirely by heart. Besides being such a huge smash and a cultural milestone, BACK IN BLACK proved that it was possible for a band to not only move on after the loss of a frontman, said band could thrive. So why wouldn’t guitarist Angus Young want the show to go on and for AC/DC to get a new lead singer?

But this is where the story starts getting…strange. On March 15th comedian Jim Breuer (yes, the stoner-ish dude from SNL) stated that his friend Brian Johnson hadn’t quit the band for health reasons: he was kicked out. Breuer claimed that Johnson was planning on defying his doctor’s orders and finishing the tour. Before he had a chance to work out plans with the band, Breuer claimed Johnson was kicked out of the band.

Brian Johnson is 8 years older than Angus, whom Breuer claims wants to continue the band “for at least another 10 years.” So a much younger lead singer would certainly help AC/DC to solider on and make that sweet, sweet touring money. But who would be cast into the role of frontman? Speculation swirled online, with several people throwing their names into the hat for consideration. My favorite of these was Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist the lead singer from The Hives (whom apparently toured with AC/DC in the past as an opening act). Another interesting person in the running (maybe?) is the Marc Storace, the lead singer of Krokus. This choice seems more likely, as he was asked to audition for AC/DC to replace Bon Scott back in the 80’s, which he famously turned down.

I’ve been trying to figure out where the rumors of Axl Rose joining AC/DC originated from, and it’s a bit tricky. Apparently, both Rose and AC/DC where in Atlanta, Georgia (of all places) at the same time…and this geographical proximity launched the rumor. At least, I thought it was just a rumor. Then late this week, Malcolm Young’s son posted twice on social media that Rose was going to take over singing duties for the band. These posts were quickly pulled down, adding further fuel the the fire that this was serious and that there are negotiations happening right now for Rose to front the band.

Would Axl be a good choice for AC/DC? From a financial and marketing perspective I would say: hell yes. Both AC/DC and Axl could use the bump in promotion. AC/DC are as popular as ever, but having the lead singer from another legendary rock band would do wonders for their bottom line. Axl Rose also stands to reap the benefit$ as well. With the Guns N’ Roses reunion looming on the horizon, anything that Axl can do to increase his visibility and prove that he’s still a great frontman will only help put asses in seats and make him money. A Guns N’ Roses reunion is a certain money maker, but promotion costs money but joining AC/DC would be one helluva marketing campaign. And it wouldn’t cost Rose anything. Hell, if this all turns out to be an elaborate hoax, the reason neither side is coming out and squashing it is no doubt due to the tremendous interest this story has caused.

But that’s not really the question is it? Would Axl be a good fit for AC/DC in a musical sense? No, as much as I love Axl, I don’t think he’s the right guy to sing AC/DC’s songs. He’s not gruff and bluecollar enough to pull that off. Oh sure, one or two songs would be cool, but I can’t imagine he’d be able to pull of an entire setlist of songs from the band in any sort of believable way. And are they going to toss in a GNR song or two? I think that people would expect that and I don’t see Angus wanting to play any of those songs.

I feel really grateful that I had the chance to see AC/DC on the BLACK ICE tour in 2008. I’m also really grateful that I run an Axl Rose-themed blog in a year where we’re going to see a GNR reunion and a possible Rose-fronted AC/DC. Can you imagine what this is going to do to my page views?

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Best Coast & Wavves at the Bluebird February 27th 2016

Let’s get this out of the way: this is going to be a terrible concert review. If you want a track-by-track accounting of the Best Coast/Wavves show I attended on Saturday February 27, 2016 you should look elsewhere. The show was probably very good and not the massive existential crisis I am about to make it out to be. Both bands are great and combining them in one show really is a fantastic sensory experience. While the two bands couldn’t be further apart in terms of style and fan appeal, seeing them back-to-back was an incredible experience. I’d seen Best Coast twice and Wavves once by themselves, but seeing them together was something else entirely. I liken it to mixing peanut butter and chocolate, the mixing of two different, complementary, flavors that combine to make something even tastier.

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This is face of a man who is scared shitless (and full of Miller Lite).

