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Rock'n'Roll Diary
Saturday, April 19, 2008
"Rock'n'Roll will never go out of style. The design is flawless."
--Tom Petty, Rolling Stone interview, 1999

Thursday April 3: The BoDeans; Irving Plaza; New York City
Waukesha
, Wisconsin
’s erstwhile BoDeans rolled into town on the heels of their new record Still, for which they've returned to T-Bone Burnett as producer, and thus it is, as they go, one of their great ones. The ‘Deans have stayed true to their hearts, to the spirit of pure rock’n’roll and the redemptive powers thereof; their first record hit in 1986, and they’ve aged nicely with their fan base, while continuing to mine the vein tapped by Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, U2, Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen. The BoDeans are Kurt Neumann and Sammy Llanas, plus whomever rounds out the band (generally a bass player, drummer and accordion/keyboard player; the latter slot is ably filled now by Bukka White.) Kurt sings with a clear watery voice and plays a reverb-heavy telecaster; Sammy plays acoustic guitar and sings with a throaty, gravelly voice. The sound is based heavily on the uncannily beautiful harmonies the two disparate voices make when they come together, and on Kurt’s guitar, which borrows roughly equally from Berry and U2’s Edge.

At Irving Plaza they played a good part of the new record, mixed with the familiar concert staples that had the crowd jumping and rocking and glowing. Sammy sang “I’m in Trouble Again,” a sad hidden gem from the second record, and called an audible late in the set to do “Ultimately Fine,” a rocker from the first. Perhaps the adrenalin-fueled highlight was the bar-band rocker “Good Work,” which actually contains the line “Be-bop-a-lula on a Berry guitar.” At one point they extended the coda of a song to offer up a segue into Springsteen’s “Stolen Car;” on one of the new songs in the encore they turned over into Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.” One of the best rock’n’roll bands around, stand-up-the-hair-on-your-arms good. Please guys, come back east more often. You know we love you.

Wednesday April 9: Counting Crows; The Apple Store; Chicago
Every time I go on a business trip I check Pollstar to see if anyone decent is playing in town. Finally I hit pay dirt. The Crows are doing a brief acoustic tour of Apple in-store appearances, and turns out they’ll be in Chicago the same time as me. And it’s free, and the Apple Store is across the street from my hotel.

To an intimate audience of 450, the band played a couple of old tunes, and most of the second half of their new album (Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, essentially an album with two distinct sides, all on the one CD.)

Singer Adam Duritz is a polarizing figure; some people love the guy, some hate him, think he’s a self-indulgent, fake-dreadlocked, whiny faux sensitive jerk. To these people I say, get over yourself. I’m in the former camp, I've dug this band since I listened to the first 25 seconds of August and Everything After in a Tower Records listening station and decided, "Yeah, I like this stuff." At this gig, which alternated between performance and question-and-answer, Duritz was open and charming and approachable and really, you just couldn’t help but like the guy, and to like the band. I got to ask a question about what were some of his and their favorite records of the past few years. He immediately cited the Sufjan Stevens record Come On Feel the Illinoise, and particularly the song “John Wayne Gacy.” Duritz noted that the piano part on that song was the inspiration for the piano on one of the songs on the new record (I think ‘Washington Square,” but don’t quote me.) You’ll remember that all of us here at APW loved that record when it was out; it was our number 2 of 2005 and we even cited the same tune as the stand-out. He also cited Rikkie Lee Jones’s Naked Songs, a solo acoustic thing, as well as her latest release. Other records mentioned by the band included Amy Winehouse and these guys, previously touted to me by the Tour Mystic and a very hip choice. Duritz said he was a fan of Winehouse’s singing, because she managed to sing authentic soul without going over the top.

Musically I thought the highlights were the near-classic “Mr. Jones,” and the new “Washington Square,” “Cowboys,” and “When I Dream of Michaelangelo.”

But the overall highlight for me was when Duritz talked about writing “Accidentally In Love,” the great upbeat song that plays over the opening montage of Shrek 2, and which just happens to be my daughter’s favorite song. He asked, “How many of you have seen Snow White?” Hands went up. “Well, your mothers and your grandmothers saw it too. I have nephews and nieces and god children, and I wanted to do something like that for them.” He also said he’s never written a line a good as, “I surrender to strawberry ice cream, never never ender,” a metaphor (or is it a simile?) for tumbling head over heels into love, and just one of the happy-making lines that tumbles out in that great, great tune.

And really, how can you not love a guy who wrote your kid’s favorite song?

Wednesday April 16; Mudcrutch; The Fillmore; San Francisco
Another week, more business travel, and this time my friend Chrispy, local to the Bay Area, tells me she has an extra ticket to see Mudcrutch, if I want it.

I want it.

Mudcrutch was a Gainesville, Florida band that loaded up the van and drove out to southern California in the early ‘70s to make it big in the record business. They put out a single, “Depot Street,” which didn’t have much success, but apparently the record company liked the singer, a skinny bass player with a great set of pipes who’d been moved by a visit to an Elvis Presley movie set as a kid to a career in rock’n’roll. So Mudcrutch morphed into a band featuring that kid. His name was Tom Petty, and the band became the Heartbreakers. The rest, as they say, is history.

