concerts

2018 Concerts, Part 2

Thanks for coming back. Earlier this week, I wrote about my trip to Red Rocks Amphitheater to see Drive-by Truckers and Tedeschi Trucks Band. Today we look at…

Concert Two:

After a concert of bands we’d never heard of, we went the complete opposite for concert number two: Foreigner, Def Leppard, and Journey. From “There Will Be Rock” to “There Will Be Stool Softeners.”

Once again, we missed the first band. Not due to any parking lot fiasco, because the concert was at AT&T Park in San Francisco, and there’s no parking there. And I don’t just mean at the baseball stadium, I mean in the whole city. Probably the better part of East Bay and South Bay, too. Parking is frowned upon in the Bay Area, because if cars could park then they couldn’t all be crossing the fucking Bay Bridge at the exact same time I’m crossing it every fucking time.

Oh, and probably some reason relating to the environment, as well.

Our delayed entry into this concert was twofold. First, as with Red Rocks, we once again encountered the dreaded long line. I kinda understand the long line at Red Rocks, which only has two entrances, but AT&T Park should have at least five or six. And I would think they have an infrastructure accustomed to processing tens of thousands of fans in a short period of time. Sure, it’s been four years since the Giants won the World Series, and their fans are notoriously fickle, such that the stands were only thirty-percent full most nights this season, but still, institutional memory’s got to have a shelf-life beyond three years, right?

Is this just what concerts are in the NSA States of America? If you want to see a band live, you must be suspect enough to have to go through a full body cavity search. And sticking your fingers up the assholes of fifty thousand screaming fans takes time. Got to be thorough.

But hey, Mr. Concert Security, would it kill you to change gloves once every ten customers or so? And one finger would’ve been plenty to find my IED. Be honest, the second finger is just for you, isn’t it.

But lines weren’t the main reason we missed the first band, and could only listen to hits such as “Cold As Ice” and “Hot Blooded” and “Double Vision.” And “Head Games”… And “I Want to Know What Love Is”… And, holy shit, Foreigner sings “Urgent,” too? Wow, this has been a great security line soundtrack. I had no idea Foreigner was so prolific. Why the fuck are they the opening band?

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, the main reason we were late to the concert. Because it started at six o’fucking clock on a Friday.

Who the hell starts a concert at 6:00? I know that the average age of their fans are more in line with happy hour than closing time. And sure, the new lead singer of Journey might have a curfew, but this is the Bay Area. Even if you count mass transit, I’m pretty sure it is impossible to get anywhere in the Bay Area by 6:00 on Friday. Like, even the bar around the corner from your work is occasionally a bridge too far. And quite literally a bridge too far, because you will probably have to pay a toll to go a block and a half.

So yeah, we knew we were going to be late, anyway. We already knew we’d be late when the Muni we were on, chock-full of the musk of aging rock fans, delivered us in front of the stadium at 6:15. Maybe, we hoped, there would be an opening band BEFORE Foreigner, and that’s why the concert starts so early. But nope, that’s definitely Foreigner rocking out on the other side of the brick facade. Or a damned good cover band.

Hey, I just thought of a great idea. Have a cover band open for the real band. Then you get to hear the songs you like twice, and hopefully (HOPEFULLY!) it’s better the second time around. Maybe the cover band could open with the real band’s finale, then work backward until you hear the final song of the cover band’s set twice in a row. Trademark this shit. Wait, I can’t trademark an idea? Can I patent it? I’m going to be a motherfucking millionaire with this shit.

I mean sure, I could be a millionaire by taking pretty much any cut of a multi-platinum tour. I don’t really need to be the master of the “Two-You/U2 Snake Draft Concert” to become rich. If Bono just wants to send me one percent of his next tour, cover band or no, I’d be cool with that.

We finally made it into AT&T Park during Foreigner’s last song. Which, coincidentally, is probably the last song I would’ve wanted to see live. I guess hearing it live through the throng of people in the walkways is good enough, because the people who built AT&T Park built it to look good on TV, not necessarily with the idea of tens of thousands of people attending. Hence the, I think, ten urinals in the entire park. Oh, maybe there are more, but you wouldn’t know it when you have to pee at a concert or sporting event and you miss half of said concert or sporting event.

But we eventually found our seats in time for Def Leppard to come out. I’ve always been kinda meh on Def Leppard. The old joke used to be “What has seven arms and sucks? Answer: Def Leppard.” But you know what? Now that I’ve seen them in concert, I realize how wrong I was. I take back every time I ever told that “seven arms and sucks” joke.

Because, it turns out that there are five members in Def Leppard, not four. So that means they have nine arms and suck. I apologize to the Academy and will never again say “Seven arms and sucks,” even if alliteration makes it way funnier.

Anyway, the band was fine. Nothing to write home about. Or a blog.

The drummer did look like he was going to keel over and die at any given moment. Of course, that could just be because he’s missing an arm and thus always looks like he’s lilting at an angle usually reserved for last call. But I don’t think it’s just that. He also wears industrial strength earmuffs, like he’s working on the tarmac at O’Hare or next to a steel furnace. And while proper ear protection is probably a good idea for someone who works around rock concert amplification on a nightly basis, it doesn’t really help the motif. You’re supposed to be a rockstar. This one goes to eleven, motherfucker. If you don’t want to hear your own shitty music, why the fuck would I want to?

They were cohesive, too. I think all five of them have been together since the beginning. The only lineup change they’ve had in forty years is the removal of one arm. That’s rare in a rock band, and it ought to be acknowledged.

So there, I’ve acknowledged it.

Also, I guess it was kinda cool to see “Unter, glieben, glauben, globen” said live. Something I never knew was on my bucket list.

Now onto the greatest thing about the Def Leppard show, which had nothing to do with the musicians on stage. It was the kid next to me. Maybe he was pushing thirteen or fourteen, but if I had to wager an over-under on his age, I’d say the kid couldn’t be much beyond twelve. But dude screamed at the top of his lungs and knew every fucking lyric. Pulled out his phone at the proper spot, ie “Love Bites.”

