Categories
Screen Reviews

Broken Poet

Broken Poet

directed by Emilio J. Ruiz

starring Elliott Murphy, Joana Preiss, Marisa Berenson

Virgil Films

Remember “Rolling Stone”? Not the band, but the Godhead of Rock journalism from the 1970’s that held the power of selecting what new bands were stamped “Great” and which ones ought to slink off to oblivion? Seems it’s still around, and publisher Kathy Madison (Berenson) assigns reporter Meg (Preiss) to chase down a rumor. Forty years ago, rising start Jake Lion (Murphy) jumped into the Seine in Paris, never to be seen again. It was generally accepted the decayed corpse found a year later was his last remains, but Madison wonders. Joana begins the search in a funky NYC bar decorated with a stylish motorcycle gang out front, and clues creep into her story. Meg follows the clues to the home of Bruce Springsteen. Here Bruce and his wife Patti Scialfa add a few more facets, and while they are a bit wooden on camera, they add veracity to the story. Next it’s off to Paris for Meg. She left years ago and is unhappy to be back, but the “Paris in the Spring” sequence is pure travelogue eye candy. Here Meg finds a Metro busker who claims to be Lion’s brother. He’s crusty but very clean for a street musician and known to the other buskers as an excellent musician and well-rounded drunk. He’s been there a long time yet seems to lack the sort of paperwork France requires from American expatriates. Is this real Jake Lion, or is he an aging imposter? Meg meets Christy (Françoise Viallon), one of Jakes’ groupies, and hopes to set things straight. But it still takes Joana a trip in a 40 foot limo from Manhattan to Long Island to sort that out. And the result? Strangely flat.

There some solid but competent music here. Murphy’s busking is top notch and his concerts for pigeons is quite nice. A romance brews between Meg and one of her Paris contacts but leads nowhere important. As we unravel the mystery, writer and star Elliot Murphy muses on success. He’s had his share, and like all surviving rockers he debates “Was it worth it?” and “What have a I really accomplished?” The story line flows its best in Paris, with Meg’s sense of wonder propelling the action. The New York scenes seem clunky by comparison; exposition dumps are not handled cleanly, but you do get the facts you need. The ridiculously long limo Meg takes the middle class suburbia is the most pretentious thing I’ve ever seen on film, and it’s the purest “rock and roll” moment in the story. But despite these flaws, I like the people, and cinematographer Juanma Postigo shows both New York and particularly Paris at their best. The film was shot shortly before the Notre Dame fire, allowing this cathedral to act as an anchor to everyone wanderings. Romance, rock and roll, and beautiful back drops makes this an engaging mystery and another peek into the underbelly of pop music. These people gave their souls to make us dance.

elliottmurphy.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Iron City Houserockers

Iron City Houserockers

Have a Good Time, But Get Out Alive

Cleveland International

I remember when Have a Good Time, But Get Out Alive came out. It got a lot of buzz in the press and I’m not sure if that helped or hurt. The Iron City Houserockers emerged as Springsteen mania was taking off. They got lumped in with other 2nd string Springsteens like Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The buzz didn’t move albums and they tried rebranding themselves as the Houserocker and later Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers. The big time eluded, Grushecky. He’s still playing shows and making records (and writing songs with his buddy Bruce).

On paper, Have a Good Time was a slam dunk. The Iron City Houserockers were playing energetic, blue collar, garage rock. Grushecky’s songs deal with working stiffs keeping their passions alive while dealing with day jobs and financial pressure. Young, defiant men and women living and working in the meaner parts of Pittsburgh populate these songs. Springsteen and Bob Seger scored big with these kind of songs. How can they lose?

Sometimes, great records get made and the stars just don’t align. Songs like “Pumping Iron” and “Don’t Let Them Push You Around,” are fist-pumping anthems of youthful defiance. The recklessness is tempered by occasional reality checks. On the title track, Joe sings; “When Bobby was involved in a senseless fight He woke up in jail with a broken old man The old man was staring down at him He said, “Boy you better wipe off that stupid grin And learn something now while you still can.”

The yin and yang of the working man’s life are on full display on “Old Man Bar” and “Junior’s Bar.” It’s like walking down the block outside the factories and steel mills. After work, the young bucks swagger into Junior’s Bar to blow off stream and pick up chicks. On the other corner is Dom’s Café, where the old men go to share memories and drink cheap beer. The heart and soul of this record are contained in these two songs.

It’s worth mentioning that Have a Good Time had an all star production team, Mick Ronson (Bowie), Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople), Little Steven Van Zandt (E Street Band, Asbury Jukes) and the Slimmer Twins all had a hand in shaping the sound of the record. You can sort of tell who took lead behind the board. “Blondie,” “Not Dead Yet,” and “Pumping Iron,” have the gritty, primal rock and roll sound Little Steven champions on his Underground Garage radio show. “Price of Love” has a strong, “All the Young Dudes” vibe. “Rock Ola” and “Old Man Bar” are carefully arranged classics. While the production works, it reflects that the record company didn’t really know what to do with the Houserockers. Should we sell them as Bruce Jr., classic rock, maybe Pittsburgh punk?

