The death of the wait

In January of 1984, I got to go see Van Halen at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, with Autograph opening up. I was (and still am) a big fan of both bands, and was thrilled to be going to my first ever concert. It was a huge experience, made even more so by having no idea what to expect going in to the show.

Back then, there was no Internet from which to download setlists or even reviews of previous night’s concerts. There were fanzines and newsletters, but those travelled by US post, and were put together with Xerox machines and typewriters. Bootleg cassettes and LPs existed, but were only available at small specialty shops and record collector conventions. Video cameras were bulky and expensive, and so pirated live shows were few and far between.

Last week, I went to see My Morning Jacket at the Alabama Theater. I’m not that familiar with the band, but I was able to listen to random selections from their discography throughout the day of the concert by searching for their material on iTunes and YouTube. Since this was their tour opener, there was no way to know what songs they would be playing — though I reviewed the show, and the next day I had emails and comments asking for setlists and clarifications. My girlfriend (a huge MMJ fan and the reason I went to the concert) had said a few times that she wanted to go back and do it all again, that the show was in her top three MMJ concert experiences (she’s a repeat attender) — and by 10 AM the next morning, I had managed to find a quality recording of the show (bootlegged by an audience member) online, downloaded it, and burned it to a couple of CDs for her listening pleasure.

It’s fascinating to me, the differences of twenty-five years, brought by technology. I remember not a decade ago waiting anxiously for CDs to hit the store shelves on Tuesdays, ready to hear the latest discs that I had been reading about and imagining for months. Fifteen years ago, I would record videos on MTV and tape radio shows because they would get songs from albums that were two or three weeks away. We would read guitar magazines and Rolling Stone and Spin and Revolver to get what scraps of news we could about albums or tours that were in the works. Even five years ago, the bandwidth wasn’t necessarily there to grab songs at a whim or find pre-releases without a little bit of luck.

Now today, release dates are a guide as to when you might start checking the BitTorrent sites for review leaks. If you’re wanting to see a band live, you can read a billion reviews from pros and fans alike the day after their first show (if not sooner), find out if they’ll be playing your favorite songs, watch videos from the current tour on YouTube and maybe download the audio (or video) from a few shows, and then purchase your tickets online before you head out the door.

Part of me is a huge fan of all of this. I’m a data junkie and patience is not my strong suit, so being able to find out anything and everything about the upcoming Pain of Salvation or Devin Townsend albums and listen to song samples is exciting and important to me. I can check out audio and video from shows I could never attend, across the country or across the world, and record those alternate versions of songs that I love to my iPod for listening anytime, any place.

But I remember those days, those days of old when we would run to the record store uphill, both ways, in 2 feet of snow and hundred degree temperatures in our shoes made of wood. The excitement that would build all day on Tuesday, as we sat through school or work, thinking about the new CDs hitting the stores, and how awesome all those songs might (or might not!) be — that would eat at us, but in the best possible way. Going to concerts having no idea what surprises might be in store, what songs might get played. Finding that bootleg recording of rare b-sides or amazing shows that you had heard whispers of but never imagined hearing was a once in a year occurrence.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m just as anxious to hear Road Salt One in a month, to see Devin Townsend when he tours later this year, as I was as a teenager.  But it feels like maybe something’s lacking, like I know too much too soon now to appreciate it the way I used to.  It’s not age — my passion for music has only grown as I’ve gotten older.

This isn’t meant to be a luddite rant at all — I love technology, that I can fit my entire (and rather large) music collection in a wallet-sized piece of metal that can be played at home, in the car, on the computer, or through tiny ear-bud  headphones.  I love that music can be recorded, bit-by-bit, as perfectly or as loosely as the musician chooses. I love the sound effects and DTS 5.1 surround.

I do feel for those that will never know the anticipation of a new release, and for those that feel that if it’s out there, they somehow deserve or are owed this music.

And I wonder what the music fan who is twelve or thirteen today will bemoan in another generation.

Porcupine Tree @ The Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA, 27 April 2010 (review)

Not to knock Bigelf, who did a great job transporting the crowd cleanly back to the early 1970s for a little while last night — but there’s not a band in the world that could have memorably shared a stage with Porcupine Tree last night.

After a short set from Bigelf, Porcupine Tree hit the stage in dim light, and the video screen exploded in rhythm with the opening beats of Occam’s Razor.  For the next hour, the band played their latest release (or, as front man Steven Wilson refers to it, a song-cycle), The Incident. Some songs had related video that played on the screen behind the band (notably, Time Flies and The Blind House), while others were presented straight-forward, five musicians playing great music.

