Monthly Archives: September 2012

Cover Songs – A Partial List of the Best

February 7, 2011

Originally published on chriscocca.com

Cover songs are forever. My guess is that the second song ever performed was a cover of the first. Some of these cover songs are inspired, many are horrifying. Artists who cover well-known songs are disadvantaged in that they are immediately judged against the original, though the instant recognition of a popular cover song often paves the way for radio play and concert sing-alongs. The best covers may pay tribute or put a new stamp on an old standard. The worst are soul-crushing cash-ins. Here are just a few of my personal favorites and least favorites. Feel free to add your own. But for the sake of my sanity, try not to defend Sheryl Crow.

Part II: The Gold

Heart – “Love Reign O’er Me”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQhAipNH0lM

This is my Johhny Cash “Hurt.”  That is, this is the cover in which I really liked the original, then fell in love with the cover and couldn’t even listen to the original without contempt any longer.

The Who may have been relatively embarrassing geezers at last year’s Super Bowl, but when I saw them in ’02, Roger Daltry still had the pipes to nail the “looooooooooovvvveeeeeee” crescendo as if his drummer and bassist were alive.  Then Ann Wilson had to come and just crush the whole thing.  Wilson’s voice adds a depth to the entire song that makes Daltry look like an imposter in comparison.

Sister Nancy Wilson tosses in just enough guitar feedback to keep the rock ahead of the classical in this version, and she can pull off hard rock posturing better than Pete Townshend these days.  But make no mistake about it—this song makes the list because of Ann’s voice.  She sells the feeling of the song as if she wrote it, and when the mixing board gives her a hand at the end, pushing the finale into the stratosphere, we’re all the better for it.  Catch Heart live and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Disturbed – “Land of Confusion” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6KXgjLqSTg

Nothing will ever terrify a child of the 80s the way Genesis’ “Land of Confusion” did.  With its deranged Reagan puppets that looked just enough like the actual Reagans to frighten pre-pubescents, “Land of Confusion” would be memorable even if the song weren’t.  And I’m still not sure why puppet Genesis is funny whereas puppet Reagans probably sent more kids into their parents rooms at night than the bogey man and Freddy Kreuger combined.

Disturbed, not a band one would typically consider subtle, succeed in their rendition by simply amplifying the heavy guitar licks of the original, which in turn makes the dystopic lyrics stand out more.  It helps that, unlike many of least favorite cover nominees, Distrurbed was not forced to heteronormatize the song by changing any he/she pronouns.  After all, this world “we” live in, and both man and woman will one day be subjected to the great flood the way the puppet Reagans were in ’86.

Disturbed singer David Draiman gives his typical tortured pet performance on “Land of Confusion,” barking through each line like a dog running to the end of a leash.  I’m sure this is enough to make many Phil Collins fans unhappy.  To be sure, Drummond’s growl scat is plenty annoying, especially when he’s offering the kind of mad at your dad garbage that Distrurbed often deals in, but when he adds asides like “ooh-ah-ah-ah-ah” or, as in “Land of Confusion,” “nyah-ah-ah” it kind of sounds like he’s possibly, maybe, just a little bit, making a gag of his over-the-top angsty rottweiler act.

He is joking, right?  Kind of?

Jeffrey Gaines – “In Your Eyes” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7WtavVdBCk

The history of “In Your Eyes,” at least, according to Wikipedia, says a lot about the song. Written by Peter Gabriel, the song was first released in 1986, then again in 1989 after it was featured in the movie Say Anything. Gaines recorded a stripped down version as a B side in 1992, then re-released two different versions of it in 2001. Herein lies the strength of the song, especially Gaines’ version—its timelessness. For this ballad about a guy who sees churches in eyeballs, Gabriel abandoned the giddiness that made 80s hits like “Sledgehammer” and “Shock the Monkey” a lot of fun, replacing it with heart-felt lyrics that are just complicated enough to not scream prom song. The original has some world music instrumentation and African yodeling (that exists, right?), which Gaines’ cover does not. See, this is the type of song that thrives on acoustic interpretation. Minus the bits of Toto-sounding keyboard and backup dancers, Gaines’ take lets his voice and the basics of the song do all the work. He proves that “In Your Eyes” does not need world music or exotic stage shows to succeed; its greatest asset is the core of the song itself.

Gaines stopped by my dear old alma mater while touring the college circuit back in ’98, and my then-roommate went to the show, hanging around afterwards just to get Gaines’ autograph for some girl he had an unrequited crush on. That night, I mistook his nightstand for the men’s room, spraying his Jeffrey Gaines autographed poster with recycled Natty Light. Sorry, Tom.