This reissue includes a second disc of demos and alternate takes. It’s cool to hear how songs evolved. “Don’t Let Then Push You Around,” has a looser, slightly funky feel in the demo. You can hear that a lot of the tunes were fairly well worked out and were just refined a bit for the album. “Rooster Blues” and “Do Wah Ditty” give a feel for what the Houserockers probably sounded like down at the pub.

Joe Grushecky was interviewed once on CNN in a segment called “Almost Famous.” They talked to him about his close call with fame and about the music he still records. The story spent an equal amount of time on Joe’s day job. When he’s not out rocking, he’s been teaching special needs students. So yeah, Joe Grushecky isn’t a golden god with a mansion and a Maserati, but he’s still rockin’ and fighting the good fight.

www.joegrushecky.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Tommy Emmanuel

Tommy Emmanuel

with Ida Mae

The Plaza Live, Orlando, Florida • February 26, 2020

The Plaza Live in Orlando, Florida played host to a wonderful acoustic performance from Tommy Emmanuel and opener Ida Mae on a drizzly evening in Central Florida. The two acts wowed the almost-capacity crowd in the intimate setting of the erstwhile movie theater. Just off the Joe Bonamassa “Keeping The Blues Alive At Sea VI 2020” cruise, the riveting performances were a fine complement to each other.

Ida Mae's Chris Turpin and Stephanie Jean

Michelle Wilson
Ida Mae’s Chris Turpin and Stephanie Jean

Kicking off at 8pm and offering a 40-minute set of soulful harmonies and scorching resonator delta blues, the British husband-wife duo (Chris Turpin and Stephanie Jean), Ida Mae, was an absolute treat. It’s no wonder that they just won this year’s “Artist On The Rise To Luck” competition and will be performing at Luck Reunion 2020, a musical extravaganza at Willie Nelson’s ranch. The couple moved to Nashville a year and a half ago, and they have covered 75,000 miles throughout 43 states (“And we’re still married!”). Their indie release, Chasing Lights, was released back in June and received high praise. “As you can probably tell, we’re not from around here. English kids get obsessed with blues.” they joked. They describe their music as British blue-eyed soul and acoustic Americana, which is spot-on. “Do we have any blues fans?” asked Turpin, which received raucous applause and cheers from the crowd. He also relayed a deep history of the resonator. Highlights of their set included “My Girl Is A Heartbreak,” “Sweet Abandon,” “Baby Your Mine,” and a Woody Guthrie cover, “What Did The Deep Sea Say?”. They graciously thanked Tommy Emmanuel for the touring opportunity and their set seemed to end almost as soon as it began, after which they met fans in the lobby at the merch table. Keep your eye on this band with their fresh sound and youthful exuberance.

Tommy Emmanuel

Michelle Wilson
Tommy Emmanuel

Australian-born, Nashville-based guitar wizard, Tommy Emmanuel, took the stage at 9pm and thrilled the audience with a two-hour set. With his unique finger-picking technique and uncanny ability to sound like an entire band with just an acoustic guitar, it is not surprising that he twice has been named “Best Acoustic Guitarist” by Guitar Player magazine. Emmanuel does not read music but rather plays by ear, an incredible feat for such an intense player. His easy rapport with the crowd made it seem as if he was performing in someone’s living room rather than in a venue. With irresistible charm and wit, he kept fans enthralled as he peppered in witty anecdotes between the music. “My albums never get released; they escape.”

Tommy Emmanuel

Michelle Wilson
Tommy Emmanuel

In addition to several of his popular instrumentals, the guitar master also played “Sixteen Tons” (Merle Travis), a song that was a huge success for Tennessee Ernie Ford and covered by many others. Before he played this cut, Emmanuel hilariously gave thumb-picking lessons as he joked that it was for the two people who would “get” it.

Tommy Emmanuel

Michelle Wilson
Tommy Emmanuel

In a heartfelt moment, Emmanuel described becoming an American citizen. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are my fellow Americans because I became a U.S. citizen. It took me six years to get my green card but it was worth it. I love this country so much. It’s nourished me in every way.” He shared a story about growing up in Australia and as a ten-year-old boy, his father passed away. The musical family continued to perform, but it was difficult for the young musician. He said that the music of Chet Atkins really got him through the tough times. He mailed off a letter to Nashville for Atkins, addressing the envelope simply as “Chet Atkins, Nashville, USA.” To his surprise, the letter was received and a package arrived at his family home including a signed promo shot of his musical idol. Years later, Emmanuel became very good friends with Atkins and even recorded with him. The late Atkins described him as one of the greatest guitar players he had ever seen.