Little kids at old-fogey concerts aren’t new, of course. I once went to an Air Supply concert with eight-year olds who crooned “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” with absolutely no clue of the entendres. I don’t know if one can have a single entendre, but that song isn’t opaque enough to call it a double entendre. And I’ve forced my kid to listen to a certain temporary Sirus/XM state so much that when I was whistling a Christmas song a few weeks ago, she asked, “Daddy, is that you whistling or is it Billy Joel?”

The difference with Def Leppard kid was that his father seemed about as uninterested as one can be. He looked like I will look in a few years when my daughter forces me to the 2022 equivalent of Taylor Swift or the Jonas Brothers or Justin Bieber. Like, “Oh Jesus, can this torture go on any more?”

But this raises the question of where the hell this pre-teen came up with his love for a mid-eighties pseudo-rock/proto-hair-band? Is this going to happen to me? Is my daughter going to discover bands from my youth that I  didn’t like then and still don’t like know?

“Daddy, Daddy, Pantera is coming to town.”

“Okay, just make sure you wait until the second verse of “Cemetery Gates” before you take out the cigarette lighter app on your phone.”

Of course, it didn’t take long to figure out what chaperone dude was getting out of the show. Because when Journey hit the stage, hoo boy, those two had their roles reversed. Twelve-year old couldn’t give less of a shit. Cell phones are made for Candy Crush, not illuminating the air for a ballad. Which again raises the question of how the kid loves Def Leppard and the adult loves Journey, but never the twain shall meet. Maybe they weren’t father and son. Maybe Def Leppard Boy’s parents were all too happy to pawn him off on Uncle Journey for the evening. But this again raises the question of HOW THE HELL DOES THIS KID LOVE DEF LEPPARD?!?

I know, I know. Get over it, Wombat. Move on to…

Journey. How was that quintessential Bay Area rock band fronted by a karaoke singer half their age?

Hoo boy.

Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t bank on that whole “cover band” idea. That, after all, is what Journey has become. But it’s the worst kind of cover band, because it’s a cover band with all of the original artists sans one.

And look, it’s not fair. A band is a band, and that includes all of its members. It’s totally not fair when a band comes to town, having replaced their drummer and their bassist, and nobody bats an eye. Heck, I think everybody in Lynyrd Skynyrd died, and their still touring to this day.

I mean, if Steve Perry grabbed four musicians off the street and went on stage calling himself “Journey,” I wouldn’t bat an eye. But the reverse is not the same.

Because there’s something about the lead singer, where you can’t really replace them. I know the Eagles are now touring with Vince Gill since their lead singer died, and I gotta tell you, I’m skeptical of that one, too.

The only band that replaced the lead singer successfully was Van Halen. But the key with Van Halen was that Sammy Haggar wasn’t trying to be David Lee Roth. He had a different voice, and the band had a different sound with him as their lead singer.

And there’s one more thing about Journey that doesn’t affect latter day Glenn Freys or David Lee Roths or Sammy Haggars, and that is that Steve Perry has one of the most iconic voices of all time. The only other person in history with as unreplicable voice as his is Frankie Valli. I can’t wait for “San Francisco Boys” to come out in another twenty years to give Journey the Four Seasons treatment.

And here, I want to be fair to Journey’s new singer. He’s got a damn good voice. He’s very, very close to Steve Perry. He’s almost too close, and we’ve got the auditory equivalence of that uncanny valley shit that made Tom Hanks so creepy in “Polar Express.”

And I think this is where the biggest problems come in. Unlike Haggar, the new Journey singer is trying to be Steve Perry. The phrasings, the stylings, the timing. I wasn’t kidding when I called it a karaoke band. Dude is singing it as if it’s on a teleprompter in front of him. And I’m not knocking him. He does a spot on karaoke version of Steve Perry. Which is saying something because, trust me, there’s a lot of really, really terrible Steve Perry karaoke singers out there. Myself included. Holy crap, that shit’s hard to sing. How the fuck does he do it? And Phil Collins is tough as shit, too. He’s just in between my normal and flasetto range.

And it’s totally understandable why they got this guy who can (almost) nail Steve Perry. Nobody’s going to go to a Journey concert if they can’t close their eyes and pretend. If Journey went the Eagles route and picked up, I don’t know, Garth Brooks or Toby Keith to sing lead, and said star-in-his-own-right tried to re-imagine “Don’t Stop Believin’,” they’d be lucky to sell out a county fair. So Journey pretty much had to do a YouTube search for the world’s best Steve Perry impersonator.

But at the same time, the new dude didn’t earn the lifestyle. He’s running around on stage, giving high fives to all the fans in the front row, despite the fact that those fans don’t have a clue who he is and are only here because he sounds like something else. His stage presence was just a little bit off. Part of it was his youthful energy compared to the rest of the aging rockers in the band. But part of it is a little of the “Freaky Friday” syndrome, where he’s a guy that went from the smalltime to the bigtime in a heartbeat. I know, I know, his Wikipedia entry says he was a big thing in the Philippines and I am thereby racist to say he’s lucky as balls to be in his current situation. But regardless, he hasn’t gone the normal rockstar route. He went straight to arena rock band. He was never a “singer in a smoky room, smell of wine and cheap perfume.” He just sort of sounds like the guy who has.

And that’s where the real problem comes. The dude is singing songs he doesn’t own. Somebody else wrote those lyrics. Somebody else put his emotion into them. And it’s not that I’m opposed to remakes. The Beatles did “Twist and Shout” better than the Isley Brothers and, as I stated last week, Bruce Springsteen has the only listenable version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” But in most of those instances, the new singer has put their own spin on it. They might phrase something different. Hold out this word a little longer, hit this note a little louder, because that’s what they feel when they sing it, as opposed to the original recording. If you aren’t doing that, then you’re doing a cover, not a remake. And cover bands don’t play baseball stadiums.

It was most obvious in the song “Lights.” And maybe it’s particularly noticeable when it’s being sung in the city that the song is about. But look, I’m not a San Franciscan, and that city annoys me more often than it amazes me. But dude, how the fuck dare you have the balls to stand on the stage at AT&T Park and sing, “I wanna be there in my city”? Do you even know which team plays there? And of course, he stresses the word “my,” because he has to, because Steve Perry did.

