Talk From The Rock Room: October 2019

Monday, October 28, 2019

Rock Room on the Road: John Sebastian -' Magical Connection' - Live at the Cafe Veritas 2013 Rochester, NY

Today in the ‘rock room’ I am thumbing through a stack of dog-eared ticket stubs while doing some musicial organization. While reflecting on some of the amazing concerts I have attended in my years I came across my review of a stunning John Sebastian concert I attended in a small cafĂ© in Rochester, NY in 2013. It is here that I have decided to share the text with you, my dear reader.

John Sebastian’s solo acoustic performance at the Cafe Veritas in Rochester on December 7th, 2013 was not only a musical cross-section of Sebastian’s hall of fame career, but an intimate investigation of the roots of the music that has influenced John Sebastian and a collective of generations. The softly lit room was accented by candles and featured as its centerpiece a slightly elevated wooden stage and large colorful peace symbol. The sold out crowd welcomed Sebastian who appeared, dressed in black with acoustic guitar and bright flashing smile. After gently chiding an audience member who was preparing to take pictures, Sebastian made it crystal clear he wanted the crowd’s undivided and complete attention. The evening would trace Sebastian’s humble beginnings as a Greenwich Village folk musician, gaze as his numerous gold records as a member of the Lovin Spoonful, and examine his deep love of jug band and blues music.

To start the show, Sebastian began to pick the indigo opening to Mississippi John Hurt’s ‘I’m Satisfied’. Sebastian’s voice still reveals glimpses of his younger throat that once contained honey, but now has a pinch of gravel and a blues man’s grit. Throughout the evening Sebastian would frame the songs with extended dialogues expressing the genesis of his songwriting, his Lovin' Spoonful  band mates, influences and family. 

The following chunky slice of finger picked blues called ‘Don’t Stop’ prefaced a trio of Lovin' Spoonful tracks who many in the crowd were highly anticipating.  Sebastian paused prior to these numbers and spoke nostalgically about his love for Motown and how it influenced his development as an artist. During this interesting discussion Sebastian started to strum the classic Motown hit ‘Heatwave’ slowly speeding the riff up, eventually morphing it into the introduction of the Spoonful’s own ‘Do You Believe In Magic? An amazing glimpse into the genesis of one of the 1960’s most enduring songs, and a prime example of the concert’s’ enjoyable ‘show and tell’ design.
‘You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice’, and a definitive version of ‘Younger Girl’ followed, musically warming up the crowd who watched in rapt amazement. Sebastian encouraged a singalong atmosphere, and smiled often, singing directly to the crowd like an old time Greenwich folkie. His perfect guitar strikes emitting golden notes, clear as a crisp winter night, expressed immaculately by the acoustics of the room. Sebastian switched between two hollow bodied acoustic/electric guitars throughout the evening, both instruments delivering clarity and tone, his voice, slightly weary from the years, but full of expressiveness and rich personality.

Following the excitement created by the mini Spoonful set, John quieted things down, first speaking of his children and wife lovingly, then performing a version of ‘Strings of Your Heart’ as fragile as a rare bird’s egg. Keeping with the theme, Sebastian then, in beautifully tender fashion delivered an instrumental lullaby he used to put his boys to sleep with. Intricate and weightless, Sebastian eyes were closed tight, lost in the music, picking the crystalline melody, culminating in an absolute high point of the evening.

Sebastian then leaned casually on his guitar and proceeded to tell a humorous anecdote about his going out of style at least ‘four or five times’ over his career, and that one of the times he went back in style was with the famous ‘Welcome Back’. A jubilant singalong followed with Sebastian crooning the popular theme song he wrote for the historic television comedy. Highly enjoyable, and truly a piece of ‘good time music’ as the Spoonful’s credo used to be, the crowd responded with tremendous applause.