Tommy Emmanuel

Michelle Wilson
Tommy Emmanuel

Another highlight moment was when Emmanuel brought up Charlotte, North Carolina’s Joshua King to play searing blues harp and lead vocals on Percy Mayfield’s “Hit The Road Jack” and blues harp accompaniment on Bruce Springsteen’s pop hit, “I’m On Fire.” He also brought out openers, Ida Mae, to acknowledge their performance and to allow the crowd to recognize them once again.

Other gems included “Fuel,” which he wrote during a four-hour train ride from Paris to Cologne and which incorporates difficult time changes (“for the people who get that!”), “The Duke,” his ode to John Wayne complete with the actor’s signature swagger, “Deep River Blues,” “Blue Smoke” (another Merle Travis cover), “Lewis and Clark” (“I send it out with all my love”), “Avalon” (another Chet Atkins cover written by Buddy DeSylva, Al Jolson and Vincent Rose), “Classical Gas” (Mason Williams), and his always-popular Chet Atkins version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” (Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg). “We got any Rolling Stones fans? Good. Here’s some Beatles tunes.” The acoustic Beatles montage is always a treat and the crowd ate it up.

Tommy Emmanuel

Michelle Wilson
Tommy Emmanuel

Surprisingly, about half the crowd consisted of folks who had never seen Emmanuel before. What a joy it must have been for them. The old timers shouted out requests – I’m “pretty sure” I even heard “Freebird” in there. “Music – I call it the happiness business,” said Emmanuel. And he is absolutely correct, as the packed house remained until the 11pm ending and left with smiles on their faces and music in their hearts. Catch these two phenomenal artists if they come through your town. It will be some of the best money you ever spend.

Check out the full galleries of photos from Rock Legends Photographers.

rocklegendsphotographers.smugmug.com/BLUES-CONCERT-PHOTOS/TOMMY-EMMANUEL-The-Plaza-Live-Orlando-FL-2-26-2020

rocklegendsphotographers.smugmug.com/BLUES-CONCERT-PHOTOS/IDA-MAE-The-Plaza-Live-Orlando-FL-2-26-2020/?fbclid=IwAR3A367herkZE_LxXJ7Poc27aT8jrbMV1XGtSCycmR5ma72vPG9xBg-JoK4

tommyemmanuel.com idamaemusic.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

Clarence Clemons: Who Do I Think I Am?

Clarence Clemons: Who Do I Think I Am?

directed by Nick Mead

starring Clarence Clemons, Nils Lofgren, Joe Walsh, Bill Clinton

Virgil Films – MVD Entertainment

“The Big Man,” as Bruce called him, had a bit of an identity crisis. More than your usual musical bio-doc, this film tries to address that crisis, while also painting a portrait of a tender, loving artist. “Believe it or not, there was life before Bruce,” is one of the first things we hear from Clarence Clemons in this film. Of course there was, and like most biographies, it starts at the beginning, talking with family and a childhood friend. Then we move onto his first bands, before hearing the story about the formation of the E Street Band. Things were golden for years, until Springsteen decided to go in a different direction and fired the band for several years. The film then follows Clarence through his time with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band, solo work, and even acting jobs. After the reunion of the E Street Band, we accompany Clarence on an enlightening trip to China, a place where not only he wasn’t recognized by the locals, but they didn’t even know who Bruce Springsteen was. He plays his saxophone on the Great Wall in an emotional and cathartic scene.

The director uses an interesting technique in filming the documentary. All of the archival footage is presented in color – from lively and vibrant high definition to gritty and grainy home movies. The current interviews with friends, family, colleagues, and Clarence himself are presented in black and white – stark, almost bleak, in comparison, whether is is Nils Lofgren or Bill Clinton. It has a way to drawing you into the moment as the palette changes. Clarence passed away during the making of the film, changing it from a simple look at a moment in his career into a journey throughout his life.

Fans of Clarence Clemons and devotees of Springsteen should definitely add this disc to their collection. But anyone interested in how a supporting player can feel marginalized and work through that should also give this a chance. I learned a lot about The Big Man here – the music and the man. This disc contains no special features, so unless you are a collector, you can wait for it on a streaming service.

mvdb2b.com/s/ClarenceClemonsWhoDoIThinkIAm/670761DBD

Categories
Screen Reviews

Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘N Roll

Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘N Roll

directed by Tom Jones

starring Steven Van Zant, “Southside” Johnny Lyons, Bruce Springsteen

Trafalgar Releasing

A huge part of musical mythology is linked to location. Mention San Francisco and you’ll probably think of hippies, the Summer of Love and the Grateful Dead. Mention Detroit and you can’t help but think of Motown. Chicago has the blues, Memphis has soul and New Orleans has the funk. Asbury Park is the embodiment of the “Jersey Sound.”