What made it even more awkward was that they referenced Steve Perry before they sang one of that song. They referenced the fact that he lives in the area, and that he regularly comes to this very park to watch his favorite baseball team play. Said team used his song, and gave him a cush seat, for a good portion of their three World Series runs.

And when they referenced Steve Perry, they said “Maybe he’s here tonight,” at which point we all hoped he’d come out on stage. But they followed that up, hand like a visor on their foreheads, looking out at the audience with a “Steve, are you out there?” We all looked around as if maybe the person who’s the reason we’re all here might be sitting next to us. Maybe he’s the Journey fan next to me that brought his neighbor’s Def Leppard-fan son with him. But then Neal Schon just continues with, “We hope so. If you’re here, we love you, Steve.”

Wait, you don’t even know if Steve Perry is here? I know there’s some bad blood, but did you invite him? Leave him a ticket at willcall in case he shows up at the last minute? Does he even know you’re in town? Maybe he’s not on the Foreigner mailing list and he didn’t know.

And if you did leave him a ticket, where was the seat? Because when you asked if he was here, you looked way up in the nosebleeds. You couldn’t give him a better seat than the Giants do during the playoffs? How does Steve not merit a backstage pass? Maybe you shouldn’t have left the new lead singer in charge of checking on Steve Perry’s availability.

And all of these various drawbacks and oddities were rather obvious on the stage. It was as if there were two entities on the stage, the band and the lead singer. Both tolerated the other as a meal ticket, but neither really cared about being a cohesive unit. The band members introduced all of the songs, complete with the stories of how and when they were written. Then they’d walk to the back of the stage, and the lead singer would run up to the front and belt to his karaoke heart’s content, all the while prancing around the stage and high fiving the sloppy-second hands raised up to him at the precise moment he saw Steve Perry do the same thing on the 1982 tour video.

The last time I saw a singer and band this much at odds with each other, this distant and uninterested in each other, was 10,000 Maniacs. I saw them in Monterey on Memorial Day weekend, 1993. They split up in August of that year.

But hey, 10,000 Manics did a great cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Because the Night.”

And I don’t see Journey going their “Separate Ways.” They all have that look. The one that says they know precisely which cash cow they are milking, and they will be doing that until the arenas stop filling. Which, based on the sales figures for Steve Perry’s recent solo album, is pretty much never.

2018 Concert Reviews, Part 1

In what has become something of a Yuletide tradition, because I’ve done it twice, I’m ending the year with a recap of the concerts I saw this year. Three times makes a streak, so here you go.

(Now I just need to plan a concert or two for next year)

This year, I only went to two concerts, but each of them featured three bands. So that’s, like… crap, more than one hand’s worth.

Three of the bands I had pretty much never heard of before, but it was a venue I had always wanted to go to. The other three bands I have known about for forty years, but never saw.

Since it’s two concert, and it’s 5,000 words, I’ll split it up into two posts. Come back later this week for Part Two. It’s what the business people call “synergy.”

Concert One:

One day, my wife stood at our Echo Dot and had a moment of indecision.

“Alexa, play… something.”

Yes, we are those people that only use this wonderful piece of technology for one thing. Weather alerts and alarms? Pshaw. Smart lights? What are those? It’s all about the portable DJ, baby.

“Okay,” Alexa responds. “Here’s something you might like. Shuffling songs by the Tedeschi Trucks Band.”

What the fuck is a Tedeschi Tru… Hey, this is pretty good. Alright then, let’s just ignore the fact that this AI knows what we want better than we know ourselves. I think this is how “The Terminator” starts, but what’s a little Singularity when I can discover new music? And how much do I have to pay Amazon to have Alexa suggest my book to people?

Fast forward to spring of this year, I was trying to come up with gift ideas for my wife’s birthday. She’s always wanted to go to Red Rocks amphitheater outside of Denver. So on a whim I decided to check the venue’s website to see if I could find an excuse to take her there, and who happens to be playing the weekend after her birthday? Why, it’s Alexa’s favorite band!

So the next thing we knew, we were flying into an airport that serves as the headquarters for the New World Order in order to watch a band we only liked because our robot overlords made us like them.

Hey, more synergy!

Of course, the real reason we were there was for the venue, and it’s not like I know any specific Tedeschi Trucks Band songs, nor can I tell you which riffs come from the album and when was either Ms. Tedeschi or Mr. Trucks (yes, that’s their names) improvising. Nor could I tell you which one plays which instrument. Because Alexa doesn’t show me videos. Alexa tells me to go sit in the corner until my chores are done or I’m going to bed without dinner because she won’t read the recipe to me, and the instructions on the Macaroni & Cheese are too complicated for a mere human to follow.

So yeah. Red Rocks was beautiful. Seriously, it was sublime. I wish I could make a joke, some reference to the Native Americans or the ancient Greeks with their outdoor auditoriums or whatever, but I really can’t. Hearing the naturally amplified sound while watching the setting sun reflect off a red and orange and tan mosaic rising out of the earth like the sinking Titanic, only with better music than Celine Dion playing, was worth the trip. I can’t complain about much.

But who comes to my blog to read platitudes? I think I’ll complain a little bit.

The hike up to the auditorium is a little bit of a “Holy Christ, I’m going to die.” You’re already up at, like, a million feet elevation, where the air is only, like, one percent as much as at sea level. And then they put the parking lot maybe seventy-five miles away. And ten thousand feet below, so you have to hike the last seventy-five miles directly uphill. Barefoot in the snow. Both directions.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t as bad as all that. I mean, according to my FitBit, my heart only stopped nineteen times during the hike.

The real problem, though, came after the hike. The line to get in stretched practically back to the parking lot.

And look at how it’s so precariously suspended in midair. Why, there’s nothing wrong with milling about on a free-standing structure with thousands of your human brethren for the forty-five minutes it’s going to take us to get up the stairs. I’m sure they built it with millions of pounds of stationary American girth in mind. But hey, can we maybe not stand four-wide the whole way up? They don’t have earthquakes in Colorado, do they? Or tornadoes? Or wind?

