Concert Review: U2 Plays and Peddles to 55,000 in Seattle at First US Date for The Joshua Tree Tour 2017

It could have been so much more.

But U2 went big, got a bit distracted yet ultimately pulled off a solid show in front of 55,000 on Sunday for the Joshua Tree Tour 2017 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

U2 put the usual boisterous theatrics on hold this time instead opting for a large, rather striking background screen concaved in the middle that offered the accompanying visuals and video for the setlist. No tornado of lights engulfing the band like on the 360 tour or the gigantic screen allowing singer Bono to walk down memory lane as he did last time out. It was honest and unimposing allowing the band to focus on the music while the music focused on the band.

However, the show got lost at times in the bowels of the massive NFL stadium and simply begged for a smaller, homely arena setting that offers an added touch of magic that worked so well on Innocence+Experience. Indeed, U2 still commands a vast audience and considering the current tour’s modest length it certainly makes sense to open the doors as wide as possible verses a long string of multiple dates in every major city in venue’s a third the size but by doing so they forfeited immense potential on a celebratory journey through time.

U2 opened their 23 song two hour set with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” as drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. first appeared on the main stage, walked along a cat walk to a secondary stage (shaped like the Joshua Tree symbol) in the middle of the general admission crowd to his drum set, The Edge followed and started into the song’s guitar opening, then Bono and bassist Adam Clayton.

The foursome remained on the smaller stage firing off hit after hit with “New Year’s Day” next and three off 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire –“A Sort of Homecoming,” “Bad” and the iconic “Pride (In the Name of Love).” Then the back screen to the main stage turned bright red, outlining the Joshua Tree and it was time for the album that turned this Irish band into bonafide rock stars. Straight through from that most memorable “Where the Streets Have No Name” opening riff to “Mothers of the Disappeared.”

It was evident from the start a bit of charm and much warmth was missing. The wind blowing in from the Puget Sound interfered with the music quite a bit and the stadium’s large cavity offered little-to-none in terms of acoustics. Clayton’s bass sometimes overpowered, while The Edge’s guitar cut in and out like a car speaker with a bad connection that needs a couple of fists in its side to work correctly.

A stadium setting also produces an echo which is not only distracting but causes the band to sound out of sync at times. Plus, you’ve got the unintended consequence of a massive spread-out audience singing the lyrics ultimately competing with Bono’s voice. U2 carries a stage presence like no other but at times even these music titans looked small (yes, visually too) and had a hard time commanding the stage.

The end of The Joshua Tree marked the end of the main set as U2 exited for a quick encore and returned with “Beautiful Day” hampered by the acoustics but a rousing “Elevate” continuing the trend of playing a few songs from an album before moving on to another album as they did with Achtung Baby playing the deep album cut “Ultra Violet” and finally “One.”

Yes, Bono’s political activism was on full display. You didn’t expect to attend a U2 concert to forget about whatever is happening in your life for a while or America’s rapid fall from Grace, did you? U2 boasts an unusual preoccupation with the United States as the video screen displayed both very patriotic themes – a woman painting in elapsed time an American flag while the band played “Trip Through Your Wires,” Bono crediting the United States and the American tax payer for funding much of the $18 million tab towards AIDS research – and what felt like a bit of lecturing.

He attacked President Donald Trump with a bizarre and rather clumsy video that ended with two fists one bearing a “Love” tattoo, the other featuring “Hate” to introduce “Exit” and the video for “Miss Sarajevo” (A Passengers side project song with the late Luciano Pavarotti) featured a supposed Syrian refugee commenting on how she wants to come to America, where it’s civil, along with images of the war torn Middle East country. The Joshua Tree 2017 Tour started in Vancouver, BC so perhaps similar theatrical arrangements were made for citizens of Canada and hopefully Bono is working with the elected officials in his native country of Ireland to house refugees there. Otherwise…

He took a centrist approach commenting on the party of Lincoln and the party of Kennedy after “Pride” and an originalist approach when he said “government should fear it’s citizens not the other way around” which considering he pals around with a former president of this country widely feared by many (rightly or wrongly) makes you wonder who he is referring to but the commentary was mostly to push his One campaign that he claims boasts 8 million members worldwide. Take a grain of salt if this figure is reached based on the emails collected by the advocates from those waiting in line to enter the venue.

