Foreigner – Live at the Rainbow ’78 (review)

Foreigner – Live at the Rainbow 78 (Eagle Rock / Rhino)

Proof they really were THAT good

Foreigner sold millions of records, placed several singles in the Top Ten, and toured incessantly, yet never had a proper live album of the classic lineup of the band – until now.  

It was DEFINITELY worth the wait.  

Live at the Rainbow 78 finds the original six-piece in front of a rabid UK crowd after being on the road for over a year in support of their debut album.  

No covers – no senseless noodling – this is rock n’ roll with a purpose.

The concert kicks off with a rousing version of “Long, Long Way From Home,” fitting as half of the band were from America.  The real highlight on this track is drummer Dennis Elliott, adding frenetic fills throughout and building the excitement.  Guitarist Mick Jones turns in some truly scintillating guitar work on “I Need You.”  Then, he introduces “here’s one for the ladies here tonight, my mum included,” before kicking off “Woman Oh Woman,” with Jones and singer Lou Gramm trading off lead vocal duties.  

Gramm really shines on “Hot Blooded,” a song that wouldn’t be out for several weeks yet (the lead single from their second long player, Double Vision).  He effortlessly hits the high notes while Jones shreds on the solo.

Ed Gagliardi’s bass is intertwined with the keyboards on “The Damage is Done” – the live version has much more power, even grooving in the middle.  “Cold as Ice” opens with a cool stager before briefly pausing, allowing the crowd to roar in approval.  This live take is fueled by the keyboard duo of Ian McDonald and Al Greenwood.  The band had been playing this track for at least a year now, yet it still sounds fresh.  There’s even a nice acapella part, followed by a keyboard solo and a killer ending.

McDonald shows off his multi-instrumentalist skills, breaking out a flute solo on the spacey “Starrider,” featuring Jones on lead vocals.  This extended flute jam might be the only part where things drag just a tad. 

The twin guitar of Jones and McDonald are on display for another new song, “Double Vision” – and great harmonies in the middle and yet another great ending.

If you want proof that Gramm was one of the finest vocalists in rock, look no further than “Fool For You Anyway.”  Sure, he could belt out rockers, but here he’s soulful.  The Rhodes piano gives a gentle approach that the band would explore more fully on ballads like “Waiting For a Girl Like You” a few years later.

“At War With the World” is one of the hardest rockers the band ever played, while the concert closes with an extended take of “Head Knocker,” complete with Gramm getting behind another drumset and battling with Elliott – the entire song crests and whips the UK crowd once again into a frenzy, lasting over 12 minutes.

Live at the Rainbow 78 reminds us that Foreigner were a force to be reckoned with as a touring band.  A phenomenal live set that does nothing but add to this great band’s legacy.  —Tony Peters

Rush – Time Machine – Live in Cleveland 2011 (review)

Rush – Time Machine – Live in Cleveland 2011 (Roadrunner)  

Grizzled Canadians Return to the US City That Embraced Them First

2011 marked the 30th anniversary of Rush’s Moving Pictures album – their biggest, and best album.  To celebrate, the band played that classic record in its entirety, along with an eclectic smattering of album cuts and hits.  Time Machine: Live in Cleveland 2011, the document of that tour, has just been issued for the first time on a 4-LP set on vinyl.

The city of Cleveland played a significant role in the band’s history.  DJ Donna Halper of Cleveland’s WMMS was the first person to play Rush’s music in the States (she’s actually thanked on the back cover of the group’s debut album).  So, it would only be fitting to play in front of fans that believed in them first.

Part of the, er…rush of a Rush concert is hearing the band effortlessly tackle their intricate studio arrangements in a concert setting.  That’s great live and in person, but usually doesn’t work too well on their countless live albums.  What sets Time Machine apart is the amount of humanity that shines through.  Okay, these tracks still mostly sound like the studio versions, but, for one, Geddy Lee’s voice has aged.  More of a squawker than pure singer, his vocals have a deeper, resonating quality to them and there’s a hint of rasp as well, giving some of these songs a “lived to tell about it” feel to them that isn’t apparent on the studio renditions.  

