The Boss Rocks MetLife

Bruce Springsteen delivered four hours of non-stop rock & roll to an ecstatic New Jersey audience.

Yesterday (Aug 30) finally was the night I had been waiting for all summer long: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band were playing MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ – the third performance of their three-show run at the venue as part of 2016 River Tour.

From the first song, New York City Serenade, to the final tune, Jersey Girl, The Boss gave it his all, delivering four hours and one minute of non-stop rock & roll – I did not stop the time but actually read that on Springsteen’s official web site. The duration of the concert meant Bruce broke his own record from previous week in the same venue yet another time!

In many regards, it was as if time would have stopped since 1988/1989 when I saw Bruce for the first time in Frankfurt, Germany in a comparable size stadium. He had not lost any of his intensity in almost 30 years, and you could be forgiven for not noticing he is now well into his 60s! The Boss also clearly seemed to be energized to play in front of a home crowd that knew all of his songs by heart.

The set list included 34 songs and drew heavily from Bruce’s first two albums from 1973 and Born in the U.S.A., the 1984 album that became his most commercially successful record and one of the best-selling albums ever with more than 30 million copies sold.

Songs from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. included Blinded By The Light, Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street, It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City and what I thought was one of the highlights of the show – a particularly spirited version of Spirit in the Night. From The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle Bruce played the strong show opener, New York City Serenade, as well as 4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy), Kitty’s Back, Incident of 57th Street and Rosalita, which remains a big crowd pleaser.

I’m Going Down, Darlington County, Working on the Highway, Downbound Train, I’m on Fire and Glory Days were songs from the Born in the U.S.A. album, as was Dancing in the Dark – another highlight of the show. During the performance of the song, Bruce invited various people from the audience on stage to, well, dance with him! I thought it was telling that Bruce did not play the title song of the album. I once read he had gotten tired of the song and how many people completely misunderstood or ignored the lyrics.

There were only two songs from The River album, Hungry Heart and Out in the Street, which I felt was remarkable for a tour billed The River Tour. That being said, I had read that Bruce had started to deviate from the original tour concept to play all or most of the album’s songs. Still, I wish he at least would have performed the title song, which remains one of my favorite Springsteen tunes.

Other songs that stood out to me were Born to Run and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. During the latter, historic footage was shown on the large stage video screens of the amazing Clarence Clemons, The E Street Band’s former saxophonist who sadly passed in June 2011.

Just as he did back in 1988/89, Springsteen also played terrific cover versions of various great songs, which most notably included Twist & Shout, Shout and Summertime Blues.

This blog post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the amazing E Street Band. Stevie Van Zandt (guitar, background vocals), Nils Lofgren (guitar, background vocals), Patti Scialfa (acoustic guitar, background vocals), Max Weinberg (drums), Garry Tallent (bass, background vocals) and Roy Bittan (keyboards) all did an outstanding job to back up the Boss.

Among the additional musicians, Jake Clemons, the nephew of Clarence Clemons, must be mentioned. He literally had big shoes to fill playing Clarence’s saxophone parts and did so beautifully. I’m sure his uncle would have been proud of him!

The Springsteen concert was my last (commercial) summer concert. It was a great way to end my series of summer shows this year. Just like the previous Springsteen concert in Germany in the late 80s, I have no doubt this show will stay in my memory.

 

Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan

Today 26 years ago, the world lost one of the best blues guitarists.

As I have previously written on this blog, Stevie Ray Vaughan was an amazing blues guitarist. On August 26, 1990, he died in a helicopter crash at the age of 35.

To remember this incredible artist Guitar World posted a great YouTube video on their web site. It shows Stevie and his band Double Trouble in January 1986 during a sound-check. They’re playing Scuttle Buttin, one of my favorite Vaughan tunes, Ain’t Gone ‘n’ Give Up on Love and Say What!

As they say, a picture, or in this case a clip, speaks more than a 1,000 words!

What I’ve been listening to: The River

I’ve been looking forward all summer long to seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band next Tuesday at MetLife Stadium as part of The River 2016 tour. So it’s perhaps not very surprising that I’ve been listening to The River, Bruce’s 1980 album the tour celebrates.