And although I have a tendency to exaggerate for comedic effect, the forty-five minutes we were stuck in line was, if anything, an underestimation. We missed almost the entire opening set. So sorry, Marcus King Band, but you sounded wonderful from my vantage point clinging to the other side of rock encampment that’s playing as nature’s own reverb machine for you.

Okay, maybe the Marcus King Band didn’t sound wonderful. But they were definitely passable.

The worst part about the long line to get in was that we had stopped for a couple of drinks in town, not wanting to be those people who showed up too early for a concert. Little did we know that, at this particular venue, arriving early means parking closer and actually getting into the venue. Damn you, Colorado. Have you never seen when your Rockies play in San Francisco or Los Angeles? Arriving on time is so gauche.

No, you know what? The wine bar wasn’t the most annoying part. The really annoying part was that we had at least three friends who had been to Red Rocks before.Each one of them discussed the majesty and the splendor and the truly breathtaking spectacle that was to be greeting us tucked away in this Rocky Mountain Garden of Edens. But not a one told us to get the fuck there early because it would take two hours to get from the parking lot through security.

Once we were through security, it was another hike up to the top to get food. Fortunately, the beer was a lot close, which was good because that wine bar seemed a month ago by now. And I needed a beer for fuel to get me up to the top to get food. You need to get calories to burn calories, people. This body doesn’t happen by chance.

Plus the opening band had just finished, so what better time to get in a food line? Oh I’m sorry, did I say what better time? I meant what worse time. Maybe we should have tried to find some seats during this intermission. But nah, why would we want to compound a mistake with a success, when there are so many other things to compound it with.

The food was good.

The seats, on the other hand…

The concert was mostly general admission. There were a few seats in the middle of the seventy or so rows that had reserved seating, but everything down by the stage and everything near the back was general admission. The typical row was a bench with approximately 140 seats. So there should have been somewhere around five thousand general admission seats. And we couldn’t find a fucking one.

“I’m holding that spot.”

“You mean those ten spots?”

“That’s why there’s a blanket there.”

“Can you scoot closer?”

“No.”

So much for Colorado people being polite.

So we watched the second band from a raised tree planter off to the side of the seating, near the stairs. And we weren’t the only ones. There were maybe ten planters, one every five or six rows, each standing ten feet high. Each planter had anywhere from five to twenty patrons, either leaning against the tree or dangling their feet off the ten-foot drop between the front of the planter and the passageway below.

Seriously, how many tickets did they sell to this thing? You might think they keep selling “general admission” because there’s no way to accurately count the number of seats. But no. Because this concert had been sold out when I searched for tickets. I had to pay extra on the Ticketmaster-sponsored ticket exchange, because if they can’t fuck you over with the initial purchase, then by golly, they’ll fuck over both the original purchaser and the secondary purchaser.

So they clearly only sold as many tickets as there are seat. It’s just that the fat fuck in row sixty-two is clearly taking up one-and-a-half seats. And the blanket cuddle orgy over to the left is looking for more lebensraum than the goddamned Schlieffen Plan.

But I can’t complain too much. From my vantage point all the way stage left, I had a beautiful panorama of those eponymous red rocks rising out of the earth stage right. In fact, from this angle, those rocks made a wide v-angle with the stage that continued to change as the sunset approached and then passed.

I never would have noticed this natural wonder had I been in the seats, able to focus my sight on something quaint like the video screen or the stage. And it’s not like I knew what the band members looked like and needed to see their facial expressions as they put emotion into lyrics I’ve never heard.

Besides, those benches were probably uncomfortable as hell.

Hey, speaking of singers and songs and shit, how was the band?

The second band that played on the evening was Drive By Truckers. With the Tedeschi Trucks Band, I’m noticing a trend.

But let me tell you, the Drive By Truckers kicked ass. I didn’t know what to expect, but they were tight. With their name, I expected something in the country-western vein. Maybe one of the hard-edge country bands, like… actually, I’m not really up on my country bands these days. Is Alabama still a thing? Were they ever edgy? How about Skynyrd?

Yeah, let’s go with Skynyrd. The Drive By Truckers were reminiscent of Skynyrd. They even reference Skynyrd in one of their songs, so they must approve of the comparison. But I’d also add in some Allmann Brothers. Or Jeff Healey. Part southern rock, part jam band. Laid back, conversational style but some great drive in their play.

I’ve become a bit of a fan since then. I mean, once I figured out which band we were actually listening to, because I don’t think it was ever announced which order the bands were going, and we couldn’t see the stage for any telltale indications of band name. For all I knew, this could be the actual Tedeschi Trucks Band, and they just weren’t letting the lady sing tonight.

But I remembered a lyric that went “I never saw Lynyrd Skynyrd” and was able to track down to the song “Let There Be Rock,” by the Drive-By Truckers, so then I knew who I had seen. Thanks, Google!

So now I’ve found myself listening to them a few times since. More often than Tedeschi Trucks. Even a few times on my Alexa. I wonder if think she knows that it stemmed from her initial recommendation? Thanks, Amazon!

Boy howdy, am I ready for our new AI overlords or what?

Speaking of Alexa’s original suggestion, how was the Tedeschi Trucks Band? Pretty good. Most of their recordings, and most of their YouTube videos, are from their concerts, so they sounded pretty much like I had heard and expected. Which is great. I mean, that’s what we were there for, right? Aside from seeing the amphitheater which, let’s be honest, was the real reason we were there.

But regardless of that, the Tedschi Trucks Band was solid. Very enjoyable. But they broke the number one rule of showmanship, which is to not be upstaged by the opening band. Or in this case, the second band.

In the end, we were tired of standing by a tree and not being able to see the actual band, and were mindful of getting to and out of the parking lot before the next presidential election, so we left before their set was over. Which doesn’t seem fair. You’ve got to wait until the finale and the encore to really judge a concert, right? Heck, “Let There Be Rock” was Drive-By Truckers’ last song, and it’s the one that finally pushed me over from enjoyable to kick-ass.

But meh, wife was over it, and I needed another beer, so we might as well get one on the way out. And I might or might not have still been able to hear the finale from the parking lot seventy-two miles away. Those red rocks can really reverberate, baby.