Other times, like in the early part of “Red Barchetta,” the band doesn’t seem to lock in quite like they used to.  Yet, there’s a kinetic sense of playing together for so long, that things don’t ever veer too far off course.  

The show kicks off with “The Spirit of Radio,” a little rough around the edges, and slower than usual, but still rockin’.  This jumps right into “Time Stand Still,” with the band still reprising Aimee Mann’s background vocals, courtesy of a sampler.  Other early highlights include a decent version of moody “Subdivisions” and the seldom played “Presto.”

A minor quibble is that Neal Peart’s drums seem somewhat buried in the mix.  Largely, he’s the main attraction here, as he still sounds in fine form.  Yet, at times he’s lost under the sludge of guitars.  

Moving Pictures comes at the midway point in the concert.  Only problem is, that means the album performance starts on Record two and completes on Record three (again, minor quibbling here).  Just for consistency, it would’ve been nice to have the complete album in live form on a single disc.  “Tom Sawyer” flat out rocks, while there’s some silly carnival sound effects at the start of “Limelight.”  It’s nice to hear songs like “Vital Signs” in a live setting.  

For the remaining tracks, the band digs back to their prog rock roots for the “2112 Overture” and  “La Villa Strangiato.”  At the same time, you also get both “BU2B” and “Caravan,” songs that were brand new and would show up the following year on the album Clockwork Angels.

And what would a Rush concert be without a mammoth drum solo by Neil Peart?  This one, originally titled “Love For Sale,” gets retitled “Moto Perpetuo,” clocking in at over nine minutes in length.

The concert ends on a surprising note, with the band diving into a reggae version of “Working Man” (hmmm…).  Thankfully, it morphs into the real song about 1:30 in.

By showing a band that’s aging, and a little rough around the edges (yet still in fine form), Time Machine is the most human of all Rush live albums, and that’s a good thing.  —Tony Peters

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Mister Rogers – It’s Such a Good Feeling – The Best of (Omnivore Recordings)

Johnny Costa – Plays Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (Omnivore Recordings)

The Neighborhood, from a couple of different perspectives

It was easy to make fun of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as an adult.  Eddie Murphy certainly did several times on skits for Saturday Night Live.  His slow, deliberate delivery which he addressed his young audience could get on our nerves.  The music seemed trite and Rogers was anything but a great singer.  Oh, not to mention the cringe-worthy subject matter.  I mean, how dare he talk about DEATH on his show?

Of course, now we realize it was all pure genius

First came the 2018 documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor.  Now, coming in November of 2019, is A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a movie starring Tom Hanks.  Yes, Mister Rogers is finally getting his due.  

Bridging the gap between those two films are a pair of reissues from Omnivore Recordings, which shed further light on Fred Rogers’ gifts. It’s Such a Good Feeling is a collection of many of the best-loved songs of the 5-decade long TV series, while Johnny Costa Plays Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood shows that the melodies laid under the lyrics were also a thing of brilliance.

As someone who watched the very first episode of Mister Rogers as a young boy, the mere sound of this familiar voice brings back feelings of warmth, like hearing a long-deceased relative whom you loved.  As the first born, Mister Rogers was my playmate and my confidant. 

The thing that’s so amazing is how intricate some of the melodies are.  I didn’t know I was listening to jazz at the time (sneaky, sneaky).  As an adult, I’m even more impressed that most of these were done live, on the spot, while the show was being filmed.

Make no mistake, Rogers was never a great vocalist that you’d pay to see at a nightclub, but he used the most of his limitations.  For example, listen how the bouncing melody and plaintive lyrics contrast the Art Tatum-like speedy piano fills of Costa on “Look and Listen.”  Most of these songs are true duets – Rogers sings “Be Brave, Be Strong,” and Costa echoes with his piano.  

