Friday, September 20, 2002

No moss here: these Stones are still rollin'

The Times Leader
September 20, 2002


PHILADELPHIA - Perhaps the most telling reason as to why The Rolling Stones should continue to tour forever came about midway through the band's remarkable concert on Wednesday night at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Sure, they've got 40 years' worth of chart-toppers and rock classics in their catalog, but one of the show's most memorable moments came when the group dished out a fabulous cover of The O'Jays' "Love Train."

 Simply put: It was fun..

And so, still, are The Rolling Stones.
The band opened its show before the crowd of 36,000 with a fiery rendition of "Brown Sugar," and for the next two hours, it never let up in fervor or intensity. A stinging version of "Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)" and a powerful performance of "Start Me Up" followed. Mick Jagger, who changed attire several times throughout the night, pranced and danced in his trademark fashion, while a shaggy and delightfully haggard Keith Richards frequently broke into a broad smile and tossed guitar picks into the audience.
"Hello, Philadelphia!" Jagger shouted. "How ya doin'? We are going to have a good time tonight - yes we are!"  Yes they did.  The Stones' stage was mammoth yet also fairly simple. Huge video screens over the stage provided great close-ups throughout the show, and Jagger worked the stage with command and charisma. The new "Don't Stop," during which Jagger played guitar, proved that the band can still write good songs, and numbers such as "Tumblin' Dice" and the '80s nugget "Undercover Of The Night" balanced the set list nicely.

 A beautiful performance of "Wild Horses" preceded an equally strong rendition of "You Can't Always Get What You Want," during which Jagger's vocals were particularly strong. A long, jangly, jammy, rootsy and ultimately bluesy performance of "Midnight Rambler" - spiced by Jagger's harmonica' - was another highlight.

One of the most enjoyable things about any Rolling Stones show is simply watching Keith Richards. He commands respect yet also inspires laughter, and his spaced-out yet edgy persona, combined with his musical talent, makes him one of rock's most interesting characters. And when he took to the microphone for a heartfelt performance of 1989's "Slippin' Away," he seemed to be where he most belongs: leading his rock band though a torrid show in a huge football stadium.

 A terrific and tribal performance of "Sympathy For The Devil" got the crowd involved, and the entire band then journeyed out on a catwalk to another stage in the center of the stadium for a few numbers, including 1994's "You Got Me Rockin' " and a cover of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." Back on the big stage, the group then tore through a soulful performance of "Gimme Shelter."

The set ended with a string of favorites: "Honky Tonk Woman," which came with some racy animation on the big screens; "Street Fighting Man;" and "Jumping Jack Flash," which offered some fierce guitar licks by Richards and Ron Wood. The encore was a driving and pounding rendition of "Satisfaction." And yes, plenty of fireworks went off over the stadium and plenty of confetti blew about over the aisles.

The Rolling Stones, now in their 40th year together, may never have played better than they are playing on this tour, and they sound excellent. The musicianship is outstanding, and the overall performance shines. Why some people even question The Stones' decision to continue touring is puzzling. They've earned the right. They've done the hard work. They wrote the songs. They spent all of those late hours in studio recording the tracks. They've toured for 40 years and have built themselves into what they proclaim is the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band.

They still deliver, and, most important - be it with "Love Train" or "Start Me Up" - they are still just plain fun.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Elvis' music is his lasting legacy

   Remember `The King' for his character, talent and contributions


Elvis Presley should still be here.

He should be 67 years old, and he should still be giving concerts. His golden voice - the best rock music has ever heard - should still be booming through arenas and he should still be recording new albums.

It was 25 years ago today, however, that the undisputed King of Rock 'n' Roll left the building at the tender age of 42. And he is, without a doubt, missed just as much today as he was on that August afternoon when we first learned of his passing.

A lot of rock-music writers like to use the word "derivative" when they talk about music. Sometimes they use it as a compliment, sometimes as an insult. All it really means is that an artist has been influenced by another. Everything in pop music - everything - is a Presley derivative.