Best Bad Cover

Guns ‘n’ Roses –  “Sympathy for the Devil” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6UsdiJldmo

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an unabashed GnR diehard.  But I like their version of the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” much more than their more revered covers like “Live and Let Die” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

What makes this surprising is that the band itself hates this cover.  Recorded for 1994′s Interview With a Vampire soundtrack, “Sympathy” is the last song released by Axl, Slash, Duff, and co.  The band hated each other so much at this point, they couldn’t even be in the studio together when they recorded it.  Slash said his own rendition of “Sympathy” (ok, his band’s; rumor is Slash’s guitar solo was redubbed by Axl loyalist Paul Huge) sounds like a band breaking up.

But that’s kind of cool, in its own way.  A band of junkies covers a song by an older band of junkies featuring Satan as narrator.  I’d say there’s a game of one-upmanship going on here, and Guns may have just topped the Stones in debauched sinfulness.  Take that one to heart, Keith and Mick.

Oh yeah, and Mick Jagger never could sing.  So there’s that.

Honorable Mention

Ugly Kid Joe – “Cats in the Cradle”

Not sure which list this belongs on, but it deserves mention.

Cover Songs – A Partial List of the Worst

February 3, 2011

Originally published on chriscocca.com

Cover songs are forever. My guess is that the second song ever performed was a cover of the first. Some of these cover songs are inspired, many are horrifying. Artists who cover well-known songs are disadvantaged in that they are immediately judged against the original, though the instant recognition of a popular cover song often paves the way for radio play and concert sing-alongs. The best covers may pay tribute or put a new stamp on an old standard. The worst are soul-crushing cash-ins. Here are just a few of my personal favorites and least favorites. Feel free to add your own. But for the sake of my sanity, try not to defend Sheryl Crow.

The Garbage

Five Finger Death Punch – “Bad Company” http://www.last.fm/music/Five+Finger+Death+Punch

Bad Company isn’t a great band and 1974′s “Bad Company” isn’t one of their better songs.  It’s no “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” that’s for sure.  Hell, it’s not even “Shooting Star” or “Ready for Love.”  Still Bad Company’s “Bad Company” from the album Bad Company is a harmless ditty about life as part of a group of badass cowboys (with guitars?), a mediocre song by a mediocre band.  Think of the original as a precursor to Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive,” without the Aquanet.  “Bad Company” is one of those songs you might leave on the radio or you might flip past, depending on whether or not you feel like belting out a country-tinged guitar anthem about life with a six gun in your hand.

From the start, dunder-headed dorks Five Finger Death Punch add modern rock humorlessness to the proceedings, replacing Paul Rodgers’ pseudo-soul with macho poseur bleats from a guy who sounds like Scott Stapp’s even more earnest little brother.  While Death Punch singer Ivan Moody crotch grabs all over the song, nu metal guitar is provided by former Mandy Moore guitarist, current tough guy Jason Hook.  Part of what makes this song so terrible is that a generation of teenagers, not all teenagers mind you, but the ones who like contemporary knuckle-dragging shlock like Shinedown (makers of the slightly less offensive, equally macho-earnest “Simple Man” cover), will mistakenly say this band and this cover is “cool,” “heavy,” and “better than the original.”  It is none of the above, and considering the mediocrity of the first, that is telling.

Sheryl Crow – “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFU9qBEvEVw

Asking people whether or not they like the Sheryl Crow version of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Sweet Child” is a good way to pass judgment on them with swift accuracy.  I don’t know what kind of record executive dreamed up this steaming pile of wrong, but unleashing it on an unsuspecting world was cruel, especially given the timing.  Released in 1999, this empty cover was given to a pre-millenial planet still coming to terms with the end of GnR as we knew it.

How did Crow, an artist typically not noteworthy enough to provoke contempt, manage to turn an 80s classic into a pathetic whimper? By removing its innards and adding nothing but sap and ugly.  The original “Sweet Child” manages to be a great 80s power ballad without being considered an 80s power ballad despite its sappy lyrics and goofy guitar chords because it is sung by a sociopath who sounds like he might throw his microphone at the crowd at any minute.  And in fact, he did!  Axl caterwauls “where do we go?” in a demon voice, if ever a demon were to ask a simple question.  Crow, conversely, sings the same line like she is asking if the listener would rather stop at Chili’s or Applebee’s.

