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June 2008
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August 2008

Hellacopters Final Album

Headoff

One of my favorite rock bands from Sweden, The Hellacopters, is splitting up.  They've recently put out their seventh and final album, "Head Off" and announced that it's their final tour of Europe.  I doubt they'll make it back to the US since they've never had as big a following over here as they deserve. 

The Hellacopters hold a special place for me as I discovered their music about 3 years ago on a business trip that left me pretty much stranded in Stockholm on a holiday weekend with a broken laptop and not a lot to do.  I bought 3 of their albums including the newly released "Rock & Roll is Dead" and was blown away.  And that's when I wrote my first blog post on GuitarVibe.

"Head Off" is a good album, but it must be noted that it's an album of cover songs.  The band picked songs that they felt were in the style of The Hellacopters, but somehow I can't help but wish they had mixed in a few original songs for their final send off.  Hopefully they'll shoot some more video to capture their final tour this fall. Meanwhile, I'll see if I can figure out some way to catch one of their final shows.  Here's a clip from YouTube of "In the Sign of the Octopus" originally performed by The Robots.


Blue Oyster Cult Live in Santa Cruz

Heavy metal pionneers Blue Öyster Cult played two sets in Santa Cruz Friday evening at the beach boardwalk. I've posted some photos and video.  I can't say I'm a huge fan of Blue Öyster Cult, but I'm kind of a live music slut these days, and since it was a free local concert, what the heck.  But apparently BOC remains hugely popular and they drew one of the largest crowds I've seen ever at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

And yes, they played their most famous song "Don't Fear the Reaper" along with plenty of cowbell from an onstage roadie as well as dozens of Gene Frenkle wannabe's in the audience.  In fact they managed to play their big hits "Godzilla," "Burning for You," plus another two dozen songs.   While hits like "Don't Fear the Reaper" have withstood the test of time for 30 years, some of the other material is definitely from an earlier heavy metal era.  If you like Black Sabbath, or other heavy metal umlaut bands, then you'll love most of what BOC does; if not, it starts to sound an awful lot like Spinal Tap when they get all mystical. 

But to be clear, Blue Öyster Cult was first with the umlaut and first in heavy metal and they influenced a generation of metal bands --some that you might not want to run into in a dark alley late at night.  And I think "Don't Fear the Reaper" is one of those classic songs that I never get tired of hearing.  It's not a tough song to learn and sounds great.  (Check out the guitar tab PDF and video on Buck Dharma's site.)

At any rate, those who were more familiar with BOC's ouevre seemed to really get into the show, or at least had enough substance to make it enjoyable.  I missed much of the first set due to traffic, but I managed to get a seat up front (thanks Josh!) for the second set and got quite a few good photos.  The video quality is not great, especially when a bouncing beach ball knocked my camera.  But still, it came out pretty decent.   

While the band's lineup has changed over the years, the two key founding members Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom are still fearing the reaper 30 years on.  Dharma may not have the long hair and 'stache that he had in the 70's, but he played awesome guitar.  And he's got a Steinberger like me, and anyone who rocks this hard for so long is good in my book.

There are upcoming Beach Boardwalk concerts  through the rest of the summer featuring John Waite, Gregg Rolie, The Gin Blossoms and The Tubes.


Elvis Costello - Live at Shoreline

Elvis Costello & The Imposters are the opening act for The Police on the final leg of their reunion tour through North America and I had the pleasure of seeing the band last week at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountainview, California. 

This was my seventh time seeing Elvis over the years, and I must say, every gig is different. As I mentioned in the write up of The Police, this was the grungiest Costello set I've ever heard --right out of 1983.  While some were critical of the show, I thought it was great.  High energy, balls out distortion and loud.  There were a few cuts from Costello's most recent album Momofuku, including American Gangster, which is a great song and could have easily been on his second album "This Year's Model."  But most of it was material culled from the late 70's and early 80's.  He started with "Pump it Up,"  and then immediately launched into "Mystery Dance" as well as other classics including "Radio, Radio," "Clubland," "Uncomplicated," "Watching the Detectives" and "Everyday I Write the Book" which was a bit of a disappointment to me in the current grungy arrangement.  Costello brought out Sting to join in on vocals on Alison, which was a nice touch and then finished with "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?"

We were near the back of the 202 section at Shoreline, and even though I moved up to the front to get photos, it was still pretty far from the stage.  So the photos aren't the best.  I may need to start buying better seats or get a bigger zoom lens!  I also managed to shoot some video, but it came out pretty crappy. I'll see if I can post that next week.


