music friday: kidcutup

Having now enjoyed KidCutUp at two separate Pink concerts, I thought I'd give him a shout out here. He does a great job of bringing the crowd into his sets, even when the people aren't there to see him in the first place. His blend of current and older music appeals to an interesting cross-section ... at least, he knows what Pink fans want, from 8 to 80. My wife (65) isn't much of a fan of opening acts, but she likes KidCutUp, and it's fun to see her as she sings along to things like "Just a Friend". These don't give a real feel, but it's the best I could dig up. First, here he is in a studio:

Next, a poorly-recorded short taste of what his Pink shows are like:

And finally, he has a playlist on Spotify that will give you an idea of the kinds of songs he's liable to slip into a set:

KidCutUp: Beautiful Trauma Opening Set Playlist (Spotify)

Special bonus for my wife:

pink #6

This was our second time seeing Pink on her Beautiful Trauma tour, with the two shows separated by 11 months. Which is about right ... her shows are locked into the spectacle, so she can't really change things around much from show to show. There were only two changes to the setlist, with songs from her soon-to-be-released new album replacing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and one of her old tunes. One particular highlight this time came from the people who sat directly in front of us: a woman and her daughter, who will be 8 at the end of the week. Mom said they'd been to see Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, and the squirt really enjoyed going to shows. They made quite a team, dancing happily. I told Mom that I first saw Pink "-9 years" before the daughter was born. The kid brought her doll with her, which was darling as could be. She tuckered out at the end, but kudos to both Mom and Kid for their exuberance.

I'm going to quote a bit from my post on last year's show, because it's still relevant, and because it raises something I want to reiterate:

As for the band, it must matter that the same people have been in her band for ... I don't know, at least a decade. They aren't "A Band", they are "The Band" ... they don't go on tour as themselves when Pink isn't around. They are working musicians who play with many other artists. If you think about singers you've watched for a long time, I don't think you'd find many examples where the backup group is mostly unchanged. But these folks have backed Pink on tour long enough that they sound just like a "real" band.

I stand by those words. I did a little research. In almost every case, the band has been touring with her at least since the 2009 Funhouse tour. Just to name the ones I am sure of, there are the vocalists, Jenny Douglas and Stacy Campbell ... Douglas goes back to the I'm Not Dead tour of 2006-7. There's the rhythm section, Mark Schulman on drums and Eva Gardner on bass. Jessy Greene takes care of violin, viola, and vocals. Adriana Balic, who goes way back but missed a tour after she had a kid, on keyboards, guitar, vocals. Justin Derrico, the hot-shit geetar player. I don't mean to leave anyone out, but a couple have been around a bit less than the rest. There are also the dancers, who for the most part are more anonymous to me but many of whom have also been on multiple tours with Pink.

Reading Brian Hiatt's fine new book, Bruce Springsteen: The Stories Behind the Songs, I realized a truth that wasn't really a surprise, that since Tunnel of Love in the late-70s, Bruce has only rarely gone into the studio with the full E Street Band. That's how they made The River, but that's no longer how he makes albums. And, of course, Bruce has done tours without that band. But they are closely associated with each other ... the E Street Band has a recognizable identity, we think of them as being tied to Bruce. Many of them have solo careers, Max Weinberg spent many years as a late-night band leader, Steve Van Zandt was a regular on The Sopranos. But when the whole gang tours, it's Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band.

I'm not sure about other solo artists, but I feel like their tour bands change from year to year. Yet here is Pink, with a group so consistent that they could almost be billed a la the E Streeters. They are musicians for hire, sure ... Eva Gardner has a new album out, a couple of these folks are on shows like The Voice, and in the time-honored tradition of backup singers, Stacy and Jenny are always working with someone. Drummer Schulman even has a side-career as a motivational speaker. But it's been a long time since we've seen much in the way of changes in Pink's band. My wife saw her for the first time in 2009, and to her, the band has always been pretty much the same. The first two shows I saw, going back to 2002, had different musicians, but those were a long time ago.

Truthfully, for all they add to the concerts, Pink's band aren't as essential to the show as the E Street Band is to Bruce shows. But they keep coming back, Pink keeps asking them back, and they all seem to be having great time. It's fun to see, over the years.

I should offer another snippet from last year, since it was true once again last night. "Special mention to the opening act, KidCutUp, a DJ who did about 40 minutes and had the Arena dancing and bopping ... odd, but the DJ was one of the best opening acts I've seen."

Finally, Julia Michaels did a set. She is known for writing songs for top pop stars. Her first single, "Issues", went triple-platinum. She was energetic, although my wife felt her band tended to overwhelm Michaels' offerings.

Here is a photo my wife took of "Revenge", the song that features Eminem both on vocals and, in concert, as a giant balloon. If you follow "Eminem's" line of vision, you'll see Pink floating in the air underneath a bunch of lights, just before she flies over to the balloon and punches it out.

