Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Yes - "Close to the Edge" - 1972

Remembering the great Chris Squire of Yes who died on Saturday of leukemia at the age of 67. He was easily one of the greatest and most influential bassists in rock history. In '71 and '72 they released back-to-back masterpieces: "Fragile" and "Close to the Edge." Also love their '80s pop/rock era with "90125" and the #1 single "Owner of a Lonely Heart."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Morrissey delivers knock-out performance at Echo Stage

Here is my take on Morrissey's performance at Echo Stage in D.C. last night:

(Link to article):  Morrissey delivers knock-out performance at Echo Stage

Paul McCartney: 10 of his Greatest Hidden Gems

As Sir Paul McCartney turns 73 today, it's a good time to revisit some of his enormous catalog of music. He has, of course, written and performed countless classic tunes, with the Beatles and in his post-Beatles career. "Hey Jude," "Let it Be," "Yesterday," "Live and Let Die," "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Band on the Run," "Here There and Everywhere"... the list goes on and on.

But often overlooked are the many hidden gems that don't have the notoriety of his biggest hits, and there are many. There are dozens of great McCartney songs that that vast majority of the public have never heard or paid much attention to. Here are 10 of Paul McCartney's best lesser-known songs. Combined they create a sorta alternate career retrospective, a history of some of Paul McCartney's deep cuts that didn't become massive hits.

"Oh Woman, Oh Why" - 1970
This bluesy rocker features a terrific vocal by McCartney. It was recorded during sessions for Ram, but was chosen to appear as the b-side of McCartney's first post-Beatles single, "Another Day," in February 1971. It's a fiery track that might have been a hit in its own right if given a chance. It's been included as a bonus track on the deluxe reissue of Ram and the album is better for its presence. 

"Little Woman Love" - 1970
This bouncy piano ditty was recorded during the sessions for McCartney's Ram album, but it didn't make the cut. Macca resurrected it two years later as the b-side to his "Mary Had a Little Lamb" single. Many American DJs, not particularly charmed by McCartney's attempt to turn a nursery rhyme into a pop song, flipped the 45 and played "Little Woman Love" instead. It's a charming, effortless pop song that shows McCartney's playful side.

"Sally G" - 1974
While staying in Nashville in 1974, McCartney was inspired by the country music scene and decided to record a couple tracks. "Junior's Farm" became a fairly popular single, and its mellow, pleasant countrified b-side, "Sally G," also earned enough airplay in the  U.S. to enter the Billboard Hot 100. McCartney has always loved exploring different genres, going back to the early days of The Beatles with songs like "Til There Was You," so it's no surprise that eventually he'd get around to country (he'd already explored it a bit with "Rocky Raccoon").

"Girl's School" - 1977
McCartney's 1977 single "Mull of Kintyre" was a massive #1 single in his native U.K, becoming one of the biggest hits of his career. American audiences and radio programmers were bewildered by it, however, so they turned to the b-side, the searing rocker "Girl's School." Recorded during the sessions for the London Town album, "Girl's School" received enough airplay in the U.S. to graze the lower reaches of the Top 40, but it's largely been forgotten.

"Daytime Nighttime Suffering" - 1979
This elaborately produced slice of melodic pop was the b-side to McCartney's 1979 single "Goodnight Tonight," a major hit recorded during the sessions for Back to the Egg. McCartney has expressed his appreciation for "Daytime Nighttime Suffering" multiple times over the years, even going so far as including it on his post-Beatles retrospective collection Wingspan. It's hard to imagine it wouldn't have been a substantial hit had it been released as a single.

"Arrow Through Me" - 1979
Back to the Egg is perhaps the most underrated album of McCartney's career. It was not well-recieved by fans or critics upon its release in 1979, and it didn't score any major hits. "Old Siam, Sir" was the lead single in the U.K. while in America the label chose "Getting Closer." Neither made much impact. "Arrow Through Me" was released as the second single in America, and it made a brief appearance in the Top 40. It deserved better. A slick soul/pop song reminiscent of something Michael McDonald might record, "Arrow Through Me" is one of those should-have-been hits that somehow slipped through the cracks.