Five years ago, on the 20th anniversary of Elvis' death, I wrote a column about Presley's importance to the history of rock music and his unparalleled significance in pop culture. Today, I'm sharing some of those same thoughts.  And that's because everything you read about pop music in this or any newspaper or magazine is reflective of Presley. The club listings. The concert listings. The album reviews and the interviews with the local bands and the big stars.  It all goes back to Presley.

It all goes back to the poor kid from Mississippi who came out of nowhere and, in 1956, helped kick open the door to a new and exciting sound.

It all goes back to the man whose early recordings such as "That's All Right," "Mystery Train" and "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" remain classics, and whose big '50s hits such as "Heartbreak Hotel," "Don't Be Cruel" and "Jailhouse Rock" set the table for the musical explosion known as rock 'n' roll.  It all goes back to the guy whose early '60s songs such as "His Latest Flame," "Little Sister" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight" sound as great today as they ever did, and the man whose voice was better than it ever was on his later recordings such as "Kentucky Rain" and "Always On My Mind." It all goes back to the man whose remarkable covers of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" seem to surpass the quality of the originals, and the man who, just weeks before his death, was still nailing challenging songs such as "Unchained Melody" and "My Way" in concert.

 Elvis' health, due to his own vices, failed him.  His voice never did.

Today, on the anniversary of his death, remember the good things about Elvis. Forget about the tacky wall murals, lamps and porcelain plates and rumors of  "sightings." Forget about the unwarranted mockery sometimes aimed at him by people without half his talent or character.  Remember the man who, even after his burst of fame, still referred to people as "ma'am" and "sir," and who even won over an initially hesitant and skeptical Ed Sullivan with his kindness and humility. Remember the man who, at the height of career, went off to Germany to serve his country in the Army. Remember the man who, while there, asked for no special treatment and quickly befriended the men in his unit.

Remember the man who loved to share his wealth - a man who would buy friends and even strangers automobiles, and who, if you admired a piece of jewelry he was wearing, would often take it off and give it to you.

Remember the man who was always quick to give credit to the unheard-of black artists from whom he borrowed much of his early sound. Remember the man who, with his remarkable " '68 Comeback Special," actually laid the groundwork for MTV's popular "Unplugged" series.

If you're out on the town tonight, ask your favorite band to play a little Presley. The good ones - the ones that know a little about the linkage of rock 'n' roll - will be happy to.  Artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Robert Plant and Billy Joel have all covered Presley's songs. Plant, according to one story, was actually able to meet Elvis and sing a few bars of "Love Me" with The King. In 1975, Springsteen, a star himself at the time, tried to scale the gates of Graceland hoping to meet his idol. KISS' Gene Simmons has said the band closed its Aug. 16, 1977, show with "Jailhouse Rock." The members of U2, in the rock documentary "Rattle and Hum," are shown visiting Presley's grave at Graceland. It is one of the most poignant scenes on the film. And five years ago, on the 20th anniversary of Elvis' death, our own Badlees, playing right here in Wilkes-Barre, offered a soulful cover of "Suspicious Minds."

If you're a fan of rock 'n' roll, take just a minute or two today to show him some of the same respect. Call your favorite radio station and request one of his songs, play one on the jukebox at your favorite hangout or just hum one of his tunes in your head.

Elvis Presley should still be here. And though he left us 25 years ago today, he is still with us in many ways. He is with us in pop radio, rock concerts and magazines, MTV and VH1 and so many things we encounter in everyday life.

He is with us, now and forever, in music.

Friday, August 2, 2002

It's why they call him The Boss

With “The Rising” Springsteen flexes his songwriting muscle

August 2, 2002

With the release of "The Rising," Bruce Springsteen has cemented his place as one of America's most important and most treasured songwriters. It is an album perhaps only he could have written and an album America needed him to write.

Much of material on this poignant recording — Springsteen's first with the E Street Band in 18 years — was inspired by the events of 9/11. But rather than simply take us back to the rubble and carnage of lower Manhattan, Springsteen offers a more mournful and ultimately more sensitive approach. The songs are told in human terms and in thoughtful ways, and rather than flag-waving and anger, he focuses on the sadness and sense of loss within individual lives and homes and on the acts of subtle heroism that are now more inclined to be noticed in everyday life.