And, Rogers’ true gift was being able to relate perfectly to the children in his audience.  “Pretending” has a tension to it that adds excitement, but isn’t scary.  “You Can Never Go Down the Drain” sounds completely ridiculous, yet Rogers pulls it in and keeps it earnest.  

Or take “Sometimes People Are Good,” where he sings “are the very same people who are bad sometimes.”  What other song better captures the duality of most of our personalities?  Or “Wishes Don’t Make Things Come True” is a surprisingly sober topic for a kid’s show.

Of course, the real treats are the staples of his long-running program – opening with the insistent “Today is a Very Special Day,” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” and ending with the optimistic “Tomorrow.”  

Johnny Costa Plays Mister Rogers Neighborhood marks the first time this album from 1984 has been available on CD.  Rogers’ accompanist takes the familiar melodies of the program and adds further colors, with the addition Carl McVicker on bass and Bobby Rawsthorne on drums.  

It’s here where you really do get a better appreciation for this music.  Stripped of the vocals, these songs are less childlike and more just incredibly uplifting jazz music.  You also get an opportunity to really marvel at Costa as a soloist.  The comparisons to the legendary Art Tatum are definitely warranted.  

The second half of his rendition of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” really swings, while “Then Your Heart is Full of Love” is very melodic.

Honestly, this is just great background music – put it on at a party and dare your friends to guess what it is!

In anticipation of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, take a walk down the old street again.  —Tony Peters

I’ll Take Eddie Money over The Clash ANYDAY

Expletives follow – you’ve been warned.

This Eddie Money article proves why I HATE Rolling Stone magazine:

Baby Hold On: Why Eddie Money Was the Patron Saint of Rock Uncool

Read it here:

Fuck you Rolling Stone.  Stop pushing your alternate reality on rock fans.

This is yet another article proliferating this idea that the cool bands that didn’t sell any records are “better.”  Well, I’m tired of it.  Rolling Stone: please go away.

Growing up, Rolling Stone was just one of many cool rock mags that I would read from time to time.  There were lots of opinions on rock.  Eddie Money was cool in many of them.  Not in Rolling Stone.  Now, all the other magazines have stopped printing.  And, somehow what this one magazine has to say has become the “true history of rock.”

Rolling Stone has populated this flawed (and damaging) idea that the best mainstream rock came out in the Sixties.  It’s perfectly okay to like the Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, etc,  – bands that sold millions of records and filled stadiums, because the Baby Boomers at Stone grew up on them.  It’s part of THEIR childhood.  

But, when the Boomers’ ideals began crumbling in the Mid-Seventies, they began to latch onto “cool” bands in hopes of remaining relevant.  So, artists who only sold handfuls of albums and played clubs (The Clash, Blondie, Ramones, Elvis Costello) were elevated to royalty.  While artists (from my childhood) like Journey, Frampton, Heart, Styx and yes, Eddie Money, were labeled with this new moniker: “corporate rock.”  And somehow fans of those artists, decades later, are supposed to feel like “also rans.”

Well, I’m not buying it. And you’re not making me feel guilty for liking these bands.  

Fuck you Rolling Stone.  Please stop printing nonsense.

Why does anyone care what one magazine on life support has to say?  

Well, there’s the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, a special-edition from Rolling Stone which continues to be cited as scripture.  I wrote about it here:

Yes, Frampton Comes Alive is not on that 500 albums list.  Neither is any album by Foreigner or Styx or Eddie Money.  But Bob Dylan has TEN albums in there, tied with the Beatles for most by any artist.

And, Rolling Stone has influenced the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.  Eddie Money will never be in that hallowed ground.  But, Joan Jett is – because she’s “cool.”  Peter Frampton will never be in either, or Styx or Bad Company or Foreigner.  It took Rush and Kiss years after they were eligible and fans finally wore the Hall down.

As someone who lives and breathes rock n’ roll – I am seriously tired of it.

I like Bob Dylan – but the hero worship of that dude by Rolling Stone is seriously flawed.  