Asbury Park has been a muse for some of Bruce Springsteen’s most memorable songs, from “10th Avenue Freeze Out” to “My City of Ruins.” “10th Avenue” celebrates the thriving music scene in the 1960’s. This is the scene that birthed the E Street Band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. “My City” is a lament for the loss that followed riots that devastated the city in the summer of 1970. Like other American cities, the riots heralded a long period of decline with loss of business, population and civic pride. The scars left by the riots have lingered for decades.

Director Tom Jones tells the story of Asbury Park through interviews, archival photos, home movies and news footage. The first part of the film takes us through the development of Asbury Park as a thriving seaside resort community. Famous faces like Bruce Springsteen and Little Steven are joined by less well known musician and local residents to tell stories about the beach clubs on the east side of town and the jazz and blues clubs over on the west. Southside Johnny compares the town he grew up to a carnival of music and vice.

A lot of time is devoted to the Upstage Club. The club was an after-hours spot where musicians could hang out and jam after they finished their paying gigs. The Upstage has amplifiers and speakers built into the stage to make it easy for musicians to play the third floor walk up venue. It was at these all night jam sessions that future members of the E Street Band and the Asbury Jukes honed their craft.

The middle section is devoted to the riots that rocked the summer of 1970 and the decline that followed. Springwood Avenue was the heart of Asbury Park’s black community. The blues and jazz clubs along Springwood were an important element in making the city a go-to music destination. Springwood Avenue was heavily damaged in the riots the rocked the summer of 1970. In the years that followed, structures were torn down and never replaced leaving a gaping hole in the community.

The movie ends with the ongoing revival of Asbury Park. Jones spends a lot of time at Lakehouse Studios is a music school that serves as an incubator for new talent. Other indicators of revival are reopened theaters, new shops and restaurants (many opened by members of the gay community) and The Light of Day Festival, which returned music to Springwood Avenue after more than 40 years.

I admire the passion poured into this movie. You really feel the pride people have for Asbury Park’s past and their hope for the city’s future. The team that made Asbury Park may actually be too close to their subject. They assume that people are going to know things that are implied in the film. For example, when they are discussing the Upstage Club, they show clippings of ads for gigs by a band called Steel Mill. Nowhere in the film do they make the connection that Steel Mill was the group Springsteen led before striking out on a solo career. It would have been nice to see that connection made for the many who will see the film who are not as well versed in Jersey music lore. Another example is how long they dwell on The Upstage Club. Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Gary Tallent and Little Steven tell how important the club was to them. Hosts of other people tell practically the same stories about the venue. It feels like the film makers wanted to make all their friends got their moment on screen.

My biggest lament is that Asbury Part tells us more about the city and the music scene than it shows. We are told about a proto-punk band that made waves called Margaret and the Distractions, but no film is shown and no music is played. Many people tell us about the 1970 riots, but most of the visuals are newspaper clippings floating across the screen. I’m sure there has to be more dramatic film tucked away in TV station vaults somewhere.

Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock ‘N’ Roll tells a good story. It’s a film that will resonate best with the residents of Asbury Park and the truest fans of the Jersey Sound. It may not play as well to others, less familiar with the area, but gives them a place to start picking up the legend of the seaside resort on the Jersey Shore.

www.asburyparkmovietickets.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Willie Nile

Willie Nile

Children of Paradise

River House

Sometimes a song can change your day. Sometimes, you hear exactly the right song at exactly the right moment. I was having a bad day. I had been running into a series of slights and frustrations that really had me fuming. You know, the kind of day when you want to punch the wall. I got into my car and put the new Willie Nile CD in the car stereo and glowered at the traffic jam around me. I wasn’t really paying attention until I heard Willie shouting at me, “DON’T LET THE FUCKERS KILL YOUR BUZZ!” That’s good advice that I needed to hear at exactly that moment.

Children of Paradise is full of songs that could serve as a shock to the system. Nile is a poet of the streets reporting on the things that happen on the other side of town and setting the stories to a primal garage rock beat. Willie sings anthems of the street. The first song on the record – “Seeds Of A Revolution” – is a gut punch reminder that immigrants are people seeking a better life. “Children of Paradise” is an ode to people who are living down slope from that shining city on the hill, hoping and dreaming to make it out of the valley of the shadow.

Nile is an angry man. He is angry about injustice. He is angry about the way were fucking up the environment and he’s pissed that we treat each other so badly. He’s mad at the ugliness and a whole lot of this album is a call to defy the forces that would rather have you obsessing over Stormy Daniel’s cleavage that corruption and lies. He shouts it out signing, “I defy you! I D-E-F-Y you!”