Musically, Crow’s version exemplifies that more is less, as she throws in some slide guitar, violin, and some kind of unappealing keyboard, creating a muddled sound that only her Taylor Hanson scream at the end can break through, and not in a good way.  But hey, at least she was able to tweak the arrangement just enough to appeal to both the country demographic and adult contemporary radio.

And no, this doesn’t mean Crow’s version sucks just because it is feminized.  It sucks because it is sanitized, which is the polar opposite of classic era GnR.  Even Fergie Ferg, best known for rap-singing about her humps, does a comparatively much better version than does Ms. Crow, replacing Axl’s edgy wails with sultry swagger that would probably make Sheryl Crow blush.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBIpBNMzzGs&feature=related

Every time I hear Sheryl Crow strain to hit the opening lines of this song,  I die a little bit inside.  Then I check the unit prices on Folgers and Maxwell House.


The Counting Crows ft. Vanessa Carlton – “Big Yellow Taxi”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvtJPs8IDgU

The Counting Crows’ version of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” manages to commit the very sin that the original is about, an accomplishment that would be impressive were it ironic. Sadly, it’s not. That’s right, Adam Duritz, the “they” who “paved paradise and put up a parking lot” is you, you blissfully unaware, fathead, jerk! [Direct all slander/libel complaints to Mr. Trucker’s legal staff directly. — Ed.]

Mitchell’s folk song about the death of nature in the era of the concrete jungle is pro-tooled and suffocated of its hippie-dippy peacenik vibe and replaced with the Counting Crows’ corporate version of the same. Duritz poses as a 90s version of Mitchell’s love child, but he’s really just a gossip rag fodder with devil sticks. I mean, once you’ve dated two-thirds of the women on Friends, you kind of lose your right to complain about tree museums.

To make matters worse, the Crows’ glossy rendition includes cooing and “oh-bop-bop-bopping” from pop singer Vanessa Carlton. You remember Carlton, right? She comes from the era right after pop stars stopped writhing around on snakes and before they started wearing meat dresses. She had a hit or two when it was trendy for young pretty girls to play guitar or piano while staring at something just above and to the left of the camera. I forget whether she plays guitar or piano. She does neither in the video for this song, nor is there any evidence that she and the band ever met. My guess is they haven’t, and we’re probably all the better for it.

Axl Rose, Marketing Genius

February 17, 2011

Originally posted on chriscocca.com

In 1994, Aerosmith and Guns N’ Roses were in the latter stages of their relevance.  G N’ R were still releasing videos from the Illusions albums and putting out a record of covers, and Aerosmith continued their late 80s renaissance into a second decade with 7x platinum Get A Grip. Meanwhile, I was a young lad still anxiously awaiting the growth spurt that would forever prove  elusive.   It wasn’t exactly cool to love these unabashed rock stars while my fellow fourteen-year-olds were mourning the death of Kurt Cobain and pondering the fate of his mopey peers like Eddie Vedder, but I was steadfast.

Here is an exhaustive list of things I was sure of in 1994:

I would never understand women
I would always love Guns ‘n’ Roses
I would always love Aerosmith.

Two out of three ain’t bad, kid.  You see, while Aerosmith may have had a more productive couple of decades (if  we take the word “productive”  to refer to an organism, institution, or collective that produces things),  Axl’s sociopathic and often bizarrely reclusive behavior has allowed the Guns name to age in a much more respectable way than has brand Aerosmith.

For the unitiated, here is a brief timeline for the original lineups of both  bands since ’94:

Guns N’ Roses Aerosmith
1994: Release “Sympathy for the Devil” single; Slash calls this “the sound of a band breaking up” 1994: Release greatest hits album Big Ones, make boatloads of cash
1996: Break up 1997: Release Nine Lives, which includes lame double entrende single “Pink”
1998: Release “Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” on Armageddon soundtrack [rock credibility exits stage left]
2001: Perform at Superbowl XXXV with Britney Spears, N’Sync
2001: Release Just Push Play, world shrugs
2002: Release Oh, Yeah, greatest hits double disc, make boatloads of cash
2004: Release blues cover album Honkin’ On  Bobo. Global reaction: “eh”
2006: Release aptly titled greatest hits album Devil’s Got a New Disguise, make boatloads of cash
2010: Egyptian President Mubarak: “I will step down if Aerosmith threatens to release another album”

While Aerosmith has toured nearly every year during the last fifteen years, Axl’s bizarro Guns has only executed a single successful tour of the U.S., in 2006.  While touring, Aerosmith has enthusiastically shilled for the latest repackaging of their greatest hits album.  As the above list indicates, Aerosmith has released more greatest hits records than records of new material during this period, which is probably at least in part due to their recognizing that no one needs to hear a new Glenn Ballard-written Aerosmith record.  Unfortunately, as the recent regime change in Egypt would indicate, Aerosmith is, in fact, planning to release their first record of new material in a decade sometime this year.

