Your occasional source for heavy metal, progressive rock and hard rock coverage. Whenever I feel like it.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Concert Review: Spiritualized at Radio City Music Hall

Playing the wide-open orchestral space-rock soundscapes of Spiritualized is a challenge for both musicians and audience. Friday night at Radio City Music Hall saw Jason Pierce and a small army of musicians throw down that gauntlet with a complete performance of the band's 1998 classic album Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space.
Jason Pierce, leading Spiritualized.

Clad in a simple white t-shirt and jeans, Mr. Pierce, the group's sole permanent member, played and sang the entire evening with his back to the half-empty hall. He was accompanied by an 8-piece string section, three guitars (counting his own) bass, drummer, percussionist, keyboards, a full brass section and a white-robed gospel choir. Gospel is a key element of Spiritualized's sound, along with the blues, psychedelic rock and the occasional sensory overload-inducing instrumental freak-out.

Ladies And Gentlemen is a deceptive record. It lulls the listener with its title track, which borrows from Pachelbel's Canon and Elvis Presley. Mr. Pierce and his forces built a shimmering wall of sound that would make Phil Spector proud. That wall shook and cracked as the band slammed into "Come Together" (not the Beatles tune) with Jason Pierce yowling about "the little fucker" amid the crash of band, brass and choir.

The show reached its first peak with a blinding, deafening performance of "Electricity" which dragged the audience in and pummelled their senses with deafening sound and flashing lights for five solid minutes. The effect is an unsettling throwback to the halcyon days of Syd Barrett and early Pink Floyd. The song? Think "Astronomy Domine" on steroids.

The second half of the album came across brilliantly in concert, particularly the instrumental "No God, Only Religion", the soothing "Cool Waves" and a searing, 20-minute performance of the moody "Cop Shoot Cop." For this song, a jazzy noir that builds into another scorching freak-out, the band created the right mood with horns, foggers and red strobes, set to flicker like buzzing neon signs. Following the deafening central section, the choir emerged from the aural rubble, singing a wordless refrain that brought the song home into its final pages.

The encore featured two songs The powerful, pantoum-like "Out of Sight" from the band's Let It Come Down brought the brass players to the forefront. "Oh, Happy Day" ended the show on an uplifting note. At the song's close, Jason Pierce said two words to the fervent audience. "Thank you."

Then, he walked off stage.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Because watching Rush kick ass is good for you.

More from Jones Beach: fan-shot footage of the boys storming through "La Villa Strangiato." Alas, without the polka intro.

Ten Most Awesome Cover Tunes

Now, we did the "worst" list the other week. Here are ten phenomenally good cover versions of great songs--or good covers of songs by metal bands. I'm not picky. I like all of these. Hopefully you will too.
Metallica in cover band mode.
Actually, it's the back cover of Garage Inc.

1) Selina Martin: "The Spirit of Radio."
An acoustic(!) cover of the Rush classic. Reinvents the song thoroughly and you can actually make out the lyrics in this version.

2) Metallica: "Astronomy"
Probably my favorite cover among the many that Metallica have recorded. This is a super-heavy version of the Blue Öyster Cult classic, available on Garage Inc.

3) Anthrax: "Got the Time"
Anthrax ripped through this Joe Jackson classic on their superb Persistence of Time record. The funny thing is, the original is just about as fast, but it doesn't have the mosh part in the middle.

4) Tesla: "Signs"
The biggest hit Tesla ever had is in fact a cover. This hippie anthem was originally recorded by the Five Man Electrical Band. Tesla played it as part of their "Five Man Acoustical Jam" tour in June of 1990. And yes, I was in the audience at the show at the Ritz. The next night, at the Trocadero in Philadelphia was the one that was recorded.

5) Dream Theater: "Tenement Funster/Flick of the Wrist/Lily of the Valley"
Dream Theater have done a lot of cover tunes over the years--I've been at shows where they've broken into Rush songs or played all of a Metallica album. But they also release EPs of covers. This Queen tryptich--three songs from Sheer Heart Attack in order is among their best. DT drummer Mike Portnoy does all of the backing vocals and multitracks.

6) Marillion: "Toxic"
The British progressive band covered this Britney Spears pop ditty as part of a special fan convention show. Listen to how a masterpiece of pop songcraft sounds when it is performed by, y'know, actual singer and musicians.

7) Rush: "For What It's Worth"
As the new film Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage points out, the Canadian power trio started as a cover band playing in church basements. In 2004, the boys celebrated their 30th anniversary with Feedback an EP of covers.. Also worth hearing: their thunderous take on the Blue Cheer version of "Summertime Blues," which was a staple during the R30 tour.

8) Tori Amos: "Raining Blood"
The sylph-like singer-songwriter covered this Slayer classic for her album Strange Little Girls. Profoundly disturbing, in a good way.

9) King's X: "Manic Depression"
Texas' finest un-bearded power trio recorded this scorching Jimi Hendrix tribute on their Dogman album. Rumor has it that KX have planned an all-covers release at some point.

10) Slayer: "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida"
Slayer tore through this seminal metal track by Iron Butterfly for the Less Than Zero soundtrack. And no, their version doesn't have the five minute organ solo. Probably for the best.

