Tommy Ramone Dead, Legend of The Ramones Endures

One of the pivotal bands to emerge from the New York City punk scene in the mid-seventies, the Ramones provided a subversive antidote to much of the over-produced, over-indulgent pop and rock music of the era.

An Interview with Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains

For over half a century the Chieftains have served as global ambassadors of traditional Irish music, and Paddy Moloney has been there from the very start.

Interview: John Illsley, Formerly of Dire Straits, Celebrates Survival with New Solo Album

While Mark Knopfler has enjoyed more critical and popular success since the band’s demise, Illsley has nonetheless produced a string of respectable solo works as well, including his latest LP, Testing the Water.

DVD Review: Elton John - The Million Dollar Piano

“It has to be a little over the top,” Elton says. “It’s Vegas.”

Boz Scaggs: The Instinct of a Musical Survivor

Call it intuition or a sixth sense or just faith in his own perception: Boz Scaggs knows when he’s onto something good.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Myth and Brilliance: Roger Waters Takes On The War, The Wall, and The Dark Side of the Moon

During his storied tenure with Pink Floyd, Roger Waters authored some of rock’s most subversive and socially defiant songs. On Saturday night at the Ford Amphitheatre, Waters drew primarily from that catalog to craft a sonic and visually stunning performance that took emphatic issue with American foreign policy and, in particular, the President of the United States.

Waters started early with his contempt for authority, as evidenced in the first line of the second song of the concert, “Mother,” from Pink Floyd’s magnum opus, The Wall, which asks, “Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb?” His disdain only grew more defined. During “The Fletcher Memorial Home,” from 1983’s The Final Cut, when Waters sang of “wasters of life and limb,” the targeted inference was not lost on the audience. The most damning and direct admonition, though, came courtesy of “Leaving Beirut,” a song Waters wrote in 2004, which, in part, deplores the policies and practices of George W. Bush while warning free-thinking Americans, “Don’t let the might, the Christian right, fuck it all up/For you and the rest of the world.” To follow, a mesmerizing performance of “Sheep,” from 1977’s Animals, cemented Waters’ condemnation of the current political climate, as a massive inflatable pig (an iconic fixture of Pink Floyd lore), plastered with slogans including “habeas corpus matters” and “impeach Bush now,” floated over the crowd. “No, this is no bad dream,” Waters wailed, at times his face reddening in anguish and palpable anger.

Amid such concerted and serious undertones, the legend of Pink Floyd nonetheless loomed large and consistent throughout the performance. Under a massive spotlight rig illuminated to full psychedelic effect, “Set The Controls To the Heart of the Sun,” off 1968’s A Saucerful of Secrets, seemed and sounded, quite literally, out of this world. With wistful images of the Floyd’s lost leader, Syd Barrett, appearing on the giant screen, the majestic “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” felt especially poignant considering his passing last year. And the title track of Wish You Were Here further emphasized Barrett’s lasting impact and legacy, not only to his devoted fans, but also to an old friend singing his praise.

Of all the legends and fables of Pink Floyd, none resonate so profound as their enduring masterpiece, 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon. Perhaps because of the striking political bent to much of the show, however, Waters’ full-length performance of the album seemed almost obligatory if not, for the most part, unnecessary. Highlights included the radio smash, “Money,” along with the closing sequence of “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse,” but the complete recreation of such a landmark album, done so without the principal band members who helped create it in the first place, ultimately missed the mark. Unless all four surviving members of Pink Floyd come together to attempt this feat, maybe the 43 minutes of sonic bliss on Dark Side of the Moon would be better enjoyed with a decent pair of headphones.

In a climactic closing sequence that featured songs exclusively from The Wall, Waters again mixed music with current political context to brilliant effect. “The Happiest Days Of Our Lives” led into the anti-establishment anthem “Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)”. “Vera” culminated with a rousing version of “Bring The Boys Back Home,” perfected with exploding flash pots and flames amid a visual backdrop of a war zone. The point was suitably made. The implications shone through. “Comfortably Numb” then put that rage to rest while a riveted audience stood in awe.
 

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Without the Gloss, Mayer Still Shines

Scrape away a bit of the luster of John Mayer’s album, Continuum, and the result is this modest gem. Acoustic renditions of some of Continuum’s strongest cuts reveal the grit behind the gloss, the structure behind the writing of a song.

One song not included on Continuum but featured here is “Good Love Is On The Way,” a propulsive number Mayer frequently plays during his stellar live shows (and it’s also featured on the John Mayer Trio’s live album, Try!).

Without question, though, the best performance on this collection is the sparse and dark version of “In Repair.” On Continuum, with a full-band arrangement, the song sounds languid and tame. On this set, however, it sounds like a feral confession, shadowed with remorse and only the slightest bit of hope. “I’m not together, but I’m getting there,” Mayer howls towards the end of the track.

Ultimately, The Village Sessions illustrates John Mayer’s emergent skill at crafting songs that hold up under scrutiny and interpretation. And even with the electricity turned off, this guy can still make a mighty soulful statement with a guitar.