This concert was important for me historically because it was the last concert I will attend as a childless man. My wife and I are expecting our first child in mid-April and the specter of parenthood which has been hanging over me is reaching its cold, icy fingers of responsibility around my throat. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be happier and am genuinely excited to be a father, I can tell that I am at the end of an epoch. I’m now very much sensitive to the passage of time and my mortality. Which brings me to the Best Coast/Wavves concert. The tour was billed as “Summer Is Forever II” which played on the fact that both bands are from California and sing a lot about summer and the beach. Bethany Cosentino, whose songs are usually very introspective and melancholy despite having a veneer of sunshine, fronts Best Coast. While Nathan Williams leads Wavves, a pop-(stoner)punk outfit who are increasingly reveal themselves to be more introspective and insecure with each subsequent album. The romance between Cosentino and Williams has been widely reported, and though they’re probably only friends now, the tour definitely played up there past.

This show had plenty of yings and yangs, but let me fixate on the ones that really mattered. For one thing, the very notion of “Summer Is Forever II” is both appealing and stomach churning. I walked into the Blue Bird Theater about 30 minutes before the start of the show, the crowd slowly filling with fans sporting the telltale black “X” of the under 21. I found a spot in the middle of the venue, confident that nobody would really get near me until the sold-out crowd showed up later in the set. I was right. For the most part I was invisible. Not yet old enough to be the “old guy” at the rock show, I was old enough to be be apart from the majority of the crowd. Ying: young fans Yang: old ass blogger.

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Sipping a Miller Lite from a plastic cup, I stared at the open band Cherry Glazerr and pondered the “Summer Is Forever II” banner at the back of the stage. I’m going to skip over the part where this tour is a sequel to a 2011 Best Coast/Wavves tour, and instead focus on the fact that a sequel can only happen if the first one ends. That would seem to suggest, to me at least, that summer isn’t forever. Best Coast took the stage and after a few songs Bethany remarked that she was sad that the tour was ending in a week. Already the magic was broken: all of this was going to come to and end…and soon. I’d seen Best Coast in September, at the same venue, and I thought that this Saturday performance was better than the one I’d seen on a weeknight.  The songs sounded better and the crowd was really digging the music. The songs that play sad and a bit navel-gazey at home in my earbuds felt more upbeat and playful live. There was really only one song I wanted to hear, “In My Eyes” with its sing-songy chorus and when it was played in the middle of the set I felt satisfied. Ying: A young lead singer. Yang: She was wearing an old Sublime t-shirt.

Wavves are by no means a “hard” band, but they’re certainly rougher than Best Coast. And it’s not just a boy/girl thing either; their approaches are completely different.  That’s part of the mystique surrounding their sometimes coupling: he’s so coarse and unrefined and she’s so sensitive. The two had a real Beauty and the Beast thing going on, the kind of thing Hollywood couldn’t invent on its best day. While I think Wavves make the better music, I haven’t been following their music as closely as Best Coast. Mostly because Wavves second-to-last album was a dense collaboration with Cloud Nothings title NO LIFE FOR ME. They actually played a song off this record that sounded pretty good live, which makes me think that I’m probably wrong about not liking it so much and need to give it a re-listen. Wavves started out as a kind of neo-stoner rock surf outfit that’s slowly mutated into a neo-Grunge band in the vein of Nirvana. I can’t blame them for aping Kurt and Company, who were acting indifferent and complicated back when Wavves were just an itch in their daddies shorts.

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The crowd got rowdy during the Wavves set and the house started throwing kids out for stage diving. I immediately noticed a member of the Wavves staff whose job it was to monitor the goofballs clambering onto the stage. The first few meekly jumping off as soon as they got on stage and them more brazenly trying to shuck and jive on stage or take a quick selfie with the band. The dude working for Wavves either pushed them back into the crowd or carted them off stage and out the emergency exit. The soon-to-be father part of me couldn’t help but worry about the bigger dudes when they leapt into the crowd, sometimes headfirst. The section where I was standing wasn’t moshing, but the first few rows were really…enthusiastic. I was glad to be standing apart from the fray, mostly because I no longer want a lot of sweaty contact with co-eds.