Eminem vs. pink

music friday: ramones 1980

We only saw The Ramones twice, and they came close together, first in late 1979 and then at the Warfield on this date in 1980. Bruce Handy, then a student writing for the Stanford Daily, wrote about that show: "The Ramones came on and everyone started jumping and this one prepubescent punkette pogoed the top of her skull into my date's nose. wiped it up with my shirt. It was wonderful.... The Ramones play with an intensity that few bands can match: the audience could not have taken much more than it got."

End of the Century had been released on February 4, and it was the first disappointing album the band had released, after their ridiculous first four albums (Christgau ratings: A A A A) and the live It's Alive (Xgau only gave it an A-, but I'd disagree). Phil Spector did the production on End of the Century, and I can't say he added anything useful. It was their highest-charting album, so what do I know. I can vouch for the fact that in 1979 and 1980, they were still awesome live.

I had a broken foot ... a few days later I'd go to my first Opening Day, our seats were nosebleeds, and I remember it being very hard to walk up those stairs. The Ramones show was easier to handle ... despite what Handy wrote, when I hung out on the edge of the pit, people were pretty careful not to crush my cast. The 1979 show was more memorable because it was in a tiny club so we got real close (in my wife's case, REAL close), but the Warfield show was great, too. The opening act was No Sisters, about whom I remember nothing.

Here they are, about a month and a half before we saw them:

music friday: the magic tour

We saw Bruce Springsteen four times during his Magic Tour in 2007-2008, twice in Oakland, once in Sacramento, and then, 11 years ago today, once in San Jose. The first two shows were the last time we saw Danny Federici, who left the tour to get treatment for the melanoma that killed him a couple of weeks after the latter two shows. He was the first E Street member to pass away.

Here's "Adam Raised a Cain" from the first Oakland show, October 25, 2007:

And from the next night, "Two Hearts" with the "It Takes Two" coda:

Jump ahead a few months, to April 4, 2008 in Sacramento, and a bit of the opener, "Spirit in the Night":

Finally, 11 years ago today, in San Jose, "Something in the Night":

And, since this is Opening Day, a bonus track: Bruce Springstone with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" (the story of Bruce Springstone can be found here):

music friday

Some Wikipedia items about this week's artist:

"The book British Hit Singles & Albums states that he was "Britain's most successful album act before the Beatles...the first act to sell over one million stereo albums and [have] six albums simultaneously in the US Top 30".

"His records were regularly used for demonstration purposes in stores selling hi-fi stereo equipment, as they were produced and arranged for stereo reproduction. He became the first person to sell a million stereophonic records."

He "starred in his own syndicated television series ... which was produced in England and which aired in the United States ... Thirty-nine episodes were filmed".

"Author Joseph Lanza stated that [he] was a leader in the use of new studio technologies to 'create sound tapestries with innumerable strings', and that 'the sustained hum of [his] reverberated violins produced a sonic vaporizer foreshadowing the synthesizer harmonics of space music.' ... Variety ... [called] him 'the biggest musical phenomenon of the twentieth century'."

Wikipedia lists 50 albums (it's not complete).

And depending how old you are, I bet you've never heard of him. But his name was synonymous with a certain kind of music, such that even now, the only way I can think of to label his music is to use his name: Mantovani, who died on this date in 1980.

Here is his 1951 hit "Charmaine", which hit #10 on the charts and was on them for 19 weeks:


music friday: jorma kaukonen

I just finished Jorma Kaukonen's memoir Been So Long. Kaukonen is best known for his work as a guitarist for Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. He's a fine writer. The book is episodic at times, as Kaukonen pulls memories out of his life. The time spent making albums with the Airplane is rather quickly dispensed with, not because of any ire towards his old band, but he doesn't seem to realize (or care) that readers might have an interest in those albums. He spends equal amounts of time on all albums he worked on, including his many solo albums.

His honesty pays off throughout the book. Of the Airplane's status as "hippies", he writes, "We were ... affluent and most of our problems were upper-class, first-world ones.... The so-called straight people might have considered that we lived an eccentric lifestyle, but consider this: we were successful in a mainstream way, contracted to an old guard establishment corporation (RCA), and we all had money."

Jorma writes in a low-key style, a bit like his vocals. His doesn't shy away from talking about his troubles with booze and drugs, but neither does he sensationalize them. It's just there. By the time you've finished his book, you've learned something of his philosophy of life. He's 78, and content. He also still loves to play his music.

