concerts

2020 Virtual Concert Review

Last week I wrote about the two aborted concerts that I hoped to attend in 2020. One was from Billy Joel, a tried-and-true entertainer I saw once before when I was in college. The other was Vampire Weekend, a band I wasn’t even aware of a year ago. For obvious reasons, neither concert happened.

But 2020 wasn’t completely devoid of live music. As long as you were willing to watch it on a screen.

So although I didn’t see the two concerts I intended to see, I did manage to watch two concerts in their entirety. Again, one featured old performers that I’ve already been throwing money at for decades, while the other came from a newish band that I’ve always been curious about seeing live.

Preservation Hall. 

I couldn’t make it to New Orleans to watch Vampire Weekend, but at least I could watch a streamed version of a concert for the New Orleans Jazz Preservation Hall. Or maybe it was on PBS. I can’t remember.

Seeing as New Orleans is one of my favorite cities to visit, I’ve watched a few concerts at Preservation Hall. It’s fun to stop in on an afternoon jaunt down Bourbon Street to hear jazz combos similar to my high school jazz band That’s not knock. My high school jazz band was pretty kick-ass. I love me some saxophone, trumpet, and trombone combos. Play me a simplified arrangement of a Count Basie tune, and I’ll happily put off my next hand grenade for twenty minutes or so.

At least I thought it was Preservation Hall I’d frequented on those trips down Bourbon. But now that I looked it up on Google Maps, it might actually be Maison Bourbon, a half-block away from the actual Preservation Hall. Oops.

Regardless, I was happy when they had a benefit concert online, with some really big names. I’m talking Dave Matthews, Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney. Unfortunately, it was in typical telethon fashion, where they wasted twenty minutes in between each song with interviews and “call in now” and shit. At least I could pause and skip ahead, something my grandparents could’ve only dreamed of back in the Jerry Lewis Labor Day snoozefests. 

Those big-name benefit songs had a very, very pre-recorded feel to them. There were a few, like Dave Grohl and Nathaniel Rateliff, who seemed to take it more seriously, picking their jazzier numbers and talking about the importance of either live music or of preserving olde tyme music. Others seemed to send in whatever promo song they had recorded for charity write-offs. I was looking forward to Elvis Costello and was disappointed when he just played some “songs off his newest album,” aka the part of the concert containing the Great Restroom Exodus.

Everybody on the comment box was pining away for McCartney. Where’s Paul? When will Paul be here? Clearly they haven’t sat through proper telethons. It was obvious he was going to be last, and it was obvious to be as non-specifically for Preservation Hall as it gets. He might’ve done “Hey, Jude.” I don’t remember. And he might or might not have looked two decades younger. At least Elvis had the decency to half-ass a newer song so we knew it was recorded this decade. 

I ended up liking the actual jazz band, who played an occasional song in between the big acts, better than the names that brought me there in the first place. Even so, I didn’t donate. 

I’ll drop some money at Maison Bourbon next time I’m in NOLA and we’ll call it good.

Nathaniel Rateliff. 

Later in the pandemic, Red Rocks in Colorado did an online fundraising concert, as well. Again, a place I’ve been to and enjoyed. And a band I like, as well. Tune me in.

And this was legitimately live. They were literally playing on the stage in front of an empty Red Rocks Amphitheater. You could switch cameras to watch the rocks instead, something I found myself doing when I went there, too. Although I didn’t have to switch cams then, I only had to pivot my neck.

Nathaniel Rateliff has been on my short list for some time. He wasn’t some unknown to top ten skyrocket like those Vampire Weekend upstarts. 

Of course, my first introduction to him was “S.O.B.,” the best drinking song this side of “Tubthumping.” Although neither of those songs should be considered happy drinking song. Maybe thinking enough about booze to want to write a song about it predicates a certain bipolar dependency. But then just when you’re about to commiserate with the artist, right there on the precipice of singing the blues, they bang the door down with a grandiose “fuck it, let’s get blotto.”

With a first song like that, one could understand my hesitation against full-throated bandwagon-jumping. If your initial hit is reminiscent of “Tubthumping,” you’ve gotta worry about being the next Chumbawumba. And how many other Chumbawumba songs have you ever heard? Unfortunately, I’ve heard others, and they need a drink. Holy crap, that’s a bad album.

At least Rateliff seemed to have some musical talent going for him, which was always missing from even the acceptable Chumbawumba song. Something similar could be said about Fun., which you must properly pronounce as “Fun period,” another band with a song that, at first, sounds like a fun (period) song about hanging out with your friends at the bar, something I did the majority of my twenties (and thirties). But on closer listen, it’s closer to a creepy “Every Breath You Take,” with the dude hoping to swoop in on an ex (whom he beat) when she’s drunk at the end of the night. At least Fun. had some good musical talent, but it was all based on something approaching ten-part harmony. Rateliff gets there by himself. With apologies to the Night Sweats.

But still, if you take one look at him, you don’t think rockstar. Or at least not young, eager, carpe-diem rock star. In his first music video, he looked like someone who’s been touring for forty years. Tore up from the floor up. Rode hard and put away wet. Whatever phrase you wanna use, he was no Justin Timberlake.

So somewhat gimmicky song about drinking and looking like he might be dead by the end of the week. I spent most of the last decade on the fringes of fandom. Perhaps appreciation would be the best descriptor. I heard some of his other songs and they all showed promise. What I was waiting for was the staying power. It’s so much easier when the band already has four full albums before I discover them.

Similar to Vampire Weekend, Nathaniel Rateliff’s most recent album (actually his third album, not his second as I originally believed) came out shortly before the pandemic, so I was able to hear the songs as they received copious amounts of radio play. I enjoyed “Baby It’s Alright.” Very bluesy. A ballad. Some vibrato in the voice. Polar opposite of “SOB,” although not really, because you’ve still got the mournful voice, the hurt. There’s a lot lying there underneath the surface. This was no Chumbawumba. This wasn’t even a repeat of Fun. (Am I supposed to put another period if Fun. is at the end of a sentence?).

The final hurdle I needed to pass (aside from buying his albums because that’s what YouTube is for) was to see him live. He definitely seemed to have the vibe of a good live act. I tend to like the acts whose songs are equal parts emotion and talent. Those tend to make the best shows as opposed to, say, a band that’s more concerned with choreography or pyrotechnics. In all honesty, I’m a little worried my current fascination with Vampire Weekend might wane after seeing them live. They seem a wee bit aloof, a sconce “we wrote good songs, so we don’t need to put any emphasis into it. Sing along if you must.”

So the last thing I needed to become a proper Nathaniel Rateliff fan, to finally determine if he’s talent or hack, was to see him live. And if I can see him for free, all the better. 

Oops, was I supposed to donate to Red Rocks while watching the free concert?

And yeah, the dude is solid. He feels every song. He emotes. And he’s no slouch on the guitar, either. I could see him being the kind of guy who would play for three or four hours if the crowd and venue allowed it. With “S.O.B.” it’s clear he’s got some inner demons. It feels like the stage is where he exorcizes them, and he’s all too aware of it.

One oddity was that he appeared to be playing through his entire new album, track by track. I tuned in late, so I don’t know if this was explained or if the first half of the concert was some old stuff. So he never played “S.O.B.”

I bet a lot of artists wish they could do that. After all, the new songs are the ones that mean the most to them. It’s our fault that they keep having to bust out “Freebird.” If we aren’t in the crowd then we can go fuck ourselves if we’re only tuning in for his one hit six years ago.

The weirdest part of the whole concert was that he DIDN’T come out for an encore. What the fuck? Were we not cheering loudly enough at our homes thousands of miles away? What do you want us to do? Pay to get you to…

Oh…

Oh, I think I get it now.

My bad.

2020 Aborted Concert Reviews

This is the time of year I usually review the concerts I attended over the past twelve months. I don’t see why this year should be any different.

Except for the fact that every concert on the face of the earth was canceled in 2020. Along with the movies and holidays and amusement parks. We literally had Disneyland booked for about five days after it shit down. You didn’t get that post, so I might as well tell you about a couple of great concerts that almost happened.

