Previous month:
January 2008
Next month:
March 2008

Cowboy Junkies Revisited

Cowboy_junkies

I was in a book store store last night waiting for a buddy and I heard some background music that sounded familiar.  It was like an old college friend that I couldn't quite place.  I kept straining to hear it better.  Hey, isn't that the Cowboy Junkies? I wondered.  Then I'd hear a bit more and say, no that can't be it.  I know that album really well and this section is different, more lively.  Then a few minutes later I'd here some vocals and get that same weird feeling again.  I mean who would do a cover version of the Cowboy Junkies doing a cover of Sweet Jane?  It was driving me nuts.  Finally, I went to the front counter to see what the heck they were playing.  Guess what, the Cowboy Junkies have done a cover version of their first album: Trinity Revisited.

The original Trinity Sessions album was recorded at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto in 1987 with a single microphone for the whopping sum of $250.  And it became a classic alt-rock album in the late '80s and early '90s selling more than a million copies.   Margo Timmins with her haunting vocals, brother Peter on drums, Michael on guitar, the sparse arrangements, the lo-fi sound; it all worked.

The band re-recorded the album in 2006 to commemorate the 20th anniversary (Can it be?  Am I that old?) and has now reissued it with a CD and DVD package.  Not only is the recording better, but the songs have more spunk with some excellent distorted guitar solos --especially on Sweet Jane, my favorite song on both the original and the new album.  The updated version of Sweet Jane has a gloriously cacophonous intro and the song is much richer and more textured than the original stripped down version.  They've included a handful of guest vocalists (Natalie Merchant, Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnut) which adds a fresh vibe.  They also did a live show at Massey Hall in Toronto last week to commemorate the new release.

The DVD covers the live re-recording (with a few more microphones) as well as a documentary featuring band interviews and rehearsal footage.  Most importantly, seeing the inside of Trinity Church where it all happened provides an additional level of atmosphere to the music.  Watch for an upcoming tour that will take the band on the road in the US and Canada from March through June.


Jonathan Coulton: Geek Rock

Jonathan_coulton

Jonathan Coulton quit his job as a programmer to become a folk rocker who sings about... programming!  He's now making more money as a professional musician recording in his spare bedroom than he did as a slinging code.  He wrote a song a week for a year and assembled it into an CD called "Thing a Week" building up a loyal fan base through web promotions and live gigs.  Read the full story below on Yahoo's People of the Web article.

Jonathan is touring through the US with upcoming shows in Alexandria, Austin, Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago and beyond.   The YouTube link below shows Jonathan playing an acoustic version of his song "Code Monkey."


U2 3D --No House of Pancakes!

U2_3d_poster

Ok guitar fans: Ever wish you could be the Edge rocking on stage with Bono and getting all the girls? Well, that's not gonna happen.

But on February 22nd you have a shot at the next best thing: U2 3D, the greatest live rock movie ever, opens at theatres all over the country.

So forget about another Friday night playing Guitar Hero and get down to see this movie before it's gone.  And since most women dig Bono, you probably have a shot at getting a date. Just don't tell her about the 3-D bit til you get there. The movie opened at Cannes and Sundance to positive reviews, so who knows, maybe you'll even get lucky.   

Here's the scoop: U2 is one helluva band, right? And they do a fantastic live show. Even the whingers who hate Bono agree on this. So figure this: How well do you think U2 performs at packed stadiums in Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Santiago? El-Rocko-Numero-Uno, that's how good.  This movie rocks from the opening countdown and jump of Vertigo ("Uno, dos, tres, quatorze") through 14 songs from various eras of U2, including cuts from classic albums like War and The Joshuah Tree. 

U2_3d_stage_2

My pal Sid and I saw this show a couple weeks ago at an Imax theatre in Toronto and the concert footage is awsome. Not only that, the whole thing is in 3-D. Yes, you gotta wear the special sunglasses, but it was an absolute blast. And we weren't even loaded, at least for the start of the movie.

How good is the 3-D? Straight-up this was the best entertainment I'd seen in months if not years. The detail was stunning. The images clear. The 3-D was realistic without being cheezy. No House-of-Pancakes monster horror chiller effects. And no headaches from the glasses. Just a great set clocking in at 85 minutes in full Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  And the band is well-choreographed and tight. 