Overall, despite some of the sound issues, mostly minor but often and on-going, “Where the Streets Have No Name” was very cool but the turbulence of the sound system served to enhance “Bullet the Blue Sky” with that exceptional chaotic guitar solo. “Running to Stand Still” bested the album version (with Bono on the harmonica) and “One Tree Hill” also excelled except for the popping in the speaker during the last half of the song. Unfortunately, the beloved “With Or Without You” fared with little luster and Bono well off-key. And yes, The Joshua Tree is a legendary 80s album but it’s a good bet the final two songs were heard for the first time by many last night and devotees probably heard them again, for the first time.

Bono went off on an outlandish “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” rant (seriously, what the hell?) in the middle of “Exit” and even Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder helping out on “Mothers of the Disappeared” couldn’t save this boring wreck.

“Elevate” which has some natural distortion was awesome and U2 featured a new song “The Little Things That Give You Away” which evidently needed some kinks to work out from the first performance on Friday. It was OK, a bit meandering at first but picked up midway through. U2 closed the evening with a tight performance of “I Will Follow” the only cut off the band’s first album, Boy from 1980.

Expect a new politically charged album sometime this year likely titled Songs of Experience as a follow-up to the now three-year old  Songs of Innocence.

U2 Seattle Setlist for The Joshua Tree Tour 2017

  1. Sunday Bloody Sunday
  2. New Year’s Day
  3. A Sort of Homecoming
  4. Bad
  5. Pride (In the Name of Love)
  6. Where the Streets Have No name
  7. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
  8. With or Without You
  9. Bullet the Blue Sky
  10. Running to Stand Still
  11. Red Hill Mining Town
  12. In God’s Country
  13. Trip Through Your Wires
  14. One Tree Hill
  15. Exit
  16. Mothers of the Disappeared
  17. Beautiful Day
  18. Elevate
  19. Ultra Violet
  20. One
  21. Miss Sarajevo
  22. The Little Things That Give You Away
  23. I Will Follow

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Not a Wonderful Opening Night for Everclear as So Much for the Afterglow 20th Anniversary Tour Starts in Portland

Ever clear?

More like mostly muddy.

Everclear (the band) started off their So Much for the Afterglow: 20th Anniversary Tour celebrating their multi-platinum record from 1997 at the Crystal Ballroom on Thursday in Portland and, um, so much for that.

You know that sound of a raging party when you’re in a nearby adjacent room? The booming bass, an occasional melody filters through, the vocals barely discernible but a boisterous crowd living it up. That was the entire evening! Unfortunately that’s also what it sounded like inside the raging party.

No doubt the fans were ready to party like it was 1997 but Everclear must have brought in their 20 year old sound system, as well. Too bad. Hopefully that was the problem and a fix exists otherwise they’ve got some work cut out for them.

So much potential fun was lost in a largely incomprehensible show featuring totally washed out guitars and vocals often smothered by the bass guitar and drums. Technical glitches throughout the evening only added to this frustrating amateur hour from a veteran band with a solid resume of material whose professionalism should have dug deeper than the dapper tuxedos sported on stage.

Everclear started the evening with the album’s title track and followed in order the track listing through “One Hit Wonder” before playing “Heroin Girl” off 1995’s Sparkle And Fade. Band founder, singer and guitarist Art Alexakis encountered his first guitar issue (or perhaps first time addressing it) after “Normal Like You” and the band briefly left the stage after “One Hit Wonder” as tech hands attended to whatever problem kept cropping up.

More glitches ensued after a horrible “Amphetamine” and following “Sunflowers” Alexakis said “First show of the tour and something’s got to f*** up.” I guess. How about getting it right from the beginning, though? This wasn’t a free show. It’s unfortunate because “White Men in Black Suits” wasn’t even close to the charming version on the album. Guitarist Davey French looked like he was ripping a solo on “Father of Mine” but just a few notes came through the overwhelmed speakers.

Not all was lost though. Oh, who am I kidding? It was pretty rough and outright brutal at times. OK, in a bit of irony the instrumental “El Distorto De Melodica” provided the best shot at redemption. No vocals at least and somehow the guitars worked their way through the blaring bass mess. It wasn’t bad, but far from crisp, and not to last. As Everclear setup for the next song the reverb sounded like they had light sabers on stage. Cool effects but not what we came to hear. Their smash hits “Wonderful” and “Santa Monica” closed the evening, offering a glimpse of what could have been, but by then it was enough already.