I hope these songs reach, if not a lot of people, then the right people. I hope other folks hear one of these songs at exactly the right time to click over their mood. I hope someone hears “Earth Blues” at exactly the right moment to change their opinion on climate change. I hope an ambivalent suburbanite hears “Seeds of the Revolution” at exactly the right moment to help see the bullshit in the build a wall ideology. Or… I hope someone hears “Rock and Roll Sister” at exactly the right moment that they need a party anthem. Whatever you do, “Don’t let the fuckers turn you into suckers! Don’t let the fuckers kill your buzz!”

www.willienile.com

Categories
Features

This Hard Land

This Hard Land

Springsteen on Broadway

The best artists are mirrors, reflecting your own sense of self through their craft and experience, making you think about what comes back at you, creating something that lives in the space between you, them, and the work. This is true of any medium. For rock and roll, Bruce Springsteen achieves this to exemplary results. Having seen him live in many guises over the years – mine and his – two essential observations resonate.

First off, while a fine musician with a fine band, he is an American songwriter of the highest order, belonging in the same league as Dylan and Gershwin. Fans get it, but many laypeople overlook this because somehow he’s a victim of his success, the hits that namecheck Cadillacs, ramrods, and the U.S.A. Sure, he writes about these things, but they are backdrops for deeper meaning, songs about characters who are every day folks struggling with the ups and downs of life and love in a blue collar noir setting.

Secondly, and more obvious, is his natural charisma, his ability to connect with and lift an audience of any size. His E Street band extravaganzas are legendary as three-hour plus marathons, holy rock and roll revivals. I’ve seen a few and there is perfect pacing to those shows, so that despite their length, peaks and valleys pass too quickly and leave you exhausted, but still ready for more.

This leads me to Springsteen on Broadway.

When the run was announced, I immediately thought “what a strange idea.” A scripted set of tunes by the Boss carrying a personal narrative – solo, with none of the band interplay, none of the spontaneity, none of the ever changing set list. Odd artistic choice. But, maybe not, as I reflected on the shows I’d seen and Springsteen’s habit of inserting long narratives about growing up, battling with his father, and trying to make it out of Jersey, stories that would precede tunes like the Animals “It’s My Life” or his own “Independence Day.” So, there was a precedent for this, in some ways. In this case he would draw from those tales, as well as those he added for his Born to Run memoir. Springsteen has toured and recorded solo before, and of course, the legendary John Hammond signed him thinking he’d be a solo artist.

But, Broadway? As a young man in Freehold, New Jersey, did he ever, in his wildest dreams think his career would land him on Broadway in the Walter Kerr Theater on 48th Street, in a musical one man show? I doubt it. And, the prices. Two ranges.  $75 to $400 and $500 to $850. Yikes. I discussed this with my brother, who incidentally, took me to my first Springsteen show at the Uptown Theater in Chicago when I was in high school, on a school night (Not sure how I got away with that, but thanks Dave). He was a bit critical of Bruce’s pricing motives. I thought the tickets were too expensive for me, but defended the Boss nonetheless. My rationale was there was a lot of other things I could do with that amount of dough; but on the other hand, Bruce deserves to charge what he needs to charge. The man has a family to take care of and a business to run, and who knows, maybe he was doing this run to do something different creatively, be close to home, and build up the trust fund for his heirs. He’s worked hard, built a reputation, and earned the right. There is only one Springsteen. Supply and demand.

Of course, true to our personalities, my brother pulled the trigger on a ticket without hesitation. But, I waited, putting it out of my mind.  Like a character in a Springsteen tune, I have a job, a life to lead, a son to raise.  This was for other folks.

Then, one morning in March I got a text message inviting me to the pre-sale for a new batch of tix released for the back half of 2018.  I’d signed up for it ages before and forgotten. Clicking on the link, I followed a series of complicated steps and walked through the gates to the purchase land. One of the available dates fell on a week I was already planning to go to New York with my son Jude, for one of our summer vacations.  I used to gig in the city a lot, through all of my musical incarnations – new wave, country, and solo – and I had a lot of favorite spots I wanted to show him, paying karmic tribute to the brothers and sisters who I played with and to. Plus, we could simply be tourists, buddies, father and son, in the city that never sleeps. There is nothing Jude likes more than pizza, by the way.

There was another precedent. I’d taken Jude to see many musical greats in his young life, as part of the see ’em while you can trick. This includes multiple Dylans, Sir Pauls, Sir Ringo, George Coleman, Bryan Ferry, Ramsey Lewis, Nick Lowe, Paul Simon, the Who, and yes, even the Monkees. I’m probably forgetting someone. Jude’s had the pleasure of seeing Leon Russell, Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples, and Joan Jett – as opening acts. Throw Beatles Love and Bruce and the E Street Band in there, and you’ll see I’ve done due diligence. Jude digs a lot of these acts, but he is also getting to the stage where he’s discovering his own cultural references, for his time, which is as it should be. Whether it’s been national parks or cities, museums or concerts, flying kites and playing board games, I’ve just tried to lay out the experience, to absorb, remember, embrace, or pass on through. Possibilities. The rest is up to him.