Meanwhile, when he wasn’t standing on the roof of his mansion with a hose fighting off California wild fires (http://www.roadrunnerrecords.com/blabbermouth.net/news.aspx?mode=Article&newsitemID=85524), Axl was suing his own record company to keep them from releasing Guns N’ Roses’ Greatest Hits (http://www.tfproject.org/tfp/tilted-music/49290-geffen-records-prevails-over-axl-rose-lawsuit.html). In a a 2004 statement that can only be described as equal parts gutsy and insane, Rose claimed that the Guns N’ Roses Greatest Hits release would take attention away from Chinese Democracy.

Chinese Democracy was released four and a half years after the suit.

Herein lies the Genius of W. Axl Rose, nonmusical edition.  Guns N’ Roses is not one of those punk rock bands destined to keep the same sound and tour every couple of years with only their graying hairs and protruding stomachs demarcating the passage of time.  I mean, they’re not the Circle Jerks.  They’re freaking Guns N’ Roses.  They were making videos with dolphins and supermodels set to soaring piano arrangments while the “cool” thing to do was stare at your shoes while whispering verses and shouting choruses.

G N’ R comes from the “bigger is better” rock ideal, not the punk/grunge “less is more” aesthetic.  In this way, they are a lot like Aerosmith.   Thus, had they remained in the spotlight, they could have easily traded on their hard rock past, put out a few radio friendly shmaltz ballads, retooled a greatest hits package every few years, and made oodles of cash with deteriorating performances at amphitheaters and arenas year-round. In other words, they could have become Aerosmith or, even worse, Motley Crue.

In fact, in the hands of lesser, more  top-hatted hands, Guns would have no doubt become the same self-parodying pantomime of themselves that Aerosmith and the Crue are today.  Slash has sold his likeness to so many lame-rod pop musicians and video games, even he can’t keep count.  But when he gutted the last bits of his reputation on stage with the Black Eyed Peas this year, I couldn’t help but think back to Aerosmith’s nauseating 2001 Super Bowl performance, when they shared the stage with rock ‘n’ roll titans Britney Spears and N ‘Sync.

As Slash tried desperately to strike a cool rock pose next to an awkwardly gyrating Fergie, I thought to myself, that could have been all of G N’ R up there wearing Light Bright outfits and standing next to will.i.am, Fergie, and the other two dudes.

That could have been Axl, Duff, and company singing a country song  to one of their re-claimed daughters on the soundtrack to one of the worst Ben Affleck moves of all time.

That could have been G N’ R singing goofball pop songs about women’s private parts.

That could have been Axl judging sixteen-year-old singers on a past-its-prime TV karaoke contest.

But for the grace of God.

Instead, Axl, who long ago bought out the Guns name, has guarded it like a rich guy guarding his mansion from a forest fire.  The musicians he has chosen to work with recently have names like Buckethead and Bumblefoot.  They may play the same songs as classic Guns, but no one will mistake them for Slash and Duff clones.  And with the exception of a 2002 VMA gaffe, in which a bloaty Axl huffed around Radio City while a giddy Jimmy Fallon and the world gasped in horror, Axl has avoided the spotlight like the plague.  When he finally put out Chinese Democracy after a seventeen year wait, Axl unilaterally decided his record company wasn’t supporting the album enough.  He has subsequently avoided all efforts to promote it himself, including all state-side interview requests and tours.  Does that suck for fans? Maybe, but what hurts more, the lack of Axl or the embarrassing omnipresence of Steve Tyler and Slash?

In keeping his and the band’s profile low key and touring only very sporadically with a cast of characters who look like aliens, Axl has accomplished what only former nemesis Kurt Cobain has similarly been able to achieve  When most people think of G N’ R today, they think of G N’ R no later than 1994.  Axl has divorced himself and his band from Slash, who defaces only himself when he parades around picking up contract work like a poor guy in a Slash costume.  Today’s Guns are something different.  They are a protooled, faceless entity with an enigmatic lead singer.  G N’ R today are to classic G N’ R what the Foo Fighters are to Nirvana. They sprung from Guns N’ Roses, but they cannot damage the iconic stature of classic Guns any more than a Foo Fighters record can hurt the lasting reputation of Nirvana.