A rough 90 minute start to the tour, to say the least. The signature tone that is Everclear was thoroughly lost and once it became apparent things were off-kilter for the duration, it was an exercise in futility. Certainly this was not the Everclear on-hand for their induction into the 2012 Oregon Music Hall of Fame when their performance totally salvaged a ho-hum ceremony.

Everclear played 18 songs and was supposed to play So Much For The Afterglow in its entirety but after announcing “California King” would be the final song played off the album, where was “Hating You for Christmas,” the final track off the album? Maybe they just forgot to play it. Or perhaps they did play it. Was it the mostly unintelligible eighth song played that night? That makes no sense considering the album was played front to back.

Actually, not much made sense on Thursday. Even supporting act Vertical Horizon struggled through sound issues and mechanical flaws, at one point in their hour long set the band left the stage for about 10 minutes after the vocal mics went out.

Nada Melodica, Solamente El Distorto.

Everclear Portland (Crystal Ballroom) Setlist:

1.       So Much for the Afterglow
2.       Everything to Everyone
3.       Normal Like You
4.       I Will Buy You a New Life
5.       Father of Mine
6.       One Hit Wonder
7.       Heroin Girl
8.       ?
9.       The Man Who Broke His Own Heart
10.   El Distorto De Melodica
11.   Amphetamine
12.   Whie Men in Black Suits
13.   Sunflowers
14.   Why I Donn’t Believe in God
15.   California King
16.   Local God
17.   Wonderful
18.   Santa Monica

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Kiefer Sutherland Fully Transparent in Portland Debut

The two-sport athlete who successfully pursues both crafts is certainly an exception, but perhaps even less common is the performing artist who flawlessly jumps from one stage to the next.

Best known as Jack Bauer, among a number of other famous characters he’s brought to life for the last 30 years, actor Kiefer Sutherland has a new gig and if the whole acting thing doesn’t work out, well, he’s got a pretty good back-up plan. Sutherland, in his first visit to Portland, OR since filming “Stand By Me” brought his band on Saturday to the Mississippi Studios as part of his Not Enough Whiskey 2017 Tour and the sold-out house loved every minute of it.

It’s quite evident that playing music isn’t just a hobby he is securing tickets for because he’s a Hollywood A-lister. Sutherland is really good. Of course he probably did sell out because of who he is but if you’ve listened to Down In A Hole it’s not a stretch to believe a growing fan base for this up-and-coming music star.

Sutherland wrote what’s a very personal album with his friend Jude Cole and described the process as cathartic and one of the most enjoyable experiences in his life. He definitely enjoys the stage and looked like he was having fun as he kicked off the evening with six songs from the album – “Can’t Stay Away,” “I’ll Do Anything” “Truth in Your Eyes,” “Not Enough Whiskey,” Going Home” and “Shirley Jean” before tackling a few covers.

Sutherland sings much like he talks, actually, of course with some added style. He boasts Mike Ness’ growl with Tom Petty’s tone and perhaps a very thin layer of Bruce Springsteen without the marbles in his mouth. He knocked out 17 songs in just under 90 minutes and has surrounded himself with an excellent supporting cast which includes Jess Calcaterra on drums, bassist Joseph DeLeo, a second rhythm guitarist in Austin Velleijo, and a great lead guitar in Michael Gurley who bathed some soul into all those delicious solos.

Sutherland played mostly the acoustic guitar but also helped out on electric at times and shared stories of how the songs came about for much of the evening offering a number of fun anecdotes. Fans of the album who don’t necessarily dive into the lyrics might also be a bit surprised to learn some of those songs mean something else like “Shirley Jean” which is about a death row inmate and Sutherland wrote “Truth in Your Eyes” about a close friend who died years ago.

Sutherland said he wrote about 20 to 25 songs initially and was surprised how many were about drinking but it did produce some great tracks like the boozy “Not Enough Whiskey” and the album’s best cut “Going Home.” And, yes he played a few new songs fans can expect on the second album like the emotionally reflective “Saskatchewan” featuring a great Gurley solo and the uptempo rock song “Rebel Wind” which started the encore. Also, the unreleased “Goodbye” offers a rather catchy rhythm which Sutherland enjoys playing live.

The band didn’t play every song off Down in a Hole, sadly “Gonna Die,” an absolute gem, was left off the setlist but Sutherland said he wanted to also play a few songs people would know instead of 13 they’d never heard before. So, perhaps amusingly, he played “Honey Bee” a deep album cut off Tom Petty’s Wildflowers which Sutherland and his band simply owned with those billowing guitars and “Ways to be Wicked” by Lone Justice a song co- written by Petty, a “badass” in Sutherland’s book.