I suppose like many people who grew up in the 80s and listening to music from that time, Born in the U.S.A. brought the Boss on my radar screen. When that album was released in 1984, I think the only other Bruce Springsteen song I knew at the time was The River, an instant favorite.

When Bruce came out with the Live/1975-1985 compilation and I noticed it included a significant amount of material from Born in the U.S.A. and the song The River, I decided to put it on my Christmas wish list for 1986. Santa was kind, and as I started listening to the 3-CD set, I quickly realized there was much more to Springsteen than Born in the U.S.A, Cover Me, I’m on Fire and Bobby Jean.

Among others, I discovered Hungry Heart, which I think is safe to assume is the best known song from the album, apart from the title track. Additionally, I started appreciating other Springsteen classics, such as Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Thunder Road. I also had no idea that songs like Spirit in the Night, Because the Night and Fire – which I had known because of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Patti Smith and The Pointer Sisters, respectively – had all been written or co-written by the Boss!

So while Born in the U.S.A. and Live/1975-1985 introduced me to Bruce Springsteen, made me buy some of his other albums he released thereafter and see an unforgettable Springsteen show in Frankfurt, Germany in the late 1980s, it didn’t lead to more exploration of The River album. Given the upcoming concert, which is going to be my second Springsteen show, I wanted to change that – which finally brings me to the album.

The River is Springsteen’s fifth studio album. Initially, it was supposed to be a single album called The Ties That Bind. But Bruce had written more material than would fit on one record – at last at the time – so it ended up being two records called The River – his only double studio album to date.

According to Bruce’s official web site, The River is “split evenly between huge house-party numbers (and a wealth of live staples) and darker, real-word tales.” It was reflective of Bruce being “out to explore the emerging dualities of his music.” During an interview referenced in a 2004 Springsteen biography by Dave Marsh, Bruce explained, “Rock and roll has always been this joy, this certain happiness that is in its way the most beautiful thing in life. But rock is also about hardness and coldness and being alone … I finally got to the place where I realized life had paradoxes, a lot of them, and you’ve got to live with them.”

Two songs from The River illustrate the above: In Cadillac Ranch, Bruce sings,

Cadillac, Cadillac

Long and dark, shiny and black

Open up your engines let ‘em roar

Tearing up the highway like a big dinosaur

Contrast that with Point Blank:

You grew up where young girls they grow up fast

You took what you were handed and left behind what was asked

but what they asked baby wasn’t right

you didn’t have to live that life,

I was gonna be your Romeo you were gonna be my Juliet

These days you don’t wait on Romeo’s

you wait on that welfare check

and on all the pretty things you can’t ever have

and on all the promises

The album generated three U.S. singles – Hungry Heart, Fade Away and I Wanna Marry You – and four additional singles that were released in the UK only: Sherry Darling, The River/Independence Day, Cadillac Ranch and Point Blank. Hungry Heart became Bruce’s first top ten single on the U.S. pop singles chart, climbing up to number five.

The River has become one of Springsteen’s best-selling albums after Born in the U.S.A. and Born to Run. It has been certified quintuple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

In addition to the title song and Hungry Heart, my favorite tunes from the album include The Ties That Bind, Independence Day, Out in the Street, Point Blank, Cadillac Ranch, Ramrod and The Price You Pay.

Four members of the current E Street Band were on the original recording of The River: Roy Bittan (piano, synthesizer, accordion), Garry Tallent (bass), Steven Van Zandt (rhythm guitar, lead guitar, background vocals) and Max Weinberg (drums). Perhaps the one missing member I’m going to miss the most is Clarence Clemmons, the band’s amazing saxophonist who passed away in 2011. Intriguingly, his nephew Jake Clemons took over “The Big Man’s” part in 2012 – big shoes to fill, literally!

I can’t wait to see these guys and Bruce bring The River to life and play many other great Springsteen songs next Tuesday at MetLife Stadium. Are the going to match the record four hours they rocked there Thursday night? Okay, I don’t want to get too greedy here – anything more than 2.5 hours is pretty remarkable these days, especially for an artist of Bruce’s caliber!