Following The Incident, the band took a ten minute intermission (helpfully broadcast on monitors through the venue, for those of us that hit that bar) and then came back for another hour of music, with a nice selection of music from their last five or six albums.   Even after the intensity of the first hour, the band’s energy levels were on high, all the way through the two-song encore of  The Sound of Muzak and Trains.

Porcupine Tree started out as a looser, more experimental psychedelic sort of band, and has gradually coalesced into a progressive hard rock act who are not afraid to dip into epic songs from time to time.  Their live playing has become as focused as their songwriting over time as well.  The rhythm section (Colin Edwin on bass and drummer Gavin Harrison) is locked tight, even during the songs featuring odd time changes and flailing near-dissonance.  Keyboardist Richard Barbieri provides the ambience and atmosphere that underpins even the heaviest PT songs.  Up front, touring guitarist John Wesley provides a calm balance for Wilson’s energetic, bouncing frontman performance.  Both swap lead guitar roles, and both provide the sole vocals on the stage. Somehow, these five manage to sound equally stripped down and massive, as though there were twenty people onstage instead.

The Tabernacle is a fantastic venue to see live bands of all types, and it never fails to sound absolutely fantastic — everything from stripped down solo acoustic performances (Jim James’ “Bermuda Highway” on the Monsters of Folk tour) to crushingly heavy metal (Opeth during 2008’s Progressive Nation show) is crystal clear but loud and immersive.  There’s no better venue, I think, than the Tabernacle for Porcupine Tree, whose sound spans from quiet and plaintively tender to brutal and chaotic. It’s also designed beautifully, from both an intimate-music-experience and architecturally, so the entire experience is wonderful all around.

It’s entirely possible that this will be the best show I see all year — and that’s leaving plenty of allowance for any number of great concerts to come.


  1. Occam’s Razor
  2. The Blind House
  3. Great Expectations
  4. Kneel and Disconnect
  5. Drawing the Line
  6. The Incident
  7. Your Unpleasant Family
  8. The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train
  9. Time Flies
  10. Degree Zero of Liberty
  11. Octane Twisted
  12. The Séance
  13. Circle of Manias
  14. I Drive the Hearse


  1. The Start of Something Beautiful
  2. Russia on Ice
  3. Anesthetize (Part 2: “The Pills I’m Taking”)
  4. Lazarus
  5. Way Out of Here
  6. Normal
  7. Bonnie the Cat


  1. The Sound of Muzak
  2. Trains

My Morning Jacket @ The Alabama Theater, Birmingham, AL, 4/20/10 (review)

(This review originally appeared in edited form on, Monday, 4/22/10)

My Morning Jacket have a reputation as one of the best live bands around, and their tour-opening performance at the Alabama Theater in Birmingham was another notch in their belt of great, high-energy concerts.

Preservation Hall Jazz BandThe Preservation Hall Jazz Band kicked off the evening in Big Eazsy style. While the pairing of the legendary New Orleans-based group with My Morning Jacket seems odd at first glance, they were an excellent warm-up act, well-received by the audience.  Their New Orleans-inflected jazz felt great, and the surprise appearance by Jim James for Louisiana Fairytale and St. James Infirmary (from the recent Preservation Hall Benefit album) got the crowd on their feet.

The Alabama Theater is an historic site in the heart of Birmingham, and a wonderfully intimate venue for live music – for Preservation Hall Jazz Band, perhaps second only to their eponymous home. Given My Morning Jacket’s popularity, it was a surprise to see that they hadn’t chosen a larger venue (the Alabama only seats 2,200). However, seeing both acts in an intimate and glitzy venue was a pleasant bonus, giving the evening a feeling of event status instead of just another rock-and-roll show.

And what a show it was. From the opening notes of One Big Holiday, the lights pulsing to the opening riff, the band radiated energy and intensity.  For over two hours, they played a representative selection from their catalog. Every song seemed to be what the crowd was ready to hear, from the rocking Off the Record and Touch Me I’m Going To Scream to the more laid-back Thank You Too.

Frontman Jim James led the five-piece frenetically through the night.  His vocals ranged from sweet to soaring (an impressive performance especially from a man who once cited Kermit the Frog as an influence), and his stage presence was mesmerizing.  After joining Preservation Hall in a respectful coat and tie, he changed to something a bit more old-west, complete with gun belt. He definitely brought an outlaw feel to the stage, even punctuating a few songs with toy guns and a Dracula-esque cape.