I can't say it was like being at a live rock show because you get access to many different angles and views of the action much like a camera-man at a concert. Sometimes you're in the audience, sometimes you're on stage, sometimes you're in the sky-cam. But the views are always interesting and the band makes it compelling to watch.  It's clearly Bono's show --he's one of the most charismatic rock stars in the last 25 years --but there's also plenty of good footage of Adam Clayton on Bass, Larry Mullins on drums and the Edge performing his classic harmonics and leads. 

But this is not a simulation of a live rock show either. It was not the same as, say, the time I was at Aerosmith on the ground floor front row. And it's not really a regular movie because there are no documentary angles, no backstage interviews or other distractions. It actually seems like U2 and the movie producers, 3ality Digital, have created a new kind of entertainment.

When Adam Clayton swings his bass towards you during New Years' Day, its a freakout. And when Bono reaches out as if to touch the audience during Sunday Bloody Sunday, it seemed as if every member of the audience was capitivated.  But the truth is these 3-D moments are generally few and most of the effects are subtle. What you get to witness instead is a solid set of songs with great musicianship, big impact visuals and awsome sound. Add in 50,000 screaming Argentinians and it's easy to go along with the crowd. The movie captures the intensity and if I'm not going too far, even the spiritual power of a  U2 concert.  Bono, after all, is a consumate preacher, championing for peace, for human rights and for co-existance. 

You don't have to be a huge U2 fan to appreciate this show. But either way, you'll be a bigger fan after.   

You can also view previews on YouTube, though obviously they are not in 3D.  Also, a non-3D version of the Vertigo tour was recorded in Chicago was released previously on DVD as U2 Vertigo 2005.  Because this is a limited engagement, I suspect many showings will sell out.  So don't wait.  Book your tickets in advance on Fandango.

Shortage of 3D Theaters?

Note that there's starting to be a national shortage of 3-D cinemas which is creating problems for competing films, according to the Wall Street Journal. Look for more cinemas to convert to 3-D as every major Hollywood studio launches 3-D titles within the next year.   But while U2 plays it subtle in 3-D, some movie makers will dip heavily into the cheap effects possible with the technology. Disney's Hannah Montana Best of Both Worlds Tour features a barrage of gimmicky shots that may leave you reaching for the Tylenol.  There's some interesting behind the scenes articles and photos at StudioDaily.


My $200 Epiphone SG

Epi_sg400_2 

A while back I was looking for another cheap guitar to leave at my father's place in Florida.  I usually travel there a couple of times a year for a week at a time and figured it would be good to have a spare guitar there.  In fact, I probably should have done this years ago.   I decided to check out the local Guitar Center to see what was on offer at the low-end of the market.  I set the upper limit of my budget at $200.  After all, I was only going to play this guitar a few weeks every year just to practice.  Sot it didn't really make sense to buy a great guitar.  And besides, if anything happened to it, I wouldn't worry too much about it. 

After trying out a number of disappointing low-end Fenders, I happened on a nice looking Epiphone SG 400 in classic cherry red. This guitar had been highly rated in recent magazine reviews.  I've never considered myself a huge SG fan, but, hey, if it's good enough for Frank Zappa, AC/DC, then what the heck.  The SG 400 is made in China and has a list price of  around $400, though it typically sells for less.  This one was marked down to $200.  The front looked fine, but upon further inspection, it was clear the guitar had suffered some kind of damage.  The back of the neck near the headstock had some deep gouges out of it.  The neck had been repaired and resurfaced, but there was about a 4 inch section where the finish didn't match.  I spoke to the clerk and he confirmed the guitar had been sent out for repair and was being sold "as-is." 