Wavves played the song I most wanted to hear, “Demon To Lean On” from their second album AFRAID OF HEIGHTS, though it sounds like it could have come from mid-1990’s Seattle. They played “Heavy Metal Detox” which is the only song I remember from their most recent album V. Other highlights from the show include “Nine is God” which is on the Grand Theft Auto V soundtrack and  “Green Eyes” off their second album KING OF THE BEACH. Both of those songs made me remember why I love Wavves so much. Ying: They don’t give a fuck. Yang: They give so many fucks.

After a fairly long set of stage-diving, sweaty choruses, and inflatable alien dolls; Wavves bid us goodnight and walked off the stage. Then the house lights came up and it was clear that the show was over without an encore. A younger me would have felt cheated and would have complained, but I’m old and so I was grateful I was getting to go home. And just like that, I shuffled out into the cold and waited for my Uber to come so I could go home. That was it. That was my last rock show as just “Jason” before becoming “Dad.” Anticlimactic? Hell yes. Just like how summer isn’t forever, everything has a season. And those seasons all end, without exception. I remember going to shows in 2003 with one, two, sometimes three encores. I remember leaving with ears that would ring for a day or two after the show. I’ve caught guitar picks and pieces of drum kits. I’ve been pushed in a crowd and pushed back. I once saw a domestic dispute at a Tina Turner concert, how’s that for seeing everything? It feels like the show is over and everybody has to go home, but really it’s just me that has to go.

I have tickets to see The Flaming Lips in May, which I’m super-stoked about, but it feels like this is the end. This “Summer Is Forever II” show couldn’t have been a better ending for me. I love how superficial and finite it felt. Both bands perpetuate a kind of youthful exuberance that appeals to the aging hipster in me. Part of me likes to think that when I’m home doing dad-things they’ll be out there somewhere rocking…like the Dude in the Big Lebowski taking it easy for the rest of us. But the truth is, both of these bands are getting older. Nathan got a haircut since the last time I saw him in 2011. The long-haired rocker has become the sensibly coiffed crooner. Everything keeps moving forward and everything comes to an end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

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This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I love Kanye West. Both the music and the man. This is a rock blog but over the past 10 years or so I’ve warmed to hip-hop, thanks largely in part to the works of Mr. West. I totally get why most people don’t like the persona of Kanye West: he’s brash, arrogant, and sexist. Defending Axl Rose has never been about Axl Rose, but instead about the artists like Rose who operate on a completely different level than 99.999% of the rest of us. These exceptional artists have a vision and spend their lives struggling to bring that vision in its pure, uncompromised, form to the masses. They push boundaries in genre and offer us a window into both the artist and ourselves. Kanye West is a genius on the same level as Brian Wilson. Do I cringe when he belittles Taylor Swift or goes on Twitter and proclaims Bill Cosby “innocent”? Hell yes I do. But Kanye doesn’t really hurt anyone but himself so I forgive him. The music is so good I can overlook his faults.

THE LIFE OF PABLO has been on my must-listen list back when it was called SWISH and WAVES.  When it came out last month, on the Jay-Z backed music streaming service Tidal, I downloaded the Tidal app and contemplated canceling my beloved Spotify subscription just so I could hear the record. I waited, with bated-fanboy breath, for Yeezus to announce when the non-Tidal world would get an opportunity to hear his latest masterpiece. Then the confusion began: the album’s physical sale was delayed and then it was scrapped. West proclaimed his album would never be fore sale on Twitter, despite the fact that he’d already given it away sort of by issuing download codes to the people who attended his NYC fashion show where the album debuted. Now there’s word that Kanye is still editing/changing the album, thus making THE LIFE OF PABLO the Star Wars of rap albums (Kanye = George Lucas).

This review has two paragraphs defending the man and giving context to the release of the album because that’s the only way to interface with Kanye’s music. One can’t like or dislike these tracks without taking the performance art piece that is Kanye West in as a whole. He’s worked (famously) with Paul McCartney and no doubt sees himself as a modern-day John Lennon, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that Kanye West is really the modern-day Yoko Ono (Ono the artist not the Beatle girlfriend).

