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.

 


Cheap Trick - Live in Traverse City

  Cheap Trick live
Following out this week's concert extravaganza, the third gig in 7 days was Cheap Trick. I've seen Cheap Trick before and despite the legal drama with original drummer Bun E. Carlos, they are still a great live band. Following Cheap Trick's inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the release of a great new album "Bang Zoom Crazy Hello" Cheap Trick is currently touring with Joan Jett and Heart. But if that wasn't enough to keep them busy, they are also doing one-off gigs on their own, which is what brought them to Traverse City for the Cherry Festival.

With a career that spans 5 decades, 17 studio albums and numerous hit singles, the band has a pretty big catalog to draw from. They also tend to mix things up a bit in different shows, so it's not always the same songs every night, which is nice.  They started off strong with their usual show opener "Hello There," followed by "Just Got Back," "California Man," "On Top Of The World," "Baby Loves to Rock," and "Taxman, Mr Thief," an obvious Beatles reference from their first album and "Never Had a Lot to Lose" and "The House is a Rocking" from Dream Police. The band played with a ton of energy. Robin Zander's vocals are in fine form and he still looks good in skinny leather pants and a cape. Rick Nielsen is all over the stage, swapping out a new guitar for every song, flinging picks into the audience and goofing around as always. The rhythm section is extremely solid with Tom Petersson on bass and Dax, Rick's son, on drums, pounding like hurricane. 

Cheap Trick 5 neck hamerThen they played a couple of songs from their new album "Bang Zoom Crazy Hello:" "The In Crowd," and "No Direction Home." Personally, I think it's a great album, possibly the best since the '70s era and I wish they'd played a few more cuts. Next up was "The Ballad of TV Violence" followed by what was a great solo by Tom Petersson on his unique 12-string Gretsch bass (!) that went into a cover of The Velvet Underground's "Waiting for My Man" with Petersson on vocals. This was followed by the ballad "The Flame" and then the big hits: "I Want You To Want Me," "Dream Police" and an encore of "Surrender." That song still gives me goose bumps.

Rick Nielsen then brought out his crazy 50 pound 5 neck Hamer guitar for a short "Goodnight." The whole set was about 90 minutes leaving everyone thirsty for just a few more songs.

Here are a couple of videos I shot. I'll also try to post some high-def photos later on.

 The opening band was the born-and-bred in Traverse City Kenny Olson. It was a a bit too generic-hard-rock-guitar for my taste, but they did manage to get the audience on their feet and Kenny is a great blues guitar player.


Zappa Plays Zappa (sort of)

Zappa plays zappa

Dweezil Zappa, eldest son of musical iconoclast Frank Zappa, has been keeping his father's work alive by touring as "Zappa Plays Zappa." Or at least, he has been until a family fallout has made it impossible for him to use that name. Dweezil has embarked on a fairly public skirmish with younger siblings Diva and Ahmet who control 60% of the Zappa Family Trust.  Dweezil and his older sister Moon, each own 20%. Presumably matriarch Gail Zappa knew exactly what kind of situation she was creating when she wrote her will dividing things up this way and leaving youngest son Ahmet in charge. While every family is dysfunctional in their own way, lets just say the Zappa family seems to have some special dynamics.

Mostly I wouldn't care less about some children-of-stars squabble except at the point where it starts to impact the actual shows that are being performed.  There's no likeness of Frank Zappa anywhere on stage or in any of the merchandise or promotional materials. In fact the tour has been renamed the "Dweezil Zappa plays whatever the f@%k he wants." Except, that's not exactly true either. But I'll come back to that point momentarily. 

The show began on a strong note with several songs from the first "Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention" album "Freak Out!" which was released 50 years ago this year. Songs ranged from the phrenetic "Help, I'm A Rock!" to the soulful "Doreen" to more musically adventurous songs like "The Illinois Enema Bandit" and "Eat That Question."  Indeed, it was the vast instrumental breaks with Dweezil's soaring guitar parts that got the fans up on their feet cheering. Of course, there were also some songs of questionable taste "Shove It Right In" and the jaunty "Catholic Girls" but taste is in the ear of the beholder. 

A lot of Zappa songs are laden with key and tempo changes that go way beyond rock and lean more heavily towards avant-garde jazz and that was certainly true with songs like "Five Five Five."