Still hopeful, I plugged it in and tried it.  The action and feel where far better than any of the other guitars I tried that day.  The rosewood fretboard felt very smooth and the neck comfortable.  So what the heck.  I splurged on a cheap RoadRunner gig bag ($30) and made my way home.  I've used the guitar for a few weeks and overall, I'm happy with it.  The pickups are sometimes a bit muddy, but the neck pickup has a great blues tone.  Overall it's a very solid guitar with a nice sound, a mahogany body and excellent rock tone.  It's got quite a large headstock, which makes it a bit top heavy; something that I'm not used to.  The only real complaint is that the tuners are not the most stable I've ever used and the input jack came lose after a couple of weeks.  I tightened it a few times, but eventually resorted to glueing it in place.  Not pretty, but again, on a $200 guitar, why worry?

If you're hankering for an SG but don't want to splurge on a full-price Gibson model, the Epi comes pretty close.  It's a good value at $400 and a steal for anything less. 


Andy Summers: One Train Later

Onetrainlater_2 

Andy Summers, guitarist for The Police, penned a very solid bio in 2006 before the band had even thought of doing their high profile reunion gig last year.  The resulting "One Train Later" is an interesting recounting of Summers' life as a young man growing up to become a professional guitarist and one of the most under-rated guitar heroes of the 1980s as lead guitarist in The Police. 

Summers had a career as a rock-and-roll gun-for-hire long before he joined The Police.  By the time he was 23 he'd already toured with UK's Soft Machine and Eric Burden and the Animals, sold his sunburst Les Paul to Eric Clapton and consumed enough drugs to sink the Royal Navy, finally settling in near LA.  At the risk of becoming another Laurel Canyon burnout, Summers hunkered down and studied guitar full time 8 hours a day earning a degree in music.  After a few years and with a chop shop Telecaster bought for $200 from a student, he headed back to London with his new bride and scratched out a living touring with various bands around the UK. 

When Summers joined The Police they were a band with no songs, no signature sound and no gigs.  They were bottle-blonde poseurs with little besides a faith in each other.  It wasn't until they blended the reggae style with Sting's pop song-writing sensability that they found a unique voice.  And it was Summers' subtle off-beat chords and open spacing that made room for Sting's melodies.  One can only imagine Summers' frustrations with the punk rock "no solo" ethos at the time.  Here was a guitar player who had jammed with Hendrix and was now subject to the narrow confines of punk rockers who didn't have the ability to play a 10 second guitar break.  Summers recounts the tale with candor including the ups and downs, the fame, fortune, drugs and divorce. 

For fans of The Police and aspiring guitar players, it's a good read about the years of hard work required to become an overnight sensation.  Also worth checking out are Summer's coffee table photo book "I'll be Watching You" and drummer Stewart Copeland's DVD home movie "Everyone Stares ".


Sound Opinions Podcast

Soundopinions_logo

I've recently discovered the best radio show on rock music: Chicago Public Radio's Sound Opinions.  In fact, it's the only talk radio show devoted to rock and roll.  The show ran for seven years on Chicago's WXRT and is now in it's fifth year on public radio.  The show is broadcast weekly with hosts Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, Chicago area rock writers and self-confessed music geeks. 

Each week they cover topics ranging from music industry news, recent album reviews, live interviews and in-studio gigs.  Guests have included the likes of Arcade Fire, the New Pornographers, Wilco, Andy Summers, Spoon, Buddy Guy, Radiohead and more.   It's engaging, fun, expansive and absolutely rocks!  Not only do you get to hear about what's new in the music scene, you get to hear the music itself.  I've discovered countless new bands by listening to the show including the Redwalls, Tecuba Cafe, The Decembrists and more.  This show is now a mainstay of my morning commute.  I don't even remember the last time I put on local radio. 

If you can't find the show in your local radio wasteland, don't worry you can get the Podcast from their site and from iTunes.   


New Lenny Kravitz CD

Lenny_kravitz

Lenny Kravitz has released a new CD "It is Time for a Love Revolution, Baby Why Don't You Rock with Me Like We Did in the 70s!" (ok, that last part is not part of the title, but it could be.)  Lenny has been playing several of these new songs in recent gigs and they are excellent.  I saw Lenny and his band live in San Francisco in November and it was one of the best shows in a long time.  If you like classic Rock with a R&B groove, you'll love this album.  Best of all you can listen to it on VH1 and decide for yourself.  (I'm not sure how long this "leaked" version will be available, so check it out.)  Alternatively, there are several live songs on Yahoo

Also, here's some footage I shot of Lenny and his band peforming "Bring it On" from the new album, live from Cow Palace in San Francisco.  For some reason the Lenny videos on YouTube get more hits than anything else I've posted.  I guess the Love Revolution fans just know how to rock!  There are also some good photos I shot on Picasa.  Watch for upcoming gigs in London, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.