Billy Joel. This one wasn’t as imminent as Disneyland, but tickets were bought, timeshare was booked, and flights were very seriously vetted.

My daughter’s favorite musician is Billy Joel. Her favorite days of the year, in no particular order, are 1) her birthday, 2) Christmas, and 3) the day Billy Joel Radio returns to SiriusXM. It makes her so much fun to hang out with amongst all her other first-grade companions.

The temporary SiriusXM station was the first one we could play in the car to break the monotony of those Fisher Price CDs that formed the soundtrack to her third year on the planet. Which was far more exciting for Mom and Dad than it was for Daughter. Compared to “Wheels on the Bus” for the hundredth time, even “When in Rome” shines.

I don’t have anything against “When in Rome.” It’s Billy Joel who hates it. He claims he throws a couple shitty songs on each album because he’s tapped out after ten or eleven new songs, but the record labels require thirteen. If you wanna have a hit, you gotta make it fit.

Then again, Billy Joel also thinks “Piano Man” is just a silly limerick, so what does he know? (Even if he’s right)

Daughter’s favorite song is “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” but not for any nascent desire to warp forward twelve years so she can leave her own Mama Leoni peace-out note for her parents. Nope, she likes the motorcycle sound in the final chorus. Right after one of the final “I’m movin’ outs,” there’s a few revs and then a squeal for emphasis. So maybe she hasn’t made it far from “Wheels on the Bus,” after all.

I think it was the variety that her young ears and mind enjoyed the most. Billy Joel’s got a great catalog if you aren’t in the mood to listen to one style. If we tell Alexa to play Mumford and Sons or Jimmy Buffett or even the Beatles, artists she knows plenty of songs from, it starts to get redundant a lot sooner than if we tell her to play some Billy. 

Yes, she knows a few modern songs, too, but with no school this year, she’s still stuck in 2019. Aren’t we all? Still, the songs that really get the “Ooo, I know this one” going are “Piano Man” and “You May Be Right” and “Only the Good Die Young.” Good thing I’m not raising her Catholic.

So we figured what better first concert for her than Billy Joel? If we wait too long, we might be waiting too long, if you know what I mean. The same could be said for Jimmy Buffett, but a) it doesn’t look like Jimmy Buffett’s going to stop touring anytime soon, and b) we might get arrested when half of her blood is second-hand ganja. Maybe when she’s a teenager I’ll make her my designated driver to a Mumford concert. Is sixteen too young to have the super important “British and Aussies don’t consider cunt offensive” talk? Because last time I saw Mumford, that word came out a lot. So it’s either when she listens to Mumford or watches “The Boys.”

The added benefit of taking her to see Billy Joel was the locale. He doesn’t really tour anymore, maxing out at one big stadiums every month or so. This year, the plan was Notre Dame, Detroit, and Fenway Park, none of which are within a couple time zones of us West Coasters. I know he had a really lousy experience when he lived in LA, but c’mon Billy, that was fifty years ago.

Other than that, he has a “residency” at Madison Square Gardens. I put that word in quotes because most of the residencies I know of are in Vegas, where you play every fucking night and twice on Saturday. His residency at MSG is one show a month. Sounds more like a “recurring guest star” than anything involving the word “reside.”

When we came back from New York a couple years ago, Daughter was enamored with New York, commenting every time it popped up on anything. That’s waned a bit, but she’s still fascinated by the Statue of Liberty, something we intentionally avoided when it was just the two of us. We opted for the 9/11 museum instead, since I wouldn’t call it the most kid friendly spot in New York. 

So let’s see, daughter’s “favorite” musician (one I haven’t seen live since 1993, and who Wife has never seen) playing in New York. Add in some timeshare points that were going to expire and our Summer Vacation was set. We had tickets right behind the stage which, if nothing’s changed since 1993, is a great place to see Billy Joel, as he puts synthesizers on the back and plays a few songs to the nosebleeds.

Of course, assuming everything works the same as it did in 1993 isn’t always a sure bet. Just ask my back.

I still don’t know what’s happening with those expiring timeshare points. Back in April or May, they sent us a notice about extending all deadlines by three months to account for that “short” shutdown. Haven’t heard anything since said shutdown is at LEAST into “medium” length, right? 

So yeah, in some alternate universe, that July 25 concert was great! Daughter loved “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Theme)” and sang along heartily to “Piano Man” when he magically returned to the stage AFTER the concert was over ONLY because our raucous applause convinced his stone-cold, New York heart that he just couldn’t finish yet.

When she’s a teenager, I’ll explain the whole pre-planned encore thing. 

Vampire Weekend. 

Earlier this year I made a list of my ten definitive albums. Not necessarily the best albums, not the dreaded desert island discs, but the albums that best defined my musical development. In the “also deserving recognition” addendum, I mentioned my newest find, Vampire Weekend. They were kinda disqualified from the album list based on the fact that I didn’t actually own any of their albums. Hard to call it one of my definitive records, or even one of my favorite bands, if I’ve never given them a penny of my money. Unless they get ad money from YouTube.

Note: Wife bought me some of their CDs for Christmas, so I suppose I can call myself a fan now. 

Regardless, bands don’t make shit off of albums anymore, which makes 2020 a particularly brutal year for recording artists. The father of my daughter’s best friend is in a band and they are reeling this year. Their European tour was canceled. He went to Nashville for two months where the band could quarantine and record a new album. I commented that at least they would have some income. He only laughed, and it wasn’t a funny kind of laugh.

What did elicit a funny laugh, at least from me, was when Daughter was on Zoom with her bestie. They play Roblox and Animal Crossing and other various games while talking on a computer screen to each other. It’s the 2020 equivalent of that quaint, outdated “going over to a friend’s house.” During one of their conversations, Daughter referenced holding a guitar, then said, in that six-year-old way, “You might not know how to hold a guitar, but my Daddy has one.” 

That’s right. Explaining to the daughter of the bass player in a band with multiple top-20 hits and a Grammy that HER Daddy owns an acoustic guitar he hasn’t played regularly since college. Maybe I can talk to her daddy about the complexities of the A-chord.

Anyway, Vampire Weekend is one of my new faves. It turns out they’ve been around for more than a decade, with four albums, but I’m in my mid-forties and can’t be bothered with this newfangled shit. Like Douglas Adams said about technology, any music that comes out after you’re thirty years old is devil-spawned racket that wouldn’t know  talent if it bit them in the ass. But when it’s a pandemic year and I can listen to music for the eight hours a day I’m usually in front of and amongst students, I might discover some music this side of the Foo Fighters.

I actually heard Vampire Weekend before everything shut down. After hearing “This Life” on the radio a few times, I had to track down who they were and the name of the song so I could play it for Wife. Better to frontload the spouse with the fact that the song currently stuck in my head has the refrain “You’ve been cheating on, cheating on me; I’ve been cheating on, cheating on you.” That’s not a phrase you want to absentmindedly be muttering to yourself without forewarning.

And of course, once I’ve played that song on YouTube, I get suggested toward their back catalog. Uplifting, catchy guitar riffs, bouncy tempo. Pretty sure I remember hearing some of those early songs a decade ago, most prominently “A-Punk,” but they didn’t distinguish themselves from a bevvy of bands like the Lumineers or Of Mice and Men.

Their lyrics are great, too. Intellectual, extended metaphors, not the normal rhyming riff-raff. One would thing I’d be predisposed to disapprove of them, starting off one of their hits with the line, “Who gives a fuck about the oxford comma?” How dare they! You know who gives a fuck about the oxford comma? Me! You know who else? Adolf Hitler, my grandfather and the man who invented internet pornography.

“This Life” wasn’t actually the first single off of their newest album. First came “Harmony Hall,” which, despite being released in 2019, contains quite possibly the definitive lyric for 2020 – “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die.” I hear ya, Ezra. 

So once I find a new band, and knowing that I gotta see them live to support them, I checked out their tour schedule. And what’s this? They’re going to be in one of my favorite cities, New Orleans? During my school district’s Fall Break? People with a fancy vocabulary like Vampire Weekend might call that serendipity. 

