billie eilish, h.e.r., and adele

On Saturday, Billie Eilish performed a live-streaming concert. It was amazing ... Eilish was in fine form, but the thing that got people's attention was the special-effects production. While Eilish, Phineas, and their drummer spent the entire show on one stage (this wasn't apparent at first), a group of effects wizards transformed the visuals with every song. I don't know how they did it ... I was halfway through the show before I realized Billie wasn't going anywhere, that there was really only one trick, to make the stage look like something other than what it was, but there was a new version of the trick for each tune. It was an imaginative way to accept that a virtual live-stream concert is not the same as a live show with an excited audience.

There was nothing unusual about the setlist:

Bury A Friend / You Should See Me In A Crown / My Strange Addiction / Ocean Eyes / Xanny / I Love You / ilomilo / No Time To Die / When The Party’s Over / All The Good Girls Go To Hell / Everything I Wanted / My Future / Bad Guy

Eilish was good enough, the show would have worked fine without the effects, and "No Time to Die" remains a killer. It wasn't entirely "live" ... there were backing tracks, but that kind of added to the artificial presentation. She also pushed a message of "VOTE!", and via effects had a couple of songs where fans on the stream were shown on big video screens singing along. For much of what remained of Saturday, Eilish was a topic of discussion, pretty much all of it positive. It would be great to offer some video examples, but as of this writing, they are all being taken down as quickly as they go up.

Later, on Saturday Night Live, Adele appeared as the host. Adele hadn't been on American TV since 2017, and her last album came out in 2015. But she's been missed ... as Rolling Stone said, "Adele Reminds the World Why We Need Her More Than Ever". When Adele sings, she doesn't need special effects ... her voice is her special effect. (Billie Eilish, a different kind of singer, startles us when she hits the high note in "No Time to Die", but Adele hits those notes regularly. Neither is better, but different.)

She insisted in her monologue that she was only hosting, that she wouldn't be singing. There was a musical guest for that, H.E.R., and she was great:

But SNL and Adele got sneaky during one skit, and it got more admiring chatter than even Eilish's remarkable show.

The winner was the audience, entertained and more by three vital women artists.

music friday

Feeling the need to change things around to keep my attention, I'm going to turn Music Friday into a random look at concerts I've attended over the years. Might last one week, might last one year, who knows? Obviously, I'll repeat myself at times ... been writing here for 18 years, I've probably told these stories more than once. Here are four artists to start it off.

The J. Geils Band. I think I saw them four times. They were a big favorite of mine in my factory years ... saw them once a year from 1975-1977, then added one more show in 1982. This video is from the show I attended in 1977:

The Clash. Saw them five times, including their first-ever show in the USA. Those shows were from 1979-1984, with the last one being what I think of as the Faux Clash after Mick Jones was kicked out of the band. The night after that first U.S. show, they played a show in San Francisco with little advance notice. I wasn't there, but I was there the night before, so this is as close as I can get to my own experience seeing them for the first time.

The Blasters. Saw them once. This is one where memory serves me poorly. As I recall, it was early on, and they played at Slim's in San Francisco. But Slim's didn't open until 1988, by which time The Blasters had effectively broken up. So I don't know when I saw them, I don't know where I saw them, but I saw them. Once you've seen Phil Alvin's facial grimaces, you don't forget them, no matter how bad your memory gets.

Finally, here's another one where I was actually at the show on the video. This was at the first Bridge Concert, an annual charity show put on by Neil Young and his wife Pegi. While these shows went on for 30 years and took place at a venue close to us, I only went to two ... the ones Bruce Springsteen played at. One thing about these multi-act shows is you see people you might have missed otherwise, which is how I was able to add Don Henley to my list of musicians I've seen, even though I never much liked Don Henley.

music friday: fillmore west, october 16, 1969

It was the first of a four-night stand at the Fillmore. Opening the show was The Move. The Move are best known as a precursor to the Electric Light Orchestra, which at the beginning included three members of The Move: group leader Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne, and Bev Bevan. I can't be sure, but I don't think Lynne was in the band yet when they appeared at Fillmore West. I believe they were much bigger in the U.K. than in the States. In 2011, they released an album, Live at the Fillmore 1969, taken from these shows.