Another solid track off of Sebastian and Grisman’s 2007 album Satisfied came next with ‘Passing Fantasy’, before moving into another developed dialog where Sebastian explained in greater detail his relationship with Mississippi John Hurt. Sebastian then displayed to the crowd a few finger picking techniques ‘borrowed’ from Hurt using the examples to slide seamlessly into a stomping version of ‘Lovin You’, the opening song from 1968’s Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful. Stunning. A favorite of the concert and an all-time favorite of the ‘rock room’. The show reached another grand peak and a pair of Lovin' Spoonful numbers followed quickly and definitively closed the 75 minute set. ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?’ and ‘Daydream’, perhaps the most beloved song in the Spoonful catalog, closed the show to a complete standing ovation. Sebastian a true entertainer, playing to the crowd, interacting with them on musical and conversational levels left the stage to boisterous applause.

But luckily for us in attendance, Sebastian had one final surprise in store, reappearing with only a harmonica in hand to stand solo at the microphone. Sebastian, whose father was a famous classically trained harmonica player, instilled in him a love and respect for the instrument. Sebastian stated that in his home, ‘the harmonica was not a toy’, so for those of us in the crowd that were hoping for a bit of harp playing, we were in for a treat. As an aside, for those not aware the harp playing you hear on the ‘Doors’ famous radio cut ‘Roadhouse Blues’ is none other than John Sebastian.  Sebastian then plowed through an extended harp journey that wailed and wined with the historic breath of rock and roll and blues, displaying all the tricks of this virtuoso player. The performance could have concluded only one way, and Sebastian hit it perfectly with an awe inspiring display. A moment that I will remember forever.

John Sebastian created a musical atmosphere at the Cafe Veritas that encouraged attentiveness, revealed musical secrets, and encouraged audience interaction. The performance hearkened back to the early coffee house performances of the 1960’s in content as well as attentiveness by the performer. It’s refreshing to witness an artist so at ease with his legacy, and concentrated on delivering the goods to his audience even after all of these years. If you have the opportunity to catch the legend in his element do not hesitate, you will walk away satisfied.

Sebastian and Grisman - I'm Satisfied (Album)

Monday, October 14, 2019

Take One: David Bowie: Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) -Endless Faith

Spinning in the ‘rock room’ today with a touch Fall in the air is David Bowie’s first new musical (at the time) composition since 2013’s The Next Day. The adventurous single “Sue (Or In a Season of Crime), is a seven-minute jazz epic with the 17 piece Maria Schneider Orchestra. The song was originally featured as a new addition to the forthcoming Bowie Nothing Has Changed compilation. The song vocally elicits images of Tim Buckley’s atonal late-1960s albums more than anything from Bowie’s previous work. Instrumentally the song flows over rocks and flashes imagery across an aural silver screen through punctuated horn lines and orchestrated counter melodies.

Opening with water drenched swells and sensual horn blasts, “Sue” moves kinetically on erratic teletype percussion. In contrast, longing horns and an elastically crooned melody line react to each other like to repellant magnets. The track breathes with an internal pulse of a stand up bass. Bowie is in great throat, and enters into hand-to-hand combat with the swelling horn punctuation's. When his vocals dissipate, it’s all about the racing jazz kit and blowing newspaper brass.

The song’s rhythm continuously drops in and out of consciousness, disorientating the listener and detaching then from the song proper to dip them into unknown aural mysteries. The sounds fell like Bowie has stirred his eternal pot of influences into one cerebral and cinematic display. Miles ends up meeting Frank Sinatra, who then rings up Frank Zappa, as this multifarious compositional display unfolds.
A sinister theme develops in the lyrics. Is someone helping or hurting? Has the narrator given up and committed the ultimate crime? The claustrophobic orchestration drops away leaving cinematic swells and brisk snare work at the point in which the narrator finds Sue’s note. Bowie moans in spooky omnipotence Chaos ensues, the horns moan Bowie’s melody line before submerging into a dizzying array of rising bubbles. It is in this sparkling drift that the remainder of the song sinks to silence.
A promotion video for the track can be found here, a gritty urban film noir representation of the song.

