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Not wild about Scott Weiland’s performance at the Bethlehem Sands Casino

15 Mar

Maybe there is such a thing as bad publicity. Scott Weiland is one of rock’s great frontmen. He is also a great frontman overshadowed by the attention he receives in the media, most recently for being “fired” from Stone Temple Pilots, the band he helped found and a claim Weiland refutes.

Perhaps the petty nature of all this back and forth between him and his now ex-bandmates is one reason why attendance was so low last night at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where Scott Weiland performed, backed by his solo band, the Wildabouts.

To start, Weiland took the stage forty minutes late, making his lateness as much of a signature as his onstage swagger. A review in the Lehigh Valley Times cited Weiland as saying he was late because he was watching The Hobbit. How very rock n’ roll of you, Scott Weiland. I heard the word “Hobbit” come out of his mouth, but the garbled string of words surrounding it was lost on me…and I was standing four people deep from the stage.

The tour, aptly titled “The Purple to the Core Tour” features hits  from Stone Temple Pilots’ first two albums, Core and Purple, respectively. But last night, the covers had it. Jane’s Addiction’s “Mountain Song,” the Libertines’ “Can’t Stand Me Now,” with bassist Tommy Black sharing vocals, and even a cover of the Doors “Roadhouse Blues” were hands down highlights, although the latter was a bit cringe-worthy as Weiland, supposedly sober but appearing not so, sang about “grabbing himself a beer.” It’s a song, and an iconic one at that, I do realize, but it still felt in poor taste given Weiland’s aforementioned incoherence.

Scott Wldabouting

Lead singers’ solo careers tend to succeed marginally more than the former bands they fronted, but seeing Weiland perform STP standards like “Sex Type Thing,” “Crackerman” and “Creep” with the Wildabouts proves STP is only as good as the sum of its parts.

Scott Weiland’s Wildabouts are a talented pool of musicians, and the new arrangements of old STP favorites were good, but they weren’t…STP. They lacked the chemistry and charisma that made Stone Temple Pilots one of the most famous hard rock acts of the 90s. Weiland, himself, even seemed lost and out of place among it all.

I so very much wish Weiland and his former STP bandmates, Eric Kretz and the DeLeo brothers, Robert and Dean, would resolve and rise above their issues to reclaim their spot as a tour-de-force rock band who made kick-ass rock n’ roll once upon a time.

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The Black Keys’ El Camino: a Duo Delivering a BIG sound

6 Feb

The best album of 2011 arrived late in the year. Released on December 6, El Camino, the 7th studio album from the Black Keys, is a dazzling study on 60s blues riffs, classic R&B grooves, and the brutish psychedelic Brit-rock of the early 70’s.  Like previous Keys records, El Camino is not subtle.  It rumbles, it jangles, it screams.  The powerful drumming of Patrick Carney, mixed with the driving rhythms and haunting vocals of Dan Auerbach scream out of the speakers at mach-20.  However, in contrast to their previous raw, lo-fi attempts, this record uses the studio as an instrument to enhance the song arrangements, and producer/collaborator Danger Mouse plays that instrument masterfully. New voicings and textures enhance the solid, hooky melodies in ways we hadn’t heard before on a Black Keys record. Instead, we had grown accustomed to big beats and crunchy hooks from the Akron, Ohio duo.

On previous records like Brothers and Attack and Release, the Keys took their cues from their mentors.  If you close your eyes and listen to Attack and Release you would swear you were listening to a young, pre-slow hand, Clapton, patiently pounding out classic blues riffs from his flat in London. However, El Camino uses those influences and polishes them with production to reveal that the strength of this record is not in the masterful playing of the musicians involved, but in the songwriting and in the arranging.  In short…El Camino is a really f*cking good batch of songs.

Recording a beast of a record.

Recording for the album began in early March 2011, with the Keys once again tapping the fabulous Danger Mouse to collaborate, who also produced and co-wrote every song on the album.  In those early days of March, the band began the planning and production completely from scratch. Easy Eye Sound Studio, owned by Auerbach and the band’s personal rehearsal space, had been newly built in an old industrial section of Nashville, Tennessee and outfitted with vintage recording gear purchased from some of the more famous recording meccas of the south. Meccas like Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, home of classic recordings by Aretha, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, to name a few.

So the Black Keys holed up at Easy Eye for 41 days with Danger Mouse and his engineer Kennie Takahashi.  The studio’s unique characteristics, like the bathrooms and stairwells, were used to record vocals, hand claps and guitar parts. The result is an authentic sounding collage of sounds, tones and textures. All of which contribute to the warm vibe of El Camino.

The album was mixed by the legendary Tchad Blake (Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, Pearl Jam) who received songs via mail in batches of two and three at a time as Auerbach and Carney continued to work and hone the arrangements in Nashville. Blake described the songs as “basically done” when he received them, saying on The Black Keys Fan Lounge, “(El Camino) came to me much closer to what they wanted the finished record to be so it was more of a balance job.” His task was to organize the tracks, hone the edits, as well as adjust the effects and general sonics of the instruments. The result is great sounding record, and Blake’s mixes sound organic and consistent from track to track.  Even when he’s switching from quiet pieces like “Little Black Submarines” into loud raucous songs like “Money Maker,” that organic consistency is there.

A really f*cking good batch of songs.