James’ visual performance was matched (if not exceeded) by Patrick Hallahan’s mad-scientist-meets-John-Bonham drumming.  Resembling the Muppet Animal at times, his crazy hair and flailing arms belied a solid unbroken rhythm performance.  He and bassist “Two-Tone Tommy” Blankenship laid down a foundational groove and made it look both interesting and frighteningly easy.

And then there was the music –the intricately tight rhythm section provided a brilliant contrast to the lead guitar work of both James and guitarist Carl Broemel. Where the drums and bass were in the pocket and anchored, the guitars were all over the place, equal parts anxious riffing and accurate, intricate melody. Bo Koster was slightly buried in the mix, but when audible, his keyboard work tied everything together with a nice thread of atmosphere.

The night was mostly filled with a harder, rocking feel, though the band exhibited an impressive ability to put together a cohesive, well-timed and arranged setlist.  The ebb and flow of the song sequence was near-perfect; it never felt as though the evening was dragging or getting too tiring. Of particular note were the dusty blues of Golden, the high-energy encore opener Wordless Chorus (and the rest of the encore, in which the Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined MMJ onstage for five songs), and the fifteen-minute-long space-groove roller coaster of Dondante, complete with an extended saxophone break from Broemel that took the song to an entirely unexpected level.

This tour offers a unique blend of sounds and atmospheres, all falling under the umbrella of excellent, infectious music.  If you can attend one of the upcoming dates on this tour and not find yourself dancing raucously at least once (if not more), then there’s something wrong with your heart and soul.


  1. One Big Holiday
  2. Gideon
  3. The Way That He Sings
  4. Off the Record
  5. It Beats 4 U
  6. Mahgeetah
  7. Lay Low
  8. Losin’ Yo Head (Monsters of Folk)
  9. I’m Amazed
  10. Golden
  11. Friends Again
  12. Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. I
  13. Thank You Too!
  14. Dondante
  15. Smokin’ from Shootin’
  16. Run Thru
  17. Anytime
  18. Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt II


  1. Wordless Chorus
  2. Evil Urges (w/ Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
  3. Highly Suspicious (w/ Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
  4. Move On Up (Curtis Mayfield) (w/ Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
  5. Mother-in-Law (Herman’s Hermits) (w/ Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
  6. Carnival Time (Al Johnson) (w/ Preservation Hall Jazz Band)

Knowing the score

I always wanted to make soundtracks.  As a kid, I put together playlists (mix tapes, for the analog crowd) for movies I wrote in my head.  Later, when I learned to play instruments and got my hands on a four-track cassette recorder (and later, ProTools), I created my own scores.

I’m a huge fan of a number of composers who work primarily in film: Hans Zimmer, James Horner… Who knows if it’s because they work in film or it’s why they work in film, but their music is as cinematic as the images that show over the tunes. The pieces are amazing in the films, and just as wonderful on their own, standing alone.

That, I think, is the mark of an excellent score — music that not only enhances the meaning and feeling of the movie, but that evokes visions on its own while played about from the visuals.

TV, movies, documentaries — doesn’t matter which it is. If it’s a visual medium, start paying more notice to the music behind the action.  Some of it is obvious, some so sublime that you’ve seen the piece a thousand times and never noticed the sound.  In your head, change the music, and notice how the visuals and their impact change, as well.

It’s funny that actors and directors get so much credit for making or breaking a movie or TV show.  It’s very obvious when they’ve done their job poorly. But musicians can completely change the emotion behind the film, for better or worse.  It’s amazing to think how much of an intertwining there is between vision and sound, and how much each can affect the other.


Everything Dies

Some album titles write their own reviews. Some musicians provide their own obituaries.

Peter Steele, bassist and vocalist for Type O Negative, died yesterday at 48 of reported heart failure.  This is the sort of news, I suppose, that you hear more and more as the years pass — as we age, so do our peers and inspirations — but I wonder if it’s the sort of news that you ever get used to?

Type O Negative were never one of the best bands around, but they’ve been consistently in my playlists since the early nineties.  Christian Woman came out at a time when my musical tastes were being refined and redefined. October Rust remains one of my favorite albums from start to finish.