And Axl didn’t even have to die to keep his reputation in tact.

Postscript:  I thought this blog fitting for my esteemed former co-dj’s domain because of our shared love of all things Axl.  I wouldn’t defend his choice in Long Island-bred, Lehigh Valley-loving rock pianists with the same fervor.

Also, in 2001, I wrote an essay about Axl Rose, The American Icon, for my ENGL 200 Advanced Expository Writing class.  It was, admittedly, not my best work.  So if you’re out there, Prof. Martinez, I would like to resubmit my essay. Sorry it’s 10 years late.

Luke Scott’s Joe Biden Rant

December 10, 2010

Originally published on WNST.net

Just three days after his political comments regarding President Obama’s origins provoked controversy at the MLB Winter Meetings, Luke Scott has made yet another bold political statement. This time, the “birther” and Orioles designated hitter shares his thoughts about Democratic Vice President “Joe Biden:”

“Biden was not born. That’s my belief. I was born. If someone accuses me of not being born, I can go — within 10 minutes — to my filing cabinet and I can pick up a map and I can go, ‘See? Look! Here it is. Here it is. Here is where I was born. ‘” remarked the slugger, pointing angrily towards the general direction of the United States.”

Scott continued:

“Come on. If you’re born, there’s plenty of documents. But you know what? There’s no documentation of him or where he was born. No legal documentation of him. I mean, who can point to Delaware on a map? Who has ever heard of it? My belief, bottom line, Joe Biden was never born.”

After news of Scott’s “Joe Biden” comments went public, teammate Adam Jones once again took to his twitter page to defend his fellow Oriole.

Said Jones:

“Luke Scott Luke Scott Luke Scott you still my boy [rolls eyes, slaps forehead]”

As they did after Scott’s Obama remarks, the Orioles organization has issued a statement distancing themselves from Scott:

“Luke Scott’s comments do not reflect the opinion of the Baltimore Orioles organization. The fact is that ‘Joe Biden’ is our Vice President, duly elected by the people of the United States. Delaware is probably part of the United States. End of story.”

“Joe Biden’s” phone number is unlisted. He could not be reached for comment.

 

Orioles Demoted to AA Bowie

July 10, 2011

Originally posted on WNST.net

On Friday, the Orioles demoted pitcher Zach Britton to Double-A Bowie. Today, the rest of the Orioles have also been demoted to Double A Bowie.

“We just think the Orioles have a few things to work on,” said President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail. “Like pitching and hitting. And also fielding.”

Sources say the Orioles were nearly sent to AAA Norfolk, but there were concerns about their ability to compete in the difficult International League South division.  “I’ll be honest.  Given the nature of the current salary structure, it’s difficult to compete against big markets like Gwinnett and Durham,” stated MacPhail.

The Orioles are disappointed in the move, but they understand that this is not necessarily a permanent demotion. “We learned a lot from our time in the bigs,” said the Orioles. “It was a wonderful experience to have spent some time with big league clubs, like the Red Sox, Yankees, and Pirates. We will definitely take what we picked up from them and continue to develop.”

Buck Showalter has announced that Vlad Guerrero will bat cleanup when the Orioles resume play against the Richmond Flying Squirrels after the Northeast Delta Dental Eastern League All-Star break.

Stone Temple Pilots in Baltimore, MD

April 27, 2011

Originally published on the Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

One of the biggest draws for concert-goers at a Stone Temple Pilots show is seeing in what type of condition front-man Scott Weiland in in when he takes the stage.

From the start of STP’s set opener “Crackerman,” it was clear Weiland was ready to play to the crowd of nearly 3,000 who came to see the grunge holdouts open the concert season at Pier Six Pavilion.

The band’s 90-minute, 17-song set covered all of the bases, including five songs from their 1992 debut album, “Core.” Despite a few longer-than-necessary song breaks, the band, led by Weiland’s charisma and trademark deep vocals as well as the Deleo brothers’ guitar work, had the crowd at its feet for the duration of the evening.

The hit-laden show was heavy on the band’s early catalog, with only a couple of songs from their eponymous 2010 post-reunion album.

The band seemed game to play the classics, and the foursome appeared in unison following a two-song encore to thank the chanting crowd of supporters, most of whom were there to relive their 90s-era youth.

If Tuesday night’s set is any indication, a healthy Stone Temple Pilots have the chops and the fan base to play the amphitheater circuit for years to come, with or without new material.