Don’t believe me?  I attended the Concert for the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame back in 1995.  A stellar cast of artists played all day to honor the opening of this place.  Everyone played around three songs.  Except Dylan, who played for 30 minutes.  

If Dylan is so great, why were 3/4 of the stadium in the toilet during his set?

Again – reject this stupid, flawed ideology that everything past 1975 that sold records is bad.  This is not reality, and it’s not the history that we should be handing down to the next generation.  I don’t mind The Clash, Blondie, etc.  But, embrace the other bands equally.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with liking Eddie Money. May he rest in peace. –Tony Peters

343 – Tad Robinson – Real Street

Tad Robinson is no stranger to soul music – he’s been doing a blend of it mixed with blues for decades, and it’s earned him eight nominations in various Blues Music Award categories.  But, this time around, the Indianapolis singer/harmonica player decided to travel to one of the soul music mecca’s, Memphis, to record his latest record, Real Street, coming soon on Severn Records.  He got a chance to play with the legendary Hi Rhythm Section, and the results are 10 tracks that sound like they came out of the same stable as Al Green and Ann Peebles.

Robinson tells us what it was like working with these legendary musicians, some of the great stories behind his originals, and why he re-worked songs like Roy Orbison’s “You Got It” and Bread’s “Make it With You.”  

342 – Author Mike Greenblatt – Woodstock 50: Back to Yasgur’s Farm

It was 50 years ago that three days of peace and music changed the world forever.  A new book, Woodstock 50th Anniversary – Back to Yasgur’s Farm from Krause Publications, captures the spirit with a front row seat account of the happenings with author Mike Greenblatt, who was there and lived to tell about it.  Greenblatt also tracks down many of the artists who played the festival, as well as some of the behind the scenes folks that made it all possible.  224 pages featuring over 300 photographs, it’s great way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a half a million strong. 

Greenblatt talks about what led him to getting there early to the festival, some of the crazy stories of seeing his favorite bands, and also interviewing Graham Nash, one of the artists he missed (he left early, as did many others).  

341 – Chris Carter – Breakfast with the Beatles

Chris Carter is a very busy man.  He hosts Breakfast With the Beatles, America’s longest-running Beatles show – Monday through Friday 8 to 11am Eastern on Sirius Radio, as well as Sundays on the FM dial in Southern California.  But, that’s not all. He also serves up Chris Carter’s British Invasion on Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel Saturday and Sundays too.  Carter also owned a legendary New Jersey record store called Looney Tunez (with a Z) and was the bassist for the seminal alternative band Dramarama in the 90’s.

We chat with the Fab Four Fanatic about what led to landing the dream job with Breakfast with the Beatles, getting to talk with both Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and how particular Beatles’ fans can be. We also talk briefly about his band, Dramarama, who were signed to a major label in the 1990’s and got some MTV airplay.

340 – Seth Walker – Are You Open?

Emphasizing the groove

Carolina native Seth Walker has released a string of fine albums over the last decade, with Are You Open? being his 10th long-player. While groove has always been a part of his music. This time around, it seems to have taken on a more prominent role.

He recently spent some time down in Cuba, and that certainly had an influence on things. Walker also talks about doing a lot of the recording at home, touring with Ruthie Foster, and even painting the front cover of his latest disc.

Hootie & the Blowfish – cracked rear view (Deluxe Edition) (review)

Hootie & the Blowfish – cracked rear view (Deluxe Edition) (Atlantic)

A MONSTER album, 25 years later

We treat our pop stars very strangely here in America.  For the really big ones, we usually lap them up like the all-you-can-eat dessert bar, then toss them aside and pretend they never existed.  Take the Bee Gees for example.  In 1978, the Brothers Gibb were everywhere.  By 1980, they couldn’t get arrested in the States.  I saw Hall & Oates in a small club in Cincinnati in 1992 after they had been kicked to the curb (they were fabulous, by the way).  Other countries aren’t so rude (take Europe’s never-ending fascination with ABBA, for instance).  