Doubt I would’ve taken Wife to this one, seeing as October is the start of her busy season at work and New Orleans isn’t as high on her list as it is on mine. Definitely not taking Daughter to NOLA until I’ve practiced that whole “cunt” speech more. In April, when we were told “three weeks to flatten the curve,” I broached the subject with a couple fellow teachers, since they’d also be off that week. Their responses ranged from “Who the fuck are Vampire Weekend?” to… “Who the fuck are Vampire Weekend?”

So I countered with hand grenades, the wondrous grain alcohol & melon concoction from the Tropical Isle on Bourbon Street. They grew intrigued. So maybe I would’ve had two people accompany me on the trip but still gone to the concert alone. 

The band canceled their May and June dates. Then July and August. I stopped checking. For all I know, Vampire Weekend ended up playing a wonderful show to a sold-out crowd, tens of thousands of fans crooning about oxford commas and cheating on, cheating on you.

Although Vampire Weekend are younger than me. Do kids still sing along at concerts? I’ve been told I can use my cellphone instead of a lighter on ballads these days. 

While I’m at it, can we do something about that 8:00 p.m. start time? That’s usually my bed time.

But it wasn’t all cancellations and catshit. I actually managed to see some concerts in 2020! If you can’t get both “live and in person,” you might as well settle for one. Again, one featured artists I saw when I was a much younger man, and another from a band I’m new to. Check out my virtual concert reviews.

Best Buffett in Vegas

Just hopped down to Vegas for the weekend to catch a Jimmy Buffett show.

Not sure I’ll do a concert review this year. I’ve only seen two shows , and they’re both bands I’ve seen and written about before.

But we traveled to see both bands, so I guess I can write about the travels and the concert together.

I saw Mumford & Sons in South Carolina in March. Did I forget to write about that? Hmm…

South Carolina was very Caroliney. Lots of barbecue places, although most were mediocre until we found an excellent one in Columbia. Also, Columbia is the home of the University of South Carolina. Home of the Cocks. I guaran-fucking-tee I’ve written about my love of the Cocks before.

Wait a second. That came out wrong.

And the concert was awesome. I think I’ve written about Mumford at least twice before. They are spectacular in concert. In fact, I’m seeing them again in a couple months. This time nearer to my home.

But enough about Mumford and the Carolinas. Let’s talk about Jimmy Buffett in Vegas.

Phil Collins was also in Vegas that night. We thought about trying to fit them both in, but their concerts started within a half-hour of each other. Really, Aging White Dudes? Are you not aware that some of your fans might want to double dip?

Oh well, I can’t tell you anything about Phil Collins. But boy, if you’ve ever wondered if there are any places that might make Buffett fans more Buffett, well, I found it for you.

Parrotheads Descend Upon Sin City.

I’ve been to Jimmy Buffett concerts before. I’ve been to Vegas before. Both are experiences in their own regard. So when I saw that Jimmy would be playing in Vegas, well, I just had to go.

Evidently I wasn’t the only one.

Holy shit!

You wouldn’t think a single fan base could make a dent on the Vegas ambiance. Vegas has a few hundred thousand visitors on a normal weekend, right? Some people are there to see Reba or the Jonas Brothers or Barry Manilow or, occasionally, Phil Collins. Heck, I’m guessing the mummified corpse of Frank Sinatra is performing somewhere. Not to mention the sporting events, be they NBA All-Star Games or Ritualistic Ear-Biting.

In addition there are, allegedly, other recreational activities that might draw people to the middle of a fucking desert.

Normally, any one set of those travelers don’t make much of an impact. The Air Supply fans and the Drake fans each orbit around amongst each other without affecting the overall gravitational pull that is Vegas. I bet when Tupac got shot, he was right next to some drunk frat dude with an ironic trucker hat.

So I didn’t expect to see the neon footprint of Parrotheads wherever I went. In fact, it was so far out of my mind, that when there were four people dressed like pirates when we took the monorail (MONORAIL!) to the Flamingo area for brunch, I didn’t even think they might be there for the concert that was still nine hours away. I just thought, “Huh. Pirates.” It’s Vegas. What’re you gonna do?

But as we took the skybridge from the Monorail (MONORAIL!) station into the Flamingo, we saw a giant banner for a “Son of a Son of a Pool Party,” to be held from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Now, you might think this is just a great cross-promotion. Get all the people that are heading your way for the concert later tonight to show up early, spend some extra money. And, yeah, to a certain extent, that’s what was going on.

Except not entirely. Because the concert was at the MGM Grand, not the Flamingo. Granted, I’m never really sure which casinos are currently affiliated with which other casinos. But when I was in the Flamingo, I could use my Caesar’s loyalty card. Then again, when we told the aggressive timeshare salesguy that we were staying at Hilton, he said, “That’s our competitor. How about I give you a deal to stay here next time?” This despite the fact that it’s always been known as the Flamingo Hilton and there was still a sign at the Uber drop-off that referenced “Flamingo by Hilton.”

Regardless of if it’s a Hilton or a Caesar’s, I don’t think either of those are affiliated with MGM Grand. So while this was an attempt to get the Parrotheads out early to spend some extra cash, it was not an attempt by the property where the concert was actually happening. It’s counter-promotion, like the Puppy Bowl at halftime of the Super Bowl. Except instead of half-time, it’s beforehand. And instead of cute puppies, it’s drunks who should have stopped wearing swimwear like that about thirty years ago. Present company included.

I never found out which pool had a Phil Collins pre-party. It might be tough with all of the bald heads.

Then again, the Flamingo does have the Vegas Margaritaville restaurant. So the symbiosis did make a certain amount of sense. In fact, it’s a bit of brilliance. There’s a reason Jimmy Buffett is one of the most valuable musicians despite never having a number one hit. He knows that his fans are in town, he knows they like to drink, and he knows they tend to run older and higher on the socio-economic scale than the average fan base. And they can’t all fit inside the Margaritaville restaurant. So how about a pool party?

Oh yeah, he also opened a weed dispensary in town with the same name as his band, the Coral Reefers. Its grand opening was the weekend of the concert. Not bad for a dumb redneck from Alabama who just sings stupid party songs.

But the Parrotheads weren’t just at the pool party. We went across the street to Bobby Flay’s restaurant, Mesa, and wouldn’t you know it, Parrotheads everywhere. We went to see Potted Potter, a show at Bally’s, at 2:00 in the afternoon, and there were Hawaiian shirts everywhere. And hey, dude in front of me? Do you mind taking off your foam shark hat so that I can see the Ron Weasley wig?

To be fair, there might’ve been a lot of Phil Collins fans traipsing around the Strip as well. But they’re not as easy to spot.

I actually felt under-dressed. Or maybe I was overdressed, seeing as I had socks. But my major faux-pas was my lack of a Hawaiian.

I packed a Hawaiian, of course. I think of you show up to a Jimmy Buffett show without a Hawaiian shirt, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in Parrotjail.

And heck, half my wardrobe is Hawaiian. The Tommy Bahama outlet store is my own personal, inexpensive Disneyland.

But my Hawaiian (with parrots, natch) was still back in the hotel room. Because the concert was still over nine hours away. And I was going to be eating and drinking in between now and then.

These people… were they going to stay out all day? Were they going to start drinking heavily and still make the concert at 8:00? This is Vegas, can I bet the over/under on how many of them aren’t going to make it to the show? Also, any chance I can figure out what seat the dude with the balloon-flamingo hat and the “pet” foam shark on the pipe cleaner-esque “leash” has? Because I’ve kinda got nosebleed seats and would like to know where there’s likely to be an empty seat tonight.

Did I mention it’s easy to spot the Parrotheads?

But here’s another cool thing about Jimmy Buffett. This wasn’t the last I saw of the pirates from the monorail (MONORAIL! ) or flamingo-balloon-hat lady or Pet Shark Dude. They showed up at the show. Just maybe not in person.

If you’ve never seen a Jimmy Buffett show before, he usually plays in front of a giant HD screen that shows pictures and videos that go with whatever song he’s singing. Lots of tropical beaches, bucolic mountain vistas, and fun-in-the-sunners. “License to Chill” featured a video selfie of Jimmy Buffett kayaking. “He Went to Paris” had shots of the Eiffel Tower.

