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Elvis Costello - Live in Ann Arbor

Elvis 4 band
It might have been a slow Sunday evening for some folks, but I managed to score great seats to Elvis Costello & The Imposters playing at the historic Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. I've seen Elvis about half a dozen times over the years and this was by far the best show of them all. While the tour purported to focus on his 1982 somewhat-overlooked album "Imperial Bedroom" the band played at least as many songs from earlier albums. Which is good, because "Imperial Bedroom" is overlooked for a reason -- it's not as good as the material that came before it!  Ok this is just my opinion, but I'm the guy writing the review, so bear with me.

Elvis 2 croppedAt any rate, he kicked things off with "Lipstick Vogue" from "This Year's Model" and played a good mix of songs from the late '70s and early '80s including "Accidents Will Happen", "Tears Before Bedtime", "Shabby Doll," "Man Out of Time," "Beyond Belief," "Green Shirt," "Kid About It,"  "You Little Fool" and an epic version of "Watching the Detectives."

They took a short break and came back with "Alison" with just Elvis and his two soulful backup singers Kitten Kuroi and YahZarah, with a style straight out of Stax. He also did a nice version of "Shot With His Own Gun" and "Almost Blue" accompanied only by Steve Nieve on piano. Costello was never the strongest of vocalists for this type of work, but he (mostly) managed to pull it off.

Elvis 3 alisonAnd for whatever smooth edges Elvis lacks vocally, he's more than willing to make up for it in guitar. In fact, I'd say he played more out-there crazy guitar in this concert than I've ever heard him play before. It gave the whole evening a tremendous energy boost. 

The encore was a fantastic set including "Every Day I Write The Book," "Pump It Up" and "What's So Funny About Peace Love & Understanding." 

Costello rocked the house for nearly 2 1/2 hours over 27 songs. For a guy who's pushing 62, he showed that he can still bring it on every night. And in retrospect, I still don't love "Imperial Bedroom" but I will admit that "Almost Blue", "Man Out Of Time" and "Beyond Belief" are among Costello's best songs. 

Overall, it was a great concert and it appears that he's playing a slightly different mix of songs every night on this tour. If you get the chance to see him, I highly recommend it.  

I managed to shoot a couple of videos from the concert including "Lipstick Vogue", "Accidents Will Happen" and "Watching the Detectives."


Springsteen's Jersey Confession

Bruce
New Jersey's elder statesman of rock, Bruce Springsteen, published an epic memoir "Born to Run." I'm not a Springsteen super-fan, but as far as rock docs go, it's well above average. The book clocks in at just over 500 pages, but it's equivalent to a four-hour concert that occasionally leaves you looking at your watch wondering when they'll get to the good stuff. To be fair, there is a lot of good stuff in the book. The first third, on Springsteen's struggling early days is excellent. It's a lively introduction into the early rock and roll scene, with struggles to make it in California that never quite work out. He finally gets signed to CBS, gets down to bottom dollar a couple of times, but dedication to his craft, and sheer brute force pays off. As Springsteen has said in the past, there was no "plan B." They had no choice but to continue to work. Springsteen's writing is colorful, engaging and honest. He's aware of his own insecurities and writes frankly about his ego, his flaws, his desire for control over his band. But the most important element that shines through all of this is his passion for the power of rock and roll. And it's contagious!

But somewhere after his big breakthrough album "Born in the USA," the book starts to bog down. There's a certain rambling verbosity that fans will recognize. It's a fun, breezy style. But like a guest who has stayed for one drink too many, it starts to grate. I found myself skimming passages of earth-shaking, music-making, viagra-taking excess. Ok, he messes around on his wife. He hangs out with Frank Sinatra. I could care less. But when he focuses on the music, his life as itinerant songwriter and troubadour, the book delivers. And there's some interesting revelations about his father's struggle with depression as well as his own.

Springsteen has also issued a companion greatest hits CD Chapter & Verse which includes five unreleased tracks from his early days with The Castilles, Steel Mill and The Bruce Springsteen Band. These songs help round out the book and give you a sense of the the early days of Jersey rock and roll. It also includes a selection of 13 of Springsteen's hits, though it's a bit constrained, since there's only one song from any album. But I think it's worth a listen.

Here's some live footage from an LA concert in 1973 opening for Dr Hook. This was just after the first album "Greetings from Asbury Park" and before the "E Street Band" lineup. It's a short set, but there are some great moments.


Review: Dreams In the Witch House

I admit, I'm a sucker for rock operas. And if you throw in some HP Lovecraft, well then you've definitely got my attention. "Dreams in the Witch House" is a full-blooded modern rock opera based on one of HP Lovecraft's typically creepy stories about things gone wrong in dimensions we can't know or understand. The story is compelling enough on its own and it provides a solid basis for characters and a story arc. But what really makes this piece shine is the caliber of the rock.  

"Dreams in the Witch House" has an over-the-top classic rock sound. If the combination of Meatloaf meets KISS with a side of Trans-Siberian Orchestra intrigues you, you'll love this album. Standout cuts include "The Nightmare" "No Turning Back" and "Signum Crucis" (featuring one-time KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick). 

On the spectrum of Rock and Opera, "Dreams in the Witch House" is a bit more on the musical story side of things with many spoken word narrative sections. So if you're looking for background rock music, this might not fit the bill. But if you want a captivating story for a long drive, I highly recommend it.

The whole project was completed in association with HP Lovecraft Historical Society, who also produce excellent old-time radio adaptations of Lovecraft's stories. It's available direct from HPLHS on CD or Vinyl or you can get it at Amazon for $9. This is perfect for Halloween listening.

You can also check out the videos at Youtube


Television - Live in Santa Cruz

Television 2016

In 2014, I managed to see the legendary band Televsion live in Toronto --something I never thought would happen. This is one of my all-time favorite bands since 1977's Marquee Moon. Alas, they broke up after their second album, reformed briefly in the early '90s and faded out of existence. Nonetheless, they reformed one more time in the 2000s and seeing them live in Toronto was one of the best concerts of my life. 


Television 2016 b cropIt's hard to top that kind of experience. I'm not even sure it's prudent to try. But when Television announced they would be playing in Santa Cruz (as well as two gigs in San Francisco) how could I not go?  This tour was promoted (was it promoted?) as being built around rare tracks and instrumentals. Phew. That meant I could go and enjoy it without having any outsized expectations. After all, not every experiment succeeds.  But it is in that experimentation, that trial by-fire ordeal, that high-wire performance without a net, we can find greatness. Sometimes.

So how was it?

The band was tight. Particularly on songs off their debut album "Marquee Moon", one of the most influential albums of all time. Having three fourths original band members doesn't hurt. Jimmy Rip who took over from the talented but, ah, eccentric, guitarist Richard Lloyd may now have more gigs under his belt than his predecessor. That said, everyone is a couple years older, and Tom Verlaine's vocals, which were never that strong, are not getting any better with time. And as much as I enjoyed the more obscure songs ("Persia," "The Sea") and various instrumental wanderings, I didn't find them as compelling as some of the more, ah, normal, songs. When I hear a song like "Venus," "Elevation," or "1880 or So" it sends shivers down my spine. 

To be clear, I would pay to see Television play "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" if that's what they wanted to play. I mean, as long as they played a couple of cuts off "Marquee Moon."

Anyways, check out the videos below.  Apologies that the last song is slightly out of focus.

For fans who managed to see Television in 2016, let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.