THE LIFE OF PABLO opens with gospel “Ultralight Beam.” An epic, beautiful track that begins with West’s 4 year old daughter praising Jesus and then builds to a rapturous choir. This song, about as unconventional as a pop song could be, works on a pure emotional level. I’m 100% agnostic but by the time Chance the Rapper comes in near the end I feel like a true Believer. The album descends from the opener’s lofty heights rollercoasting up and down a few times and bottoms out on “FML.” Here is what all the Kanye haters seem to miss about him: he’s not only his own worst enemy, he’s also his biggest critic. “FML” is about how he fucks up his own life. The song is about West’s troubles with infidelity, which is also touched on in “30 Hours” where West feels jealous because he finds himself on the wrong end of an open-relationship (one that he admits he insisted on having). “Real Friends” continues the tradition of “Runaway” and paints West as a workaholic loner who lives in a cold, friendless world. “Wolves” is another somber track where West gives insight into what it’s like to be a solitary figure against the whole of the world. You can’t help but feel sorry for they guy, even when later he compares himself and Kim to Mary and Joseph (yes, that Mary and Joseph).

Of course no review of THE LIFE OF PABLO would be complete without discussing “Famous,” the song where he throws gasoline on his feud with Taylor Swift. I don’t believe Kanye’s assertion that he “made that bitch famous,” but I do think that Swift has greatly benefited from her association with West. Just like Batman needs the Joker, Swift provides the perfect heroic foil to West’s exaggerated douchebag persona. That West has chosen to rag on America’s sweetheart and the music world’s biggest, most popular modern artist isn’t surprising. He’s jealous of her and like the third grade boy tugging his classmates ponytails; he’s picking on her because he likes her. It’s a shame West mars an otherwise perfect song with such a cringeworthy verse. Rihanna and the Sister Nancy sample are such a killer combo and balance West’s tough guy rapping.

My current favorite track, however, is probably the most-Kanye track of all-time. Title “I Love Kanye,” the song is a 43 second song that is just West with no musical accompaniment. The lyrics speak for themselves:

“I miss the old Kanye, straight from the ‘Go Kanye
Chop up the soul Kanye, set on his goals Kanye
I hate the new Kanye, the bad mood Kanye
The always rude Kanye, spaz in the news Kanye
I miss the sweet Kanye, chop up the beats Kanye
I gotta to say at that time I’d like to meet Kanye
See I invented Kanye, it wasn’t any Kanyes
And now I look and look around and there’s so many Kanyes
I used to love Kanye, I used to love Kanye
I even had the pink polo, I thought I was Kanye
What if Kanye made a song about Kanye
Called “I Miss The Old Kanye,” man that would be so Kanye
That’s all it was Kanye, we still love Kanye
And I love you like Kanye loves Kanye.”

The track ends with West laughing, and it’s a pretty good punchline, but there’s a lot of naked, personal honesty in this song. I don’t see Kanye as the arrogant asshole he’d like us to believe he his. Nor do I view him as the villain his detractors make him out to be. For me, Kanye West is a tragic figure of Shakespearean proportions. If he was an oblvious asshole even his biggest fans couldn’t forgive him (myself included). But Kanye is acutely aware of his failings and I think would genuinely like to be the good guy.

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There are no big radio-friendly tracks on THE LIFE OF PABLO. There is no “Gold Digger” or “Touch the Sky” on this record. Even if you hate Kanye and despise rap if you’re a music fan you have to respect that he’s one of the only (if not the only) mainstream artist who make albums. The album as a cohesive, artistic whole has been absent from the modern music scene for nearly 10 years (give or take). But the fact that Kanye agonizes over things like track sequences on his records makes this music fan happy. Don’t listen haphazardly to THE LIFE OF PABLO, instead take it track by track as God…I mean Kanye intended. Then when you’re done go online and seek out the endless stream of “I Love Kanye” remixes that have mushroomed all over the Internet.

I had to torrent this album, which is a real bummer. Hopefully something will change and THE LIFE OF PABLO will become commercially available in a wider-release. Though his mental state may be deteriorating, West’s ability to create intricate, interesting music is only getting stronger.

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