Another such band is Hootie & the Blowfish, whose debut album, cracked rear view, sold a gargantuan 21 million copies before they were shown the pop culture door to Siberia. 

And, it’s a shame – they didn’t deserve it.  

cracked rear view is made up of simple songs – most are fueled by a repetitive riff and three chords with lyrics about relationships.  You could say it’s the precursor to modern country music – but instead of boots and pickup trucks, they sing about crying and hand holding (sometimes in the same song).  

The album opener, “Hannah Jane,” is pure power pop.  But, with Don Gehman’s muscled production, it comes off as Mellencamp meets the Gin Blossoms. The ballads are good, “Let Her Cry” and the even better “Time.”  “Only Wanna Be With You” mentions their club buddies Dillion Fence (“put on a little Dylan / Sittin’ on a fence), who were arguably far more gifted melodically, but never got even close to stardom.  Yet, “Hold My Hand” is the standout, even 20 years later.  It’s a universal song of people coming together with a great chorus.

Hootie & the Blowfish were a really good bar band.  I saw them in October of 1994 at Bogarts in Cincinnati.  “Hold My Hand” had just come out as a single to AOR rock stations.  My wife and I were pleasantly surprised by the packed house.  This band had obviously created a buzz.  For further proof, check out the live disc, recorded a few months later in Pittsburgh.  They do a fantastic job with Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” while somehow making Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With” sound like they wrote it.  

There’s also a bonus disc of early material and b-sides.  “I Go Blind” was another monster hit (originally written by the Canadian college rock band 54-40), but left off the original album.  Another obscure cover, “Almost Home,” came from the Texas band, the Reivers.  “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” came from the Led Zeppelin tribute album.  

There’s also a bevy of early versions of these tracks on the album.  Honestly, Gehman didn’t do much to improve these songs – they were fully-realized years before their major-label release. 

Keep in mind – in 1994, the world was still knee-deep in Grunge – hailed at the time as the “savior of rock.”  We now know it killed rock – DEAD.  Rock stopped being fun – that’s why everyone listens to country music now.  

cracked rear view still stands up as a fun, sing-a-long album.  It’s time it got the respect it deserves.  —Tony Peters

Travis – Live at Glastonbury ’99 (review)

Travis – Live at Glastonbury ’99 (Craft Recordings)

The band’s “shining moment”?

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Travis’ breakout year (1999), Craft Recordings has also issued Live at Glastonbury ’99, documenting the band’s career-turning performance at this popular English festival.  

The Man Who had been issued the previous month with very little fanfare.  The album was basically dead in the water.  Then, the band took the Glastonbury stage in June, and just as they marched into their single, “Why Does It Always Rain On Me,” it started raining.  This Queen-at-Live-Aid-type moment captured the spirit of the crowd and reversed the band’s fortunes.  Within the month, “Rain on Me” was in the Top 10, the album would hit #1 and Travis were on their way.

While all of that is well and good, this concert is, um, less than spectacular.  The first issue is that Fran Healey’s whispered delivery doesn’t transfer very well in this big setting.  His voice is flat A LOT. And it cracks OFTEN.  

Yeah, I know it’s live.  It’s hot, it’s the festival crowd.  But, R.E.M. turned in a truly career-defining moment under these same circumstances (for proof, check out their Live at the BBC performance from the same show).  

“Writing to Reach You” does have a little more kick than the album version, but a lot this midtempo stuff, just kind of lays there. The drums are mixed way down, so everything just sort of lumbers along.  Their older, more rocking material, like “U16 Girls” and “Good Feeling” are much better suited to the live format.  What about “Why Does It Always Rain On Me”?  Without the rain, it’s just a so-so rendition.

Travis is a great studio band.  As mentioned in the previous review, The Man Who still stands up.  So does Ode to J. Smith.  This?  I would only recommend to the truly devoted Travis fan.  —Tony Peters

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