music friday: bruce springsteen turns 73

Today is Bruce's 73rd birthday. All week I've been posting Bruce videos on Facebook ... here they are, all in one place:

In 2006, Springsteen released We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, consisting of songs associated with Pete Seeger. The subsequent tour kicked off at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The Backstreets website writes:
Quite an important night for Springsteen -- when's the last time he really had to prove himself to an audience? Closing out the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, following Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, it was to a decidedly non-partisan crowd; Bruce wasn't preaching to the choir for the first time in a long time, he had a brand new band to boot, and this their first non-rehearsal show.

The Ghost of Tom Joad was a mostly-acoustic album Bruce released in 1995. Rage Against the Machine released a hard rap/rock version. In 2008, Rage guitarist Tom Morello joined Bruce and the E Street Band for an electric version. As Morello tells it, during the rehearsal, he played a very straightforward guitar solo, so none of the band was prepared for what he unleashed in front of an audience. Morello later joined the band as a temporary replacement for Steven Van Zandt on tours in 2013-4, and an electric version of "The Ghost of Tom Joad" featuring Morello's guitar finally appeared on the 2014 studio album High Hopes.

In 2012, Bruce played at the legendary Apollo Theater. It was the first full E Street Band show without Clarence Clemons, who had died less than a year before. (In what now feels inevitable, filling those Big Man shoes was Clarence's nephew, Jake Clemons, who has been with the band ever since.) Celebrity watchers can look for Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Elvis Costello in the audience. Trivia note: Bruce was 62 years old when this concert occurred.

Australia, 2017. Bruce sees a fan in the audience with a sign that reads "Missed school, in the shit now. Can I play Growin Up with you".

Still my favorite Bruce song. He's coming to liberate us, confiscate us:

music friday: lou reed 1980

We saw Lou Reed at a club in San Francisco in early September of 1980, on the Growing Up in Public tour. I've kinda lost track of how many times we saw Lou ... I think five (1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1989). His band was solid in those 1978-80 shows ... bass player Ellard "Moose" Boles stands out particularly in my mind. Never saw the legendary bass player Fernando Saunders with Lou, although we did see him once with Marianne Faithfull.

Here he is on Don Kirschner's Rock Concert, with a song from Berlin:

here is another 1980 performance, this time of his classic "Street Hassle":

You know, some people got no choice
And they can never find a voice
To talk with that they can even call their own
So the first thing that they see
That allows them the right to be
Why they follow it
You know, it's called bad luck

music friday

I'm always fascinated by the kinds of concerts Bill Graham used to construct. In the early days, he wasn't afraid of combining acts that didn't necessarily fit together. This show is from August 26, 1966, at the Fillmore.

The opening act was Sopwith Camel. Their first album wouldn't come out until the next year, so they would have been just another San Francisco band as that scene emerged (Graham didn't put on his first Fillmore show until late in 1965). That debut album was a bit of good news/bad news ... the good news was they got a Top 40 hit out of it, which no other SF band had managed yet. The bad news was that hit, "Hello, Hello", was a charming pop tune, perhaps not what "the scene" expected. Amidst the burgeoning psychedelic rock scene, Sopwith Camel's album had no songs over 3 minutes (the entire album was just over 25 minutes long). As Michael Goldberg noted in a 1987 Rolling Stone article, "For San Francisco's psychedelic Sopwith Camel, life as a Sixties pop sensation ended as quickly as it began. In February of 1967, the band scored its one and only hit, a good-time novelty tune called 'Hello, Hello.' Within six months — immediately following the release of its debut album — the band was defunct and slipping from public consciousness, so much so that the album carried a sticker reminding buyers, REMEMBER HELLO, HELLO!"

Here they are lip-syncing their hit on Where The Action Is, a Dick Clark TV show that ran for a couple of years in the mid-60s:

Next up was another local band, The Great Society. This was another short-lived band ... they only recorded one single before they broke up. (Sly Stone was the producer ... he is said to have walked out on them when they couldn't get a track right after 50 takes.) One big reason they broke up is because their lead singer left to join another band. She took with her two songs, one she wrote and one written by her brother-in-law, the group's guitarist. Those songs were "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love", the singer was Grace Slick, and the band was Jefferson Airplane. Slick and the Airplane's success led to the release of two Great Society albums of live material. Here's the single:

The headliners were a band from Austin, Texas, the 13th Floor Elevators, led by the legendary Roky Erickson. In August of 1966, they had a single, "You're Gonna Miss Me", that was a local hit in San Francisco, among other places. Their first album, titled The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, came out later in '66. It's a tremendous single, but the band wasn't kidding about the "psychedelic" part ... they were aficionados of LSD ("We're all heads!", as electric jug player Tommy Hall said to Dick Clark):

Erickson had mental health problems that plagued him the rest of his life (he died a couple of years ago at age 71).

