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Romantics Sue Guitar Hero Publisher


Long forgotten Detroit punk pop band The Romantics finally managed to generate some renewed attention this year by licensing Activision the rights to include a cover version of their hit single "What I like About You" in the video game "Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s."  Now The Romantics have taken the brilliant next step to reinvigorate their career by suing Activision claiming that the cover version is, ah, too similar to the original recording.  They are seeking damages and an injunction against Activision.

Guys, wake up!  That's the idea of a cover version.  It's supposed to sound like the original.  And you signed a contract enabling them to do exactly that.  Frankly, you should be happy that kids even know who The Romantics are because of Guitar Hero.  And to anyone who has heard this song on the radio dozens if not thousands of times before, it's clearly not the original recording.  The vocals are similar, but not exactly same and the guitar solo is a completely different intepretation.

Maybe you should have sued them for putting your song next to a bunch of second-rate hair bands.  Or for not including your songs in Rock Band!   Get over it.

Slash on WSJ


Slash, lead guitarist from Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver, is out promoting a new memoir, aptly titled "Slash".  Oddly enough, Slash gets an interview and lists the rock albums that most influenced him in the grand the bastion of corporate reporting: the Wall Street Journal.  I'm sure interviewer Bob Hughes, who also interviews corporate stiffs, is a headbanger from way back. 

But if you do like Slash, check out the newest Velvet Revolver release Libertad. There's plenty to like.  It combines the best of G N' R and Stone Temple Pilots with a modern sound. 

What's next... The Sex Pistols on Leno?  Oh yeah, that was two weeks ago.

Guitar Hero Rocks the 80's Review


Following up on my earlier posting, I've finally gotten around to a proper review of Guitar Hero Encore: Rock the 80s.  Technically this is the third installment of the franchise coming in a few months ahead of the Guitar Hero III mega launch. 

Although the 80's edition doesn't require the original Guitar Hero or Guitar Hero II game, you can think of it as an add-on pack of songs with the same game play as the first two games in the series.  The graphics and some of the moves are updated, but there's no big changes, boss battles or new playing modes.  While the songs are all from the 1980's they don't necessarily match everyone's favorites.  I would have liked more songs from new wave bands like the Clash or even pop hits like the Cars or classic rock like Boston or Van Halen.  But there's still a pretty good mix in here, including the likes of .38 Special, the Go Go's, Billy Squier, Eddie Money, Asia, The Police, Iron Maiden, Scorpion, Poison, Winger, Anthrax, Ratt, Twisted Sister and Judas Priest.  Yes, it's heavy on the metal side. 

Rather than write a traditional review putting the game through its paces, I called upon my nephews (shown below) --two devoted Guitar Hero and PS2 gamers to try it out.  They're completely unencumbered by memories of the 80's --they weren't even born!  They rocked out for the weekend on the game, progressing far faster than I did in unlocking additional songs and mastering the game at more difficult levels.  (I admit, I am a duffer compared to them.) 

The bottom line: they both loved the game and it rekindled their interest in Guitar Hero which had gotten a bit long in the tooth.  While they are aware of Guitar Hero III's release I don't think they were pining for boss battles with Slash.  They were plenty happy to have new songs to play.  Their favorites were "What I Like About You" by the Romantics and "I Wanna Rock" by Twisted Sister.  I was torn between "Synchronicity II" by the Police and "Heat of the Moment" by Asia, both of which were huge radio hits back in the day.  The kids greatly enjoyed co-op mode, the Grim Reaper, and the cool guitars available in the game.  But they were evenly split as to whether the 80's edition was better than Guitar Hero II.


While the Romantics are suing Activision claiming the licensed cover version is too close to the original, I was disappointed with two of the songs that were 80's renditions of classic songs from a decade earlier: Ballroom Blitz by Krokus and Radar Love by White Lion.  To me the original songs -- by The Sweet and Golden Earring respectively --are far superior versions and would be great songs in a future edition of Guitar Hero.  Frankly, I'd never even heard the 80's cover versions.  But again, I was a new waver back then, so maybe I missed it.  I guess one man's Meatloaf is another's Poison, so to speak.

As good as the 80's Edition is, it's not cheap, coming in at $50 for 30 songs, the same price as Guitar Hero III.  The song list includes: We Got the Beat, I Ran (So Far Away), Shaken, The Warrior, Turning Japanese, Lonely is the Night, Heat of the Moment as well as many others.  So if you like the songs, then it's worth buying.  Heck, if you're a real Guitar Hero fan, you probably want both.  You can check out samples of the songs and characters on the Guitar Hero Rock's the 80's official site.   

Aside from the price, the only drawback is  Guitar Hero Encore: Rock the 80s is available only for the Playstation.  Given the delay of Rockband for the PS2, this deserves a second look when shopping for the holidays. 