Pier Six’s promoters seem to expand the calendar of shows on the waterfront each season, and opening 2011 with a Tuesday night show in April was surely a calculated risk. As luck would have it, the evening was clear and warm, surely bringing a significant number of walk-up sales to the venue.

Of course, booking a band that has been playing much larger venues since their 2008 reunion helps as well. The relative intimacy of Pier Six brought the band and audience closer together. And though the acoustics are not top-notch, the Deleo brothers’ extended power chords coupled with Weiland’s elongated-vowels (“Caaaaan youuuuuu seeeeee”) help distinguish the songs through a muddled mix.

The show got underway around 9:15 p.m., with a fit and trim-looking Weiland leading the group with their classic lineup intact. Wearing all black with a maroon scarf and sporting his signature sunglasses and megaphone, Weiland swayed and occasionally pirouetted his way through most of the show. If he was in any way road-weary, he wasn’t showing it on this evening.

In fact, the entire band, now all well into their 40s, were fit and locked in. My guess is the only stimulant on the tour bus is Vitaminwater.

Following the third song of the evening, “Vaseline,” STP played four songs that constitute the weakest part of their current show, including the single from their latest album, “Between the Lines” (It’s about cocaine! Get it?!) and a few lesser-known tracks. The port-a-potty lines swelled during this stretch.

Fans were back to the sing-along by the time the band pulled out “Big Empty,” a huge hit from 1994’s “The Crow” soundtrack. Monster hits “Plush,” “Interstate Love Song,” and a megaphone-assisted “Dead and Bloated” were also crowd favorites.

Bands strongly identified with a particular era have a built-in audience if they are willing to play to their fans’ radio-driven interests. Summer stage mainstays like Chicago, Journey, and Earth, Wind & Fire make brisk business touring the country each summer by giving their fans the hits that remind them of yesteryear. The last 90s band I saw at Pier Six, Counting Crows, seemed unwilling to go that route.

Adam Duritz flat out refuses to play “Mr. Jones,” his biggest hit and the reason he can sleep past noon everyday for the rest of his life.

STP, always a band criticized for commercializing the “alternative” sound, are one of the few 90s bands with the goods and the apparent willingness to deliver their standards to the people. If they can stay healthy and satisfied to put their payday singles upfront with only a few unidentifiable deep cuts or new songs to slow down the proceedings, they will have a happy audience of late Gen Xers and early Gen Yers ready to plunk down $75 and their blankets each time they come around.

Set highlights, in order:
“Crackerman”
“Wicked Garden”
“Vaseline” “Between The Lines” (first single off their latest)
“Big Empty
“Dancing Days” (Led Zeppelin cover)
“Plush”
“Interstate Love Song”
Encore, “Dead and Bloated”
“Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart”

 

Third Eye Blind in Baltimore, MD

February 2, 2012

Originally published in The Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

As with its music, there is nothing particularly ornate about Third Eye Blind’s stage show, which features a gigantic block-lettered Third Eye Blind banner and a small oriental rug at center stage. The band, which features former “TRL” heartthrob Stephan Jenkins, sounded well-rehearsed. Although Jenkins is the sole original member performing in the current lineup, his bandmates sounded professional and seemed content to defer the small, carpeted center of the stage to Jenkins.

The sound at Rams Head further garbled the already obtuse delivery of Jenkins’ vocals, but that didn’t seem to bother the sold-out crowd on hand for a Monday night show, as they sang along to every “whoa” “woo” and occasional falsetto chorus from the first line of opener “Thanks a Lot” through the set’s end.

Casual fans of Third Eye Blind may be surprised by the number of hits the California alterna-pop group have in its catalogue. A product of the pre-YouTube, big-record-label era, Third Eye Blind got a major push for its first two albums. The group’s eponymous debut charted five singles in the late ’90s, a feat only accomplished today by pop-star juggernauts such as Katy Perry.

Early success allowed the band to sprinkle Monday’s set-list with lesser hits such as “Losing a Whole Year” and “Never Let You Go,” which received roughly the same amount of applause as Jenkins received for donning a new hat or wrapping his scarf around his guitar. The fit, scruffy 47-year-old singer played to his strengths, posing arms crossed in a hooded sweatshirt and interacting with the crowd long enough to get a few cheers just for being himself without grinding the proceedings to a screeching halt.

Of course, the band’s biggest hits, “Graduate,” “Jumper” and “Semi-Charmed Life,” got the most fist-pumps from the appreciative crowd. Mid-set ballad “Jumper” received the most extensive reworking;  it was pushed over the 10-minute mark by virtue of a mid-song drum solo that marked the only fraction of the evening spotlighting a band member other than Jenkins. Following “Jumper,” the appropriately named “Slow Motion” was a bit of a comedown, but the band quickly won the audience back by throwing glowsticks to a number of fans on the first floor just in time for the encore.