Presumably to show that Dweezil Zappa's tour was not just capitalizing on the music or fame of his father, the second part of the show included a medley of '80s songs.  Sure that's kind of cool. And these songs were played with great musicianship despite the fast chord, tempo and key changes. After going through snippets of a dozen songs in under 4 minutes ("Tom Sawyer", "Spirit of Radio", " Another One Bites The Dust", "Under Pressure", "Billie Jean", "Like a Virgin", "Jack & Diane", " I want Candy", "Walking on Sunshine", "Stray Cat Strut", the novelty wore off.

Yet the '80s snippets continued on with short bursts from: "Lady", "I Just Called To Say I Love You", "9 to 5", "Get Physical", "Xanadu", "Don't You Want Me Baby..."

And on... "I Don't Want to Hurt You", "Mr Roboto", "Blinded By Science", "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"...

And on... "I Melt With You", "Shout", "Our House", "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"...

And on... "C'mon Eileen", "Money For Nothing", "I Want A New Drug"...

And on... "Hey Micky", "Footloose", "Chariots of Fire"...

And on... "C'mon Feel The Noise", "Higher Love"...

And on... "Relax", "Born to Run"...

I counted over 75 songs. All brilliantly played. But other than the musical showmanship of being able to play these short signature licks without ever losing the beat, it became mind-numbing tedium.

So where was I?

Oh yes, the audience was there to hear the music of Frank Zappa. Not an '80s K-Tel commercial.  

After a brief pause, the band came back and played "You Are What You Is" and "Keep it Greasy". 

Again, I have to commend the band for an incredible performance of extremely complex music. They are superb musicians and Dweezil is an exceptionally talented guitarist and band leader.  It was an excellent show even for casual fans.

And I appreciate that Dweezil is in the difficult position of being unable to use his own family name without a license from the Zappa Family Trust (of which he is a beneficiary.)  While everyone in the family is saying they want to preserve Frank Zappa's legacy, Dweezil is out there keeping it alive while the Zappa Family Trust are singing a different tune.   


Billy Idol Live in Traverse City

Billy Idol 1

Eighties rocker Billy Idol stepped on the main stage at the Traverse City Cherry Festival Sunday evening for what was mostly a great concert.  The Cherry Festival, like any typical summer state fair, attracts it's share of oldies bands, but Billy Idol kicked things off with a 100db rendition of "Shock to the System" followed by a newer song "Can't Break Me Down" from the vastly underrated "Kings and Queens of the Underground."  They covered all the usual hits: "Eyes Without a Face," "Daytime Drama," as well as an old Gen-X song "King Rocker." Despite years of decadance on the road, at 60, Idol still looks the part of the buffed-out punk rocker running around on stage with an excess of energy. 

There were some excellent over-the-top guitar solos from super shredder Steve Stevens that went from Flamenco to Yes' "Roundabout" along with some tasty Led Zeppelin licks from "Over the Hills and Far Away" and "Stairway to Heaven."

Billy Idol 2The concert took a bit of a wrong turn when they embarked on Idol's biggest hit "Rebel Yell." Idol was singing very off-key and eventually stopped the song mid-verse and started over again. The second version still wasn't perfect and Idol left a lot of the singing to the crowd.

This is a song they've played in every single gig for the last two years, so I can't help but wonder what was going wrong with the sound on stage to cause such a screw up.  At the end, the band dashed off stage for a few minutes, presumably figuring out how to get things back on track.

Stevens and Idol came back for a slightly shaky acoustic version of "White Wedding" before the band came on for the full-on rock version. This was followed by a drum solo and a lengthy version of the classic "Mony, Mony."

IMG_7294

Coming in at about 90 minutes, it seemed to me they cut the show a bit short, with only one song from the new album. Maybe that was because of the shaky vocals. Or maybe they just wanted to get off stage and get some elephant ears from the food stands. 

Here's a couple of videos from the show including some Steve Stevens guitar pyrotechnics...

 I'll try to post some more videos from the show later on.

Civil twilightOpening act Civil Twilight from South Africa did an admirable job trying to entertain a crowd of aging boomers doing their best not to go blind from staring into the setting sun. The band played as a trio, with brothers McKellar on bass and guitar and fellow countryman Richard Wouters on drums.

The band  delivered a mix of song ranging in style from U2 to Peter Gabriel with a bit of Paul Simon "Graceland" polyrhythmic vibe. Highlights of their set included a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" and their final song, a lively upbeat number called "When Am I Going to See You Again?"  They are definitely be worth catching on their own US tour later this summer.