Come by later this week to hear about my second three-band show. I’ll give you a hint: One of the bands had a Filipino lead singer and the other has a one-armed drummer.

Wombat’s Annual Concert Review

I’m starting this year with a slightly different retrospective. I have no friggin’ clue what the hell I did over the past twelve months or what I would like to do for the next twelve. I have a three-year old daughter at home, and both her long-term memory and planning are definitely contagious. Also, since I stopped writing for a large portion 2017 (see above: three-year old), there’s no better time to post about what I did last summer. I’m not likely to remember these things much longer.

Wait, was I saying something?

Anyway, last summer, I saw three more old-dude concerts: Mumford and Sons in June, Blues Traveler in July, and Neil Diamond in August. I know technically Mumford and Sons aren’t old dudes, but most of their fans are.

Each act was one I had seen in concert before, so it allows me to put them into a little perspective.

Mumford and Sons: This was my second viewing of Mumford. If you like their music, you should see them in concert. There always seems to be a divide between how people want concerts to sound. Some people want the songs to sound exactly like they do on the album, so they can sing along. Others figure they can listen to the album whenever they want and, for the price of a concert ticket, they want the songs to be distinctively live.

Mumford and Sons seems to split the difference. The first time I saw them, my wife asked what they were like. I said, “They sound exactly like they do on the album, only moreso.” She didn’t understand how that could be, so this time, I took her. After that show, I asked her what she thought. She said, “They sound exactly like they do on the album, only moreso.”

Every harmony, every chord, every mandolin solo, is as close an approximation of the recorded versions as you will find. You can sing along, if you want. Each note will begin exactly where it is supposed to. A couple might go on a skosh longer, but it shouldn’t be hard to figure out which ones.

I sang along at parts. How can you NOT join in with thousands of people singing “I really fucked it up this time”?

But really, you don’t want to sing along too much, because you’ll miss the “moreso.”

There are a few things that define Mumford and Sons. The emotion and the drive of their music. I don’t mean the emotion of their lyrics (see below: Blues Traveler). In fact, I have to ignore the very obvious born-again lyrics to “I Will Wait” every time I belt along at the top of my lungs.

But I have to belt it, all the same, because of the emotion of the music. It feels like it’s at a fast tempo, but it’s really not. Maybe mandolins can be strummed faster than guitars? I don’t know. Speaking of things I don’t know, is there a difference between a banjo and a mandolin or is it just based on the genre, like a violin and a fiddle?

Anyway, I have always found Mumford’s music invigorating. Even some of their slower songs seem to push forward rather than lay back. I wasn’t a fan of “Wilder Mind” when it came out, because I worried they were becoming Coldplay, but after a few listens, I realized that there was still a lot going on throughout that album.

All of what makes Mumford is on display when they’re in concert. It’s louder, obviously, but same as with tempo, I don’t think volume alone accounts for their draw. And seeing Marcus Mumford sing the lyrics, which whether I agree with them or not, are very personal to him, adds an extra layer of emotion. I don’t know how he has the voice to sing like that night after night.

Like on the album, but moreso.

I have two slight issues with my two Mumford and Sons concerts. The first time, they played a bunch of songs that they were working on for a future album. I liked them, but they were nowhere to be found when I saw them eight months later. I hope those songs, and a forthcoming album, will be appearing soon.

My other issue is the song “Winter Winds.” It is my favorite Mumford and Sons song. They have not played it either time. A quick perusal of setlists shows that they do not play it very often. Marcus, if you’re reading this, put that bad boy into the rotation.

The venue we saw Mumford and Sons at was pretty cool. It was at “The Joint” (gosh, I wonder what that name is hinting at?), a venue inside the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. Fun place, with only a couple of problems for bands with aging fans. It’s general admission, so we all had to stand in line or else we’d have to stand at the back. My wife and I arrived at the casino more than two hours before the concert started. We were going to grab a bite to eat and maybe gamble and drink a bit, but thought we would check the line first, just to be sure.

Holy shit, the line stretched for fifteen miles! Okay, maybe not that long, but in all honesty, the end of the line was in the parking garage. Meaning outside. In Vegas. In June. Yikes. Extra trooper points for my wife, though, who stood there for a half-hour holding our spot while I went in search of the elusive beer.

When they finally let us into the venue, not only was it general admission, but it was standing room only. Twenty years ago, that would’ve had mosh pit written all over it. But this was Mumford and Sons.I’m 43 and I probably lowered the average age by a year or two. So it was basically just a bunch of old people standing around for an hour.

Then for another hour during the absolute douchebag of an opening act. Seriously, he was not talented. And he was kind of an asshole in between songs. At one point he said he was from New York City and there was a smattering of boos. He seemed shocked.

“Who the hell would boo New York City?”

Umm, everybody who isn’t from New York City, dude.

“You guys are just jealous.”

And THAT’S why we all hate douchebags from New York.

But the venue was actually nice. Accoustics were good and you could get as close to the band as you wanted, body space notwithstanding. And I was even able to get a little bit of booze, too.

Holy shit, did I just pay $48 for a margarita and a Jack & Coke?

Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond is also an act I’ve seen once before. Not two years in a row, like Mumford and Sons. I think the first time I saw old Neil, Mumford was still just a son.

My first Neil Diamond concert was a bit of an aberration. I had always wanted to see him, but the price point was too high. Then the city of Stockton was opening a new arena. Stockton is a city in the central valley of California whose main claim to fame is a murder rate that rivals Detroit’s. But they’ve been trying to revitalize the downtown with a brand new minor-league ballpark, single-A but nicer than a number of AAA ballparks I’ve seen, and a 10,000-seat arena for a minor-league hockey team (I’ll be curling there at the end of the month!). Both venues, even a decade later, are beautiful. The downtown still sucks.

When the arena was first opening, they wanted a big name to open it. Last year, when Sacramento opened The  Golden One Center, they brought in Paul McCartney. But Sir Paul wouldn’t be caught dead in Stockton, so their big-namer was Neil Diamond. But there was still a problem, namely that the tickets were still pushing $100 for a city that is notoriously low on the socioeconomic scale. Oh, and it was a septuagenarian playing for a city with less than five percent of its population college-educated.