The music is dark, haunted, wrapped in autumn-turning-winter.  The lyrics are doomed and pessimistic, soaked in nostalgia and stained memories. All of this from one of the most consistently self-deprecating and funny personalities in music:


It’s always sad to hear of the passing of someone who’s life and work touched your own.  But better to remember the good and smile than dwell on the loss.  Here’s to you, Peter, and the music you left behind — thanks for that.


“I’m searching for something which can’t be found, but I’m hoping…
Everything dies”

The best…

Articles like this bother me to no end. Well, this one less than others, but still…

There’s something that smacks of wrong about presenting lists of “greatest” things about art of any kind.  Favorite, maybe, but without proper qualification or explanation, there’s no real rationale behind the idea.

Some people make lists that are positively laughable, obviously nothing more than preference or personal taste.  Which isn’t necessarily a problem, until a high-profile publication like Rolling Stone promotes that list — and when you have the backing of a logo that stands for pop culture and music, you have instant credibility that you haven’t necessarily earned or deserved.

I think one of my biggest issues is that these lists are written by fans or critics or writers, with bias but no knowledge of what they are writing about, whether it’s best instrumentalist, best film, best painting, or whatever.  It’s a given, understood that my listening tastes are going to come into play if I compose a best-of list.  Not necessarily known might be the added weight of my twenty-five years of playing guitar, an understanding of the instrument and the underlying difficulties of mastering it.

Sure, there are some critics who have an inherent, almost prodigious understanding of their subject matter.  Roger Ebert and films comes to mind, or perhaps David Fricke at Rolling Stone, perhaps. But maybe not.  Is there any way of knowing, for sure? If the American Film Institute  tells me that there are 100 classic films I should see because they are the best, I assume that the committee that put that list together is probably composed of people with expertise and understanding.

Maybe it’s just part of my genetic make-up, but semantics are a huge issue for me.

All this being said (he typed with a smirk), my own list of the ten greatest guitarists:

10. Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) (see Porcupine Tree’s ARRIVING SOMEWHERE BUT NOT HERE)
9. Michael Hedges
8. Albert Lee
7. Christopher Parkening
6. B. B. King
5. Joe Satriani
4. Edward Van Halen
3. Jeff Beck
2. Jimi Hendrix
1. Steve Vai

Take it for what you will.  That was composed considering technique and mastery over the instrument, feel and passion behind the playing, innovation in the respective genre or over the instrument, creativity, and of course my own preferences and experiences.

Cover Me Badd

(Thanks to Butch Walker for that title — you really owe it to yourself to check it out, or any of his original material for that matter.)

Music is a unique form of art, in the realm of tribute and homage.  To my mind, there aren’t any remakes of books, sculptures, or paintings (I’m sure that there are a few, but nothing notable?  Correct me if I’m wrong).  TV and movies — especially lately — count a number of remakes in their fields, but they aren’t necessarily reinterpretations, but rather thinly-veiled cash grabs.

Music, though — there are countless cover songs.  Some good, some bad.  There are note for note covers that are almost indistiguishable from the originals, and there are some that are only connected thematically.  I would even argue that some covers far surpass the originals (though I’ve been given grief  by some – notably, songwriting musicians – for suggesting such).

There are some songs that are fun to play, for musicians like me.  There are some songs that are so inspiring and moving that we musicians want to pay tribute to the song by recording it ourselves.  And some songs are so wonderful at their base, but lacking somehow in the recording or preformance, that a musician will make an attempt at bringing their own (better?) vision of the song to life.

If you’ve never given cover versions a chance, I recommend hitting YouTube or and checking out some of the many versions that exist.  Start with the following (and make sure to listen to the original, for comparison’s sake):

  • Butch Walker – Since You’ve Been Gone (originally by Kelly Clarkson)
  • Marvelous Three – Reelin’ In The Years (originally by Steely Dan)
  • Aimee Mann – Nobody Does It Better (originally by Carly Simon)
  • Metallica – Am I Evil? (originally by Diamond Head)
  • Between the Buried and Me – Bicycle Race (originally by Queen)
  • Frost* – Here is the News (originally by ELO)
  • Deftones – Drive (originally by The Cars)
  • Reel Big Fish – Take On Me (originally by A-Ha)

Perhaps you see it as blasphemy, or maybe it’s selective (i.e., as long as it’s not your favorite band that is being butchered).  Some bands have made a career out of out nothing but performing other people’s material, and some people refuse to ever touch someone else’s song.  I think the latter — at least, the attitude that underlies that school of thinking — prevents you from enjoying a wealth of great music, though.