The cut would later be re-recorded for Bowie’s final studio LP, 2016’s Blackstar featuring as an album track.On this version from the album, the loose jazz improv is been reigned in to a tight pocket where the central pulse is played by electric guitar. A number of substantial peaks roar with white noise swells and static following each Bowie verse. Spectral drones and moaning glacial keyboards wash Bowie’s haunting vocals in. Bowie reached differing levels of menace in both versions of the song, a testament to his continued creativity even in his later recordings.  Both of the versions reveal an aural personality aspect through their unique explorations.

Once again, David Bowie had given his fans a unique and inexpiable musical statement that holds onto no preconceived ideas or past glories. “Sue” was an amazing precursor to what the reclusive legend had percolating in his mind for his next and sadly final move. Obviously, Bowie’s work was still leaving all possible labels and descriptions behind and reaching for new compositional vistas.

Bowie - Sue Extended Version

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Put the Boot In: Paul McCartney and his Band - "Out There" - Albany July 5th 2014

Playing in the 'rock room' today is a concert that I attended, Sir Paul McCartney’s highly anticipated and greatly publicized return at the Times Union Center in Albany on Saturday July 5th 2014. After cancelling a string of dates due to a virus McCartney had contracted overseas in May, the Out There tour’s new departure place became Albany, NY. McCartney fans were saturated with excitement as Paul assembled a 40 song, three-hour set that left no musical stone unturned, reaching into his plentiful Beatles, Wings, and solo catalog for a satisfying and awe-inspiring evening of music. I have a physical release Japanese import version of this event which I am reviewing for this article and is pictured below.

The diverse all ages and excitable crowd greeted the dapper McCartney, who was dressed crisply in blue blazer, with a massive truck rally applause. ‘Macca’s impressive and road tested group of musicians of the last twelve years (at the time) immediately ascended the opening bars of the Beatles hit “Eight Days a Week”, barely audible over the massive response from the audience. While McCartney’s voice may contain some nicks and dings from fifty years of rock vocals, similarly to an antique, its patina only increases its value and emotional strength.

The first ‘movement’ of the concert contained McCartney on famed Hofner bass as well as multiple classic guitars and his band electrically charging through a series of rockers spanning his career. The fuzzy  and well placed“Save Us” from 2014’s New, as well as famed Beatles tracks, “All My Loving” and “Paperback Writer” and Wings favorites, “Let Me Roll It” and “Listen to What the Man Said”.

"Listen to What the Man Said" was a wonderful addition to the set and sated the musical appetite of the Wings fans in the crowd. Prior to "Let Me Roll It" Macca removed his jacket to great applause revealing a sharp undershirt.“Let Me Roll It’” featured a slightly extended and rocking “Foxy Lady” jam in which McCartney showed off his ample soloing abilities on his multicolored Les Paul. It's always  McCartney spoke early and often, telling tales familiar to tour veterans, but awe-inspiring to first timers. McCartney has the innate ability to make a large venue feel like it’s a living room through his interactions and personable explanations of his songs.

The crowd was given a brief respite at this point in the proceedings so McCartney move to the grand piano for a series of  his most substantial songs. The recent paean to his wife and Upstate native Nancy Shevell  “My Valentine” was a fitting cool down period, to be followed by a stomping version of the Wings rarity “1985” and then knocked out of the arena with the dynamic duo of “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “The Long and Winding Road”. McCartney cooed in a sweet falsetto, stroked the black and whites through every climax, and illustrated why he is the definitive performing rock artist in the world. Reflecting on the recording I feel lucky to have attended this musical spectacle, and looking at the circulating footage, so did everyone around me as they are statued in rapt amazement.

Paul McCartney concert experiences not only reveal  his catalog of amazing and enduring compositions, but also spotlight his prowess on multiple instruments and in variegated contexts. An acoustic set followed next with the band joining in on tasteful backing for most of it. But most importantly the set also found McCartney standing solo on an ascending platform for “Blackbird” and his always stirring tribute to John Lennon off of 1982s Tug of War, “Here Today”. Highlights were the perfectly fitting and purely ‘Macca’  composition“On My Way to Work”, which made its live debut during this segment to great effect as well as a china-doll-delicate reading of the Beatles, “And I Love Her”.