Don Felder Rips on Eagles in "Heaven And Hell"

Felder

Don Felder, lead guitarist in The Eagles for 25 years and author of one of their biggest hits "Hotel California" rips on his bandmates in his tell-all autobiography "Heaven & Hell: My Life In the Eagles."  I'm not a huge Eagles fan by any means, but Felder's guitar work is excellent and the book is worth reading if only to get a glimpse into the excesses of California rockstar life in the 1970s.

Coming from modest childhood in Gainesville Florida, Felder tells the tale of his early years crossing paths with the likes of Duane Allman and Tom Petty (teaching him guitar!) and ultimately being asked to join The Eagles in 1974.  At that time, The Eagles were the epitome of the Topanga Canyon Southern California country-rock sound, picking up where the Birds and Buffalo Springfield left off.  Felder was key to bringing an edgier rock guitar sound to the band. 

Although The Eagles was started as an "all equal" band with no sidemen, over the years, the de facto leaders Don Henley and Glenn Frey pushed out founding members Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner.  Felder managed to live through it all by keeping a low profile and not angering "the gods" as he referred to Henley and Frey.  He was even there for the epic 2 1/2 year "Hell Freezes Over" reunion tour.  But at that point, with years of ego and acrimony, he gave it up.  Although Felder was a 1/3 share owner of the legal entity The Eagles Ltd, he was getting a raw deal from Henley and Frey when it came to the finances and he was fired from the band.  Felder sued and the matter was later settled out of court.  (It seems that Henley and Frey also fought to keep the book out of print---talk about controlling!)

At 350 pages, "Heaven And Hell" is a long book, but still a breezy read, suitable for the beach or a coast-to-coast flight.  For any Eagles fan, there's enough drama, drugs and mayhem to keep it interesting.  Just about ever few pages it seems there's a description of a coke fueled-recording session or "E3" (third encore) party full of groupies.  Felder also describes his role in writing the music for few of The Eagles most well-known hits including "Hotel California," "Those Shoes" and "Victim of Love."


The Police Live at Shoreline

I went to see The Police with Elvis Costello last night at Shoreline.  In a word: fantastic.  In a few more words: much better than Oakland last year!  Better opening act, better energy, better melodies, better venue, better sound and much tighter playing all 'round. 

While this was the seventh time I've seen Elvis Costello live, it was by far the grungiest set I've witnessed.  It was balls-out distortion, pounding drums and very loud.  If you like "Uncomplicated" from Costello's 80's release "Blood and Chocolate" then you would have loved it.  But if you were hoping for something lighter, then you might have felt lost.  Still, I think it was very à propos to have two "class of 77" bands together.

The Police came on stage around 9pm to what was by then a packed house.  My wife and I were in the second reserved section, still quite a ways from the stage, but the sound was excellent and there was a clear view.  I managed to get quite a few good photos, but you may have guessed that the close ups were taken from the big screen behind the band.  Still the views were good and the screen was big and bright.

To be honest, I was disappointed in last year's Oakland Police concert, and this time it was a completely different feeling.  The re-worked and dulled down melodies of last time were thankfully nowhere to be heard.  The band played better together and there was a greater sense of enthusiasm and energy from Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers.  The selection of material also lent itself to a more up-beat show.  (Though I would have liked to have heard "The Bed's Too Big Without You" which they did very well last year.)

The setlist included pretty much all of The Police's greatest hits as well as a couple of more obscure numbers like "Demolition Man" and "Hole in My Life."   The show began with a high-energy version of "Message in a Bottle"  and was followed up by "Walking on the Moon," "Synchronicity II," "Don't Stand So Close to Me," "Can't Stand Losing You," "Everything She Does is Magic" and others.  The band wrapped up with "Roxanne," "Every Breath You Take," and a frantic version of "Next to You."  At just over 90 minutes, the set was a bit shorter than I expected, but still excellent.

Sting's vocals and bass playing were top notch and Andy Summers' guitar playing was superb.  I think he's one of the most under-rated guitarists in the world considering how much sound he's able to provide.  Most of the catchy hooks in The Police are due to the way Summers' blends his playing against Sting's vocals. It's something that always made The Police sound unique.  When you watch Summers' play it becomes all the more amazing as he never seems to sweat or miss a beat.   Meanwhile, drummer Stewart Copeland was definitely enjoying himself.  Copeland's complex drumming style adds a lot of texture and richness to The Police sound.  I gotta say, that even after 30 years, The Police have a sound that still stands the test of time: three primo rock musicians that combine to deliver a sound that is unduplicated.      