“Semi-Charmed Life,” perhaps the biggest methamphetamine-themed hit song with a scat chorus of “doot-do-doots” of all time, opened the band’s encore, but the remainder of the encore was rather anti-climactic without any hits with which to finalize the evening. Yet, when the lights went on for good at around 10:15, fans filtered out of the club, happy, if not overwhelmed. In all, Monday’s Third Eye Blind show highlights the quartet’s current place in pop culture. Not hokey or dated-sounding enough to truly qualify as a nostalgia act, Third Eye Blind is the perfect mainstay for the no-format format of terrestrial radio stations such as Jack FM. They fit in pretty much anywhere, and may even incite a spirited sing-along or two if the mood is right.

Set Highlights (excluded last three songs of encore)

“Thanks a Lot”
“Crystal Baller”
“Can You Take Me”
“Graduate”
“Darkness”
“Losing a Whole Year”
“Faster”
“Never Let You Go”
“Bonfire Song”
“NonDairy Creamer”
“Jumper (extended drum solo)”
“Slow Motion”
“Dao of St. Paul”
“Monotov’s Private Opera”
“Semi-Charmed Life”

Foo Fighters in Washington, D.C.

November 12, 2011

Originally published in The Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

From the opening riffs of “Bridge Burning,” Foo Fighters were locked in, often transitioning from song to song without pause for up to six songs in a row. Grohl, a veteran of the arena setting, and to a lesser extent, drummer Taylor Hawkins, are the showmen of the group.

But rest of the band, including eleventh-hour Nirvana guitarist and smile-machine Pat Smear, are clearly comfortable playing with one another and in front of a large crowd, keeping the pace of each song a half step faster than the album versions without pushing the songs to an unrecognizable tempo.

The band took the stage promptly at 9:02 p.m. (how’s that for timeliness, Axl Rose?) and put on a tight, nearly three-hour set full of the itss extensive catalog of hits. For Grohl, it was a homecoming, as he spent most of his childhood and adolescence in the Virginia suburbs of DC.

After seventeen years and seven studio albums, Foo Fighters’ sound has remained constant, so old staples like “Monkey Wrench” and “This is a Call” blend easily with more recent fare like “The Pretender” and “Let it Die.”

Grohl played each of the band’s first seventeen songs with floppy-haired enthusiasm. Unlike, say Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails electronic angst, the poppy grunge sound of the Foo Fighters still works in this setting and with a crowd that likely had to secure child care for the evening before buying tickets.
The audience’s appreciation for Grohl was tested during the encore, which began with the frontman performing by himself on a raised portion of the stage in the middle of the floor.  After a few shout outs to local malls and hangouts from his early days, Grohl asked the crowd to do the wave before performing a pair of songs, “Wheels” and “Best of You” on an acoustic guitar.

At this point Grohl’s showmanship and enthusiasm gave way briefly to egotism, as Grohl clearly basked in the cheers from the audience while playing songs, which, stripped of the strength and weight of his professional bandmates, sounded like they could have been performed by any Joe Guitar at your local pub.

Thankfully, the rest of the band returned during “Times Like These” and three more songs. Aftewards, the crowd poured out of the Verizon Center and returned home home, happily drumming along on their minivan steering wheels to “Everlong” just as they had on their hand-me-down Accords 15 years ago.

Bistro Rx in Baltimore, MD

October 11, 2010

Originally published in The Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

The corner of Linwood and East Baltimore streets has had three different owners in the past five years. Bistro Rx seeks to find success were others flopped.

First was Parkside Restaurant, which, when it opened in the mid aughts, was considered “ahead” of the neighborhood.

“Ahead” meaning nearby residents were not obvious patrons for $20-roasted duck and rosemary entrees.

But shortly after Parkside’s opening, the housing market crashed, the economy tanked, and Upper Canton once again became Highlandtown.

The restaurant closed, and the similarly spirited Three…[owner’s ellipses] opened in its place shortly thereafter.  Three thrived for a time as an upscale restaurant/bar with picturesque outdoor seating near the leafy Northeast corner of Patterson Park.

But it too shuttered earlier this year.

On Thursday, Wayne Mahaffey’s Bistro Rx, officially replaced it. From the looks of things, though, little has changed at 2901 other than ownership.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  For what it is—an upscale wine bar with a hummus-and-flatbread-leaning menu—Bistro Rx makes a good first impression.  But will the mobile, distinctly non-Highlandtown crowd stay loyal to Bistro Rx when a trendy new joint opens in, say, Harbor East?