"Rainclouds" - 1982
McCartney scored one of the biggest hits of his career in 1982 with "Ebony and Ivory," his syrupy duet with Stevie Wonder. Tucked away on the b-side is "Rainclouds," a fairly simple and catchy acoustic piece featuring The Chieftains' Paddy Moloney on uilleann pipes (Moloney's part was recorded on the day John Lennon was murdered). "Rainclouds" is a nice piece, but he had so much strong material for his Tug of War album that it ended up not making the cut. As of now it's never been released on CD, although with deluxe reissues of Tug of War and Pipes of Peace on the horizon, that will likely change.

"Figure of Eight" - 1989
McCartney's 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt was a major comeback after the commercial disappointment of his prior release Press to Play. Critics hailed it, and although it sold well, the days of Paul McCartney's singles reaching the upper levels of the pop chart in America at this point were pretty much done. It's a shame because the album is loaded with great tunes, especially the rocking third single, "Figure of Eight." McCartney recorded a new version of it for single release using his touring band, and it's one of his finest rock songs. It deserves far more attention and esteem that it has received.

"Little Willow" - 1997
One of Paul McCartney's loveliest ballads, "Little Willow" was written in memory of Maureen Starkey, the former wife of Ringo Starr who lost her battle with leukemia in 1994. The beautiful and heartbreaking song was included in McCartney's stellar 1997 album Flaming Pie, which stands among the best of his career.

"Appreciate" - 2013
For McCartney's most recent album, 2013's New, he worked with producer Giles Martin (son of George), and two of the hottest names in the business, Paul Epworth and Ethan Johns. Working with a strong batch of songs, McCartney and his collaborators created an album that sounds modern but still has that classic Paul McCartney melodic genius. One of the highlights is "Appreciate," an ambitious and atmospheric track with a hard-rocking chorus. McCartney filmed a striking and elaborate video for the song that is a must-watch for his fans.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Morrissey to perform tonight at Echo Stage

Alternative-rock titan Morrissey will bring his current tour to D.C. when he performs at Echo Stage tonight. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. Last year, Morrissey was set to play two nights at the 9:30 club in June, but he had to cancel because of health issues. Tonight's show will be the fourth date on his current tour, which started June 11 in New Orleans and has also hit Atlanta and Durham. The veteran rocker's last show in the D.C. area was back on January 16, 2013 when he performed at the Strathmore in Bethesda.

Morrissey was the singer and lyricist for the widely acclaimed and influential '80s alternative-rockers The Smiths, before going solo with the release of 1988's Viva Hate. Since then he's released nine more studio albums and multiple compilations and singles, with his most recent release last year's epic World Peace is None of Your Business. Some of his most notable hits as a solo artist include "Suedehead," "November Spawned a Monster," "The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get," "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful," "Irish Blood, English Heart" and "Everyday is Like Sunday." He typically performs a few Smiths classics on tour so don't be surprised to hear classics like "How Soon is Now?", "Panic," "What Difference Does It Make?" or other gems from his former band.

Now 56, Morrissey admitted last year to a cancer scare. He's been known to cancel tour dates on a regular basis due to ill-health. The chance to see a future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer in a small venue like Echo Stage (well, small relative to big arenas like the Verizon Center and Patriot Center) is an opportunity that should not be missed.

Here's one of Morrissey's finest album cuts - "I Will See You In Far Off Place," from the album Ringleader of the Tormentors. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Prince Dazzles Fans at the Warner Theatre with Short but Powerful Performance

Prince doesn't waste any time on his "Hit & Run" tour. Social media was all abuzz this past Wednesday as word slowly leaked out that Prince and his excellent touring band, 3RDEYEGIRL, along with vocalist Judith Hill, would be appearing at the 1,800 seat Warner Theatre in D.C. on Sunday night. Tickets were to go on sale Thursday at noon. Hysteria reached a fever pitch as noon on the fateful day approached, and perhaps predictably the tickets were gone instantaneously. Just as predictably, they showed up on StubHub with remarkable haste. Then came the news that a second show -- beginning at 11:00 p.m. on Sunday -- was added. It sold out immediately as well.

