music friday: tom petty

I've gone back and forth on whether to post this or not. I have no desire to dump on the favorite artists of others, at least not when I have no hatred for the artist in question. I don't have much to say about Tom Petty. I couldn't name the Heartbreakers ... for some reason, Benmont Tench's name sticks in my head, but I don't know the others without checking the Internet. For most of my life since the emergence of Petty, I've used him as a marker for a time when rock and roll music changed. When punk arrived, I would say, some of the people thought it was a tremendous reflection of true rock and roll spirit, while everyone else went to their Tom Petty albums and never listened to new music again. That's unfair, of course, to Petty if not to the baby boomers who never wanted to hear anything that didn't sound like what they'd already heard. (Of course, hip hop followed, becoming the true revolution I had imagined happening with punk.)

Chris Willman wrote in Variety, "Tom Petty may have been the least polarizing figure in rock history. Literally everyone else you could cite has a substantial 'not a fan' base, from Dylan to Springsteen, Bowie to Bono. And the very nature of the eternal Beatles-vs.-Stones debate attests that there will always be someone, somewhere, immutably meh on Mick and McCartney. But there’s an argument to be made that Petty almost never caused an argument, at least not among music fans."

I think Willman is onto something. It would be an exaggeration for me to say I was "not a fan" of Petty. But the very fact of his non-polarizing nature is a point against him, in my mind. People argue about Dylan and Bruce and Bowie and Bono because there is something larger than the mere ordinary about them. But everyone seemed to agree that Tom Petty was one of the good ones.

And, in fairness, with his death, many people have written eloquently about what his music meant to them, so I'm clearly in the minority when I am, if not meh, than at least not inspired by Petty.

The year Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they were part of a group that included The Ramones, Talking Heads, Brenda Lee, Isaac Hayes, and Gene Pitney. In my personal Hall, the Ramones and Talking Heads are in, you can make a good case for Brenda Lee, and Isaac Hayes makes sense. Not so sure about Gene Pitney, who is the only one of the group that I'd place below Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

As a nod to Petty on his death, I put together a 20-song playlist that we listened to in the car on a trip from Sacramento to Berkeley. Any artist who has 20 worthy songs to their name is pretty good (and some people were making lists with 50 songs ... as I say, my taste preferences don't really match the majority here). But that 20 was a bit of a cheat. I included five cover songs, and two ringers, one by Stevie Nicks and one by the Traveling Wilburys. I could only come up with 13 "Tom Petty songs" I wanted to hear. Which still isn't bad, but I can't say I think a baker's dozen good songs makes a Hall of Fame artist.

And I mean it when I say "good songs". "American Girl" is the only Tom Petty song I think of as a true classic. It was on his first album. He gets credit for longevity, but for me, he never cut a track better than the last song on his first album.

But picky, picky, picky. Tom Petty made plenty of good music, and touched a lot of listeners. There's nothing wrong with that.

We saw him in concert once, as a solo acoustic performer at the first Bridge concert in 1986. Honestly, we thought he was drunk. Maybe he was just having fun. He opened with "American Girl", tossed in "Blue Moon of Kentucky", and finished with "Twist and Shout." He did have good taste in covers.

Here are my three favorite Tom Petty song, a rather dull selection to be sure:


music friday: willie and lucinda

On this date in 2004, we saw Willie Nelson and Lucinda Williams. We'd seen Lucinda many times, but this was the only time we saw Willie. I wrote about it at the time, and since I'm in Spain, I'm going to cheat and just offer a link to that post, along with a few excerpts.

Her set was sloppy in a good way ... I don't suppose she was drunk, but she was so much looser than we'd ever seen her that the thought crossed our minds. You see, Robin and I love Lucinda Williams and have been going to see her for many years now, but what carries her concerts is her songs ... she isn't exactly a dynamic performer. But tonight? She talked before every song, she seemed to be making up the setlist as she went along, she told stories, and she really tore into the songs, especially "Still I Long For Your Kiss." At the end of the night, after closing with "Get Right With God," she planted mushy kisshugs on each of the band members, even climbing through the drumset to get to the drummer. Meanwhile, she wore a CBGBs t-shirt, showed off her tattoo, and generally had a raucous good time, which I never thought I'd say about Lucinda Williams. ...

It's kinda odd seeing a legend ... I spent the first few minutes just staring at him, thinking "man, there he is, Willie Nelson, it's really him." Actually, even before he came out, we were staring at a legend: his guitar, which sat on its stand as the roadies set things up. If you've never seen it, it's the damnedest thing  ...

Willie played for about an hour and 45 minutes. Never having seen him before, I can only go by what I read, but it seemed like a standard set, with most of the classics. At one point he did an extended medley of "'Funny How Time Slips Away/Crazy/Night Life," and I yelled at Robin, "it's like he wrote every song in history!" But then he did other people's songs, songs that we identify with him, like "Always on My Mind" and "Georgia on My Mind," and you realize if there's a song he didn't write, he's probably sung it at some point, anyway. The weird thing was, he did songs across a wide variety of styles, and every time you thought "he fits right in" or "he makes this his own" or "I think he invented this." So there was the countrypolitan "Crazy" and a rockin' version of "Me and Bobby McGee," there was the gospel of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and the vocal classics like "Always on My Mind," there was a handful of Hank Williams songs and "Milk Cow Blues." And Willie Nelson always sounded like he and the song belonged together. I'm not saying he was bringing something new to the table tonight ... he's sung most of these songs literally thousands of times. But they fit him like a snug hemp sweater. ...