The record opens with the moody yet lifting "Lonesome Day," a tremendous track that talks of the need for fortitude and resiliency when dealing with heartache. Its burning guitars and gospel-like backing vocals help make it one of the album's most stirring numbers. "Into The Fire" sounds like a direct homage to the heroics New York's firefighters and police officers displayed on 9/11, while "Waitin' On A Sunny Day" talks of how, even during hard times, better times may still be on the horizon.

It is within songs such as "Nothing Man," however, that Springsteen strikes the deepest chords and paints the most human pictures. The gorgeous track tells the tale of an unassuming small town man who finds local notoriety as a result of his heroism. The character, however — forever changed by what he's experienced — is uninterested in such back-patting and feels frustrated at the quick return to normalcy within his community. The song, delivered with a soft sense of dignity and humility, is also one of the album's finest tracks.

With "Counting on a Miracle,"' Springsteen sings with sheer passion, and with "Empty Sky"' his creative brush paints the sorrowful picture of the loss of love through tragedy:

"I woke up this morning, I could barely breathe,
Just an empty impression in the bed, where you used to be
I want a kiss from your lips, I want an eye for an eye,
I woke up this morning to an empty sky."

Here, Springsteen again takes listeners away from the newscasts and wreckage of 9/11 and into the empty living rooms, the empty kitchen tables and empty hearts of the bereaved.

With the tribal, rhythmic and incredibly melodic "Worlds Apart" — clearly one of the best songs he's ever written — Springsteen expands the bounds of love even further. And with its Mid-eastern sounds and references, it could be interpreted as a love letter written by a soldier in combat to a woman back home.

"Where the distant oceans sing and rise to the plain,
In this dry and troubled country, your beauty remains
Down from the mountain roads, where the highway rolls to dark,
'Neath Allah's blessed rain, we remain worlds apart ...
We'll let blood build a bridge, over mountains draped in stars
I'll meet you on the ridge, between these worlds apart."

It is one of the album's most stunning moments.

The light, fun and funky "Mary's Place"' sounds as if it could have been included on Springsteen's first album, and "You're Missing" again visits the emotions of longing and emptiness that come with loss. The two tracks make for an interesting sequencing of numbers, but they do serve as a perfect segue into the album's next song and another of its hallmarks: "The Rising."

The song, an exhilarating and zesty plea for rebirth, rejuvenation and a heightened sense of spirit, could serve as an American anthem. For anyone who listens to it, it probably will.

The album closes, appropriately, with the prayerful "My City of Ruins."

Springsteen likely will pick up a load of Grammy awards next February for this alluring album, but that's probably not very important to him. With the release of "The Rising," he has, in a very real way, answered a call. There's a story, as told in the New York Times, that a few days after 9/11 an unintrusive fan approached Springsteen on the street and offered three simple words: "We need you."

Springsteen has answered, and though he was clearly inspired by everyday American heroes when he was writing this album, he also has — with sensitivity and empathy — reclaimed his own status as one.

Friday, April 19, 2002

McCartney proves he’s still Fab 

Times Leader - April 19, 2002 (click image to enlarge)
Times Leader Staff Writer
April 19, 2002

PHILADELPHIA - When Paul McCartney stepped onto the stage at the sold-out First Union Center on Tuesday night, he was carrying a lot more than just his trusty bass guitar. McCartney, still the biggest rock star in the world and one of its most important songwriters, was carrying the legacy of The Beatles. And, as he often has in recent years, he carried that hefty heritage with care, class and conviction.

McCartney, who first appeared to the crowd in silhouette form while holding his bass high over his head, opened the show with The Fab Four favorite  “Hello Goodbye.” A strong performance of Wings' “Jet'” followed, and it was clear from the get-go that the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was in top form.
“Hello Philadelphia!” McCartney shouted after the second number. “We have come to rock you tonight!”