Next up was Little Richard. A month earlier, Richard had appeared at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival. To some critics, this performance revitalized his career. He was only 36, although he was likely considered an oldies artist by then. (For reference, Katy Perry will be 36 in a couple of weeks, Avril Lavigne is already there.) John Lennon was a surprise performer at the show, and he demanded that Richard hit the stage before the Plastic Ono Band. Bumps Blackwell describes what happened, in Charles White's great The Life and Times of Little Richard:

When Richard hit that stage … oh, man! I had double-miked the guitar and the piano and put the mike right inside the saxophone. Richard hit the stage with the spotlights on him and jumped up on top of the piano. He did everything he knew. He got that crowd just screaming. He invited people onto the stage to dance. He whipped the audience into a frenzy. And boy, when Richard finished, he laid the audience out so much that when Lennon and Yoko came on, they were washed out. Lennon and his band did some Rock’n’Roll numbers, but I felt sorry for them trying to follow a giant like Richard.

At those Fillmore West shows, it was left to Joe Cocker and the Grease Band to follow Richard. It was soon after Woodstock, and might have seen some of the last shows Joe played with the Grease Band. My memory is that Woodstock didn't really hit everyone's world until the movie and album came out, so I don't know the crowd at Fillmore West realized how big Cocker was about to be. He had already released one album in 1969, and a second came out in November. Here is the title track from that first album:

I guess if anyone was going to follow Little Richard in 1969 without embarrassing themselves, it would have been Joe Cocker.

oh, it's the last time

When I was young, and going to concerts on a regular basis, I used to think I would never tire of them. I couldn't imagine ever being too old to quit wanting to go.

In my later years, I've accepted that growing older does mean I don't go to that many concerts any more. But I don't think I'm done going, even if it's just to once again see Bruce Springsteen (36 times so far), Sleater-Kinney (17 times), or Pink (catching up at 6 times).

But this virus ... I have barely been out of my house for the last seven months. Concerts seem like the worst possible place to go right now. And I feel like it's not going to end. I'm like religious folks who despair of attending services during the pandemic.

I bought a ticket to the Billie Eilish livestream concert in ten days ... $30, cheap for a concert! That appears to be the closest I'm going to get to the concert experience for the foreseeable future.

I saw New Order once, back in 1985. They were far and away my all-time favorite synth-pop band. And "Temptation" was far and away my favorite of their songs ... I even wrote a short story about it, once. And my concert, they played "Ceremony", of course they played "Blue Monday", they even played "Sister Ray".

They didn't play "Temptation".

So I spent a lot of time hanging out on YouTube, watching dozens of videos of New Order performing "Temptation" live. When I do it now, it's as if I watching the last concert of all time.

Up, down, turn around
Please don't let me hit the ground
Tonight I think I'll walk alone
I'll find my soul as I go home

music friday: pj harvey, "rid of me"

Here I go again. Maybe I do this when I'm lazy ... suffice to say, "Rid of Me" has been featured on Music Friday more than once. A good one came in 2013, when I wrote

I should probably be prevented from ever posting this song again, after I used a bunch of versions to fill an entire Music Friday awhile back, which was met by complete silence. On the other hand, there’s “Matt Darbs”, who wrote in the comments section of this video, “Do you know why this has 2 million views? Because 1 million of them are mine!