“It’s Five o’ Clock Somewhere” started with a clock with a whole bunch of fives. Then it showed some boat drinks. Then a pool. The pool totally looked familiar… Holy crap! I know that pirate!

What followed was three minutes of footage from the pool party that day. The pool party at a competitor’s hotel. How cool is that? All you have to do is spend money for his concert and at the pool party put on by his restaurant, and maybe his pot dispensary, and you can see yourself up on stage at a Jimmy Buffett concert. Shit, to do that at a Bruce Springsteen concert, you have to be Courtney Cox.

One more kinda cool thing. There was no opening band. Tickets said 8:00 and by 8:17, Jimmy was out on stage. He’s gotta be considerate of all of the old fogeys he made drink for ten straight hours.

He played for two hours, with only a 6-minute break to go grab a drink or a what have you.

I know the break was about six minutes because he played a video to keep us entertained. The video featured a ukulele player playing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” complete with lyrics so that we could all sing along. And sing along we did. You haven’t heard horror tinged with comedy tinged with “aww, that was sweet” until you’ve heard 20,000 people try to time “Bismillah! No, we will not let you go. (Let him go!) Bismillah! No, we will not let you go.”

Why did Jimmy have this random video of a random ukulele player playing a Queen song? Because the guy had opened for him in Dublin. How cool is that? Buffett liked the guy and liked the performance, so he gave him free exposure to this crowd. And sure, that’s often the point of an opening band, but who the hell pays attention to the opening band? That’s just background music for getting frisked by security, right? And those assholes usually end up playing way too long. Some even get surly that we aren’t there to see them and are only paying marginal attention to get a clue as to how much longer their asses are going to be wasting our earspace.

But this guy, Jake Shimabukuro, is playing right in the middle of the show, when we’re all in our seats. And he’s only playing one song, so we don’t get tired of him. And it’s a song we all know and can sing along to. And even better, he didn’t even have to show up! That’s the fucking trifecta of expanding an audience right there.

If only I could get Jimmy Buffett to promote my blog.

Mid-Eighties Circus. 

We usually stay at the south end of the Strip, but this time we were on the north end. So I was able to check out the Sahara, which has been refurbished since the corpse of Frank Sinatra played there. And Circus Circus, which most assuredly has not.

I’ve been coming to Vegas since the early eighties, when my age was still in single-digits. And we always stopped or stayed at Circus Circus. Back then, my mom could give me $10 in quarters and I’d go full Latchkey for HOURS on the upper floor. Carnival games, arcade, circus acts. What’s not to love? I remember feeling sorry for my poor mom, who had to be downstairs in the boring casino, missing all the fun up there.

Back then, Circus Circus was actually a destination, a worthy anchor of the northern end of the Strip. There were maybe only ten casinos, most of which had been there long enough to have streets named after them. Circus Circus didn’t have its own street, but it was an anchor, nonetheless.

Boy, its hallowed days are gone.

Unfortunately, this affects their business model, as well. Because there wasn’t shit going on on the Saturday morning we went there.

Those who have followed my travels before know we sometimes bring our daughter’s stuffed animal on our trips, so they can “take pictures” and “report back to her.” Except on this short weekend away, where we went straight from work to the airport, oops!, we left Giraffey at home. No problem, we figure, we’re staying by Circus Circus. Let’s go get her a new friend.

Except the upstairs wasn’t open until 10:00 AM.

WHAT? Sure, maybe the circus acts aren’t going to run 24 hours, but the carnival games? And I know they need employees to run those games. But at least the video arcade should be open, right?

Wait, they don’t do video arcades anymore? Is Pac-Man no longer chic? Boy, where have I been? Downstairs in the boring casino, I guess.

Speaking of the casino, we figured maybe we could just gamble for a little bit until the upstairs opens. I just needed to get a rewards card and… never mind. The reward card center doesn’t open until 10:00 AM, either.

So much for being the city that doesn’t sleep. At least one end of the Strip not only sleeps, but sleeps in as well.

I just threw five bucks in a machine while Wife visited the bathroom. Without the benefit of Big Brother tracking me.

When she returned, I had it back up to five bucks. So yay! I broke even. Although if I had been using a rewards card, I would’ve made a point or two. Whatever, I just pushed the button to collect my winnings.

Then something crazy happened. Instead of the familiar dinging sound I’ve come to expect when the ticket prints, there was a strange whirring. Then something shot out the bottom of the slot machine.

Holy Shit! Those are quarters! Coming OUT of a slot machine. It really IS 1986 in here!

When I realized what was happening, the things went through my mind in rapid succession:

1. What the hell is happening? Where is my fucking ticket? Is this thing possessed? It’s, like, spewing out its innards!

2. OMG! Those are quarters. How fucking cool is that? It’s so retro. Like I’m a fresh- faced 21 year old again (at least according to my i.d. at the time). Tonight were going to party like it’s 1999, baby!

3. What the fuck am I supposed to do with 20 quarters? How fucking annoying is that? I hate coins. If I have a dollar bill, it’s worth a dollar to me. If I have 99 cents, I might as well have nothing. In my world, ten dollars in coins is worth less than a single dollar bill. Because the coins in my pocket at the end of the day just go on the nightstand to die. Or they stay in my pockets where the laundry fairy takes them as compensation for cleaning the sacrificial dirty pants I left in her hamper-shaped altar. Back in the old days, when my i.d. said I was 21, I used to hold onto coins until I came to Nevada, but now slots don’t take coins anymore, so the one value coins had is now gone. Wait a second. If these slots pay out quarters, maybe they’ll… Nope. No coin slots. They take in paper money and pay out coins. Even when you win, you lose.

So I grabbed one of those buckets next to the machine. Remember those? Not that I needed it for a whopping twenty coins, but dammit, they done pissed me off with their coin bullshit. They’ll be lucky if they get this bucket back without my DNA in it.

Don’t get me wrong. The idea behind the retro slot machine is a good one. Think of all the all of the old video game consoles on the market these days. But a ticket-or-coin option would’ve been appreciated. Or maybe at least a warning sign.

Unfortunately it still wasn’t 10:00, so after cashing (coining) in my winnings, we headed for the Monorail (MONORAIL!). Still had to get a new stuffed animal. So we high-tailed it to Margaritaville to buy a couple of plush parrots. I’m sure Jimmy Buffett appreciates our business.

Daughter ended up naming the parrots Jimmy and Buffett. She then took them to show-and-tell at school. CPS, I await your call.

People. A couple shorties to finish off. Two people who stuck out. Maybe not for the best of reasons. Unless you are entertained by idiots, in which case, they stood out for the BEST reasons!

First was the guy sitting next to me at Mesa. He had clearly watched a fair amount of Food Network in whatever podunk area of the country he came from. And being at Bobby Flay’s restaurant gave him carte blanche, or rather creme freche, to make random requests out of his ass.

His wife ordered some pink concoction. Maybe it was a Cosmo, but it looked foofier. He tried it to see if he liked it before ordering a drink of his own. Of course, the server had to stand there for the experiment. Diner decided it was a bit too sweet and wondered if there was something a little less sugary.

Boy, that’s a tough one. Are there any drinks less sweet than a Cosmo? Can’t think of a single one. Sorry. We all know that cosmos are the driest drinks around, right? Certainly not Martinis or Old Fashoneds. A straight shot of scotch whiskey might as well be a swizzle stick when compared to the stifling bitterness of the Cosmopolitan. The mummified corpse of Dean Martin drank cosmos all the time.

He then asked if they could take a drink like that and add some bitters. I wanted to jump out of my seat to assist the server’s explanation that bitters aren’t actually bitter. But whatever. Dude probably heard it on a Bobby Flay show once, so who are we to question his culinary knowledge.

I didn’t pay attention long enough to hear what he ordered. The next time he caught my attention was when his burger was delivered. Tight before he asked if they had any “straight mayonnaise.”