Six Pack Interview with Mike Marlin

Mike-Marlin

I was able to corner indie musician Mike Marlin between sets at Wilbert's in Cleveland in order to find more about his musical career, opening for The Stranglers and how he writes songs.  He's a much more upbeat and friendly guy than his foreboding lyrics and baritone voice might lead you to believe...

Q. Tell me about this tour. Is this the first time you're in the US?

We're doing the mixed-bag American tour. We're doing some support gigs for big bands, we're stopping at some roadhouses along the way for a random experiences. And I would say this is a random Cleveland experience, in a good way. Great place, good vibes. Then we're doing a really cool venue in New York. A full-on Marlin experience. That's the whole point of coming to America on tour.

I played in Chicago a few years back, supporting The Stranglers. I was supposed to do the whole tour. But the visas did not come through. Unbelievable. The whole things was a car crash. Even the Stranglers had problems. That's actually how the trio was formed. My bass player and drummer couldn't get visas. So only the keyboard player, guitarist and myself were able to travel. So we did two rehearsals, got on a plane, came to Chicago and played support for The Stranglers. We walked into a giant, sold out venue. I thought to myself "We're supporting The Stranglers as a trio, no bass no drums. This isn't going to work." But it did.

Q. How did you update the songs to work as a trio?

Marlin 1Well, the interesting thing for me is if you take the bass and drums out, you have a lot more space to play with. So instead of going folky we've filled that space. Paul is on keys, Kim is on guitar. Kim's got an amazing way of working with guitar pedals. He's definitely a guitar vibes guy! The first set we played tonight, we kept to conventional guitar sounds. But a lot of stuff we play you wouldn't even know it's guitar. My guitar always sounds like a guitar, but Kim's goes off into another place. So it's more like having a synth player. And then Paul is also an amazing musician. He's also a great sax player.

Q. What was it like opening for The Stranglers? 

It's great. I saw The Stranglers as a kid at the Hope and Anchor in 1977 with twelve other people. And then twenty-five years later, I'm supporting them. If anyone had said this was going to happen, I would have said it's impossible. The second thing I love about The Stranglers is that they are serious musicians. They're not just a punk band that did a few things. They've made seventeen albums. Secretly, they're actually a jazz band. No really.

They're like the Doors, a jazz band who happened to have a poet as a lead singer. What I mean is, they're deeply serious about the music they do. Trust me.

Q. How did you connect with The Stranglers?

It was one of these bizarre things. From the age of 22 to 48 I had no ambitions to be a musician. But I wrote songs. I made my first record because I had sold my technology business. I was writing a novel. And randomly I made a record. While I was in the recording studio, absolutely finding my feet, like a 48 year-old kid who had no idea what I was doing. I made a cover of "Staying alive" by the BeeGees. And it was so weird that it got played on the radio. And quite a well-known agent heard it. And he got in contact with me. I sent him the album and he loved it. And he rang up and said "Do you need an agent?" Next thing I know, he got me this great gig supporting The Stranglers.

At that point I had no band. I had never sung a song for another human being, ever. I'd played in bands when I was younger, but I stood in the back and played bass. So it was an amazing thing. Really, a chance in a million. That does not happen! So I nearly said no.

Q. How could you say no to The Stranglers?

Exactly! But, I was really scared. So I put a band together. I was very lucky. I had about three months to rehearse. The first gig was at the Hammersmith Apollo, sold out. Before that gig, I went out and supported Bruce Foxton's "From The Jam" as sort of a tryout. I was absolutely terrified.

Then I went on The Stranglers tour, walked out on stage, in Hammersmith at a sold-out venue where I'd been to see everybody from The Police to The Undertones to Siouxie and the Banshees back in the day. And I thought "what am I doing here?"

But I think, for whatever reason, it resonated with The Stranglers fans. So I ended up doing four tours with them. I hold the record incidentally. I played ninety gigs. And it could go up!

They're lovely people. Very committed to what they do, in a good way. So, that was the start of it. That was a complete left turn in my life. I thought, "well hold on a minute. I'm not just going to make one album. I've got to make another one." Now I've made four. 

Q. What were your musical influences?

Originally, I was deeply unfashionable as a kid. I was massively into American music. The trouble was a lot of these bands became uncool. I was hugely into Bruce Springsteen, Graham Parsons, Neil Young, the first three Eagles albums. I stood completely separate from my peers.