Rid of Me the album was ranked #153 on the recent Rolling Stone list of greatest albums. She turns 51 today, and that blows my mind for no particular reason ... she's been active in music for more than two decades. She was 23 when Rid of Me came out, so what I'm really saying is merely that Rid of Me is ancient history by now. I am obsessed with the song, in any event. I'll hold back a bit, though, and only post two versions of her performing it. First, her 1993 appearance on The Tonight Show:

This is the one I keep coming back to:

OK, I lied, one more, from when PJ Harvey was the name of a band, and the drummer sang the "Lick My Legs" part. Doesn't work for me, but it's an interesting artifact.

music friday: fillmore west, october 2, 1969

It's two months after Woodstock. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are scheduled to play their first gigs for Bill Graham in the Bay Area. But CSNY have to postpone the shows. The posters had already been printed, which tells me the postponement came pretty late to the game. How do you replace Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young for Bay Area shows at the last minute? You get two local acts to step in for the four-night stand.

Two other acts were scheduled, and they showed up. First was Blues Image. Blues Image was a one-hit wonder who hadn't yet had their hit in October of 1969. Here is that hit, which came out in 1970:

Next up was John Sebastian, who became one of the artists most associated with Woodstock. But no one knew that in October ... we needed the movie to make that connection. Sebastian's first solo album didn't come out for a couple of months, so he was still mostly known for his work with The Lovin' Spoonful. Here he is at Woodstock with one of the Spoonful's best songs:

The replacements for CSNY? Only Santana and Janis Joplin. Santana was managed by Bill Graham, who got them a spot at Woodstock before their first album had been released. Between Woodstock and October 2, 1969, the album came out and the rest is history. "Soul Sacrifice" came from that album, and was a highlight of the Woodstock movie. This performance is from 1970, because 1) Michael Shrieve thinks this beats the Woodstock version, and he should know, and 2) Rico Reyes delivers a Hall of Fame performance on maracas:

Janis had released her first solo album the previous month. Some of us think she never had another band as good as Big Brother, but she still had some fine moments in her:


And what the heck, since I could listen to these guys all night long:

music friday: rolling stone's 500 best albums of all time

So Rolling Stone updated its list of top albums ... I think this is version 3. Here are a few selections.

Prince, Purple Rain (#8):

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run (#21):

Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out (#189):

Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings (#480):

music friday: 35 years ago today

September 18, 1985 was a big night for Bay Area concerts. David Lindley played a club date at the Old Waldorf:

The Manhattan Transfer played a somewhat bigger venue at De Anza College in Cupertino:

The legendary Harry Belafonte was at the 12,500 seat Concord Pavilion:

We missed all of those shows, because we were here, with 50,000+ fans, in a baseball stadium near the end of the Born in the USA tour:

music friday: prince 9-11-2004

We saw Prince for the last time on this date in 2004. It was the last show of the Musicology Tour. Maceo Parker was in the band. Prince did a lot of covers ... "Georgia on My Mind", "Satisfaction", "Whole Lotta Love", Stanley Clarke's "Lopsy Lu", "Knock on Wood". Nikka Costa was the opening act.

I think this was my fifth time seeing him, going back to the Dirty Mind tour in 1981. Here he is, a week before we saw him in '81:

And here is the full show that started the Musicology tour:


OK, I know it's not Friday, but I've got Pink on my mind, so I thought I'd give her a little blog post. It is her birthday tomorrow, after all (she'll be 41).

Pink is a legendary live performer, known mostly for her in-the-air acrobatics, which are impressive but c'mon, she can sing, too. I first saw her in 2002, and in 2006 I saw her at the Fillmore (capacity 1,273), where she fit right in, even singing Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz". Here's a video of her from a 2006 concert:

I've never seen her in a small club since, although we've seen her five times in those years. I think it was the 2009 Funhouse Tour where she started with the acrobatics, and she wowed them at the 2009 MTV Awards with her high-flying "Sober". The next year, it was the Grammys, where she gave them "Glitter in the Air". Trust me, she couldn't have done this at the Fillmore (ignore the title of the video):

Nowadays, her signature live performance at each show is "So What".