When Lucinda was done with her set, she gave a pretty long speech about what performing meant to her. I swear, I thought she was gonna cry ... we really have never seen her like she was tonight. She said she'd been doing this for 30 years, and she's finally figuring out why people like Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan and B.B. King keep playing and playing and playing, no matter how old they get. She told us that you can't put a price on the gratification you get when you can perform your songs for an appreciative audience. She just seemed so thankful to be able to do what she did. And her words resonated with me as I watched Willie Nelson sing "On the Road Again" for the three billionth time ... this is what he does, and you can't put a price on it.

As a bonus, here's Lucinda and Willie singing her "Over Time":


music friday: crosby, stills, and nash

On this date in 1984, I saw Crosby, Stills, and Nash at Candlestick Park, after a Giants game.

They weren't touring behind any particular album. Their most recent studio album, Daylight Again, had done well, but it was two years old. A year later came Allies, a mostly-live hodgepodge that didn't sell and has been out of print for decades. David Crosby was at one of the low points in his life: drugs, prison, general awfulness. You can get a feel for the kind of tour this must have been by looking at some of the venues. Just in the next couple of weeks after Candlestick, they played at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre, and something called the Sierra Sun Festival in Grass Valley, California.

I don't remember what songs they sang. I can tell you about the game, if only because that's something I can look up on The Giants won, 4-0, and Dusty Baker hit a pinch-hit, 3-run homer. The crowd was just under 20,000. The Giants were dreadful that year ... they had the worst record in all of baseball. It was also the first year I had season tickets.

I stuck around because, well, why not? I had seen CSNY ten years earlier, and had seen Y six years earlier. Since Y was missing from the Candlestick show, I didn't have a lot of interest. Still, there was a time when I played that first CSN album quite often. (Trivia note: the only time I can remember singing harmony on stage was for "Helplessly Hoping".)

The truth is, if I were to post some of their greatest hits, I'd offer Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds and the Hollies. Beyond the nostalgia value, I don't know what I'd include from the CSN(Y) grouping. "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" ... "Helpless" ... "Love Work Out" from C&N. I'm sure they did "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" at Candlestick. I know they didn't do "Helpless" because Y wasn't there. And far as I can tell, they didn't perform "Love Work Out" on that tour, if they ever did.

I also can't find any 1984 CSN on YouTube. So I'm left with these. First, "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" at Woodstock:

And "Love Work Out", with guitars by Crosby, Danny Kortchmar, and David Lindley:

Finally, so Y doesn't feel left out, from the concert we saw:


filthy friends

Filthy Friends have been regularly tagged with the "supergroup" label. Certainly on the indie front, their heritage is impressive. Kurt Bloch (Fastbacks, Minus 5) and Scott McCaughey (Minus 5, Baseball Project, R.E.M.) are frequent contributors to a variety of indie albums. Drummer Bill Rieflin worked with R.E.M. and King Crimson, along with a billion indie bands (Revolting Cocks, Pigface). Rieflin is not on the Friends' current tour, with Linda Pitmon (Baseball Project, Minus 5) taking his spot. These folks have worked together a lot over the years, and R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, a common figure in many of the above bands, would seem to be a central organizing member of the collective. But the main thing that separates Filthy Figures from the other "side projects" mentioned above is that Corin Tucker is the singer for the band (and the author of the songs' lyrics).

I say this not merely because I am such a big Corin fan, but because the band's music is designed to show what Tucker can do. This was especially clear in the concert I attended last night. In many ways, Filthy Friends was a "supergroup" version of the earlier Corin Tucker Band. All of the musicians contributed ... I especially liked Linda Pitmon's work ... but Corin was front and center, she was the one who mostly talked to the crowd, and I suspect, levels of fame aside, more people were there to see Corin than they were to see an indie supergroup.

She has come a long way in terms of stage presence over the years, although that impression may be off a bit, since with Sleater-Kinney she shares the stage with Carrie Brownstein, who oozes charisma. Peter Buck isn't going to upstage her ... in fact, he let Bloch take the guitar solos, content to stay back, adding his identifiable sound to the chords coming from his instrument. Bloch actually did concoct some stage presence, bouncing around like Angus Young. But it was Corin's show, and that fact means that now, when I listen to the Filthy Friends album, Invitation, I'll hear it as Corin's band.

And there is nothing wrong with that. Once I have lived with the Filthy Friends songs for awhile, I expect they will grow on me. But in concert, as on record, Filthy Friends are good-not-great, without the ecstatic moments I often get from listening to Sleater-Kinney.

The title cut from the album is not particularly representative of the whole, although the songs vary quite a bit from one another in any event. Corin sings it like a good-timey crooner from the 60s. Here it is from last night:

I should add that this was my first visit to The Independent, and the sound was excellent.


music friday: 1977

These are the artists I saw in concert in 1977. There is one top of the line classic band, an all-time great who was past his peak, some personal favorites, and at least two opening acts that I thought sucked. These are in chronological order, with the earliest concerts at the beginning, and the acts at each show listed in order of appearance.

The Outlaws, "Green Grass and High Tides"

Santana, "Soul Sacrifice" (video taken from concert I attended)

Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Freebird" (video taken from concert I attended)

Peter Frampton, "Do You Feel Like We Do?" (video taken from concert I attended)

Judas Priest, "Diamonds and Rust"

Rick Derringer, "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo"

Led Zeppelin, "Kashmir" (audio taken from concert I attended)

Head East, "Show Me I'm Alive"

Robert Gordon and Link Wray, "I Sure Miss You"

J. Geils, the whole damn concert I attended

Air Supply, "Love and Other Bruises"

Rod Stewart, "Hot Legs"