Musically, I was somewhere on the west coast of the US, but living in the suburbs of London. Which is why coming to America for me is so musically significant. Because those are my roots. I was a massive Tom Petty fan. Also a big U2 fan.

Q. Lets switch gears. Tell me about how you write your songs

This is going to sound unlikely, but songs come to me pretty much complete. When I say complete, I mean there's a verse, a chorus, and I'll record stuff on my iPhone. It may come as a turn of phrase. Perhaps a riff over a change of chords. It'll be a little thing. And as soon as I hear it, pretty quickly I'll have most of the song.

In my view, what makes a song great is not trying to make everything great, but it's about knowing what is great. Take a song like "Grand Reveal." It's all about the first two lines in the chorus. And as soon as I had those two lines, I had a hundred percent confidence I had a song. "I'm older than I look, I'm younger than I feel." At that point, i think I've got something. And after that it's just finding the thing that makes that hook. For me, a song turns on a lyric, a phrase and the way it drops.

That song was about how I've always wanted to feel. When you're older and more mature, you're supposed to know which way is up. But you don't. No matter how old you are, no matter how much you've seen and where you've been, when you walk into a room full of strangers, it's still like the first day of school. Every day of your life is like the first day of high school. So get over it.

I always write on guitar. Very occasionally on the piano. But you don't want to hear my piano playing. The guitar is my instrument of choice. In my mind's ear, I can always hear the arrangement, the strings or other parts. "The Secret of My Success" is a fully orchestrated record with intricate musical interludes, which I absolutely love creating.

What I love about records is making them. Then I love playing them. But once it's made I don't refer to my own records. What I bring on stage is the songs, not the record, if that makes sense. What's interesting about the MeloManiacs is it's just the three of us. And the record is impossible to play with only three people. But because of how the songs were written, they are just as true with that lineup as with the full orchestrated band on the record.

Marlin2

For me it's all about the songs, and the experience of communicating the songs to people I've never met. So much of life is, certainly in the technology world, is about connection. So the songs are an incredibly powerful way of expressing one's self and seeing if it resonates. I don't think anything else can do that in the same way as music. If you write a book you're not there when the person reads it. When you write code for a computer program, the better it is, the less the person using it thinks about the person who created it. 

When I open for the Stranglers there are thousands of people there. And there may be two hundred people for whom my music resonates. As a songwriter you can create something where there was nothing. I write songs and play them for other people because I need to. And I'm amazed when anyone else connects. That's what I love.

Check out Mike Marlin's latest album The Secret of My Success and watch for updates on additional tour dates later this year. If you missed the US tour, I've got some videos posted from the Cleveland gig.


Sweetwater Gearfest 2016

Gearfest-logo

Next weekend musical instruments mega retailer Sweetwater is holding their annual Gearfest event.  If you've got GAS (Gear acquisition syndrome) this could be the perfect therapy for getting the latest demos and buying some new equipment at good prices. There are dozens of free workshops Friday and Saturday covering a range of topics and vendors. Jordan Rudess from Dream Theater will be demonstrating the innovative Roli Rise midi controller. There are plenty of sessions recording, guitar tone, vocal recording, mixing, mastering as well as sessions on products from Fender, Marshall, Vox, Yamaha, Roland, Korg, Pro Tools, Ableton, Reason, Line 6, TC Electronics, Boss, Kala, Taylor, Ovation, and many others.

Additionally, there are also some longer "amplified" half-day and full-day sessions on Thursday covering topics like songwriting, recording, synthesizers and more. Prices for those amplified sessions are a very reasonable $39-59. 

It's a bit of a drive to Fort Wayne for me, but I'm going to head over Thursday evening and check out some of the sessions on Friday. Hopefully I can catch some live music that evening. 

 


Mike Marlin US Tour

Marlin2

Indie rocker Mike Marlin is on tour with his band the MeloManiacs hitting the midwest and eastern US for a couple of weeks to promote the new album "The Secret of My Success."  They'll be in Chicago, Wisconsin, Cleveland, New York, DC, Cambridge and Connecticut. Definitely worth catching live if they're in your area. Last time Mike and crew were slated to tour the US was with the Stranglers in 2013, and sadly they weren't able to make the gigs happen. 

The new album is an excellent, if sombre, follow up to the 2012 release "Grand Reveal." There are a lot of interesting influences and comparisons here with Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, U2 and various and sundry '70s classic rock. 