Marillion covering Britney Spears' "Toxic"

Monday, July 26, 2010

Concert Review: Rush drives the Time Machine to Jones Beach

The Rush Time Machine tour blazed into Jones Beach on Saturday night, leaving behind a pair of fire trails (or is that vapor trails?) that would have made Doc Brown proud.
Rush at Jones Beach.
Photo uploaded to RushIsaBand.Com, taken by fvcgosox.

The current tour celebrates the band's past, present and future. Although the set is dominated by a complete performance of their seminal 1981 album Moving Pictures, the 25-song, three-hour show ranges from their very first record to an album that is yet to be completed: the planned-for-2011 opus Clockwork Angels. The two new songs, "BU2B" (Brought Up to Believe) and "Caravan" were received enthusiastically, and continue the pedal-to-the-metal experimentation that marked Rush's 2007 outing Snakes & Arrows.

Highlights of the first set included the return to the set of "Marathon" and the first performances of "Presto", the title track of Rush's 1989 offering. Before this tour, this gorgeous acoustic-driven track had never been played live. The band also broke out "Faithless" (from Snakes & Arrows) for the first time, using it to lead off a short "atheism set" that also included the aforementioned "BU2B" and "Freewill."

The second half led off with Moving Pictures. These songs are always popular and effective when played live, but even more so when heard in the contexto of the whole record. "Tom Sawyer", "Red Barchetta", "YYZ" and "Limelight" are all concert staples, but it was the performance of the rare "The Camera Eye" that floored the audience with the band's flexible power and lightning ensemble technique. Solos by Neil and Alex were followed by the welcome return of a revamped "Closer to the Heart" (not played in North America since the Test For Echo tour) and a thunderous first two parts of 2112. The set ended with "Far Cry" from Snakes & Arrows, one of the finest recent entries in the Rush catalogue.

The Canadian trio opens the encore with…polka. Yes, you read that right. Happily for the gathered, said polka turned into the first chords of a complete "La Villa Strangiato" played with energy, fire, and no middle-of-the-song rant from Alex Lifeson. The band played with exceptional accuracy, clarity and energy throughout the evening, making even their war-horses sound fresh and organic beside the new material. If the 2010 Time Machine tour is any indication, the band's planned 2011 outing in support of Clockwork Angels should really be something to look forward to.

Rush performing "The Camera Eye" at Jones Beach.

Set List:
First Set:
Video Intro (The Real History of Rush, Part I)
The Spirit of Radio; Time Stand Still; Presto; Stick It Out; Workin' Them Angels; Leave That Thing Alone!
Faithless; BU2B (Brought Up To Believe); Freewill
Marathon; Subdivisions

Second Set:
Video Intro (The Real History of Rush Part II)
Moving Pictures:
Tom Sawyer, Red Barchetta, YYZ, Limelight, The Camera Eye, Witch Hunt (Part III of Fear), Vital Signs
Caravan; Drum Solo (with "Love For Sale"); Acoustic Guitar Solo/Closer To the Heart
2112: I. Overture, II. The Temples of Syrinx; Far Cry

Polka Intro/La Villa Strangiato
Reggae Intro/Working Man

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Shortest Song

At last, a YouTube video for "You Suffer", the cult classic from British grindcore masters Napalm Death. From their first album, "Scum." This particular video features footage from the Simpsons episode, A Star Is Burns and focuses on the football stylings of Hans Moleman. Enjoy.

Done already?

That was fun, wasn't it? Go on. Play it again, Sam. It's only 1.316 second long!

But then again, Football in the Groin had a football in the groin.

Ten Really Silly Heavy Metal Covers

Let's face it folks. Cover tunes are generally awesome. But there are some songs that should not be covered, and some bands that should not be doing those covers. Here's a rogue's gallery of the best of the worst:

1) Megadeth: "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'"
Really, Mr. Mustaine. How high were you when you decided that covering Nancy Sinatra was the way to go?

2) Realm: "Eleanor Rigby"
A mediocre speed-metal band butchers the Beatles. Nobody remembers these guys--probably with good reason.

3) Quiet Riot: "Cum On Feel The Noize"
Kevin DuBrow and company had a major hit with this annoying cover of an annoying song by Slade, a British band whose schtick (or as they'd spell it, shtykk) was to have deliberately mis-spelled song titles. The Riot followed this up with "Mama Wee're All Crazee Now."

4) BulletBoys: "For Love Of Money"
There have been many version of the O'Jay's classic soul track, an essay on capitalism. This one, with Marq Torien's screeching David Lee Roth impersonation, is not one of them.

5) Guns N' Roses: "Live And Let Die"
Axl once said that this re-do of the Paul McCartney-penned James Bond theme was his "sequel" to "Welcome to the Jungle?" I'd ask him how that works, but he'd probably go all Tommy Hilfiger on me.

6) Van Halen: "A Apolitical Blues." Now granted, you could put most of Diver Down on this entry. And I just did. But this Van Hagar massacre of a song by Little Feat takes the proverbial taco d'musique.