Straight mayonnaise? I didn’t even know condiments had sexual proclivities. Sure, mayonnaise might look like semen, but I’m sure these Vegas condiments are only creaming meat, as God intended, and not some other condiment. Then again, I don’t partake in mayonnaise much, so maybe I’m just out of the loop on the Mayonnaise Agenda. Or is it a War on Mayo-mas?

But what do you expect from someone who orders mayonnaise? No mayo deserves to be anywhere near a well-cooked burger, regardless of whose bread it likes to butter.

It turns out, of course, that this guy wanted regular, unadulterated mayonnaise. None of that garlic aioli crap. Unflavored. If he’s going to dip or smother his food in sweet lard, he wants the pure stuff. Black tar heroin.

I only hope he didn’t want the mayo for those fries on his plate. If I end up yacking in my Irish Coffee, I’m adding it to his tab.

But no, the server explains, they don’t have straight mayonnaise. The closest they have is a subtle aioli.

Food connoisseur passed, disappointed.

Umm… not to side with Patron Guy in this endeavor, but if you have garlic aioli, how do you not have mayonnaise? What’s the base of the aioli? I hope Bobby Flay isn’t shipping his dips in from far away.

Go ahead, Server, double-check on that mayonnaise. It might be listed as creme fraiche.

Dude number two came running up to our Uber driver as we were heading to the airport Sunday morning. Where, he wanted to know, might he watch an NFL game.

Uber Driver feigned ignorance. “No hablo ingles.” Pretty convincing, too, as Wife and I were worried we might have trouble communicating with him. Not that you need to communicate with your Uber driver. That’s what Google Maps is for. But still, sometimes it’s more convenient to explain where we’re going.

Turns out he knew enough English to say and hear what he needed to say and hear. And I’m pretty sure he could understand “TV” and “Futbol.” Even if he pointed to where one could watch soccer, he’d be doing Dude a solid.

But that’s not his fucking job. He doesn’t need to tell Dude where to watch an NFL game on a Sunday morning in Las Vegas. Even if the answer is “Literally Anywhere.”

Seriously Dude, you see that high-rise buildings? Or that one? Right, the ones with the neon.  They’re called “Casinos.” And in these “Casinos” are things called “Sports Books.” The “Sports Books” take “Bets” on “Games” and then have giant “TV’s” where you can “Watch.” So if you’re looking for a particular game, pick a direction, any direction, and go into a high rise, any high rise. Then look for the wall with twenty giant screens on it.

They have NFL Sunday Ticket, too, so you can even watch obscure teams like… what’s that? You want to watch the Raiders? You mean the team that’s going to be the Las Vegas Raiders next year?

Yeah, I’m guessing you could watch them on local TV.

Maybe even at Circus Circus.

Whither Yacht Rock, Old Sport?

I know March is not my usual time of year for concert reviews. But cover bands don’t count as real concerts, right? Besides, this review isn’t really about the band, nor the venue. I’m here to talk about the song list.

Mustache Harbor, which bills itself as a Yacht Rock cover band, recently came to town.

What’s Yacht Rock, you may ask? Well, as you’ll see below, it’s not the easiest music genre to define. The definition usually starts with a generic description of “Late 70s/Early 80s Soft Rock.” But that hardly does it justice, nor does it differentiate it from many other acts out there. Barry Manilow, for instance, is late 70s soft rock, but he’s not Yacht. Christopher Cross, on the other hand, is.

So what distinguishes Yacht Rock? A little bit of funk, but not too much funk. Maybe a dollop of driving bass line. Electric piano goes a long way. It doesn’t have to have saxophone, but really, it should probably have saxophone. And harmonizing vocals, preferably of the falsetto variety.

The only thing that everyone can agree on is that it must be smooth. Think Doobie Brothers in the Michael McDonald era. Or Steely Dan in the Michael McDonald era. Or Michael McDonald in the Michael McDonald era.

But beyond that, there’s some debate.

Kenny Loggins? His early stuff, sure. But once he became a soundtrack machine,  he was not. Or rather, he was “Nyacht.”

Toto? “Roasanna” is a yes. “I’ll be Over You” is a no. “Africa” is a maybe.

But what about Rupert Holmes? Or Fleetwood Mac? Or Air Supply?

Disagreement abounds. The Sirius/XM channel that comes on the car every summer defines some songs as Yacht Rock, Pandora uses a different definition. Even Alexa can weigh in with a playlist of her own.

The definitive listing comes from yachtornyacht.com. Those are the guys that first coined the term “Yacht Rock” back in 2005 and they now have a podcast where they rank songs from zero to one hundred. The top song on the list? “What a Fool Believes,” by the Doobie Brothers. The lowest song on the yachtornyacht scale is Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain,” scoring 2.25 on the Yachtski Scale. I don’t even know why that song was rated. I mean, I guess it has a certain bass beat. But it’s Zeppelin. Zeppelin’s not smooth.

Then again, I disagree with yachtornyacht on a regular basis. They have “Escape (The Pina Colada song)” at 35.25. Look, I know it’s cheesy. I know it’s overplayed for all the wrong reasons. I know there’s no way the wife would smile and say, “Oh, it’s you,” when he shows up at the restaurant. She’d say, “OMG, I can’t believe you were coming here to fucking cheat on me, you worthless piece of shit. You’ll be hearing from my lawyer on Monday.” But all that notwithstanding, it still needs to be above the 50% line, which is the cutoff for “On the Boat.”

There are a few other faux pas on their list, if you ask me. Chuck Mangione’s only at a 44.5? I think the last time I was on a cruise, they put that song on constant loop. And sure, a 2015 booze cruise isn’t the same thing as a 1980 yacht, but why you gotta hate on the flugelhorn? And what’s this? They have “Key Largo,” by Bertie Higgins at a 39.75? Come here, Yacht Rock Guys, I need to smack you upside the head. Watch the video! He’s on a fucking yacht. With a white suit and shirt buttoned down to his navel and his shaggy hair and beard are blowing in the wind while his girlfriend isn’t wearing a bra. That might be the most 1982 piece of media in existence. You could find Ronald Reagan orally copulating on Margaret Thatcher while she’s shouting “Where’s the Beef?” and it would only be half as early-1980s as “Key Largo.”

So, before I get into lambasting Mustache Harbor’s definition of Nyacht Rock, I’m being up front about the fact that Yacht Rock is not the most definitive style in existence. Based on their playlist, Sirius/XM probably rates Steely Dan higher than Doobie Borthers. Amazon plays a lot more Fleetwood Mac than I’m comfortable with. A number of people online keep trying to add Jimmy Buffett. And I swear by all that is mighty that every time I hear “Ain’t Even Done with the Night,” by John Cougar or John Mellencamp or John Cougar Mellencamp, I want to rank it a 95 on the Yachtski scale, but I have yet to hear or see it on any playlist. The closest it gets is Sirius/XM’s “The Bridge,” which is Yacht Rock’s evil twin brother, goatee and all.

Oh, and speaking of most definitive videos of a particular year. you can’t get much more 1980 than this. Or maybe this. I really can’t tell which video of the same people performing the same song in the same way is more glorious.

That being said, there are some hard and fast rules. And Mustache Harbor broke many of them. When I went to their concert recently, I decided to…

You know what? One more aside. Mustache Harbor is a Yacht Rock cover band. Regardless of your definition, the height of Yacht Rock was in the late 70s and early 80s. Let’s do the math. If you were, say, ten years old in 1979, you’re turning fifty this year.

Why does the age of Yacht Rock fans matter? Because the fucking concert started at ten o’clock!

Let me repeat that. The concert STARTED… at 10:00! PM! What the hell time do they think us forty- and fifty-somethings go to sleep? Dude, put the Christopher Cross guys on at 6:00 and let us grab a drink afterward and pretend we’re in our twenties again. Then maybe you can follow it up with some dancehall DJ or something. Do they still call it a dancehall DJ? Did they ever? Is the phrase “Discoteque” still in favor?