Lenny Kravitz at Cow Palace

Lenny Kravitz also played at the Oracle conference party last week at Cow Palace.  It was jam-packed so it took nearly thirty minutes to get from The Smithereens stage to the Lenny Kravitz pavillion.  Still, I managed to get reasonably close to the front.  It got a bit claustrophobic with so many people jammed into a standing area, but it was worth it. 

Kravitz is quite a showman, singing, swaying, and swapping out his guitar for bass on an extended jam version of American video. (I think it went on for about 15 minutes  after I stopped recording!  It was cool, but I just didn't have enough memory in my camera.)   While Lenny is no slouch on guitar, the really outstanding guitar solos were by his bandmate Craig Ross, who probably deserves more recognition than he gets. While some people criticize Lenny Kravits for his retro 70's style, I think the whole band pulls it off with style, even when they are hamming it up a bit.

I managed to get some decent photos and some rather shakey video footage.  I guess I should have fought my way up closer so I wouldn't have had to zoom as much.  All I can say is it was a great gig.  Watch for a new album ("Time for a Love Revolution") and tour in February.

The Smithereens at Cow Palace

The Smithereens performed at an Oracle party at Cow Palace in San Francisco last week and I was lucky enough to get into the show.  There were three separate stages featuring the likes of Billy Joel, Stevie Knicks and Lenny Kravitz (more on that in the next post).  There was also loads of free beer and food, and geeks all over the place.  So it was a bit chaotic, to say the least.  Still, there were at least two great bands among all of these, so what the heck.  Could do worse on a school night, eh?

I hadn't heard a Smithereens song in ages, so it was nice to see them still performing after nearly 30 years.  They have great harmonies and a classic 60's to 80's sound, sometimes described as "Jersey Beat meets the Mersey Beat."  Pat DiNizio's voice was a strong as ever belting out classic Smithereens tunes ("A Girl Like You," "Blue Period," "Behind the Wall of Sleep," "Blood & Roses") as well as a couple of covers ("I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "Behind Blue Eyes.")  His voice and the sharpness of the lyrics reminded me of a combination of Elvis Costello and REM.  But maybe that's just my Elvis bias showing through.

Jim Babjak rocked the night away --all smiles-- with his heavy-duty Telecaster and his trademark shimmering guitar sound.  He is one cool dude!  Dennis Diken kept the beat on drums but unfortunately, I never got a good shot of him.  Severo "The Thrilla from Manilla" Jornacion on bass is the newest member of the band, taking over from founding bass player Mike Mesaros.   

Photos and video from the gig available on Picasa and YouTube. On the video clip, you can see Pat getting the full benefit from his Fender VG strat, coaxing a reasonably acurate acoustic sound out of an electric guitar.  That was pretty cool.

If you're in Philly, Virginia or New York, watch for upcoming gigs.

How Many Times Has This Happened To You?


My buddy Travis sent me a link to Gibson's new automatically tuning "Robot Guitar" which I was ready to dismiss as expensive overkill, when I happened to see Van Halen's meltdown version of Jump from a live gig in North Carolina last month.  So maybe there is a need after all. 

Watching the YouTube video from the gig (below), It's hard to tell if the guitar is out of tune or, more likely, the synthesizer is playing back at the wrong speed.  Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch blog polls some leading band techs and musicians and they are sharply divided.  I think it's a synth playback issue.  Because if it was just a guitar out of tune, EVH would have just walked back and picked up another guitar with the right tuning.  There's always at least one backup guitar ready in the wings, even if its a non-standard tuning.  Also, considering the amount of panic that appears to be taking place between Eddy and his son Wolfgang at the beginning, I think they were probably both out of tune.  If it was any other song, they could have just killed the keyboards.  They probably should have just turned down the volume of the keyboards completely during the solo and killed the guitar for the rest of the song.   

The whole thing is a train wreck of a performance, but they rolled with the punches.   David Lee Roth did an admirable job singing vocals and keeping the audience focused on something other than the guitar.  Guitar problem or synth playback issue?  You decide...

Alan Iglesias at Biscuits & Blues

I've been listening to a lot of blues lately and was pretty enthused when I learned that Alan Iglesias & Crossfire, the Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute band would be rolling through the bay area.  I had to be up in San Francisco on business, so I caught the show at Biscuits & Blues, the city's best blues club.  It was a mid-week show, but still pulled in a good crowd and I shared a table with a couple of friendly blues-loving tourists from Japan. 

Between beers and a BBQ Pork sandwich, I managed to get some decent photos and video.  Unfortunately my camera ran out of memory in the middle of "Texas Flood."  Still, the clip shows off some of Alan's talent as a guitar player.  He's definitely digging in and working up a sweat, and this was still just the first set!  The set included a mix of SRV originals as well as classic covers, my favorite being Hendrix's "Little Wing," which I unfortunately was not able to capture.  I've also posted a couple of other shorter clips on YouTube.  The sound, the style, the gear are all a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan by a real fan.

If you missed Stevie Ray Vaughan during his career, this could be the next best thing.  I hope he'll get back to the bay area again soon.  For those in Southern California, you can find Alan and his band playing dates routinely in LA and San Diego.