Sutherland moved to Toronto, Canada after his parents divorced and said while living there you had to listen to two bands or risk getting your butt kicked. He won’t play Rush (probably a good thing) but did a great rendition of “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot.

He dedicated “Bottle Let Me Down” to the original artist Merle Haggard whom Sutherland met three weeks before the legendary singer died, and the band closed the evening with Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” following an amusing story about Sutherland’s father Donald Sutherland driving Kiefer and his twin sister to pre-school in a 1950s Ferrari while Donald played an 8-track Bob Dylan over and over.

Sutherland and his band did Down in a Hole serious justice as they played tight and completely matched the spirit of the album along with the excellent melodies and thoughtful arrangements. With a deep infusion of country, heartland rock and even a touch of modern rock, Down in a Hole is a joy and based on what Sutherland played on Saturday don’t expect a sophomore slump.

If you’ve never attended a concert at Mississippi Studios it’s an intimate theater with sold-out meaning about 300 people. It shares a building with the Bar Bar restaurant and while most of the staff were nice it suffers a bit from a “whose on first routine” as no one really seemed to know exactly how to help or in some cases want to help when asked. So, given the chance, just dive in and go early if you want to find a seat, otherwise expect Standing Room Only.

By the way, if one of Sutherland’s roadies holds the door open for you and gives you a look as if to say “Well, you going in or what?” it’s a trap, don’t fall for it. After saying “thank you” I walked into the venue and immediately felt a heavy-handed paw on my shoulder fish-lining me backwards. It’s a good thing I don’t have Sutherland’s acting chops because not only could I have made an overly dramatic scene, Sutherland would have spent the after-show figuring out how to bail him out.

Kiefer Sutherland Portland Setlist (Mississippi Studios):

  1. Can’t Stay Away
  2. I’ll Do Anything
  3. Truth in Your Eyes
  4. Not Enough Whiskey
  5. Going Home
  6. Shirley Jean
  7. Bottle Let Me Down
  8. Ways to be Wicked
  9. Saskatchewan
  10. Calling Out Your Name
  11. Goodbye
  12. Honey Bee
  13. All She Wrote
  14. Down in a Hole
  15. Rebel Wind
  16. Sundown
  17. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

Written By: AndrewT

The Return of Vinyl Records: The Big Vinyl Comeback

Opening the doors to Harvest Music might stir up images of entering an old basement but without the dust and musty smell.

It’s a bit crowded and you’ll have to tip toe around in some areas but if you’re looking for some treasures you just might find it here. Boxes of used vinyl records line the floor and one could spend hours sifting through what any music lover would consider a gold mine. But that’s not all. Rows of CDs and DVDs form the aisles while tapestries and posters cover the windows. Bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles keep the sun at bay on one side while collector items line the walls on the other behind a large case full of rock and roll memorabilia.

Owner Brain Cossack, 55, opened his record store in Salem, OR in December 2002. After years of working on-air operations in television broadcasting in West Palm Beach, FL, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Cossack settled on the sleepy capital city of Oregon for his new career. It was intentional, he said, as the communities of San Diego and San Mateo missed out and those living in or near Portland, OR were already covered with places to find there muse.

Cossack looks like an old-school rocker. If he told you he played guitar for a band that opened for Rush in the 1970s that fizzled out soon after, you’d have no reason to believe otherwise. He owns thousands of new and used vinyl records most of which he sells at his music store along with their modern day counterparts and the original grim reaper of black wax – cassettes. He also offers repair service for CDs, DVDs and video games.

In January, it was reported that the vinyl music industry was set to reach a billion dollars by the end of 2017 something no one would have guessed just 10 years ago and figures not seen since the 1980s. Indeed, records or vinyl, as the kids say, have made a surprising comeback and even boasts its own “holiday.”

Cossack has an interesting perspective on Record Store Day the now annual one-day set aside that encourages music lovers to shop and support local record stores for their wares which was celebrated on April 22. He opens his record store seven days a week and was gracious enough to set aside time for an interview about the resurgence of vinyl records and the future of music.

  1.  Where do you get most of your used records?

People walk in off the street clearing out their homes. I respond to Craig’s List ads and go to garage sales. Most I get from people contacting me. After being here a number of years, people see you and know where to get rid of their stuff. I’ve been collecting music since 1973.