Returning to the full band format, McCartney’s psychedelically painted piano was placed at center stage for the two power tracks on 2014’s LP release New. A bounding version of the title song was played as well as a sturdy rendition of the regal “Queenie Eye”. Both songs illustrated how McCartney’s recent compositions nestle into the current of the set list next to his greatest songs, a testament to his longevity and unmistakable talents. And while 'new' songs may be hard to listen to in the context of a concert for some, for the 'rock room' the current cuts were confirmation of McCartney's continuing connection with the muse.

Following the musical stare down with “Queenie Eye”, the juicy central section of the concert revealed a series of Beatles tracks, many rare and all enthusiastically played by the band and beautifully received by the audience. Each song stacked on top of the next, raising the temperature and elevating the applause. Beatle tracks “Lady Madonna”, “All Together Now”, and the rarely performed “Lovely Rita” played in conjunction with every set of hardcore Beatle fanatic lips in the venue as they mouthed the words. "Lovely Rita" was especially gaudy and spotlighted some of McCartney's finest vocals of the evening.

The highlights continued with McCartney breaking out the arsenal of Wings most beloved songs intermingled with more Beatles! “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” was incredible; McCartney’s rotund bass line pulled from the grooves of Sgt. Pepper in a legendary display, a reflection upon his instrumental innovations and ground breaking ideas. A tribute to George Harrison with a poignant version of “Something” began on solo Ukulele and concluded in a full band tribute. Stellar versions of “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”, “Band on the Run” and “Back In the USSR” followed, peaking with the concluding “Live and Let Die” and “Hey Jude” finale. Explosions, lights, strobes, multimedia clips, banging instruments and sing-along smiles filled the concert’s concluding moments in disorienting joy.
Just when you thought the 72-year-old McCartney and powerhouse band couldn’t possibly give any more to Albany, NY, they come out with two encores and a wedding proposal on the stage. The first encore was the perfect blend and a nod to the heads in the audience hailing from the ’60s and right up to the present day converts. “Day Tripper” and “Get Back” thematically sandwiched a rare and roaching “Hi, Hi, Hi”, an incendiary concert favorite from ’70s Wings performances. All the windows were down and the band had the pedal to the floor for this first set of encore numbers.

The second encore found McCartney on golden acoustic for a performance of “Yesterday”, expected, yet still magical. Following this performance, a Rochester, NY couple was engaged on the stage, with McCartney inviting the couple up due to their enthusiastic and persistent waving of signs in the audience. Their plan worked and added up to a special and unique concert moment with the future groom singing a verse of “When I’m 64” with backing from the band. This dream moment for the couple was followed appropriately with a death-defying slide downhill into a threatening “Helter Skelter” by McCartney and band.

The final and unbelievable conclusion to the concert came with a flawless version of the triad of songs closing the Beatles 1969 LP Abbey Road, “Golden Slumbers”, “Carry That Weight”, and fittingly “The End”.  The conclusive moments found McCartney expressing with deep gratitude and warmth the parting lines of the concert, “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make”.

Paul McCartney’s performance at the Times Union Center was a memorable and, I would say even, historic experience. The wealth of quality music, the lack of unpretentious stage antics and the genuine feeling of enjoyment emanating from the stage made the show an evening worthy of long-term reflection. The anticipation of a rare Upstate New York appearance,  in addition to answering the questions surrounding McCartney’s ability to tour, layered the concert in pretense. McCartney, like always, delivered, silenced critics, and gave his admirers reason to celebrate. There are not nearly enough superlatives available to be applied to Sir Paul McCartney and his continuing artistic growth, unbelievable concert experiences, and musical achievements.

McCartney Albany 2014