Despite the time constraints imposed by having a second show beginning in only three hours, Prince didn't stroll out on stage until 8:30. The fans went nuts, as expected. Prince seemed to be in good spirits as he rollicked through a greatest hits set that touched on most of his big classic singles. True to his recent form, he mostly neglected recent material and stuck with his '80s classics.

The frustrating thing about seeing Prince in concert is that his whiplash run through the hits, while thrilling and exciting, is basically a glorified medley. NONE of the songs were performed in their entirety. If you're lucky, you get two full verses and choruses. The snarl of guitar that opens "When Doves Cry" was greeted with wild applause, but Prince allowed the song to fizzle out at the end of the third chorus, neglecting the best part of the song -- the extended ending with the wild guitar solo, screams, and virtuoso keyboard section at the end. His other hits were treated with similar slapdash fashion. He sounded inspired, he hopped from searing guitar to piano and back with effortless ease. His vocals are as good as ever - when he hit those high notes on "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore" it sounded every bit as good as when he recorded the song over 30 years ago. The 57-year old wunderkind moved around the stage with a manic energy of someone half his age. Prince is an artist still in his prime.

A shame, then, that he doesn't respect his catalog enough to actually play the songs. Some tracks were mere teasers, a few chords and perhaps the first line or two. He teased the instrumental opening of "Darling Nikki" before veering away into something less risque.

More troubling was the brevity of the show. Prince seemed to be rushing as the cascade of hits continued. He mentioned several times "We got people waiting outside!!" which at one point drew a chorus of boos from the crowd. It was almost as if he wanted to get this over with so the REAL show could begin at 11:00.  He played an hour and 40 minutes. Subtract 10 minutes for the two breaks (one between the main two sets, and one for the encore), and then subtract another 10 minutes for two songs performed by Judith Hill, and you have 80 minutes of Prince. Considering the hefty prices tickets were sold at face value -- and the even heftier prices many of the fans had to pay on StubHub -- it was very poor bang for the buck. As an emotional "Purple Rain" faded into silence and the house lights came on, there was an undeniable sense that while Prince gave an amazing performance, it was just way, way too short. One look at his recent set-lists makes it crystal clear that the 8pm show at the Warner Theater was much shorter than the shows he's been playing recently.

This could have been resolved any number of ways - first and foremost, by not having a second show. Then Prince could have played as long as he wanted. But perhaps he wanted to get before as many fans as possible, a laudable goal for sure. Then why not have the show at a bigger venue? Or, if he wanted to keep things intimate, which they undoubtably were at the cozy Warner Theater, why not schedule a run of several nights?  Having two shows in one night means that the early show fans got the short end of a very very expensive stick.

It was a remarkable performance, and Prince showed without question that he is still at the top of his game (as he did in the studio with his two recent gems, Art Official Age and Plectrum Electrum). But as good as the show was - - and, make no mistake, the man and his stellar band were phenomenal -- it's hard not to feel like it was over before it even began.

As Trains Go By (Judith Hill)
Let's Go Crazy (abbreviated)
Take Me With U (abbreviated)
Raspberry Beret (abbreviated)
U Got the Look (abbreviated)
Shake! (The Time Cover, abbreviated)
Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough (Michael Jackson cover, abbreviated)
Cool (The Time Cover, abbreviated)

- break -

When Doves Cry (Abbreviated)
Sign o' The Times (abbreviated)
Hot Thing (abbreviated)
Nasty Girl (Vanity 6 cover - tiny snippet)
A Love Bizarre (Sheila E. cover - tiny snippet)
Darling Nikki (a few instrumental bars of the intro)
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World (a few lines)
Pop Life
How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore? (abbreviated)
Diamonds and Pearls (a few lines)
The Beautiful Ones (a few lines)
Controversy (abbreviated)
1999 (abbreviated)
Little Red Corvette (abbreviated)
Nothing Compares 2U
Play That Funky Music (Wild Cherry cover, abbreviated)

Purple Rain

** Note - the 11:00 p.m. show was longer, and featured guest Stevie Wonder on "Superstition," ""I Wish," "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)," and "Signed, Sealed Delivered"