  2.  Why did you open a record shop?

It was something I had thought about doing but didn’t have the money to do it. I had the opportunity when I went out on disability years ago so I used the money I had coming in to start the store. I was trying to make the most use of my time and manifest what I wanted to do.

I either was going to start this store or delve deeper into video editing. I wanted to free myself and try my own project and be as independent as I could be.

I acquired thousands of compact discs while California. I was looking around for locations and went from San Diego all the way to Portland. Salem is one of the cheapest places on the West Coast so after performing some marketing research I discovered 60 percent of the people here were not getting what they wanted.

   3.  In the early days what sold?

CDs sold a lot more. And I still sell to this day. Some people buy all formats. I acquired my original inventory through making contacts at Tower Records distribution center in California. I made good relationships there and was offered significant discounts on damaged product so I learned how to use CD resurfacing machines.

I developed a friendship with someone who was in the music business and had his own store. I talked to him and picked his brain. I went to Amoeba Music in San Francisco and learned what it takes to operate a store successfully.

4.      When did you start seeing an uptick in vinyl?

I would say in the past two years. It’s been slow going. It’s happened more in the past two to three years. It’s not like it’s taken off like a rocket. Other cities might be different, this is a small town. I pay as much attention to CDs as anything else. As far as I am concerned there is still a wealth of money in CDs. There are collectors and people that prefer that format over vinyl. It’s whatever the person grew up with is their preferred format.

5.      Is vinyl the primary driver of sales, now?

No. I sell a little bit of everything including cassette tapes. I sell poster and tapestries. I do disc repair for people. I also sell on Amazon. I’ll get collector items that peak people’s interest and special imports.

6.      Why has vinyl made a comeback, you think?

That’s a good question. I think it’s part nostalgia. People like to see the larger scale art work and the lyrics. The art work that accompanies the music, you don’t get that with downloads. With vinyl you get a full rich sound versus a compressed sound. The analog is fuller but with records it requires you to take care of them. Records weren’t meant for the masses because the masses don’t know how to handle records. You can’t remove scratch marks, overall a couple of scratches won’ ruin it but all it takes is one person to manhandle it and the record is ruined.

Now, there are so many bands trying to make records but only so many manufacturing plants. You’ll be put on a waiting list if you want an album on record. People get into these trends and listen to what others are doing. That’s what’s happening with records. Back in the day, people got rid of their record collections. These same people now kick themselves for getting rid them.

7.      Who is buying vinyl records?

My best customers buying records are people over 35 years old – people who grew up collecting things, who grew up in the era of physical discs. Most young people don’t spend their discretionary money on records. The record store used to be the place to buy records now for them it’s the smoke shop.

The problem with records with young people is they don’t have the attention span to sit and listen to a whole record. Plus you have to be stationary and most people want to pick up and go and sacrifice sound qualify for convenience and mobility. In this high tech age everything is small and compact. In order to hear records at their best you need a good system with big speakers.

8.      What do you think about Record Store Day?

The young crowd shows up once a year on Record Store Day. Record Store Day should be every day. No business can survive on one day of support a year. Three main people make money off Record Store Day. The organizers. The distributors that sell the records of which there’s only a handful in the country. They contact the stores buying the product. Then the third person is the record collector that walks into the store, buys it at the price pledged by the store to sell it no more than 20 percent over list price. That guy throws it on ebay and sells it for double or triple price.

Record Store Day also couldn’t come at a worse time because it’s around tax day, so between that and  figuring out how much money you want to spend on these special releases and then hoping you can sell it, sometimes Record Store Day is a bit of a drag. Any of the releases, if they’re so spectacular the artist would put those out and sell as many units as they possibly can, not just a limited release. It’s often not the best music in the world.

However, there’s no doubt Record Store Day brings us recognition along with an increase in sales so it’s also a  positive thing. It’s a mixed blessing, so to speak.

9.      What genre of music is benefiting from vinyl record sales?

All genres are enjoying sales though country music isn’t getting as much. Some hip hop artists are getting enjoyment even though they don’t all have their albums out on vinyl.

The momentum is going to get lost though because of greed. Everyone is trying to push the envelope. I wish every record could be bought and sold for less than $20. Prices are all over the map. All this trendy colored vinyl is cool but what the hell is the purpose? I’d rather have a standard black record for under $20.

10.  Harvest Music is a bona fide record store. But you also sell on Amazon. Could you survive without the online sales?

I’d survive without them but it helps. In the future, if I had time and energy I’d like every single item in the store on the internet but its takes a lot of time. Any item worth over $5 I’d like to sell. I don’t get much time to put stuff up but anything I think sells I put online.