He would not disappoint.
Breezy and true renditions of Beatles gems such as “All My Loving” and “Getting Better” served as an early indication that Sir Paul, despite a very impressive post-Beatles career, was not shying away from his roots. He sang such numbers with great enthusiasm and with a broad smile, and he did the same while dishing out Wings classics such as “Coming Up” and “Let Me Roll It.”

McCartney's staging was tasteful yet grand and sometimes dazzling, and a large video screen provided close-ups throughout the entire show. Additional video screens behind the stage often displayed images that fit the mood of the song performed. There were vintage clips of the Fab Four and crazed  “Beatlemania" fans during some of the Beatles numbers, plus images of gorgeous sunsets and photos of people who defined the times during which the songs were recorded.

Musically, McCartney's young band was solid and energetic, and the 59-year-old legend seemed to enjoy what it brought to the music. And despite McCartney's lofty status in the world of pop culture, he appears to be untouched by fame and seems to lack an inflated ego. He warmly introduced all of the group's members, allowed them all time to say a few words to the crowd and even asked the audience to give a hand to the technicians running the soundboard. And he himself displayed his own musical gifts by frequently switching from bass to guitar to piano. His voice was always on target.

McCartney performed several numbers alone, with just an acoustic guitar, including a marvelous rendition of “Blackbird” - which he said was inspired by the American civil-rights movement of the 1960s - and a crisp version of  “We Can Work It Out.”' Both drew huge roars from the crowd of 20,000, as did “Mother Nature's Son” and  “Fool On The Hill.”

Although the show was constantly charged with emotion and sentiment, two of the concert's most moving moments came when McCartney acknowledged the two fallen Beatles: John Lennon and George Harrison. To Lennon he dedicated “Here Today” - a song he wrote shortly after Lennon's death that dealt with their strained yet unbroken friendship - and to Harrison he dedicated  “Something.”  For the latter, McCartney played a ukulele given to him by Harrison.
Both numbers brought the house down.

McCartney, who helped organize last year's  “Concert For New York” and who held an unusually high public profile during the post-Sept. 11 days, also offered a fiery performance of  “Freedom,” a song inspired by the tragedy.  During the song, a huge tapestry of the Statue of Liberty descended from above the stage. Later, the Liverpool, England, native proudly waved an American flag while trotting about the stage. He also offered several more well-received numbers from his latest LP, “Driving Rain.”

Other highlights of this monumental musical event included “Band On The Run,” “My Love,”  “Maybe I'm Amazed,” a zingy rendition of “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” a powerful performance of  “Live and Let Die”' and a simple but poignant performance of “Let It Be.”  The set ended with the inspiring “Hey Jude,” during which McCartney asked the crowd to take over in singing its prominent chorus.

Encores included “The Long and Winding Road,” “Lady Madonna” and “I Saw Her Standing There.”  A second group of encores included “Yesterday,” a driving rendition of “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” and a heartfelt and fun performance of “The End.”

McCartney, despite his grounded and unassuming demeanor, seems to know he carries much more than just his bass guitar with him to the concert stage. It seems he is well aware he also is carrying the legacy of The Beatles and the soundtrack to the lives of three generations. And, based on this show and all other accounts of this tour - his first in nearly 10 years - that's something he does with great pride and great love.

McCartney, to paraphrase another terrific song he performed on Tuesday, “carries that weight” very well.

Paul McCartney setlist.
April 16, 2002 - Philadelphia, PA

Hello Goodbye
All My Loving
Getting Better
Coming Up
Let Me Roll It
Lonley Road
Driving Rain
Loving Flame
Every Night
We Can Work It Out
Mother Nature's Son
Vanilla Sky
You Never Give Me Your Money/Carry That Weight
Fool on the Hill
Here Today
Eleanor Rigby
Here There and Everywhere
Band On The Run
Back In The U.S.S.R.
Maybe I'm Amazed
C Moon
My Love
Can't Buy Me Love
Live and Let Die
Let It Be
Hey Jude
The Long & Winding Road
Lady Madonna
I Saw Her Standing There
Sgt. Peppers Lonley Hearts Club Band 
The End