There aren't too many dates left in this tour, so if you're at all on the fence, I encourage you to go see The Police live.  They will be playing remaining dates in the US including Salt Lake City, Denver, Milwaukee, Detroit, Boston, and New York through August 7.  And after that, hopefully a live DVD, but don't expect any follow on gigs.

The San Jose Mercury News ran a review along with an interview with Copeland and a set list.  I've posted some photos on PicasaWeb.  And I'll follow up with a more detailed write-up of Elvis Costello's set --with more photos --next week.


Kirk Hammett Practice Amp from Randall

Kh_amps

I happened to run into Kirk Hammett in the San Francisco airport a while back.  My wife figured it was just some guy with a passing resemblence to Hammett, since there was no guitar, and no enoutrage, but he was the real deal.  I spoke to him for a minute, no doubt convincing him that there was a need for even greater airport security against rampant stalking bloggers. 

And while he didn't have a guitar amidst his Tummi luggage, he might well have had the nicely portable Randall HK15 practice amp in there.  Not that Hammett needs to practice.  That's not what I meant at all. 

Kh_amp_hk15 Randall offers a range of Kirk Hammett signature amplifiers ranging from the 15 watt practice amp up to the full sized beasts ready for use on stage. 

The KH15 has a nice Clean channel setting as well as Overdrive and a Boost button that significantly beefs up the distortion.  Once you turn on the Boost and Overdrive it's plenty loud enough to get your neighbor's attention.  You'll swear there's something more than 15 watts pumping through the 6 1/2 " speaker.

The tone and volume controls are dead simple.  There's a headphone jack as well as a CD/MP3 input jack for jamming to your favorite tracks.  Also, it's got cool blue lights. 

For a street price of around $100 it's a pretty decent little amplifier with plenty of power and decent built-in tones.  If you're looking for something stripped down and easy to use, look no further.  The KH15 doesn't have a lot of extra effects or doodads, but it's high quality and covers all the basics at a good value.

The Randall line of Kirk Hammett amplifiers have been designed to help you tap into Hammett's legendary tone with ease.  Playing like Hammett, well, that's another story.  Here's a video courtesy of  WorldMusicSupply putting the KH15 through its paces.


Rock On by Dan Kennedy

Rockon

"Rock On" by Dan Kennedy, is one heckuva funny book.  Kennedy describes his tour year stint as a marketing puke at Atlantic Records in 2002 while the company goes through massive turmoil as the music industry heads into the biggest slump in its history.  Kennedy is a mid-30's slacker coming to grips with the idea of even having a career, let alone what he thinks could be a dream job in the rock and roll business.  But rock & roll fantasy quickly gives way to boring staff meetings, mediocrity, internal politics, layoffs and a fundamentally broken business model.  Somehow Kennedy manages to keep a hilarious internal dialog going with himself as he assesses and re-assesses what's wrong with the music business.   

Here's a short excerpt where Kennedy is about to give a presentation to senior level execs in the company as he gets introduced by a VP who was famous for signing the Canadian band Rush in the 1970s' and is christened Rush Hair by Kennedy.

I grab a seat at the conference table just in time.  These two enter the room in a sensible fasion.  They set up their PowerPoint.  Rush Hair is already here.  He gets up and tells the strangest story about how kids don't even go to records stores anymore, and how they're, get this, downloading music from the Internet these days.  Rush Hair tells us that the problem with this is that it's killing the industry, because... well, partially because the biggest selection of online music resides on illegal networks where people get it for free since the legal options are still scant, to put it mildly.  And even if people use the legal downloading option of the iTunes Music Store, it means they can download single tracks for a  buck a pop, which basically means the industrycan't sell a CD with only two or three good songs on it and get twenty bucks for it.  I mean, this is never said out loud in our little family.  I mean, maybe that kind of thing is said aloud in the upper reaches of the company, but down here it's all kind of one big elephant in the room.

"We are really excited about trying to figure out a way to sell albums online.  This is a really exciting time.  It's a challenging time, but it's an exciting time.  And these gentlemen are here to give us a sneak preview of just how we might go about moving forward," says Rush Hair.

He goes on to tell the story of how dangerous it is that kids are downloading from Limeware and these different peer-to-peer networks.  He gives the example of coming home to find his daughters downloading music illegally on the Internet and seeing pornographic pictures on the same network.  Note to self: apparently there is also free pornography on the peer-to-peer networks people use to illegally download music.  Dude, seriously?

It's a fast read and you can see the fundamental problem with the record business as clear as an iceberg off in the horizon.   Kennedy doesn't really offer a ton of suggestions beyond the obvious, but it's still a fun read.  That said, the last 40 pages after the story's climax could have been left out.