My parents had me very late in life and they were always older than other parents and somehow I think this also instilled in me how quickly time passes, and that often you only get one shot and you never know when it’s the last shot. When I toured I would always soak up the city and the surroundings, making mental notes, wondering if I’d ever return. Usually I did. Sometimes more times than I cared to. I remember a manager friend of mine saying, “Doug, you know it’s great when you hit a town the first time, and it’s great the tenth time. It’s the eight in between that are a bitch.” That said, with kids, one thing is for certain; their growth marks time in a way that is obvious. Change is constant, as it should be. Chances were that Springsteen on Broadway wouldn’t be our last show for a while, but it could be. So, I rationalized away and pulled the trigger. Two tickets third row mezzanine. Damn. We were in. Time passed. We were on.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Showtime. Long line getting into security. Metal detectors.  Cops. Excitement. Ushers. Anticipation. Playbills. Merch. Diet coke in a commemorative glass. Strict no camera policy. Selfie before the show. Lights down. On walked the Boss with a one-man mix of music and monologue, beginning with long passages from his memoir, stories of his mother, father, and sisters, growing up, becoming a man, becoming a star.  Springsteen switched between guitar and piano, playing some songs as they were, reinventing others to fit the context. The crowd was a hush, still, silent, reverent.  You could’ve heard a diamond earring drop.

My first highlight was “My Father’s Town,” the song from Nebraska, elevated by Bruce’s piano playing and telling of the conflicted relationship he held with his father, throughout his life. Originally using his dad as a relatively negative dramatic foil in his work, Springsteen now grasps the other side of this complicated familial relationship.  Much of the show shed light on demons and ghosts, in the context of who we are, or who we become. It was moving.

My second highlight was “Thunder Road.” Maybe Springsteen’s strongest song.  Is there a better opening line than “the screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways?” This is one of Jude’s favorite Springsteen tunes, and I looked over to see him in rapt attention, his bright and soulful eyes fixed on the stage. When I take him to stuff like this, people tell me he’s lucky to have me as a dad. Maybe. Personally, I think I’m the lucky one, as I have learned so much from being his father. On every adventure we take I hold time still in certain moments, to savor what I know will soon become another memory to be carried with me to a time in the future, when I would have little to do but remember. This was one of those moments. A gift.

“Thunder Road” also took me backwards, to my room, in my parent’s house, in my home town, when I was younger than my son and discovering this music.  I probably ordered the album from Columbia House Record Club and if they were still around, would still owe them money. But, I still have it, and so does Bruce. He effortlessly wove guitar, harmonic, and his impassioned voice together to wring soul out of every word and note, beautifully.

Each song was its own highlight, really, but by mid-set, I felt something odd about the performance, as if Springsteen was a bit constrained in his chosen setting. Doing eight months of the same songs every night, with close to the same dialogue, had to be wearing on him.  While the consummate professional taking good care of his audience, I imagined a slight tension in the air, as if the Boss was itching to pepper in some E Street Band drop a song he’d never played, add a deep cut cover from a favorite soul record, and simply throw caution to the wind.

Midway through the Broadway show, Springsteen typically brings on his wife and background singer Patti Scialfa to do two tunes from his “relationship” album, Tunnel of Love.  But, on this night, our night, we were informed she was sick at home with a stomach flu, and regrettably, couldn’t make it. Sent her love. Awww said the audience. But, necessity is the mother of invention and while we all sent our love back, even Bruce would tell you that good art is often born of accidents. And so, he veered from the script.

A sweet narrative about coming to terms with his father and the chain of parenthood was followed by a spontaneous “Long Time Coming,” and his prayer that “if I had one wish in this god forsaken world, kids, it’d be that your mistakes would be your own.” The words had personal, societal, and communal relevance. To tie the personal to the political, which it always is, Springsteen followed with an impassioned social justice narrative that called attention to our dark times and the hope that our better angels would prevail, a call to action that was appropriately punctuated by the Guthrie and Steinbeck inspired “Ghost of Tom Joad.” Come on up for the rising and the Broadway walls were coming down. The rest of the set was excellent, and Springsteen thanked and blessed the audience with grace and humility, closing “Born to Run,” the lights came up and the audience snapped their curtain call photos.

“You’re a beautiful audience,” sayeth the Boss. “You’re so good, you get the first encore ever…Feel free to take a picture.” Grinning ear to ear as people rose, snapped and clapped, Springsteen launched into the run’s first encore, “This Hard Land.”