Bonnie Raitt at NJPAC

Bonnie Raitt is one my favorite artists, and I finally got a chance to see her live.

Yesterday (Aug 13), the wait was finally over. It was time to see Bonnie Raitt at New Jersey Performing Arts Center!

During the week leading up to the show, I had listened to her music pretty much whenever I got a chance to get in the mood. And with a 45-year professional career and 17 studio albums, there is a lot to listen to!

A good friend of mine who has been to various Bonnie Raitt concerts over the years had highly recommended that I go see her. He was right – the show was absolutely amazing!

Bonnie presented a mix of new and old songs, including a few of her previous hits. She started off with her cover of the INXS song Need You Tonight, which appears on her latest excellent album, Dig In Deep. Throughout the show, she also played various other songs from that album including Unintended Consequence of Love and Gypsy In Me. Another cover included Burning Down the House, the 1983 hit from the Talking Heads. In my opinion, it’s even better than Need You Tonight.

Perhaps the best known hit songs she played were Something To Talk About and the beautiful ballad I Can’t Make You Love Me, both from Bonnie’s 1991 album, Luck of the Draw. I was a bit surprised and disappointed that she didn’t play material from Nick of Time, such as Thing Called Love, the title song and Love Letter. At least I didn’t recognize any songs from the 1989 Grammy Award winning album. She did perform one of my other favorite songs, Can’t Get Enough (from 1982’s Green Light). 

As I had expected, Bonnie’s slide guitar playing was superb! But I have to say I was even more intrigued by the songs she played on acoustic guitar. The highlight in this context and perhaps of the entire night was Angel from Montgomery, from her fourth studio album Streetlights, released in 1974. BTW, Bonnie’s voice live sounds just as great as recorded. I would also like to acknowledge her fantastic band: Ricky Fataar (drums), George Marinelli (guitars), James Hutchinson (bass) and Mike Finnigan (keyboards).

Another shout-out is in order for Bonnie’s opening act, Richard Thompson Trio. Thompson, a founding member of the Fairport Convention, is an outstanding British electric and acoustic guitarist. I have to admit I’m not familiar with his music, but I certainly enjoyed what I heard! The drummer and bassist who performed with Thompson were excellent as well.

Notably, Bonnie asked Thompson to come back to the stage and play a song with her. You could clearly see the admiration she has for him. I think the gesture also shows what a class act Bonnie Raitt is when it comes to acknowledging other artists.

What I’ve Been Listening To: Wings Over America

I’m introducing a new category for the blog about albums I’ve been listening to. First up is Wings Over America.

Saturday and Sunday mornings when preparing and having breakfast, I oftentimes listen to entire albums. While in the era of iTunes and the like this may sound like an outdated concept, I can highly recommend it!

Since only a few weeks ago I saw Paul McCartney in Hershey, PA and the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ Revolver was earlier this week, perhaps it’s not a surprise I chose an album that falls in the same realm: Wings Over America, a fantastic live set that captures the band’s 1975-1976 “Over The World” tour.

Released in December 1976 as a three-vinyl record set, Wings Over America includes recordings from various shows of the tour’s American leg from May to June 1976. It was the first time Paul performed live in the U.S. since The Beatles’ final live tour there in 1966. I also read it apparently was also the only time Wings played in the U.S. and Canada, which surprised me, given Paul’s enormous popularity in the States.

In addition to many Wings classics like JetLet Me Roll ItLive and Let Die, Letting Go and Band On the Run, the set features five of Paul’s songs from The Beatles era: Lady Madonna, The Long and Winding Road, I’ve Just Seen a Face, Blackbird and Yesterday. Another standout is Maybe I’m Amazed, which originally appeared on Paul’s first solo album after the break-up of The Beatles, McCartney, in April 1970. The live version of the song was also released as a single in February 1977 and remains a staple on many rock radio stations to this day. In my opinion, it’s much more dynamic than the studio version!

Just like I felt about the recent show in Hershey, I think the true highlights on Wings Over America are the acoustic pieces: Picasso’s Last Words, the Paul Simon song Richard Cory, Bluebird, I’ve Just Seen a Face, Blackbird and Yesterday.