Here are a few songs featuring Jorma. From Volunteers, "Good Shepherd":

"The Other Side of This Life" is as much a showcase for Jack Casady as it is for Jorma, but sometimes you can't have one without the other:

Maybe his best solo track, from Quah:

Legendary acoustic Hot Tuna:

And probably his most-famous composition ... he once recorded an album with 11 different versions of this song. Here, he plays it at the Airplane induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

And a bonus: "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning"

danny kustow

Danny Kustow died a few days ago. He was best known as the guitarist for the original Tom Robinson Band.

I wrote this back in 2006 ... it's worth checking out the entire post, there's some good tidbits in there ... but here is the part that references Kustow in particular, lightly edited:

The Tom Robinson Band was coming to town, we were big fans, he was playing somewhere semi-large in the City, but he was playing in a dinky club in Davis before he got to San Fran, so we decided to see him there. Our friend Claire said she could get us backstage. I came prepared ... I made a big sign that read "Danny Kustow is God" and took it to the show. We set up right near the stage on the side Kustow would be playing, and it's safe to say the band was delighted to have such a big fan in such a dinky club, because for probably the only time in my life, then, now, or in the future, the band played to me ... that is, I was identified as the biggest fan in the crowd, so I got a lot of the "let's interact with the audience by looking his way" stuff.

And when the show was over, Claire escorted me backstage ... and if the club was dinky, you can imagine what the dressing room was like. It was, to be perfectly honest, not much more than a closet. A closet with four people stuffed inside of it. Five, once I entered.

The band was v.nice ... they all autographed my sign ... to this day it's the only time I got to go backstage.

Looking back, trying to identify why Kustow made such an impression on me. I was under the spell of punk rock, where great musicianship was almost in bad taste. The great punk guitarists tended towards minimalism, or followed the creatively chaotic playing of Johnny Thunders. Kustow was different ... he had the kind of chops that would have served him well in a traditional classic rock band, but his playing also had an audible snarl that was perfect for the music TRB were making. As Joe Strummer said of Mick Jones in "Complete Control", "You're my guitar hero!"

Robinson gave a beautiful tribute at Danny's funeral ... not sure this link works properly, but a transcript was posted on Facebook. Meanwhile, thank you Danny. Here is one of many highlights from those days:

music friday: drummers

In honor of the passing of the immortal drummer Hal Blaine, here are five of my favorite drummers.

Keith Moon, "Happy Jack". My personal standard for rock drummers. I don't know who did it first ... hell, this wasn't even the first time Moonie did it with The Who (see "My Generation", for instance). But on this track, the drums take over when you'd normally hear a guitar solo. I am not an expert on drumming ... I think some aficionados think Moon was a sloppy drummer. Fuck them. Tbis is rock and roll, and Keith Moon is the Little Richard of the drums.

Buddy Rich, "West Side Story". Again, an expert can correct me on this, but Buddy Rich always seemed to me to be the greatest drummer of them all. I mean, I'm not a fan of his music (that's OK, he didn't like rock and roll, either), but holy moly could he play. This medley is one of his most famous ... if you click on the link and see the performance lasts for 15 1/2 minutes, you might decide to find something else to do, and I doubt it would help if I told you the last 9 minutes are a drum solo. But you won't be sorry ... this ain't "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida", or even "Toad".

Billy Cobham, "Birds of Fire". Funny that I've included two jazz drummers on this list. Jazz isn't my genre, for the most part. But I am not the only rocker who was blown away by The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Saw them in concert in 1972 ... might have been the loudest show I ever attended. Billy Cobham was a monster.

Janet Fucking Weiss, "Youth Decay". A few days ago, Rolling Stone posted a piece called "Fred Armisen: My 5 Favorite Drum Songs". Armisen's Sleater-Kinney selection was "Get Up", and I thought that was a delightful choice ... I've always loved it, especially in concert, especially the very end. It is not a typical Janet Weiss performance, though ... usually she's more in the Keith Moon/John Bonham overpowering mode, whereas here ... well, I'll just quote Armisen:

This is a very emotional song, but Janet Weiss plays this weird disco beat that just builds and builds. It’s kind of an emotional beat, which is kind of a hard thing to do. It’s hard to express yourself with just drums. The song is uptempo; it’s also melancholy. It’s this melancholy, driving beat that builds all the way through to the end. It doesn’t just use the snare drum, it uses the floor tom on the four, which I really love. It’s kind of a challenge to be in a band when you’re not the singer and still try to put your own signature on a song. Janet Weiss does that here.

Nonetheless, "Youth Decay" is one of my favorite S-K songs, and probably my favorite Janet performance. Especially the end. And did I mention, I'm all about a forked tongue and a dirty house? As for her nickname, I give you this:

Hal Blaine, "Be My Baby". The reason for this post. What Chuck Berry's lick on "Johnny B. Goode" is to rock and roll guitar, Hal Blaine on "Be My Baby" is to rock and roll drums. And it's one of the reasons I've been known to call Mean Streets the greatest rock and roll movie of all time.