I get about 20 to 25 percent of total sales off Amazon. I’d get more if I put more items up. I probably have 75,000 discs in the store and only 4,100 on Amazon. That’s just five percent of inventory. If I had a bigger ratio online I wouldn’t even have to open my store. I could work on my house and sell online all day. But I like the energy and sense of community with the store; it’s something you don’t get off the internet.

11.  So no longer can you buy cheap old vinyl, even the original used albums come with a price?

There are plenty of vintage records that don’t go for much money. It’s a matter of whether the band commands interest in the first place. Nobody cares about a Neil Diamond first pressing of his second album. But first pressing of Led Zeppelin’s first album you can make a buck. It’s artist driven. If a record is severely damage I’ll sell it for a buck or $2 top. If the actual record is damaged I look at the album cover as a piece of artwork somebody can throw on their wall. But people still want old records for listening.

12.  You also sell cassettes? Don’t tell me that is coming back?

There are some artists still making cassettes to this day. I have no idea, why. Maybe it’s something for the kids who grew up in the 90s. There are certain artists that do better on cassette, too, like hip hop. I just sold a Dr. Dre cassette for $20. Grateful Dead also does well and their fans love the format. Blink 182 and Nirvana cassettes go for decent money

13.  Where do you see the music industry going in the next five to 10 years?

I think it’s going to be a scary road. Records will still be around and I think CDs will be made on demand. I’m already seeing that now. Distributors are burning discs, made on demand and I predict they will go to that.

So, if you want an actual physical disc of an album the distributor burns it on demand and mails it to the buyer. These records labels have gone through so many format changes. I think it’s gone as far as it’s going to go. I also think the MP3 files will be refined to be better quality. But physical discs have reached its saturation point and will diminish.

Note: Shortly after our interview, Cossack received an email from WebAMI, one of his vendors, introducing Music On Demand (MOD) services for music and movies.

14.  What’s next? This a fad you expect to fade out again or is vinyl here to stay?

I’d like to see it stay. It’s been here for 100 years but I don’t think it will go away entirely but it will drop off because of the greed factor and charging too much money for them.

I like perpetuating the type of record store I grew up with. That’s one of the reason I enjoy what I do and I like not having a boss and doing things my own way. Ultimately my goal is to make lifelong relationships and have people come back and buy more.

Cossack buys, sells and trades all genres of new and used music, repairs compact disc and offers disc transfer services. Visit Harvest Music at 1055 Commercial St SE in Salem, OR in person or check out the Facebook page. On Amazon, he sells under Harvest Music.

Written By: AndrewT

Album Review: Gin Blossoms – New Miserable Experience (Vinyl)

Simply ear candy.

If it’s been a while since you sat down and listened to New Miserable Experience from the Gin Blossoms. Then don’t.

At least not until you buy it on vinyl. For several years, my record collection hunt included the band’s multi-platinum album from 1992 as well as the solid 1996 follow-up Congratulations I’m Sorry to no avail. Since the 1990s marked in many ways a temporary end to vinyl records I figured these albums on large black disks were somewhere lost on the horizon.

Therefore, it came with great excitement a few months ago when the Gin Blossoms announced the release of both albums (for the first time) on vinyl record on March 24, 2017. So that’s why they proved so elusive!

New Miserable Experience serves as a quintessential album of the 1990s. Released in 1992, it didn’t find much traction until “Hey Jealousy” hit the airwaves a year later, and by 1994 it was a smash record. It helped usher in the start of the alternative rock era and in many respects represents the sound of a perfect debut album (yes, Dusted was technically the band’s first album which includes a number of songs off Miserable… but hardly comparable in terms of production and engineering). New Miserable Experience also typifies what often happens after a band captures lightening in a bottle. It’s hard to capture that full magic again.

It’s a beautiful record, epitomizing 90s alternative rock at it’s finest while oozing heartache and flowing with drama. One needn’t a degree in psychology to recognize the pain suffered by principal song writer Doug Hopkins. Nor would it come as a surprise to learn he committed suicide just as album sales skyrocketed. He was dismissed from the band before the release of the album because of persistent alcohol problems.