Based on two of Paul’s live shows I was fortunate to see, which in addition to Hershey included a gig in the late 1980s in Germany, I have to say Wings Over America does a beautiful job to capture the concert experience. Obviously, with so many additional albums Paul has released since 1976, his live set has evolved quite a bit. In addition to songs from these albums, it now includes many more Beatles songs, both from the band’s early period and the later more experimental phase.

Wings Over America hit No. 1 in the U.S. in early 1977 and N0. 8 in the UK. I read it has sold more than four million copies in the U.S. alone and apparently was the first triple record release by a group to reach the top spot. The single off the set, Maybe I’m Amazed, made it to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 28 on the UK chart.

During his live tours, Paul has always played with terrific musicians, so my musings about Wings Over America wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the band. In addition to Paul (vocals, bass, piano, acoustic guitar) and his wife Linda McCartney (keyboards, backing vocals), Wings included original Moody Blues member Denny Laine (vocal, electric and acoustic guitars, bass, keyboards, percussion), Jimmy McCulloch (electric and acoustic guitars, bass, vocals), Joe English (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and a fantastic brass and woodwind section consisting of Howie Casey, Steve Howard, Thaddeus Richard and Tony Dorsey.

 

 

 

The Beatles’ Revolver Turned 50

It was 50 years ago yesterday (Aug 5): The Beatles released Revolver in the UK, an album that is considered a leap from predecessor Rubber Soul, introducing more experimentation and innovative recording techniques.

On Aug 5, 1966, The Beatles released Revolver, their seventh studio album in the UK. Just the other day, a good friend of mine told me many experts consider it the best album of the Fab Four. Yesterday, I noticed a number of related articles from music sources like Rolling Stone and others commemorating the occasion. So I decided to take a closer look and read up on this mold-breaking album.

On Revolver, The Beatles started experimenting with various new recording techniques, including tape loops, backwards recordings and varispeeding. The most significant innovation was Artificial Double Tracking (ADT), which was invented by Ken Townsend, a recording engineer at Abbey Road Studios. The technique essentially combines an original audio signal with a delayed copy of that signal. Previously, the effect could only be accomplished by natural doubling of a voice or instrument, a technique called double-tracking.

The invention of ADT mainly was spurred by a request from John Lennon who during the Revolver sessions asked for a less tedious alternative to double-tracking. ADT was soon adopted throughout the recording industry.

Revolver was also remarkable for other reasons. The title, by the way, had nothing to do with guns but was derived from the verb revolve. One of the album’s highlights is the string arrangement on Eleanor Rigby, which was written by George Martin. Blending classical and pop music broke conventions. It would take another four years before another British band, Electric Light Orchestra, would take this concept to the stratosphere.

Revolver also saw George Harrison take on a bigger role in song-writing and shaping the band’s sound: Taxman, Love You To and I Want to Tell You were all written by him. Love You To featured Indian classical instruments, which George had introduced on Rubber Soul with his use of the sitar on Norwegian Wood. On Revolver, he also introduced the tambura, another instrument used in Indian music, on John’s Tomorrow Never Knows. Another interesting tidbit I read: The guitar solo on Taxman was played by Paul McCartney, after George had made multiple unsuccessful attempts.

Apart from the above, Revolver included other gems like Here, There and Everywhere, Good Day Sunshine and Got to Get You into My Life. The sessions to the album also yielded the non-album single Paperback Writer with Rain as the b-side.

In the U.S., Revolver was released on August 8, 1966. The release coincided with The Beatles’ third and final concert tour in the U.S. and Toronto. Except for Paperback Writer, the band did not perform any of the songs from the Revolver sessions.

Revolver won the 1966 Grammy for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts. The cover artwork was designed by Klaus Voormann, who had known The Beatles since 1960 when he met them during their time in Hamburg. While Revolver was well received in the UK, the initial reception in the U.S. was less enthusiastic due to John’s controversial statement that The Beatles had become bigger than Jesus. Eventually, the album was certified 5 times platinum in the U.S. and platinum in the UK.