Mahaffey is banking that they will, and using a formula very familiar to 2901 E Baltimore. The only changes to its previous incarnation are a few new pendant lights and two new draft taps. The beer selection is largely international, with macrobrews available only in bottle.  A wine chiller sits at the corner of the bar near the only operating TV.

Overall, the  atmosphere is sleek and modern.  So too are the 30-something horn-rimmed glasses-wearing clientele, who sipped cocktails and nibbled on pita while Norah Jones tunes played in the background.

Drinks were reasonably priced.  A tall liquor drink cost $6 and came in a pint glass.  It’s hard to complain about a place that serves Jack Daniels as their house whiskey.  The bartenders were fast and friendly and the serving staff seemed amiable if a little stressed out over a few opening weekend kinks.

Still, if only a few tears are shed on the first weekend of business, consider it a smooth opening.

Also, the “test menu” available on Saturday did not try to do or cost too much.  The most expensive dish was a $25 filet with lobster sauce.  Chicken and salmon entrees were $16 and $17 a piece.  Rx serves wings, but they are served with gorgonzola dip, not blue cheese, mind you.

Mahaffey’s figured out a formula that works for his eponymous beer bar in Canton, with weekday and happy hour specials that highlight the bar’s extensive beer selection.  Here’s to hoping he finds a way to make Bistro Rx stick, too.

Once Rx settles on a more permanent menu, the trick will be to get customers to come back during the winter months when the shiny newness of the place has worn off, the outdoor seating has been folded up until Spring, and the see-and-be-seen crowd has new places to be at and be seen.

Canton Beer Festival

October 18, 2010

Originally posted on the Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

At the inaugural Baltimore Beer Festival, the anchor event of Baltimore Beer Week, everyone got freebies.

Both local Maryland pubs – DuClaw and Red Brick Station, among others – and larger breweries – Saranac and Magic Hat – offered samples.

A sweet Belgian-style dubbel served up by the folks at Judge’s Bench welcomed me as I came in.

With tickets $40 at the door, the cost of admission was worthwhile for those ready to indulge in all samplings, but probably less so for those who wanted only a few 4-ounce tastings and a place to watch TV.

Local food vendors were also featured along a sizable stretch of the Canton Waterfront, though meals were not included with the price of admission. Nacho Mama’s, Fins, Alexander’s Tavern served up grilled grub and seafood at $6-$10 a pop. Kooper’s Chowhound Burger Wagon was also a popular food choice amongst patrons.

However, Ravens football took center stage for most of the afternoon, dictating the comings and goings of most patrons. The festival planners were wise to set up a large screen, as it was clear from the crowd on the lawn that many would have foregone the festival if the game hadn’t been broadcast.

Unfortunately, with football as the main attraction, the beer vendors, craft peddlers and live bands were largely relegated to the background.

Though tents stretched from the public parking lot, past the Water Taxi stop and towards Tindeco, the concentration of folks around the TV monitor made the event seem sparsely attended. The largest number of folks not watching the game were waiting single-file for the porta-potty.

It’s easy to see then why formerly local iconic brewer Natty Boh gave away the largest number of samples – their tent was closest to the TV. The gentleman manning the Natty tent was clever enough to give out entire cans of Boh rather than a 4-ounce sample, as I’m sure he realized most attendees were intent on parking themselves on the lawn for a large portion of the afternoon.

When overtime finally ended near 5 p.m., the masses finally rose to enjoy the tail end of the afternoon. The Ravens lost but patrons managed to imbibe enough to enjoy themselves anyway.

Hard rock cover band Dirt obliged the finally festive crowd, taking requests and pushing well past the scheduled 5 p.m. finish time. As tourists piled out of the Water Taxi, the band’s set, the festival, and the protracted beer week ended with guys and girls in Flacco jerseys blithely dancing to Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of.”

It was unclear exactly what this cheery group of Cantonites was raging against (sudden-death overtime rules, perhaps?), but the sudden popularity of the band made it clear that they had stopped caring for the missed opportunity on ESPN CBS.

Perhaps next year the event can be scheduled for a Saturday, or if Sunday is the only feasible day for the festival, hopefully the Ravens won’t have a 1 p.m. kickoff time interfering with a solid range of vendors and activities.

On the whole, though, a good beer week should include a solid beer festival, and this was a solid festival in a beery neighborhood.