Earlier in the weekend, I’d taken my son to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, on his request 354 steps, round and round all the way to the top. I’d visited the Lady before, but it never gets old to me, every time I shed tears when the boat approaches the island, as I’m reminded of the best of what this country offers, the reason why my grandparents came to make their way and the hope that somehow, I can better our generational path forward, for the sake of my son and all that will follow. Walking through the great hall of Ellis Island, I was reminded of the vast and innumerable contributions of immigrants to our nation, to the arts, culture, science, politics, and the backbreaking hard work that no one wants to do, particularly after they climb a few rungs on the ladder. And, it was very relevant today, in the context of the dark times to which Bruce referred.

Before my father passed, he gave me a copy of the manifest of the Steamship Edam, which left Amsterdam for New York, carrying his father (who was three at the time) and his parents, Tjerk and Neeltje Hoekstra, who were 34 and 28 years old, respectively. It arrived May 13, 1889. Actually, my grandfather and great grandfather were both named Tjerk, but family lore has it that my grandfather changed his name to Alfred on the bequest of his wife, who said she liked the name, it was more American, and no one wanted to know him as a jerk. Since Ellis Island facilities weren’t built yet, they would’ve landed on shore, at Castle Clinton, where we picked up our tickets to sail. I wore my dad’s favorite hat on our visit and took a picture with Jude in front of the old stone entrance to Castle, the gateway to America for my ancestors. Great grandfather Tjerk’s marriage papers, which I discovered online, listed him as a laborer. Chucking it all for a new life, crossing into the unknown with courage and fortitude. Only three generations later and I’m high-stepping on Broadway. But, like the performer in front of me, I still think of myself as blue collar, and proud to be only second generation America.

“This Hard Land” was a joyous finale that brought all these thoughts together, Springsteen displaying a familiar spirit that lifted the house, and he intensity of the previous numbers. He blew harmonica as if his life depended on it.

“Hey Frank wont ya pack your bags and meet me tonight down at Liberty Hall; just one kiss from you my brother and we’ll ride until we fall.”

During the show, Springsteen spoke a lot about the souls of the departed, the presence of those ghosts in his life. What were the chances of us being there on that night, of all nights? Was my father with me? His father as well? Did his father pass by 48th Street on the way to Chicago? What would they think of all this?

“We’ll sleep in the fields. We’ll sleep by the rivers and in the morning. We’ll make a plan… if you can’t make it…”

The crowd waited for the tagline and the Boss drove on with the bittersweet optimism that his best songs carry, singing as if to me, my son, those around us, and himself. The lights were up and again, I glanced at Jude and captured another moment for the books. If you collect enough good moments, you have a good day. If you collect enough good days, you have a good week. And, so on, until you have a good life. And, then you sleep well at night.

“Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive, if you can – and meet me in a dream of this hard land.”

Thanks Bruce for the reminder. 

brucespringsteen.net/broadway

doughoekstra.wordpress.com

 

Categories
Music Reviews

The Gaslight Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem

The ’59 Sound Sessions

Sidewinder

10 years ago, The ’59 Sound catapulted The Gaslight Anthem from local New Jersey contenders to national breakthrough act. Now, on the eve of a reunion tour to celebrate that landmark release, fans have the chance to hear the songs that paved the way for such a classic rock ‘n’ roll record.

The ’59 Sound Sessions gives a glimpse into how the band crafted the songs that producer Ted Hutt honed on the band’s second album. It’s clear from the demos of songs like the stylish “Miles Davis and the Cool” and the raucous “Great Expectations” that he had a great base to work with.

As evidenced by the superb “’59 Sound” The Gaslight Anthem already had boundless energy, terrific songwriting chops and an unbelievably talented and tight band. Sure, the parent album had a refined sheen that these demos hint at but as the blue-collar rock of “Patient Ferris Wheel” shows, it’s easy to see why Bruce Springsteen took the band under his wing.

So the demos will hold a certain appeal for fans interested in the anatomy of the classic record, but what will really hold their interest are previously unreleased tracks like the country tinged “Our Father’s Sons”, the spellbinding cover of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” (made famous by Johnny Cash) and the brilliant “Placeholder”.

The latter is a brilliant hook-laden track that somehow didn’t make it onto The ’59 Sound in full save for the middle eight which eventually morphed to become the chorus of the classic “Old White Lincoln”.

The Gaslight Anthem tour this summer unfortunately won’t lead to a permanent reunion or a new record, but The ’59 Sound Sessions at least does a stellar job of breathing new life into a record that thrust the band to the success and acclaim that was, on this evidence, richly deserved.

www.thegaslightanthem.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Andy Frasco and the UN

Andy Frasco and the UN

with Gwan Massive

the Crowbar, Ybor City, Florida • January 26, 2018

Shore leave!