Guitar Hero III First Impressions


I was able to try out Guitar Hero III Legends of Rock on both a PS2 and Wii last week.  While I haven't had enough time with the game to write full review, I can say that this installment is definitely worthwhile.  The game play is as fun as ever, and perhaps a little more forgiving for newbies.  Graphics on the PS2 and Wii are both decent, but obviously not as good as you'll get on the next-gen consoles like the PS3 and XBox 360.  The lip sync on vocals seems to be much improved, but the drummer animation looks pretty mechanical.  I'm not sure if that's the case on the high-end consoles though.  The Wii has the advantage of having a wireless controller (since the Wiimote is wireless) but the rumble effects were not very noticeable, at least to me.  And on all editions except the PS2, you've got the option of online play. 

Still it was quite something to play "Sunshine of Your Love," "Rock and Roll All Night," and the Hellacopters' admittedly obscure "I'm in the Band."  But I didn't get a chance to work my way up to higher levels.  Overall, the setlist looks promising.  With over 70 songs, you're sure to find some classics and maybe a few undiscovered gem.  Red Octane has outdone themselves this time with songs by The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Aerosmith, Guns N' Roses, The Sex Pistols, Social Distortion, Santana, Pearl Jam, The Who, Weezer, ZZ Top and many others

I'll put together an in-depth review of the PS2 Guitar Hero 80's Edition as well as Guitar Hero III in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, check out the reviews listed below.  Or just go buy it.  You know you will anyways. The only question is when. 

Sex Pistols on Leno, Late Late Show


Following their one-off gig at LA's Roxy club, The Sex Pistols were on Jay Leno and Craig Ferguson's Late Late show last week performing Anarchy in the UK and Pretty Vacant, which have both been re-recorded for Guitar Hero III.  They may be "fat, fifty and proud," but they're still rocking.  While John Lydon gets the most attention, it was nice to see all four original band members still in good form.  Glen Matlock's bass added depth to the songs in a way not found on the original "Never Mind the Bollocks" album.  Steve Jones still looks cool and Paul Jones kept a powerful beat throughout. 

The Pistols will be touring in the UK through November with dates in Brixton, Manchester, Glasgow and London.  Here's to hoping they follow up with a US tour or at least a live DVD.

Tom Robinson Band


I happened to listen to a long forgotten copy of the Tom Robinson Band's first album "Power in the Darkness" from the 70's.  TRB was among the new wave bands that came out of London in the seventies along side The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Stranglers and The Jam.  Tom Robinson (bass, vocals), Danny Kutsow (guitar), Dolphin Taylor (drums) were older and more experienced musicians than many of their contemporaries.  Though Mark Ambler who played keyboards was still just a teenager, he also brought an old-school vibe to the band with his Hammond B3 organ.

Listening to the music again, I was floored.  Most of the songs still work and they're just as good as they were 30 years ago.  Songs like "Don't Take No For An Answer," "Long Hot Summer," "You Gotta Survive" and "Winter of '79" still hit with the same pop punch that they did originally.  I don't think anyone would have the balls to do a song like "Power in the Darkness" these days; everyone's too afraid with political correctness to call it like it is or to use a little satire to make a point.  In fact there's a remix version of that song from 2004 where Robinson himself does a much toned down (though perhaps more clever) version of his "radio voice" rant.  Here's an excerpt from the original:

What we want is:

Freedom from the reds and the blacks and the criminals
Prostitutes, pansies and punks
Football hooligans, juvenile delinquents
Lesbians and left wing scum
Freedom from the niggers and the Pakis and the unions
Freedom from the Gipsies and the Jews
Freedom from leftwing layabouts and liberals
Freedom from the likes of you...

I'm not sure today people would understand that it's tongue in cheek social commentary.  Robinson was famously gay (known for his anthemic "Glad to be Gay," and unafraid to take a stand on issues that mattered.  That's what led to so many great songs on the first album and why he helped organize the "Rock Against Racism" concert in '78 that featured TRB, The Clash, Steel Pulse and X-Ray Spex among others. 

TRB's sound was in many ways more "classic rock" than punk.  The steady drumming from Dolphin Taylor and powerful solos from Danny Kutsow give the songs an ageless quality.  Unfortunately, TRB's success was shortlived.  Their second album failed to reach the heights of their first --and really, how could it?  The band dissolved some time later, Robinson carried on after a few false starts and now works in radio at the BBC where he's interviewed the likes of Billy Bragg, Bob Geldof, The Buzzcocks, Moby, Thom Yorke, The Dandy Warhols and dozens of others.   

TRB's greatest hits album Rising Free includes 11 songs from the first album and 4 other songs from later on.  But I recommend picking up the first album Power in the Darkness; it's got all the songs plus the bonus EP and the 2004 remix.  The first album really is TRB's greatest hits.  You can also download most of Tom's later work directly from his site free of charge.