So Neil Diamond wasn’t selling and the grand opening of the brand new Stockton Arena was barreling toward a quarter-full opening night. The city manager had promised Neil Diamond $1 million to open the arena,  with the city reimbursing whatever ticket sales failed to provide. Except that particular arrangement wasn’t run by the city council. The city manager lost his job over that one. It was bad.

Except it was great for ticket price purposes. With about three days to go until the concert, somebody decided they didn’t want a lackluster opening night, so they lowered prices. All of a sudden it was $25 to see a classic rocker. I was in. Part of the fun of that first concert was trying to deduce who around me had paid full price for the same seats I got for the price of a pizza.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed with Neil Diamond that first go around. It felt like he was going through the motions. Maybe he was pissed that half the people in the audience were only seeing him because he cost less than the tank of gas they had used to get to the concert. Maybe he was just performing one of his 150 concerts a year for the 38th year in a row.

The give and take between he and his background singers felt forced and there was virtually no interaction with the audience. His clever lyrics about UB40 stealing “Red, Red Wine”  seemed a little less avant garde twenty years after said cover of said song.

My one takeaway from that first Neil Diamond concert was that he had changed the words of “Desiree” so that the girl was nearly half his age, instead of nearly twice his age. I guess that was funny when he was in his sixties, but now I kinda want him to go back to the original. If, at the age of 77, he’s becoming a man with a 144-year old lady, that’s pretty impressive. Not hot, but impressive!

I’m glad I gave Neil Diamond a second shot, because this year, he put on a really good show. It was at the aforementioned Golden One Center, the new Sacramento arena that Sacramentans said they didn’t need but has already hosted at least ten acts that never would’ve come to Sacramento before. It was Neil Diamond’s 50th anniversary tour, and that might’ve helped him find his love for performing again. Maybe he was able to pick whatever the hell he wanted to sing. He performed a couple of very early songs that have been out of the rotation since “Hot August Nights.”

He played the two sides of the arena off against each other to see who would cheer more, and at one point he turned and sang an entire song directly to the people that were cheering the loudest. I had always heard he was a big showman like this, so maybe I had just seen him on a bad night before. Maybe it was all the fault of those assholes who thought he was only worth a $25 ticket.

Unfortunately, he still played the old, tired, UB40 riff in “Red, Red Wine.” Dude, Neil. It’s been 35 years. Let it go. You don’t reference The Monkees when you sing “I’m a Believer.”

No report back on the age of Desiree this time.

Blues Traveler

I’ve been a huge Blues Traveler for most of my adult life. I listened to them constantly throughout my twenties and a good portion of my thirties. Right up until the time I discovered Mumford and Sons. I joked that if I saw Mumford (my current favorite bad) in June and Traveler (favorite band of my twenties) in July, I couldn’t wait to see the favorite band from my teens in August.

Still waiting for that Beatles reunion tour…

While 2017 marked only my second time seeing Neil Diamond (turned out he was the August concert in question) and Mumford and Sons, I don’t think I could count the number of times I’ve seen Blues Traveler. Probably somewhere between ten and twenty.

I’ve seen Blues Traveler opening for Allman Bros Band in arenas. I’ve camped out to see Blues Traveler playing both days at a weekend festival at the Laguna Seca racetrack. I saw Blues Traveler in the wave pool at the Mandalay Bay, maybe the greatest venue ever.

This time, though, didn’t rank quite as high as a pool in Vegas. It was at the California State Fair. The very same venue that has hosted a Taylor Swift cover band. Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the concerts at the State Fair. I plan which day I’ll go to the Fair based on who’s playing. I’ve seen Huey Lewis, Air Supply, Eddie Money, and Weird Al Yancovic there. It’s a standard stopping spot for bands on the Indian Casino circuit.

To say I was upset Blues Traveler had fallen so far would be inaccurate. It’s not like they were ever filling arenas on their own. Nonetheless, I was a bit dismayed. State Fair means has-been, and I don’t know if Blues Traveler ever-was. With some bands, like Air Supply, I’ve enjoyed their current circuit, because they come through town often and I’ve been able to see them repeatedly at Indian Casinos and State Fairs.

Air Supply, by the way, is a great show. You wouldn’t think they shred on their repertoire of ballads, but they do.

But my worry is that the current trajectory of Blues Traveler’s career will not lead to them playing smaller and smaller venues. My worry is that the State Fair might be signalling the end is near. It’s the canary in the mine. At least when Eddie Money plays the Fair, people see him out of 1980s nostalgia. With Blues Traveler, it’s the same fans it’s always been, there are just fewer of them.

As for the concert, it was pretty lackluster. The State Fair usually is. The acoustics aren’t great and they’re competing with the sounds of cows and the Zipper and  deep-fried vomiting. The band sounded good. They’ve been a remarkably consistent band, with pretty much the same lineup their entire career, except for the guitarist’s younger brother joining when the original bassist died. They play very well together.

I still miss Bobby Sheehan, their orginal bassist, though. They’ve never sounded quite the same. The album that came out after he died, “Bridge,” was one of my favorites, but I feel like they had been sliding before that one and have continued after.

John Popper is one of the most underrated lyricists of the last thirty years:

-Unrequited love? check out  “Alone.” “Hopes can always go up, tears can only fall down.”
-Second guessing love? “Girl Inside My Head.”  “How hard will it be if she is nice to me?How bad will it get if I let her get to know me? Should she see the willing dog or should I be a jungle cat? And most of all, my god, how does she make her eyes do that?
-One love away from figuring it all out? “Conquer Me.” “Conquer me/Figure me out and set me free… It’s not my impatience, or perhaps just there I lied/ It’s just I’m feeling invincible, and it has me terrified.”
-General melancholy? “Sweet Pain.” “Well all of my heroes up and died/ Songs and a dream are left for me/ What did them in, not suicide/ Just a lengthy friendship and a dream of how it could be”
-Friend just died? “Pretty Angry.” “And i want to shout from my guitar/ Come out come out wherever you are/ The joke is over open up your eyes/ A heart like yours it never dies.”
-Pissed off at the world? “Whoops” is a great song about environmental damage. Get it? We’re destroying the world. “Whoops!”