Andy Frasco and the UN are spending a lot of time at sea lately. They just came off the Jam Cruise and will be heading back to the waves for the rock cruise in about a week. The Crowbar show feels like a continuation of a non-stop party. Andy brought along musicians and fans from the Jam Cruise to fill the Ybor City bar with over two hours of mayhem. Having checked out the Songs From the Road, Frasco’s frenetic live album/DVD release, I was ready for an energetic set. On the disc, Andy came across as the delinquent nephew of Bruce Springsteen. Seeing the band in person, Andy comes across as Bruce Springsteen’s delinquent nephew who is trying to make his uncle look like a lazy couch potato!

Ernie Change, the Asian Tom Cruise

Bob Pomeroy
Ernie Change, the Asian Tom Cruise

The UN Kicked off the music marathon with his ode to bondage, “Tie Me Up” and things never really slowed down for the next two and a half hours. The set was loose, almost to the point of anarchy, but never actually falling apart. Andy treated the show as a rehearsal by trying out new songs and covers they’re working up for the rock cruise. Friends kept jumping into and out of the set. Texan’s Chad and Matt Cocuzza from the band Spoon Fed, jumped in on a lot of songs adding marching band percussion to a lot of tunes. The horn players from opening act, Gwan Massive joined the fray on a lot of songs too. I was impressed with how seamless the playing was with people coming and going all night long. The UN was also playing with a pick-up bass player because their Dutch bassist got deported coming off the Jam Cruise.

An Andy Frasco show is an interactive event. Andy sent guitarist Sean Eckles and sax player Ernie Chang out onto the dance floor for “band parties” where the players had cutting contests on the dance floor. Andy came down off the stage to lead the dancers in a Soul Train style dance showcase. Andy frequently mentions his Jewish heritage and after the Soul Train tribute, Andy went full horah on us by getting six folks hoist him aloft on a stool as people danced around him. A bit after midnight, Ernie and Andy helped a woman celebrate her birthday. The young woman came onstage to receive her birthday lap dances from Ernie and Andy.

Bob Pomeroy


Andy Frasco gives a lap dance

Bob Pomeroy
Andy Frasco gives a lap dance

At this point, you’re probably realizing that trying to describe an Andy Frasco show is like trying to describe a hurricane. I’ll just tell you to dive into the chaos if you ever get the chance and let the music carry you away. You may wind up doing the freeze dance with a guy in a gold cape and a plush snake or drinking Andy’s whiskey. Andy asked us to make him a promise, that whatever happens, let’s just be happy. For a curmudgeon like me, that’s a hard promise to make, but for a few hours, Andy Frasco and the UN can chase the blues away.

Tampa’s soul/hip hop review, Gwan Massive warmed up the congregation for Andy in fine style. Their horn players spent a long time on stage playing with the UN as well.

andyfrasco.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Low Cut Connie

Low Cut Connie

Dirty Pictures Pt. 1

Contender Records

Have you seen Low Cut Connie? No, not the flirty waitress at Waffle House. They’re a band out of Philly who play libidinal rock and roll born out of the diveiest bars on the lower east side and the greasiest garage in Mississippi. They’re the unplanned offspring of Jerry Lee Lewis and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. It’s raw, honest, empathetic, loser rock of the finest kind.

The characters populating Dirty Pictures are kind of like the background characters in early Springsteen songs. The couple we meet on “Dirty Water”, (“keep betting on red now, baby, til we run out of money. Keep telling that same dumb joke, til we both think it’s funny” ) could have been partying on “Thunder Road”, but they never got out of town. They’re still there, skinny dipping in the by-pass canal.

Adam Weiner is the guy behind the microphone and kicking it on the piano. He took his crew to Ardent studios in Memphis to lay down these tracks. Weiner isn’t your typical macho rocker. He’s the beta male cursed with bad luck in life and love. His pal, Angela is girl who is “too hot to date me, I just don’t want you to hate me.” On “Love Life”, he admits that as a lover, “I’m not the best you ever had” and it’s “only fair I let you run around” but laments “did you have to spread the tale all over town?” When Weiner settles down to sing a ballad, it sounds like the best of Paul Westerberg’s work with the Replacements. Of course, when Weiner is doing the tender balladeer thing, he’s singing about herpes and conjunctivitis in Montreal. The Connies even do a crunchy cover of the Prince classic, “Controversy”.

It’s kind of surprising that a band who don’t appear to aspire to higher than a Tenderloin honky tonk have ended up with friends in high places. Low Cut Connie have been praised by the New York Times, Rolling Stone and even got an invitation to the White House from President Obama. Now they can add INK 19 to the fan club. So now that I’ve been infected, I gotta find a way to see these guys live.

lowcutconnie.com