So anyway, my wife got the tickets for me as a Christmas present. Then we saw the start time. Way too late to get a babysitter, so I was flying solo. Fortunately, we have some other couple-friends who were similarly able to divvy up the chores between concerting and sleeping in the same house as children. But because wife, who also enjoys the genre, couldn’t be with me at the concert, I decided to jot down the playlist.

It wasn’t long before I thought, “This isn’t a wife list, this is a blog post.” By song five, friend and I were upset that we didn’t think to make a “Nyacht” sign.

So, without further ado (or as Yachters say, “adieu”), here’s the list of songs, along with the Yachtski number (when applicable) and my commentary.

Ride Like the Wind. Christopher Cross. Yahtski Scale: 93.75. Smooth start, Old Sport. Christopher Cross is right there at the top of the list. If Michael McDonald is the Jesus of Yacht Rock, Christopher Cross is Saint Peter. The first apostle. The first pope. “Ride Like the Wind” might not be as definitive as “Sailing,” but I’m sure the latter is coming.

You Make My Dreams. Hall and Oates. Yahtski Scale: NR. Hmm. Hall and Oates. It’s hard to be sure if they’re on the boat or not. They are definitely in the right era. And a good portion of their songs are pretty damned soulful for two white dudes, one of whom has a poof of blond hair and the other of which has a molester’s porn ‘stache. And if one of the things that defines Yacht Rock is harmonies, Hall and Oates have got those in spades. But Hall and Oates has a pretty wide range of music styles. They were tough to genre-ize, so you have to take their songs one at a time. As proof, while yachtornyacht hasn’t classified this exact song yet, they have rated twelve other Hall and Oates songs. Most are under fifty, but twelve songs means they keep popping up. You Make My Dreams? Yeah. I’ll allow it.

Somebody’s Baby. Jackson Browne. Yachtski Scale: 49.75. I love this song. This is one of the few songs that I absolutely must sing along to every time it comes on the radio. But this is one that the Yacht Rock world can’t really agree on, as is evidenced by that Yachtski Number. It’s a little too fast-paced for some. A little too mainstream rock. The lyrics are a little too whiny weenie, which is not smooth. And there are two general questions that one must ask to get a song on the boat. 1. If you were at a Yacht Rock Party, would you be okay with this song coming on? Absolutely. 2. Do you think yacht owners were actually playing this song on board in the early 1980s? Unfortunately, I gotta say no. But I don’t give a shit. This song is wonderful and this concert’s going pretty well through the third song.

Rosanna. Toto. Yachtski Scale: 95.75 Yeah. this song would be fine at a Yacht Rock Party. And I’m pretty sure every yacht in the entire world was playing this song in 1982. Soulful. You can sing it at the top of your lungs. Harmonies? Bass? Yeah. It’s the seventh-highest song on the Yachtski scale. I don’t know if I would rank it that high, but it’s definitely, unequivocally, on the boat.

I Keep Forgettin’. Michael McDonald. Yachtski Scale: 98.5 Yaaaaassssss! Starting with Christopher Cross and building toward Michael McDonald. The Yacht is Strong with this one. I Keep Forgetting… that things are about to take a turn for the worse.

Big Shot. Billy Joel. Yachtski Scale: NR I love Billy Joel. If there’s any temporary Sirius/XM station I listen to more continuously than Yacht Rock Radio, it’s Billy Joel Radio. And Billy Joel is capable of a wide variety. He does doo wop. He does a capella. He does rockers. I’m certain if he wanted to emulate Kenny Loggins at some point in his career, he could have without half a thought. But I don’t think he ever wanted to emulate Kenny Loggins. The people he emulated tended to be the 1950s and 1960s act that inspired him. Unlike Hall and Oates, who are routinely left off the boat, but are at least continually put forward as potential, there is only one Billy Joel song on the Yachtski scale, and it ain’t Big Shot. It’s Zanzibar, and it’s below fifty. So yachtor nyacht, which has ranked some 800 songs, has looked at Billy Joel’s entire late 70s, early 80s repertoire of, what, fifty-plus songs, and only one time did anyone ever think, “Huh, I wonder if this is Yacht Rock.” And then the answer was no.

Then again, would a yacht owner in 1982 have “Glass Houses” on the Hi-Fi? Yeah, he probably would. And “Big Shot” is about hangovers, so that fits the motif. But this song is a bit too driving. Too front-beat. It doesn’t even have any saxophone, and I think seventy-five percent of Billy Joel songs have a saxophone. Had they gone with “Keeping the Faith,” I might’ve been a little bit more inclined to put it on the boat. Still, Billy Joel might be classified as Yacht Rock adjacent. At the dock, maybe.

But for the first time, I’m questioning this band’s song selection. Speaking of the first time…

Feels Like the First Time. Foreigner. Yachtski Scale: NR.  I mean, props to them for picking another band I’ve written about before. But no. Foreigner is a rock band, pure and simple. Similar to Billy Joel, there is only one Foreigner song on the Yachtski scale. It’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” and it’s not ranked as high as “Zanzibar.” All of the “leaning nyacht” elements from Billy Joel are present in this song, but most of the “leaning yacht” elements are gone. This song was playing at frat parties in 1980, not yachts. If the next song ends up being “Working for the Weekend,” by Loverboy, I’m leaving. After all, it was already past my bedtime when you played “Ride Like the Wind.”

Summer of 69/Boys of Summer. Bryan Adams/Don Henley. Yachtski Scale: NR/NR These two songs came via a medley. A medley of summer. Yachts go out in summer, I suppose. So two songs with summer in the title. I can only suppose they cut “All Summer Long” in the rehearsal. Althoguh, unlike Kid Rock, the two summer songs they chose are bona fide top 40 hits of 1984. But unfortunately, they are in no way, shape, or form, Yacht Rock.

But I’m starting to see what they’re doing here. Maybe Yacht Rock is not enough to sustain a full concert, particularly at 10:00 at night. If they hit us with a steady stream of Gerry Rafferty or Grover Washington or Seals and Crofts, we’re not going to make it to midnight. Yacht Rock is intended to be listened to while relaxing and sipping a cocktail. This band is playing to mid-lifers at midnight. So they’ve got to throw some more upbeat songs in. And while they’re on their third Nyacht song in a row, the songs they’re picking are probably enjoyable to Yacht Rock fans. The timeframe is correct, and who didn’t love some Foreigner and Bryan Adams and Don Henley back in the early 1980s? So if you’re a Yacht Rock band that’s going to dally into Nyacht territory, these are safe dalliances. It’s a playlist catered to people of a certain age. It’s Nyacht, but it’s enjoyable.

Life in the Fast Lane. The Eagles. Yachtski scale: NR. Two Eagles songs in a row. Sort of. I know the last song was technically solo Don Henley, but let’s classify him as Eagles.

The Eagles don’t split the Yacht Rock community as much as Hall and Oates, but they’re still there on the periphery. Yachtornyacht has ranked four of their songs, but this is not one of them. Some of their songs, like maybe “Desperado” and “Tequila Sunrise,” have elements of Yacht Rock. But most of what they produced were straight-up classic rock. I think a fair amount of their later work might’ve influenced Yacht Rock. Pre-Yacht Rock? Pracht Rock? That’s the argument, at least. But nah, I don’t buy it. Eagles are classic rock. Sorry.

But what about the individual members after the breakup? Mmm… Nah, still not seeing it. Don Henley spent the 1980s much closer to a Phil Collins or a Rod Stewart than to a Christopher Cross. I might, MIGHT!, on a very generous day, give thought to “Smuggler’s Blues,” by Glenn Frey, but I’d still probably end up saying, nah, don’t buy it.

But “Smuggler’s Blues” is a bit too hard edged for Yacht Rock. If any former Eagle hit should count as Yacht Rock, I’d be most inclined to give it to Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good.” But even then, I’d say, “Nah, Nyacht.”

Kiss on my List. Hall and Oates. Yachtski Scale: 62. And now we’re back in in the realm of Yacht Rock. Not on the Yacht, necessarily, but in the realm. Maybe you’re even off the dock. You’re stocking up the cooler.  Again, it’s Hall and Oates. And again, we’re facing the question of whether they’re Yacht Rock. I’m still on the fence. But after five Nyacht songs in a row, at least we’re reminded of what we’re here for.