El Camino opens with “Lonely Boy,” the album’s first single. It’s a brash and effective break-up song that kicks off the record like a 40-yard field goal. The song begins in typical Black Keys fashion – a single guitar and a biting riff. As you listen to “Lonely Boy” progressively build to a frenzy, everything seems to fall away as Aurbach’s haunting vocal begin.  The lyrics are clever, and if you didn’t know better, you might just think that you’re listening to the meta-slick grooves of T.Rex (think “Bang a Gong”).  “Lonely Boy” offers a perfect counterpoint to the previous work by the Black Keys.  El Camino foregoes the live, stripped down style that was their sixth studio effort, Brothers, for the wall of sounds and layering of multiple vocals and guitar parts in order to create a lush sound-scape for your aural pleasure.  It’s intense.

The next notable accomplishment on this record is “Gold on the Ceiling.”  This is quite a masterful piece of production. An unassuming riff begins in a familiar way. A 12-bar blues that begins to build.  As the clavinet organ pops in and the hand claps take hold, the “pocket” of this song begins to form.  This is the place where the collective groove of everything that’s happening has come together so perfectly to form a warm, delightful pocket, where you could lay for hours in a blissful dream-like state.

And “Gold on the Ceiling” has some deep pockets.  Once again, everything melts into the background to give way to one of the more soulful vocal performances on the album. The production and arrangements on this song are nearly perfect, made evident by the fact that you don’t notice what’s happening until it’s happening.

The last song to note is “Money Maker.”  This song’s lyrics and guitar work are adequate, but the drumming of Patrick Carney steals the show here. Switching from tight, funky verses to all out rocking on the choruses, Carney shows why he’s one of the best in the business, going from complete control to reckless abandon and back again without batting an eyelash.  He drives this song and delivers it from ho-hum to holy shit. “Money Maker” is a song that might be forgettable if done by any other band, but here: the drummer has some.

To wrap up this wordy blow job, let me just say that El Camino is a heck of a record that you just need to run out and get, download, and experience. I could felate every song on this record, but I’ll save the money shot for your Saturday night headphone experience.

Enjoy!

Carl Sexton

For more info, check out The Black Keys official site: http://www.theblackkeys.com/

Foo Fighters Rock Philadelphia

11 Nov

On the eve of what is being dubbed Nigel Tufnel Day (11.11.11), the Foo Fighters appropriately took things way past 11 when they played the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia last night.

From the moment the opening guitar riff of “Bridges Burning” cut through the packed Wells Fargo Center, it was on. They ripped though a blistering set of hit after hit after hit after…hit, highlighting the fact that Dave Grohl is a monster frontman.

At first, it seemed like the Dave and Taylor (Hawkins) show. The pair is defining Bromance…and I like it. Hawkins even sang lead on two songs – “Cold Day in the Sun” from In Your Honor and a cover of Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh.”

The rest of  the band – Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Chris Shiflett and keyboardist Rami Jaffee – looked a little tired and road weary until Grohl intro’d the band and everyone seemed to come alive, gracious that so many people came out to see them on a school night. And then Grohl ran out to another tiny stage toward the back of the house.  Shiflett stood on the main stage, and the two had a little dueling guitars battle, which provided a bit of levity and a chance for Shiflett to show off the mad skills that got him the title of lead guitarist for the Foo Fighters.

After the show, WMMR’s Pierre Robert reported that the Foo’s Philly audience was the largest audience on the tour, and I believe it. In fact, I’m surprised I can hear at all today. The Foos played eight songs off the new album, Wasting Light and closed the first set with the anthemic “All My Life.”

Then Grohl appeared in extreme close-up, bathed in a greenish, night vision camera-y light, projected on screens peppered throughout the stage. He put a hand to one ear and the crowd exploded. He held up one finger, and the crowd cheered. Shiflett appeared on camera and held up two fingers, and the crowd really cheered. Teasing the audience, Grohl shook his head no. The crowd booed until he held up two fingers and then three. This continued with Smear and Hawkins joining in until the hand count got up to six more songs.

“The whole show you thought you had the shitty seats,” Grohl told those sitting in the back and in the nosebleeds beyond, “Well not anymore.” He performed three of the five encore songs solo, acoustic and on the elevated stage toward the back of the floor. Everyone – and I mean everyone – was on their feet. Grohl even played a taste of “Blackbird” by his beloved Beatles but cheekily made mention of his lack of classical training and said that you should never play songs from a band that’s better than your band, “That’s why you only play one verse.”

Once back on the main stage to finish out “Times Like These” plugged in and with the rest of the band, they were then joined by Bob Mould of Husker Du fame for “Dear Rosemary” which he also appears on on the album, as well as a seemingly impromptu cover of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Breakdown.” The Foos closed the show, of course, with “Everlong,” one of the best songs ever, in my opinion, and the audience appeared to agree – bouncing, singing, clapping and dancing, totally uncaring that they’d already been on their feet doing much of the same for the last three hours.

Taylor Hawkins introduced Grohl as one of the best musicians of our generation, and he wasn’t the first person I heard say that last night – or in general lately. That’s a moniker I don’t think should be tossed around lightly, and after delivering a set of such magnitude, in which Grohl ran around, totally engaged the audience, shredded on the guitar and sang his balls off, I have to agree. The Foo Fighters are well aware that they’re where they are and doing what they love because of their fans. Dave Grohl and Co. paid their Philadelphia fans last night in full.

A complete setlist can be found here.

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