Mudcrutch has just reconvened and cut a new record; Petty sings and plays bass; Heartbreakers Mike Campbell (lead guitar) and Benmont Tench (keyboards, vocals) are on board as well, along with singer-guitarist Tom Leadon (Petty’s lifelong buddy; he sang some lead and was clearly the happiest guy on stage if not in the entire state of California) and original drummer Randall Marsh.

The Fillmore is a great place—it was my first time there, and Chrispy gave me the $10 tour, including the poster room, a hip little space upstairs with a bar where a band plays prior to the show. No opening band, Mudcrutch comes on not long after the announced 8PM start time. They open with “Shady Grove,” a song associated with both Jerry Garcia and the New Riders of the Purple Sage, and thus (as Chrispy notes) a perfect song to kick things off here in the Bay Area. Petty tells us there is a new record and that they’re going to play it all, plus some covers. Several times they made a point of telling us that the Fillmore was their favorite place to play (they did a month-long run there in 1997) and Petty noted that “no audience listens to music like a San Francisco audience.” At one point early on he said, “When we got the band back together, we were wondering where we could play our cosmic hippie music. And I said”—and here, referring to the Fillmore and to much applause, he raises a finger and announces, “I have an idea!”

That “cosmic hippie music" was evocative of latter era Byrds (after they became sweethearts of the rodeo) and early Eagles (think the Desperado record but not the title track.) Southern California country-rock, the kind of music that you might expect from a band with a song called “Topanga Cowgirl.” Petty did most but not all of the singing; Leadon sang some lead parts, there was some instrumental guitar stuff, and Tench got to sing a number as well, not surprisingly one laced with a heavy dose of the Boogie Woogie. In addition to the country-rock vibe there was a healthy peppering of the old “one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready now go cat go!” These were five guys, loose and easy, as comfortable together as your favorite pair of jeans, spreading the happy happy joy joy of rock’n’roll in it's purest form. An early high point was Petty leading the band through Dylan’s “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine;" outside of Roger McGuinn, no one covers Dylan like Petty does.

At the end of the set the band played a sort of slow, epic power ballad kind of thing called “Crystal River”—named, said Petty, for a river that “runs through Florida, and sometimes my mind.” It was a slow hypnotic groove song, pulling you into its time-stands-still lull, washing over you. And from that still, inward place, guitarist Mike Campbell-- stellar all night-- took off into the stratosphere, "hitting the note,” as my Allman Brothers friends say, scratching that yearning itch deep down in your soul, shining over a rock-solid anchor of Petty’s bass. It came in ringlets and waves, simple, concise, ringing, magnificent.

A word about the sublime Mike Campbell. Most of the guitar players I listen to are live players; they don’t do the song the same way two nights in the row, and the studio records are at best attempts to capture some representative version of what it is they do on stage. Their art is what happens in the moment, and it is difficult to capture on record (exception: Derek Trucks, Songlines.) Mike Campbell is a different animal. Campbell is a record-making guitar player. He takes a song in the studio—think “Listen to Her Heart," think “Refugee,” think “Running Down a Dream,” hell, think Don Henley's "Boys of Summer," which Campbell wrote—and crafts the exact Zen-perfect lead part for the song. The right melody line, the right notes, the right tone, the right set of effects, the right touch. Just the total, drop-dead, any-change-would-make-it-worse, Zen perfect lead guitar part. Then on stage, when the songs get played, Campbell executes his part, the perfect part he has composed and painted and sculpted, and he plays it stone cold spot-on every night. The Heartbreakers (and Mudcrutch) play songs, and Campbell's parts make them great. He’s an underrated gem.

But on “Crystal River,” he seemed to be stepping out. High, swooping, yet sparse and perfect lines, big, majestic, right in the perfect place. The song, and Campbell’s performance, made me immediately lean over to Chrispy and tell her, “That’s my favorite song on the new record.”

It was the perfect second-to-last song, a song that poses a metaphysical question that hangs in the air after the final notes ring out... and then Mudcrutch clears the bases, falling into the perfect closing number, another Dylan cover, “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” (which you may know better as “Everybody Must Get Stoned.”) Campbell, of course, was all over that drunken, wobbly riff, because it is a great riff and playing great riffs is what he does. And as we’ve established, no one does Dylan like Petty. It was a sweat-drenched, fists-raised, life-affirming climax to a great show (and for the record, it seemed as if many in the crowd were taking the advice of the song’s protagonist to heart.)

The encores were, as the kids say, sick. Eddie Cochran's “Summertime Blues.” Little Richard's “Rip It Up." And then the Jerry Lee Lewis stomp, “High School Confidential” (“rockin’ at the high school hop…”) By that one the light was just pouring out of everyone's rock’n’roll chakras, and I thought to myself, as they just laid it on good and thick, slathering the rock'n'roll jelly on both sides of the bread, shaking me to the bottom of my boogie shoes, “This is not even fair.” It was just that good.

(This isn't the best song of the night, but it is the best video I could find on Youtube. It reminds me a little of "Mary Jane's Last Dance.")


Labels: , , , ,


Posted by: --josh-- @ 10:49 AM  


2 Comments:
At 4/20/2008 12:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...   

It's a metaphor. Welcome home.


At 4/20/2008 1:20 PM, Anonymous Roxiticus Desperate Housewives said...   

More than one of my best rock 'n' roll memories involves seeing the BoDeans with my Bestest Pal!
Roxiticus Desperate Housewives

P.S. -- Sad rock 'n' roll news. Did you hear Danny Federici (E Street Band) died on Thursday?


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