Biggest Part of Me. Ambrosia. Yachtski Scale: 72.5. Okay. Finally, we’re back on the boat. For sure. Ambrosia is a couple of solid 1980-level crooners. Hell, if the whole concert was like this, you wouldn’t be reading a blog post right now. I don’t know if they’re a duo. Probably. If they are, forget what I just said about Air Supply. These guys are yachtier than the Aussies with their       Smooth. Harmony. Don’t bother me now, I gotta sing along. Ooo-Ooo-Ooo-Ooo-Ooo, Baby please don’t go.

Can’t Go For That (No Can Do). Hall and Oates. Yachtski Scale: 42.75. Wait a second, is this a Yacht Rock band or a Hall and Oates cover band? Did they start as the latter and realize that it didn’t really fill the stadiums arenas community centers? Not enough floozies willing to through their panties at a non-mustached Oates replacement? So they decided to Google search similar bands and discovered this new genre of music? And then they decided to slip in a little Eagles and hope no one noticed. And thinking that solo acts and the band they came from are somehow different. Is Method of Modern Love, which I believe is technically listed as a Darryl Hall solo project, coming up next?

As for where this one fits on the spectrum, I feel like it’s not as Yachty as “Kiss on My List,” but it’s better than “You Make My Dreams.” They are more yachty than the Eagles. Way more yachty than Foreigner. But if were going to have three songs from the same duo, would Air Supply kill you?

Go Your Own Way. Fleetwood Mac. Yachtski Scale: NR. Fleetwood Mac. My wife loves them. Both in general, with “Stevie Knicks Radio” as her go-to Pandora Station, and specifically, she feels that they deserve to be in the Yacht Rock genre. I can take them or leave them, generally, and specifically, I don’t think they’re anywhere near the boat. Straight-forward Classic Rock. Tom Petty’s opening act, or maybe it was the other way around. If I were to pick any Fleetwood Mac song as Yacht Rock, it might be “Rhiannon.” I know 1975 is too early, but the beat is right. “Go Your Own Way,” however, is no “Rhiannon.” And my family must not be the only one facing a similar division. Yachtornyacht.com has ranked five Fleetwood Mac songs, but none of them rank higher than 34. This song, however, is not one of the five. Nor is “Rhiannon.”

Hotel California. Eagles. Yachtski Scale: 7.17. Really? Three Hall and Oates songs AND three Eagles songs? But only one solo Doobie Brother and no Kenny Loggins. I’m really starting to think this whole Yacht Rock cover band thing is just a made-up designation because you wanted to be a Eighties band but had too much seventies. Or vice versa. You’re really just scouring the Top 40 lists from 1975 to 1985 and throwing darts.

Bennie and the Jets. Elton John. Yachtski Scale: NR. No. Nuh uh. Never. Next?

You Should Be Dancing. Bee Gees. Yachtski Scale: NR The Bee Gees are disco. Ask any person on any street in any town in the United States. Or the world. I don’t care if it’s a street in Ouagadougou, and the Burkina Fasoan has never even encountered electricity before, he’ll know that the Bee Gees are disco. When a band defines one entire genre, you can’t just sneak them into a cover band for an entirely different genre. That’s why there’s no Jimmy Buffett on the boat, either. He’s got his own genre. Ain’t nobody got no time for that.

Even worse, we’ve no had three of the last four songs be unranked. And the fourth had a single digit, which is probably worse than being unranked. And they’re actually starting to veer away from the “Good dance songs from the Yacht Rock era” caveat I threw them before. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone dancing to “Hotel California.”

Well, let’s spin the random song of the early-eighties-o-meter once again and see what new Nyacht song we can come up with next.

Easy Lover. Phil Collins and Philip Bailey. Yachtski Scale: NR. Hmmm… On the plus side, it’s got Philip Bailey. On the minus side, it’s got Phil Collins. Not that Phil Collins is a negative. For my money, he’s probably one of the best rock drummers in history. And you can’t get very far into a discussion of eighties music without “No Jacket Required.” But smooth would not be in, oh, the top hundred adjectives I would use for Phil Collins. And I haven’t seen or heard this song on any Yacht Rock list before. But now that I listen to it, it does check most of the boxes. Falsetto harmonies. Backbeat. Smooth bass groove. Nice electric guitar solo. Well shit. Has this song been overlooked? If I can hold onto my “Ain’t Even Done with the Night,” then maybe there’s room for some “Easy Lover.” Thank you, Mustache Harbor, for making me contemplate this, and I will overlook the fact that you’re now on five straight unranked, or should have been, songs.

What a Fool Believes. Doobie Brothers. Yachtski Scale: 100. Thank God for some Doobie Brothers. It’s about fucking time. The only song ranked 100% Yacht on the Yachtski scale. This is it. No, not “This Is It.” That song is only ranked at 98.25. But if we’re back in Doobie territory, Kenny Loggins can’t be far behind. Maybe they’ve finally gotten all of their Disco, Classic Rock, Glam Rock shit out of the way and now it’s all Yacht Rock the rest of the way. After all, we’re nineteen songs into a concert that started at 10:00 at night. There can’t be many songs left. Hey, they totally should’ve done “Hey Nineteen” for their nineteenth song. But it’s too late for that. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard any Steely Dan yet. And I’m fine with that. If Fleetwood Mac’s where my wife and I tend to disagree, then Steely Dan is where I come to blows with BOTH Sirius/XM and yachtornyacht. Yes, I know Michael McDonald was briefly part of Steely Dan, and they do have some Yacht Rock songs, but Sirius/XM plays, like, three Steely Dan songs an hour, and at least half of the Steely Dan songs they play are just plain bad. I mean, if I have to listen to “Deacon Blues” or “Babylon Sisters” one more time, then I might have to, oh I don’t know… Not turn off the radio, but maybe pray a little harder for the return of Billy Joel radio? C’mon, Sirius/XM, play some more Doobie Brothers. Michael McDonald era Doobie Brothers. Something like, oh I don’t know, “What a Fool Believes.”

Oh right. Where was I?

All Night Long. Lionel Richie. Yachtski Scale: 61. I’m actually surprised how high this one is on the Yachtski scale. I thought it was more controversial. I think Lionel Richie might be hurt by the rest of his catalog. He’s often mentioned alongside Barry Manilow. Or Nicole Ritchie, but that’s an entirely different mark on his career. But musically, there’s a lot of straight ballads in his catalog. There’s got a lot of funk in there. There’s a lot of whatever the hell “Dancing on the Ceiling” is in there. But really, what is Yacht Rock if not funkified ballads? And “All Night Long” is way more upbeat than “Easy” or “Hello” or “Truly.” It’s not straight funk like “Brick House.” It’s almost frustrating that Lionel Richie couldn’t fuse his sappy-ass shit with his funk bona fides more often. But he does it here. He does it in “Sail On,” too.

Okay, and maybe “Dancing on the Ceiling.”

Hold the Line. Toto. Yachtski Scale: 56.5. Doobie Brothers, then “All Night Long,” then quintessential Toto? I’m in. We are back on the boat. By the way, there are fully eighteen Tot songs on the Yachtski Scale, and none of them rank below 40. That’s how you determine a Yacht Rock act. If Michael McDonald is Jesus and Christopher Cross is Saint Peter, then the singers of Toto are the rest of the disciples. Like Judas. He’s a good guy, right? I didn’t stay till the end of the movie.

Regardless, it’s smooth sailing from here on out. They faked us out with their Elton John dalliance, but these dudes know what they’re doing. I can safely stop creating my “Nyacht” sign to hold up every time they start a new song. Super excited to see where this cruise stops next.

Maniac. Michael Sembello. Yachtski Scale: 14. What the-? Umm… Well, at least it’s a movie soundtrack. About a stripper. It’s Kenny Loggins, right? Footloose? Wait, are you sure that was Jennifer Beals who did the lean back in the chair with all the water dumping on her? I could’ve sworn it was Kevin Bacon in a tank-top and jeans, twirling through the barn, and then he finishes by pouring water on himself. Those are two different dances in two different movies? I don’t know. I might have to take that under advisement.