Yet, while Hopkins wrote “Hey Jealousy” and the band’s other huge single “Found Out About You” singer Robin Wilson and guitarist Jesse Valenzuela (both current members) wrote the somber “Until I Fall Away” another huge hit for the band and Wilson penned the fantastic “Allison Road.” New Miserable Experience is reflective and often wistful perhaps of lost loves, lost opportunities and just bad decision making it’s also a bit witty with “Cajun Song” and “Cheatin’” while “Hold Me Down” is a fun uptempo rock song.

Alas, if you were lucky to discover the Gin Blossoms either before or during the band’s ascension it’s a good bet any one of these songs brings back feelings and memories of your personal yesteryear. It was a must-have album in the mid-1990s and is synonymous with the college years for many who put New Miserable Experience on repeat while studying or lamenting over the same things Hopkins so brilliantly defined.

It’s one thing to get lost in thought the next time you hear “Hey Jealousy” or “Found Out About You” during a flashback or 90s lunch on your local alternative rock station it’s another to tune out the world, sit down with the linear notes, and listen. Vinyl records always sound better and New Miserable Experience is no exception. Plus all those lyrics you sang along too might be a bit off.

Phillip Rhodes’ percussion and drum fills come across crisp, Bill Leen gets upfront and moves these song’s forward on bass guitar, Hopkins’ and Valenzuela’s guitars (acoustic strumming, melodic chords, solos,… etc. – see what I did there?) melt in your ears and Wilson’s vocals. Wilson is one of the most underrated singers in rock today. Such a smooth delivery with that buttery original tone. No one sounds like him.

The record itself plays flawlessly and features the cover artwork for the album’s re-release in 1993 and a back-then photo of the band with Hopkins’ replacement and current member Scott Johnson. You probably didn’t know the original front cover artwork for the album depicted a desert scene. A single loose sheet inside the record sleeve features the lyrics on one side and all the photos featured on the CD insert on the flip-side. Credits go to Wilson, Hopkins, Leen, Rhodes, Valenzuela and Johnson. Rhodes continued with the band when they reunited in 2002 after breaking up in 1997 but is no longer active.

It’s a big year for the Gin Blossoms as 2017 represents their 30th anniversary and the 25th anniversary for New Miserable Experience. A sixth album is expected this year with the band hiring producers Don Dixon and Mitch Easter who worked on the R.E.M. albums Murmur and Reckoning.

So how about a fully produced tour in support of the new album, celebrating the band’s anniversary and playing New Miserable Experience in it’s entirety?

Grade: A

New Miserable Experience Track List

  1. Lost Horizons
  2. Hey Jealousy
  3. Mrs. Rita
  4. Until I Fall Away
  5. Hold Me Down
  6. Cajun Song
  7. Hands Are Tied
  8. Found Out About You
  9. Allison Road
  10. 29
  11. Pieces Of The Night
  12. Cheatin’

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Social Distortion Brings a Little Religion and Politics to Portland

Social Distortion returned to Portland, OR for the second time in 18 months on Friday at the Roseland Theater this time in support of their 2017 Spring Tour which featured two new songs, a wide selection of their 90s fare, some political speak and an ounce of religion.

Last time around the Southern California punk band celebrated the 25th anniversary of their eponymous album, this time they drew heavily from 1992’s Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell  and 1996’s White Light White Heat White Trash, which offers its own religious themes.

They started things off with two from Somewhere… “Bye Bye Baby and the popular “Bad Luck” followed by the always great “Don’t Drag Me Down” off White… before tapping into their most recent album Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes – now six years old! – “California (Hustle and Flow)” which included a pretty cool extended jam and “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown.”

Founder and lead singer Mike Ness introduced “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown” by asking the crowd if they had watched the evening news prior to the show before making a plug for National Public Radio and saying Fox News and CNN won’t give you the “sweet and lowdown.” Not even five songs in before the reality of America collapsing in on itself snaps back. Gee thanks. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last time.

Perhaps that explains a somewhat subdued aura that filled the first half of thew show. Or maybe it was just the extreme momentum changes throughout the evening. Even the slam pit (oh sorry kids call it the mosh pit) took a bit to get going. The classic “Ball and Chain” felt softened in part because of the slowed tempo arrangement for the final chorus which worked well but then following this version of one of your most popular songs by the country-infused “This Time Darlin’” completely let the sails down.

Thankfully, Social D got right back into it with the heavy “Dear Lover” which in terms of setlist placement works far better as an opening song but helped re-energize the audience. The crowd surfing returned!