Pinetop Perkins: Still Groovin' at 95

Let's be honest.  How many of us guitarvibers are going to be hanging around at booze cans at midnight listening to live music when we are in our nineties?  Not many, that's for sure. 

So it seemed an especially special birthday bash last week in Toronto for bluesman Pinetop Perkins, who turns 95 on July 7 and just released a new CD Pinetop Perkins & Friends.  Pinetop, who has played with Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, BB King, Sonny Boy Williamson and an honor role of senior citizen musicians, is still playing as a headline act and nobody was disappointed last week by what the old man served up at the Sound Academy.

PinetopI first stumbled across Pinetop in the late '80s at a legion hall in Arlington, Virginia and he was an old man then, but he played a great boogie woogie piano with a heavy Mississipi Delta influence.  I figured I was lucky to see him then because he was already pretty advanced in his years.  So I was shocked to discover that Pinetop has been regularly recording and touring since then and I was double-lucky to get another chance to see him last week.

The show was great with a local Toronto guitar bar hero, Jack de Keyzer, leading his band through several rockin' blues songs before Pinetop joined them on stage along with sometime sidekick singer and harmonica player Willie "big eyes" Smith.

Old Pinetop has slowed down a little (hey, he's been smoking for 85 years) but he still played and sang well.  And he looked great in his red fedora and macthing red suit.  At times the band overwhelmed the pinao man's sound, but that's a common situation with older players.  Two or three songs into it and Pinetop was strong and led them through a couple of his standards including "Back to the Chicken Shack" and "Got My Mojo Working."

Pinetop is a Grammy winner and will probably tour until his steady diet of blues, late nights, cigarettes and McDonald's catches up with him, so better get out and see the gent soon.

Check out the downloads from  BlueMountain Artists or from the Amazon player at the top of the post.


Washburn WM526 with Screaming Sustain

Washburn

The good folks at Washburn set me up with a loaner of their latest custom shop guitar, the WM526 pictured above.  It's a beautiful guitar that illustrates the depth of Washburn's lineup.  In particular, what makes this guitar unique is the carbon glass composite fretboard and stainless steel frets.  Long time guitarvibe gear heads may recognize that as characteristic of Parker's family of electric guitars, and that's no coincidence.  Parker and Washburn are both part of US Music Corp, along with a few other brands including Randall amplifiers, Lyon acoustics.

While I'm a big fan of Parker Guitars, they are a bit unconventional given their light weight and styling.  Parker has a bit of a cult following among jazz/fusion guitarists, but they're sometimes knocked by rock guitarists for not quite having enough tonal heft. 

The Washburn WM526 is not styled like a Parker, but it does capture one of the most important parts of a Parker guitar: the smooth as glass feeling of the fretboard.  Combine that with a beefy mahogany body and two high-powered EMG humbuckers and you've got a very impressive rock guitar.  Everything about this guitar is designed for a serious rock sound.  Even unplugged, you can tell this guitar has got great sustain.  And your hands just want to rip up and down the neck getting more vibrato, bends, hammer-ons and squeals per bar than would otherwise be possible.   This guitar begs to be played loud and fast. 

The EMG pickups (EMG 81 in the bridge, EMG 85 in the neck position) are high output models that deliver a very powerful yet smooth sound.  They're a little hotter than I'm used to, so I turned down the volume on the guitar most of the time, cranking them only when needed.  It felt like they're ready to go to 11 or even 12 any time needed.  If they're good enough for Zakk Wylde, they're good enough for just about any rock or metal you can throw at 'em.   

The WM526 is part of Washburn's HM (Heavy Metal) series and it's certainly got the brute force for any serious shredder.  More importantly, it's got the speed on the fretboard for anyone who wants to boost their playing to another level.  And if you back off the volume a bit, it's a very versatile guitar.  With a list price of around $2,400 (street price under $2000) this is a luxury purchase.  Fittingly, Washburn has equipped the guitar with top notch components including Grover exclusive tuners, a locking nut, Buzz Feiten tuning system, genuine Floyd Rose bridge, and a hard shell padded case.  While the price puts this guitar out of a lot of people's reach, I gotta say, it's one beautiful axe.  If you're among that class of musician who can afford it, it's a luxury that has to be played to be appreciated. 

Most importantly, the neck, body and pickups of the WM526 combine to deliver more sustain than I've heard in a long time.  Now that I've returned this sucker, every other guitar I play feels like it comes up short.  No wonder GuitarWorld gave this guitar it's platinum award for design.

Hopefully this cross-pollination between Washburn and Parker will continue and we'll see more models sharing components in an interesting way.  And who knows, maybe some of that cool technology will trickle down to the mainstream sub $500 guitars.  I sure hope so!