Regardless, “Flashdance” isn’t Yacht Rock.

Africa. Toto. Yachtski Scale: 93. Toto, part three. Although, as with the Eagles and Hall and Oates, they’re playing two songs from the same band way too close to each other. Who makes the setlist for these guys? Did he forget to hit the shuffle button at the end? I wish I could find a video poker machine that’s as “random” as your songs, because I’m pretty sure I could get three of a kind all day long.

As for “Africa,” I think it’s a heck of a lot better than “Hold the Line.” Maybe than “Rosanna.” Heck, “Africa” might be one of the most perfect songs ever written and recorded, and quite possibly one of the quintessential songs of the 1980s. But I don’t know if it’s Yacht Rock. I enjoy it when it comes on Yacht Rock playlists. But, even though it was released in late 1982, I associate it more with 1984 and 1985. It had enough legs to last well into mid-decade. It’s almost a genre unto itself. Kind of like “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

And no, Journey is not Yacht. But I’m surprised this band hasn’t gone there yet. Journey’d be more legit that the Eagles.

Baby Come Back. Player. Yachtski Scale: 58.5. Hold on. Can’t comment. Need to croon. ANY KIND OF FOOL CAN SEE! I mean, I do find it odd that they played this song twice in the same concert, but… hold on… my bad, the other song was “Biggest Part of Me.” I guess I was never aware those were two different songs.

Regardless, man, this is my happy place. This is the shit I came to see. I don’t care where yachtornyacht ranks it. I don’t need to listen to the podcast episode where they blaspheme it all the way down to what my students would call a D-minus-minus. And y’all got “Babylon Sisters” at an 89? What is wrong with the people who invented the term Yacht Rock? Y’all got no clue of what you’re talking about. Am I the only one who really knows? Well, me and Mustache Harbor, right? You and me, guys. We know what’s going on. Can’t wait to see how you finish this concert out.

Blinded By the Light. Manfred Mann. Yachtski Scale: NR. I know, I know. I’ve used the same joke multiple times. And I really wanted to start this with another “Ummm….” or a “What the…” But I’m kinda being real about the emotions I went through at the concert. Every time they would get on a roll, I’d start thinking maybe they had to get past the Nyacht and now they’re in the Yacht. I came up with logical reasons why they would throw in a Bryan Adams song. I tried to make a good argument for Phil Collins. I side with this band against the feudal lords on the “Player v. Steely Dan” debate. And then they bust out the Manfred fucking Mann. Forget designations of Yacht and Nyacht. On what planet is “Blinded by the Light” in the same setlist as “I Keep Forgetting”? And unlike “Feels like the First Time,” this isn’t a mood-setter. We are near the end of the concert. We’re building toward your finale, and all I can think is that if this is your best stuff, then my initial suspicions were the most accurate: you were some other type of cover band who only reclassified in a new genre to trick unsuspecting fans like myself. Although what the hell were you covering before? There’s too much seventies to be an eighties band. Too much eighties to be a… well, I guess there aren’t any seventies cover bands, are there? So maybe a white funk band? Fine, if you want funk, then put in some Tower of Power. “What is Hip?” wouldn’t make it on any Yacht Rock list I’ve ever seen, but it’d be no worse than Manfred Mann. Hell, play some Bruno Mars.

Unfortunately, I took a leak during this song, so I don’t know if he sang the alleged lyric, “And little Early-Burly came by in his curly wurly,” or the real lyric – “And little Early-Burly gave my anus curly-wurly.

Easy. Commodores. Tachtski Scale: NR.  Well, shit. I just got finished saying “All Night Long” was legitimate Lionel Richie Yacht Rock, not like his slow-ass ballads. Like “Truly.” Or “Still.” Or… Do I now have to take back everything I said about knowing the fifty year-olds in your audience need some pick-me-up songs for a concert that starts after dinner? Because if that’s the case, then how is this the penultimate song? I mean, I didn’t check the clock. Did you intentionally wait until midnight so that it is now officially Sunday morning? Because 12:01 Saturday night isn’t “Easy like” anything. It’s hard as hell and I’m trying to be a young buck and pound my last IPA, but my daughter’s going to be waking my ass up in five hours because she doesn’t seem to understand the difference between weekday mornings and weekend mornings.

And if they DIDN’T intentionally wait until midnight just to be clever, if they’re just playing some slow-ass Commodores song because they think that’s what the people demand, then I need to make sure I pack that “NYACHT” sign next time.

Still the One. Orleans. Yachtski Scale: 31.25. This is the song they ended their main set with. I mean, I guess it’s more upbeat than “Easy. But is it Yacht? Meh. The timeframe kinda works. It’s a fun song. No harm, no foul. If I hadn’t been questioning your bona fides for the last two hours, if you hadn’t tried to sneak “Hotel California” and “Bennie and the Jets” past me, I’d probably be fine with this. But coming off of the last two songs? I feel like I haven’t heard Yacht Rock in a half-hour.

And regardless of its genre, I don’t really know that I’d call “Still the One” a set ender. This is more of a “Don’t forget to close out your tabs, then come back for the finale” song. Honestly, this is where you might want to stick an “All Night Long” or a “Hold the Line.” Even “Easy Lover” is upbeat enough to build toward.  It’s like you now feel bad for keeping us up past our bedtime and you know want to lull us back to sleep. Except we still need to drive home, so throw us a beat here.

And then they left the stage. But the lights didn’t come on. And we all know what that means. Encore! Boy, I wonder what they’ll play.

Of course, with a standard band, you think back over all their catalogue of hits and try to find that needle in the haystack, that quintessential hit that they haven’t played yet. I’ve seen Mummford and Sons enough times to know that they will usually play either “I Will Wait” or “Little Lion Man” as the second or third song of the concert. Then the other one will be in their encore. See? That’s how you make a setlist.

However, with a cover band, and especially a genre cover band, it’s wide open. And with this particular genre cover band, boy howdy. It could be anything. “All Shook Up” to “Uptown Funk.” Maybe follow up the Orleans version of “Still the One” with Shania Twain’s song of the same name.

But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s see what genuine Yacht Rock is still out there.

They still haven’t played any Steely Dan. I’ve got no problem with that particular oversight, but I’m sure some other aficionados might. “Hey Nineteen.” “Peg.”

Still no Kenny Loggins. This seems like a greater oversight. “This is It” seems like a good encore song, but I’d be willing to listen to “Who’s Right, Who’s Wrong.” “Footloose” isn’t Yacht Rock, but it would be a good intro song if you’re doing more than one song.

They only played one Christopher Cross song, and it wasn’t the most iconic Yacht Rock song of “Sailin’.” They’ve got to do “Sailin’,” right? You can’t have a Yacht Rock concert without that song. Seems more of a show-starter than a show-stopper, but maybe if the encore is more than one song.

Who else is missing? Rupert Holmes? Bertie Higgins? Al Jaurreau? Boz Skaggs? Captain n’ Tenille?

Well, they didn’t give us long to muse. I don’t even know if the last band member was off the stage before they were heading back out for their send-off, one song, encore.

What’s it gonna be? What’s it gonna be?

Encore: 

Blink. Blink. My jaw stood agape as the opening hit. Wait, this isn’t-? It kinda sounds like-. It can’t be-. Did they really just-? WHAT THE FUCK AM I LISTENING TO?!?

Come Sail Away. Styx. Yachtski Scale: 7.25.

Seriously? Styx? A song more memorable as a “South Park” bit? Yes. Yes, I know that it says “Sail” in the title, but… What in the Actual Fuck are they thinking?

That 7.25 on the Yachtski scale is being generous. They probably just threw it a bone because it has the word “Sail.” But this song is the opposite of smooth. It’s overdone. It’s baroque brashness.

Yacht Rock goes for fun over dramatic. It’s smooth, unassuming. You WANT to be on the boat.

Want to know a boat you DON’T want to be on? The one where the captain keeps begging and pleading for you to join him. “Come sail way, come sail away, come sail away with me, you guys…”

C’mon… PLEASE?!?

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.”