Six Pack with Joe Trohman of Fall Out Boy

Joe_trohman2   

Despite a year of non-stop touring with Chicago pop-punk sensation Fall Out Boy, Joe Trohman still managed to work with Washburn to create a new signature model guitar, the Joe Trohman Washburn Idol. Joe took some time while in Moscow performing a private gig to fill in GuitarVibe readers on the process.

Q: Fall Out Boy has come a long way in the last couple of years. Did you think one day you'd have your own signature guitar?

Joe: Having a signature guitar is something that few guitarists get a chance to make in a lifetime. Even some of the greats.  Five or six years ago I didn’t think making my own guitar would ever be in the cards. I remember years ago just being concerned with maybe one day getting a free guitar, so in case I smashed one I would have a back-up.

Q: How did you get involved with Washburn?

Joe: At the time I was playing various guitars, mostly ones I had paid for myself --Les Pauls at first, then Les Paul Jrs., and then Telecasters. Dave Karon from Washburn came to me, interested in signing me on and making guitars together. I couldn’t say no. I knew Washburn guitars were awesome and would be perfect for what I do.

Q: What was your goal with this guitar? Is there a particular sound or style you're trying to focus on?

Joe: Well my first goal was to make something bare bones: no locking tuners, no active pick-ups, no self-tuning systems, no frills, just something that could get the job done for almost anyone at any skill level. I have always had the mindset of, "Ok, no broken or missing strings, the input jack works, the pick-ups work, it’s good to go". I’ve grown since those times, but I still always do things guerilla style. I needed it to have a slightly wide neck, something that felt nice in the palm of my hand, and a lighter body for the amount of spazzing I do on stage. I alternate between a thick and warm distortion and a half distorted clean sound.  I A/B a Bogner Uberschall and a Orange Rock-o-Verb 30, so I need to make sure that I would not compromise the tone by playing a thinner body than I was used to, but it worked. I also wanted to be playing the same guitar people would see in stores. I think that’s a really cool aspect for kids out there.

Q: How did you decide on the various hardware components?  How would you compare the WB pickups to classic Seymour Duncans?Joe_trohman_washburn

Joe: I had told them that I wanted solid hardware that wouldn’t need replacing, and to set it up with lower action off the bat. I wanted it very standard. I did however want to make sure my pick-ups had similarities to the Duncan Distortions, for that warm rock tone. I basically pushed to keep it simplistic without selling out the quality.

Q: Most tone controls on electric guitars are pretty useless. The VCC is a different approach. How do you use it in your music?

Joe: I agree on that first part. I used to just keep the tone cranked up all the time. Now when I A/B from my Bogner to my Orange, I actually use the tone control to achieve the sound I want.

I thought the VCC controls were an amazing way to get some use from the tone knobs. With the VCC I can get a traditional humbucker tone for heavier parts (through my Bogner), and then still get a single coil tone for half distorted parts and cleaner tones (through my Orange). It’s truly amazing.  It’s made my concentrate on a knob I never even thought about using. How’s that for a sexual innuendo?

Q: No Buzz Feiten tuning system?

Joe: I hate tuning systems. The Buzz Feiten system is great, but I hate relying on anything accept back up guitars and a trusty tech. I’m not bending enough notes to go out all the time. When we play a song or two where I have been bending a lot of notes, I just switch out guitars. Plus Grover tuners do their job real well.

I play my custom Idols, and that’s basically it. Right now the A/B with the two amp heads and the VCC on my guitars covers the sound I want to achieve live.  But who knows.  In the new record could be that I add some more tones. But my focus is keep it live, no frills.

You can find out more about the forthcoming Joe Trohman Washburn Idol go to www.empireoftherepublic.com.  The guitar is available for pre-order for $419.  Check out the links below for more information on Fall Out Boy and their music.