A Blanket of Sorrow

I taste your sorrow and you taste my pain
Drawn to each other for every stain
Licking the layers of soot from your skin
Your tears work my crust to let yourself in

[Pain of Salvation, ASHES]

There’s something soothing, comforting, about sad music when you’re feeling down.  Safe, even.

Some people I know will listen to upbeat and happy music when they’re sad.  It’s a way of countering the darkness, of pushing back against whatever bothers them.

I sometimes will do the same, or instead listen to something heavy and angry, convert the depression to a rage instead, something that will burn brighter and faster and extinguish itself more quickly.  It’s a strange light to shine into the dark corners, but the shadows are chased away nonetheless.

Mostly, though, I turn to sad songs.  Maybe it’s the familiarity, or knowing that I’m not alone with the thoughts that race through my head. If these songs are out there, then someone, somewhere, felt these things enough to commit them to tape, and that’s enough to carry me through another cold night.

It’s not a common thing, I think, judging from what others have told me.  But it’s the way that works for me, sometimes. Whether I’m missing someone who has passed from my life, or life has thrown me too many curveballs for one day, or I’m just having one of those days, I try to keep a few darker pieces at my listening ready. In the cold rain, even a blanket of sorrow can provide warmth and protection from the elements.

Concert Review: Muse @ Sommet Center, Nashville, 15.March.2010

Melisa and I have been hitting concerts like there’s no tomorrow lately — on average, we’ve probably been seeing two-three a month,  and I’m pretty sure that if one of us had access to the Fountain of Neverending Wealth (I think I read about that in a Terry Pratchett novel, once), that number would increase greatly.

A good percentage of the shows are in Melisa’s ballpark, not mine, and so I’m going in blind to a lot of the material.  Not so with Muse, though — while I was late to discover them (not surprising, given the state of the Birmingham music scene, but surprising given the similarity to so much of what else I listen to and have discovered online, etc.), I’m a huge fan of their stuff.  Their music makes me think of the perfect cross between Queen, Radiohead, and a Broadway musical about laser guns and robots and over-the-top villains bent on destroying the universe.

This was the first show I’ve seen at the Sommet Center in Nashville — nothing too much to say about the place, good or bad. It’s a very typical arena/stadium with decent acoustics, miles upon miles of overpriced concessions and horribly cramped and uncomfortable seating.

The Silversun Pickups opened — another band with whose material I’m not terribly familiar.  There were a few things they did live that piqued my interest, although the sound mix was abysmal – I’ll even go so far as to say unforgivable.  I’m not sure if there were technical difficulties, or if the engineers were simply unemployably incompetent, but it wasn’t until the last half of the last song that it was even listenable, and even then I think only compared to the previous thirty minutes.  It was bad enough that I was genuinely concerned for the rest of the night’s outlook.

Fortuantely, whatever went wrong for the openers was corrected — from the prelude instrumental theme to the last note, it was everything you could expect or hope from a stadium show of hard rock.  The volume was loud but not overwhelming, and each instrument was audible in the mix (at least, considering the volume).

There was a really nice mix of material over the two hour set — leaning most heavily on the last disc, but with quite a good variety of old and newer material.  The visuals were impressive — not just reliant on lights and pyrotechnics, but also utilizing a series of three elevating platforms and video columns, showing both closeups of the band and abstract visualizations.  It was different and unique, reminiscent of U2’s ACHTUNG, BABY tour — and definitely provided a sensory feast for the evening.

Like every fan of a band with a decently-sized batch of material, there were songs I was disappointed not to hear — FALLING AWAY WITH YOU, ENDLESSLY, MAP OF THE PROBLEMATIQUE.  Worst of all was the brief tease of TAKE A BOW — a song I was incredibly excited to hear, but alas the intro (on piano, no less) was all we got.  Nonetheless, a phenomenal concert and show — anyone getting the chance to see Muse live is depriving themselves if they skip out on the opportunity.



  1. Uprising
  2. Resistance
  3. New Born
  4. Supermassive Black Hole
  5. MK Ultra
  6. Interlude
  7. Hysteria w/ “Back In Black” outro
  8. Nishe
  9. United States Of Eurasia
  10. Feeling Good (Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley cover)
  11. Helsinki Jam
  12. Undisclosed Desires
  13. Starlight
  14. Unnatural Selection
  15. Time Is Running Out
  16. Plug In Baby


  1. Exogenesis: Symphony, Part 1: Overture
  2. Stockholm Syndrome
  3. Knights of Cydonia