Update:

I managed to catch the band in Cleveland earlier this week at a club called Wilbert's. Despite the rather drunken crowd of baseball fans, it was an excellent gig. The first set was basically a sound check before the game. The second set, after the game, was excellent including songs from the new album, as well as older songs "Grand Reveal," "The Magician" and an impromptu version of The Beatles' "Come Together."  The MeloManiacs are playing as a trio with Mike Marlin on rhythm guitar, Kim Murray playing fantastic lead guitar and Paul Silver rounding things out on keyboards and backing vocals.  This a great trio and it gives the songs a more laid back vibe. Still, I would have loved to have had the full band with drums and bass tackling songs like "Skull Beneath the Skin" or "The Murderer."  Hopefully there will be another tour in the future.

I shot some video which I've posted below and will follow up with a Q&A interview with the man himself next week.


Springsteen Relives The River

Springsteen

I managed to catch Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band live this week at The Palace at Auburn Hills, Michigan.  I'm not the biggest Springsteen fan, but I have friends who have been telling me for years about his epic live shows.  If you've never been, it is definitely a revival experience.

His current 2016  tour commemorates the 35th anniversary of his 1980 double album "The River." (Interesting historical fact, the original River tour began in October 1980 at Crisler Arena in nearby Ann Arbor.)

For Springsteen fans, this was definitely a homecoming concert. Springsteen and the latest incarnation of the E Street Band play the entire double album, and then proceed into a lengthy repertoire of hits: "Bad Lands," "Promised Land," "Rosalita," "Dancing in the Dark," "Because the Night," "Born In The USA," and even the old Isley Brothers song "Shout" with Bob Seger joining the band on stage. (Further historical fact, Seger joined Springsteen on stage at Crisler Stadium back in 1980 to sing "Thunder Road.")  

For a man who has crossed the 65 year mark, Springsteen has a remarkable amount of energy. This was a three and a half hour all-out high-energy show, with no breaks. Springsteen is certainly not phoning it in. He was out in the audience, crowd surfing, and getting the audience up on their feet. The band is impeccable with Max Weinberg's powerful drumming, Steven Van Zandt on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, Nils Lofgren on lead guitar, and Jake Clemons stepping in for his uncle, the late, great Clarence Clemons.  

Die hard fans seemed to know the words to every song, even the deep cuts off The River that never got much airplay. The audience was a sea of old people reliving their youth, dancing to the music and enjoying the vibe. When Springsteen and band are giving it their all up on stage, it's hard not to appreciate their energy and enthusiasm. 


Novation Circuit - 21st Century Groovebox

Novation circuit

As a guitar player, it's fairly rare that I delve into the world of synthesizers, drum pads and other assorted electronic gear. But the Novation Circuit, might just be the kind of instrument that gets even the casual musician to bust out some new moves. My buddy Michael is a bass player and synth addict and he loves it.

Novation is probably most famous for its BassStation and MiniNova line of synths as well as its LaunchPad of MIDI controller grids. The Circuit combines the best of both these traditions to create an all-in-one music making machine. It's got drums, bass, synths, a simple step sequencer, runs on batteries, and has a built-in speaker. It's ready to use right out of the box. No need to fire up your laptop. No cables or MIDI to mess with. Just dive in and start making music. 

While many users will use the Circuit to crank out EDM dance beats, it's got the chops to be used for rock, metal. I'm not sure it's going have the right style for Jazz and Blues, but who knows? Here are a couple of tunes Michael published on SoundCloud.

For around $300, the circuit is not exactly an impulse buy. But it's capabilities, rugged construction and technicolor good looks put it well beyond the novelty category. No wonder it's winning awards and rave reviews.

You can export your creations, but the process for bringing separate tracks into Logic Pro or other DAWs looks to be a bit cumbersome. Novation has already released a firmware upgrade and a synth patch editor. Hopefully exports will be made easier with some further update. This looks like it could be a lot of fun both for recording and for live performance.

Here's a video Novation put together demonstrating some of its capabilities.

 


Jonesy's Jukebox

Steve jones

Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, has resumed his daily rock and roll radio show Jonesy's Jukebox, now hosted at KLOS. The show is noon daily for two hours and is available for streaming and podcast. Sadly, the podcast version omits all the music. Not sure who came up with that.

It's a good show and the music is interesting and off-beat. Jones has interviewed a number of other rock and rollers for the show including Billy Idol, Anthony Kiedis, Robert Plant, Joe Walsh, Ian Astbury and Fred Armisen to name a few.