7) Iron Maiden: "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter"
This song was originally recorded as a Bruce Dickinson solo outing for the soundtrack to A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child." Maiden should have left it alone--it's a career lowlight.

8) Toad the Wet Sprocket: "Rock and Roll All Nite"
A mellow, acoustic version of the Kiss klassik. Worst Kiss kover of all time.

9) Queensrÿche: "Scarborough Fair"
Ummm…interesting. An Empire-era b-side.

10) Judas Priest: "Johnny B. Goode"
Let's try to forget this one. Priest slaughtered the Chuck Berry chestnut for a bad high school sports movie of the same title.

For the truly masochistic: Realm doing "Eleanor Rigby"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Something to Annoy the Neighbors With

A bit of early '90s hair metal nostalgia from unrepentant Alabama hair band Jackyl. And it features lead dude Jesse James Dupree playing a solo with a chainsaw. No, it's not a good song. But he sort of sounds like Brian Johnson and it's got John Kalodner in the video so the label must have approved it. Did we mention the chainsaw solo?

CD Review: The Iron Horse: Fade to Bluegrass

This CD features some fine pickin' and singin' from four guys who've decided to do for bluegrass what Apocalyptica did for the 'cello: play Metallica covers. The Alabama-based quartet puts an innovative spin on Metallica's "One" which retains the emotional power of the original, despite a radical re-arrangement of the song's final section.
Four Alabamans who play Metallica: The Iron Horse

The disc opens with a propulsive cover of “Unforgiven” that has more energy than Metallica’s majestic stomp. The same could be said for their high-speed version of “Nothing Else Matters.” The Horse gallop where Metallica stomp, with banjos and mandolins intertwining at radical speed. Tenor singer Vance Henry is in a higher register than James Hetfield’s baritone roar, but he has a pleasing voice and is ably backed by the other three Horsemen. As he soars into the opening phrase of “Enter Sandman” backed by comping mandolin, one cannot help but smile and headbang a little to the bluegrass beat.

The band takes the opposite approach to “Hero of the Day” from Load, starting ultra-slow and shifting gears into a rapid tempo. But the biggest surprise on Fade to Bluegrass is reserved for “One”, the seminal song from …And Justice For All that was inspired by Dalton Trumbo’s harrowing book Johnny Got His Gun.

To the casual listener, it may seem like lunacy to take Metallica’s music and rearrange it for bluegrass band, but a close examination of the Bay Area thrashers’ career shows a definite streak of Nashville running through their music. Metallica have:

  • Written redneck anthems (“Don’t Tread On Me”) that would make Toby Keith proud.
  • Singer James Hetfield appeared on a Waylon Jennings tribute. (He recorded “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Thing Has Done Got Out of Hand”).
  • Steel guitar and hurdy-gurdy were used on songs on the Load and Re-Load albums. (“Mama Said” and “Low Man’s Lyric”, respectively.)
  • The band has regularly opened shows with music by Ennio Morricone: the “Ecstasy of Gold” from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Metallica are not alone in crossing the Nashville border. The guys in Texas-based Pantera once cut an album under the name Rebel Meets Rebel with David Allen Coe on vocals. And southern metal acts like Corrosion of Conformity have incorporated elements of country and southern rock into their high-speed songs.

All four members of the Horse are singers, and that allows for close, tuneful harmonies in songs like "Wherever I May Roam" and "Hero of the Day". Older Metallica material is not overlooked, as they strum through "Ride the Lightning" and (naturally) "The Four Horsemen.”

This 2003 release was the beginning of big things for the Horse. It was followed up with a second volume of Metallica covers, tributes to Black Sabbath and Guns N' Roses, and albums of original material.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My Top Ten Rush Songs

I've been a Rush fan since 1987. My first exposure to Rush was seeing their posters in a local record store, and hearing "The Big Money" on the radio. The first two albums I bought (on cassette) were Permanent Waves and Hold Your Fire. My first CD was Moving Pictures.

My first tour was Presto, (a.k.a. Attack of the Killer Rabbits) at the (then) Continental Airlines Arena. I've seen them 11 times since. With the Rush "Time Machine" tour barrelling across North America, it's time to do a list of my ten favorite songs by the world's greatest Canadian power trio.

Note: the top three songs on this list are part of the set list on the current tour, so apologies if you don't want tour set-list spoilers.

1) "Marathon" from Power Windows
2) "Presto" from Presto
3) "The Camera Eye" from Moving Pictures
4) "Double Agent" from Counterparts
5) "Prime Mover" from Hold Your Fire
6) "Xanadu" from A Farewell to Kings
7) "The Spirit of Radio" from Permanent Waves
8) "The Analog Kid" from Signals
9) "Driven" from Test For Echo
10) "Something for Nothing" from 2112

Please keep in mind that these are personal choices, not the "Best Songs Rush Ever Wrote" list. That's one I would not presume to do, because people would be mad at me for not including "Red Barchetta" or something.

Anyway, hope to see some of my fellow fans out at Jones Beach this weekend. I wonder if Rush's "Time Machine" stage set has Neil Peart playing drums in a giant hot tub? Now that would be cool.