Here they are on that same American Bandstand show:

A band with one pop hit, a pre-Airplane band with Grace Slick, and a psychedelic band from Austin. A fine bill! Here's a Spotify list with a mix of related music:

music friday: the last waltz (martin scorsese, 1978)

By Thanksgiving of 1976, we had seen The Band, they being one of my wife's favorite bands (and mine, as well). We had seen Eric Clapton. We had seen Neil Young as part of CSNY. We had seen Bob Dylan. I had seen Paul Butterfield before I'd met my wife-to-be. And in later years, we saw Van Morrison, and Neil Young, and Muddy Waters. We were, in short, the perfect audience for The Band's concert swan song, called The Last Waltz, held at Winterland in San Francisco on that Thanksgiving in 1976. We had been to Winterland before, and would go many times after, until it closed at the end of 1978 (we saw Bruce Springsteen there twice in the last month of its existence).

But we didn't attend The Last Waltz. We felt we couldn't afford it. The tickets, you see, were $25 each. (They included a turkey dinner.)

So we didn't attend. Certainly a reason to kick ourselves in the butts down the road. Honestly, though, it might be best experienced through Scorsese's film. It's true, not all of the songs made it into the film ... Dylan sang two other songs, for instance, and many of the other acts did additional songs not in the movie (Joni Mitchell, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison). On the other hand, there were jam sessions that Scorsese thankfully removed.

There was a lot of after-the-fact controversy about The Last Waltz, both the concert and the film. Some of the guests made sense ... The Band played with Ronnie Hawkins at the beginning of their career, and Bob Dylan after that. Four of the five members were Canadians, which probably accounts in part for the number of Canadians on the bill (Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and maybe others?). Some were clear influences on The Band ... they wanted to emphasize the importance of their blues roots, so Muddy Waters is there, along with people like Clapton and Butterfield. Neil Diamond seems like an outsider, until you remember that Robbie Robertson had just produced an album for Diamond (the song he sings here was co-written by Robertson). Dylan reported tried at the last minute to keep from having his segment filmed (the compromise was that not of all of his songs made the cut). There is a serious lack of women performers ... only Joni Mitchell, plus a fine studio version of "The Weight" with the Staples Singers.

As for The Band, Levon Helm was pissed until the day he died at Scorsese and Robertson for making Robertson seem more important than he was. And the group wasn't necessarily in agreement that they needed to quit playing concerts.

Anyway, Scorsese's movie removes most complaints. All of the band seem intent on expanding the myth of their existence, and some of the stories they tell are fun, even if they are tall tales. But, as Christgau said when reviewing the subsequent album, "The movie improves when you can't see it--Robbie Robertson and friends don't play anywhere near as smug as they look (or talk)." I could have used another Muddy Waters song and a little less of the Legend of The Band. But, in fairness, that would be a different movie. Ultimately, The Last Waltz is probably my favorite concert movie of all time.

As for The Band, I'd say they are both over and under-rated. Overrated, in that their peak wasn't quite long enough. Underrated, in that their peak was immense, and not just musically. Those first two albums were a part of the culture of the times as much as any Beatles album. Sure, the third album was a fall-off, and it went mostly downhill from there, but I give them bonus credits for those two albums.

Here they are with their two early band leaders, along with a good version of "The Shape I'm In":

And here the two highlights from the guests:

music friday: blondie and rockpile

On this date in 1979, we saw Blondie and Rockpile at what was then called the Oakland Civic Auditorium. Blondie was the obvious headliner, but I came away more impressed with Rockpile. Roberta Bayley was quoted in Will Birch's Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe, "Blondie got that number one record, but they weren't quite prepared for playing bigger places. Rockpile were often blowing them off stage, and at Oakland lots of people started leaving the venue before Blondie came on. 

The openers were listed on posters as "Nick Lowe and Rockpile". I suppose that's fair ... Lowe already had a couple of albums under his own name, while Dave Edmunds hadn't had a Top Ten single in the States since 1970. Rockpile (Lowe and Edmunds along with Billy Bremner and Terry Williams) only released one album under their own name, but several Lowe and Edmunds albums at the time were de facto Rockpile.

Blondie, of course, was on top of the world in 1979. They were still touring behind the incredible Parallel Lines, which hit #6 on the U.S. charts and spawned six singles, including the smash "Heart of Glass". And they had Debbie Harry.

Here's a Spotify playlist of some of the music the bands were making around that time:

music friday: tom snyder

Tom Snyder had a long career in radio and television, and is best known for his late-night talk shows. His presence was eccentric enough that Dan Ackroyd made it one of his SNL impressions.

During the punk/new wave era, Snyder had a lot of great musical guests. Everyone from John Lennon to John Lydon to KISS. He loved Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics. Ramones, the Clash, Iggy, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, he had them all. He never pretended to be anything other than what he was, a middle-aged media personality. But he treated his guests with respect (as long as they didn't throw shit back at him), and it was pretty refreshing at the time. Here is a show from 1978 that includes Joan Jett and Paul Weller, as well as Kim Fowley, Bill Graham, and Robert Hilburn.

Snyder died on this date in 2007 at the age of 71.