And you don’t have to be in a bad mood. “Optimistic Thought,” “Just For Me,” “Sweet Talking Hippie.” But seriously, who wants happy songs?

Of course, I had to go off on Popper’s lyrics, because most people only want to talk about his harmonica skills. And yes, the notes he can blow on that mouth harp are paralleled by nobody. The speed with which he blows, holy crap. You’ve never heard “Devil Went Down to Georgia” until you’ve heard John Popper play the solo on harmonica.

But here’s where I’m going to buck the trend. Popper can’t blow like he used to. The speed of the notes is still there, and I’m not saying he plays wrong notes or anything. But there used to be an intensity to his play that is lacking now.

And I think I know what it is. I’m a horrible, horrible person for saying this, but ever since he lost weight, his harmonica playing has dropped a bit. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, mind you. If he hadn’t lost his weight, he’d probably be dead by now, and a John Popper blowing at seventy percent is better than a John Popper blowing at zero percent.

See if you agree. After watching the above link, check this one out. Look at that gut. And then listen to that harmonica.

I just wish that science could build him a prosthetic gut that he could only pull out when he’s on a harmonica solo. Is that too much to ask?

The concert was free with admission to the State Fair, but you can pay extra to get reserved seating. We were about eight rows back, which was great for the first hour of the concert. Then three warmed-over hippies came to the seats right in front of us. The bastards then proceeded to stand up and do the hippie sway/twirl dance for the rest of the fucking concert. Whether the band was playing or not.

Don’t get me wrong, I expect doped up-hippies, completely unaware of their surroundings, at a Blues Traveler concert, and these three were clearly solid Blues Traveler fans since they bought their tickets before I bought mine. But hey, hippies, (no, over here hippies. I’m the one talking. Why are you looking at… never mind, just read this when you’re sober. Like, maybe when you wake up at noon, and… what? Pot is for sale in California now? You know what? Never mind).

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah. Hey, hippies, if you’re that big of Blues Traveler fans that you physically cannot sit down, even when Chan Kinchla’s re-tuning his guitar, then where the fuck were you for the first hour of the concert? Shit or get off the pot, hippies.

In this case, I’d have preferred you to get off the pot.

Wasting Away Again

I turned 42 earlier this month, and tried my best to act 24. I’ve been to three concerts over the last three weeks.

It would have been four concerts if not for a Kenny Loggins health issue. He was scheduled to play at an Indian Casino with Air Supply.

Okay, so maybe these concerts aren’t technically in the “acting like a 24-year old” vein. The acts themselves were more in the “Middle Aged White Male” range. But nonetheless, it was three concerts, hundreds of miles apart from each other, in three weeks, with nary a stop for Matamucil in between. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Literally, I got the T-shirts:
t-shirts

First up was a flight to Southern California for Mumford & Sons. It was my birthday present from my wife, so I didn’t even know it would be happening until a few days prior.

Next up was a train trip to Reno to see Straight, No Chaser, an a capella group that sings medleys and various other non-instrumental versions of modern hits. Like “All About That Bass (No Tenors).” That was my anniversary gift to my wife.  Concert gifts all around this year.

But I’m not here to write about listening to ten men sing Christmas songs in October. Nor shall I delve into… whatever the hell style of music Mumford & Sons is. Folk? Bluegrass? I tried explaining them to my Mother-in-Law.

“Bluegrass? Are they from the South?”

“No. England.”

“…”

“They play a lot of mandolin.”

“Maybe my hippie brother would like them. He’s been teaching himself mandolin.”

“…”

But I’m here to talk about the cherry on the top of my Middle-Aged White Male Trifecta Sundae, when I lowered the average age at a Jimmy Buffett concert by about a decade. I did not have as great of an effect on the Hawaiian shirt average – my Tommy Bahama kept the ratio perfectly pegged at 1 to 1.

Jimmy Buffett is another musical act that’s hard to classify. His music isn’t overly complex. I’m pretty sure the chord progression on “Fins” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” is exactly the same. But he’s worth $400 million (behind only Paul McCartney and Bono, according to a Google search), so he must’ve figured something out.

He started out primarily as a country act, and I suppose is still heavily grounded in that particular genre. But I know a lot of Parrotheads that have no love of country music. I sometimes refer to Jimmy Buffett as beach music, but that tends to conjure up images of Brian Wilson and Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello dancing in a bikini.

Oh wait, I know. Jimmy Buffett is drinking music.

But not so much. Because in reality, Jimmy Buffett plays Jimmy Buffett music. He’s worth so damned much because he is his own genre.

Jimmy Buffett is a lifestyle, with maybe a little bit of music attached.

I first discovered Jimmy Buffett when I was in college from a Parrothead who lived on my dorm floor.  I assume “some guy in college” is how most people first encounter Jimmy Buffett. Isn’t that the type of alternate lifestyle that college is for? Sure, that “guy in college” must have discovered Jimmy Buffett elsewhere. He was two years ahead of me, so I assume he caught it from a junior when he was a freshman, thus continuing a herpes-like chain reaction stretching all the way back through time.

Someone must have started the chain, but I can’t imagine who. I know there were those old PSA’s from the 1980s (“Where’d you learn to do drugs? “You, okay? I learned it from watching you!”), but I doubt either the parent or the teenager in that ad was pleasantly puffing away to the prospect of visiting that “One Particular Harbor.”

That’s why I think it has to start in college. Because, contrary to how most people classify Jimmy Buffett, his songs aren’t drinking songs. We don’t see the neediness of a “Tubthumping” or “Red Solo Cup.” They aren’t party songs. You don’t crank up the Jimmy Buffett at a rager like you would Beastie Boys or Sublime. Jimmy Buffett is much closer to “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” than he is to “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” Even if “Pencil Thin Mustache” references marijuana, you’re not going to puff-and-pass to it like you would to “Gin and Juice.”

I teach high school. I hear a lot of stories about drinking parties. I’ve had plenty of burgeoning alcoholics and chronic addicts come through my room. But I can only think of a very small collection of students who could truly understand what Parrotheading is all about.

The confusion about what Jimmy Buffet is singing about is understandable. His most famous line, after all, is “wasting away again in Margaritaville.” My students would probably say “Yeah, man, I’ve totally been wasted on margaritas, too.”

Okay, margaritas might be too fancy for my students. So maybe “Wasting away again in straight-shot-of-tequila-with-Coors-Light-chaser-ville.”

But anyone who thinks that song is about getting wasted misses the point. One is not wasting away in Margaritaville due to the alcohol content of said drink. It’s the introspection that comes with each successive drink or hour or day spent there. From “it’s nobody’s fault” to “it could be my fault” to “it’s my own damn fault” – one of the most brilliant evolving choruses of all time.

I once got in an argument with an English teacher about whether or not the entire song is a metaphor or not. Even the tattoo is a mental tattoo. Who the hell describes ink on an arm as “a Mexican cutie?” That tattoo has been stamped on his brain, and it ain’t leaving until he blends that next frozen concoction.

I’m right. The English teacher is wrong. What the fuck do English teachers know about metaphors? Seriously. If he really blew out his flip-flops, he could’ve just bought new ones – Margaritaville has a shit-ton of merchandising.

But to understand why Jimmy Buffett isn’t just about drinking and partying, you need to go beyond his most famous title. A better song to reflect what the Parrothead life is about is “Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude.”

Sure, Mr. $400 Million might be able to live the lifestyle permanently, the rest of us can’t party all day, every day. We have to wait for, or in some cases force, a change in attitude. The easiest way to do this, and yet the most complicated, is to go on vacation somewhere tropical. That fixes up your attitude right quick.

But sometimes we can’t pick up and shove off to the Mexican Riviera. That’s okay. The change of latitude need not be extreme. Go downtown for the evening. Veer off the home-to-work commute. Date night with the spouse. Whatever it takes to change the attitude, if only for an hour or two.

Carpe diem. YOLO. Make the most of the times that should be made more of. That’s what Jimmy Buffett really is about. Drink? Sure! Party too hard? Absolutely! But make it about enjoyment, make it about reflection, not about obliteration. Because “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”

Most non-fans don’t realize how much introspection Jimmy Buffett sings about. It’s not in “Cheeseburger in Paradise” or “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” (and screw?), but you don’t have to delve deep into his track list to find it. It’s the reflection that comes from sitting on a beach or a bar and having a few drinks. Or from talking to the old guy next to you at the beach or the bar.

To understand the appeal and the staying power of Jimmy Buffett, you need to listen to the lines the audience sings along to most fervently at his concerts. It ain’t “Volcano.” Despite the elaborate hands-above-head movement, it ain’t “Fins.” It isn’t even “Margaritaville.”

Those songs all have sing-alongs, but they are rote. People sing the whole song at the same volume. There are no natural crescendos, no particular lines that have more gravitas than the others..

The ballads are where you’ll find that extra connection that defines Jimmy Buffett.  “A Pirate Looks at 40” is a wonderfully retrospective song about mid-life crises and how we are never able to do that thing we always thought we were destined to do. Perhaps I should re-title this blog “An Asshole Looks at 40.” But I doubt I could fill it with anything as profound as “I made enough money to buy Miami, but I pissed it away so fast.”

That’s a line that gets the concert crowd warbling. Because we’ve all been there, haven’t we? Everybody’s been Candide, looking back on his time in El Dorado, thinking “What the fuck was I thinking leaving that behind?”

(How do you like that allusion, English teachers?)

Some other artists dally into Jimmy Buffett territory, but few stay for long. Toby Keith definitely has some party songs, and a few of them manage to toe the line between happy drunk and angry drunk. Paul Simon’s an excellent lyricist and musician who has some wonderfully happy and introspective songs. But neither of them have a niche that is entirely of their own creation.

The most obvious non-Jimmy Buffett Parrothead song is “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere.” How the hell did Jimmy Buffett NOT write that one? I almost wonder if Alan Jackson felt guilty after writing it. Like “Oh, shit, what is this? This is not an Alan Jackson song!” So he invited Jimmy Buffett to sing along with him and included him in the lyrics. Then he went back to writing more snoozers like “Country Boy.”

The one band that seems to be hanging out in Margaritaville on a more permanent basis is the Zac Brown Band. But consider this: Zac Brown wasn’t alive when Jimmy Buffett released his first album. So maybe that niche is only big enough to be filled once per generation. Zac Brown’s next on my list of concerts to attend. I wonder if I will skew the average age down by a decade, as I did at Jimmy Buffett, or if I will skew it up.

I also don’t know if Zac Brown has quite figured out the retrospective part yet. He can’t sing about a 40-year old pirate if he isn’t even a 40-year old musician yet. I don’t know if the Zac Brown Band has any ballads that sum up a life’s journey yet. They need to add some if they’re still want to be playing new arenas, not state fairs, in forty years.

Jimmy knows this. He knows that people come for the “Boat Drinks” and stay for the “Son of a Son of a Sailor.”

That was evident in how he finished the concert I saw. The main concert ended with “Volcano,” because it’s named the “I Don’t Know Tour.” The first two songs of the encore started out with “We are the People our Parents Warned Us About” and “One Particular Harbor.” The latter is a standard Parrothead anthem and the former is more quotable than singable. It was pretty standard stuff, except for the voracity with which he sang “But Not Yet” after the line “I can see the day when my hair’s full gray and I finally disappear.”

Then he did something that I have never seen in any concert before. After the entire band left the stage, Jimmy doubled back out. I assumed he would give one last wave, but instead he pulled out an acoustic guitar and broke into “He Went to Paris.”

That’s how the concert ended, with Jimmy Buffett alone on the stage, playing one of his softest ballads. And it was brilliant. Because if it’s the “I Don’t Know Tour,” what better way to end than with “all of those answers and all of those questions” that we never quite finish.

And if you sing about the great adventure that is life, there can be no better line to walk off the stage to than:

“Jimmy, some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I’ve had a good life all the way.”