A new studio album is in the works for Social Distortion and like usual the band is taking their time. They offered a taste of what’s to come with “When You Lay Your Burden Down” a play on the religious theme of asking for help but it’s not a religious song, Ness said, who confessed to believing in God though he doesn’t read the Bible or attend church. It won’t be a radio hit either, he admitted, of the bluesy track which sounded like a marriage between “Up Around the Bend” the band’s contribution for the movie soundtrack of the same name and an old slave spiritual.

What should be a radio song is “Scars.” It’s reflective and emotional, born from Ness working through some childhood memories he swallowed after working on a book about his life appropriately titled “The Story of My Life” which is apparently also now delayed – at one time listed on Amazon as a forthcoming release. Even after just one go around, “Scars” indeed is a fine song and a polished studio version could certainly bring Social Distortion similar attention as their break-through self-titled album from 1990, especially if the rest of the album proves as splendid.

Social Distortion closed the first set with the fantastic and not often played live “When She Begins” and opened the encore with “I Was Wrong” and then the political discourse began. In a monologue of sorts, Ness rambled on regarding today’s political climate, beating around the bush extensively without naming names and said something or other about reading books and documentaries which seemingly enlightened him. Then there was something about how all the corporations have the power and money, or something to that effect,  and then he mentioned that Canada has healthcare. Huh?

It made little sense partly because he was hard to understand but also it seemed what he really wanted to say, he feared saying. Whether that’s because he knows all political stripes enjoy Social Distortion (quite evident in the sold-out crowd) or perhaps deep down a rock concert isn’t the forum to spout what’s often called “political vomit,” whatever the case, entirely unnecessary and unwanted.

(However, considering Ness earlier in the evening sang Your history books are full of lies/media-blitz gonna dry your eyes it’s a bit ironic, don’t ya think? And, did Ness include economist Milton Friedman and Walter Williams in his readings? Especially when it comes to healthcare. Does he know that Canadians who need major surgery now often come to the United States because the wait line is so long and pay for it out of pocket? He mentioned watching documentaries along with having concerns for the environment…. )

Oh, sorry! You came here not for a political review but to read how good the Social Distortion concert was in Portland last night. Just like the audience went to watch Social Distortion play their awesome songs at the Roseland Theater but got a political review. On to the show!

The band wrapped up their 17 song, hour and 45 minute set with an acoustic version of “Gotta Know the Rules,” “Story of My Life” and “Ring of Fire.” Despite the above intrusions, the last half of the show kicked and it’s a delight to see Ness really extending his vocal range. “Scars” tested him and you’d be surprised just how high his growl can reach. The band, which includes Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham on guitar and Brent Harding on bass (together with Ness comprise the longest running line-up in the band’s history) played tight and included a few more musicians at various times during the night including an acoustic guitarist and keyboardist/pianist as well as David Hidalgo, Jr. on drums.

But it’s time for a new album. Hopefully, Ness (who is synonymous with Social Distortion) brings a fresh stage show and a whole bunch of new songs back to Portland in the forthcoming year.

Social Distortion Setlist at Roseland Theater in Portland, OR

  1. Bye Bye Baby
  2. Bad Luck
  3. Don’t Drag Me Down
  4. California (Hustle and Flow)
  5. Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown
  6. Ball and Chain
  7. This Time Darlin’
  8. Dear Lover
  9. “Buying Time” – Instrumental jam
  10. Cold Feelings
  11. When You Lay Your Burden Down
  12. Scars
  13. When She Begins
  14. I Was Wrong
  15. Gotta Know the Rules
  16. Story of My Life
  17. Ring of Fire

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Duran Duran Throws Two Day Bash in Palm Springs

Duran Duran at Agua Caliente Casino

What a party.

Duran Duran commenced their short 2017 Spring Tour on Friday at the most enjoyable The Show at Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage, CA (just outside Palm Springs) with sold-out back-to-back performances at the 2,000 seat venue. The Tour of the Americas, which heads south in a few weeks to central America before wrapping up the States in April, continues support for the band’s successful album Paper Gods, out a year and a half ago.

Both nights offered the same setlist (and no opening act) with an order change for a couple of songs on Night 2. Radio staples and popular singles featured prominently through the evening as both nights brought 16 songs – a few less than last year’s full tour – but it was a ball nonetheless.

You know something special is unfolding when it feels like nearly every song builds into what’s usually reserved for the climatic finale. And that’s how it was. Both nights. Two confetti showers for each set, an immaculate light show, a raucous crowd and a contagious energy that began the moment members of the band stepped on stage and didn’t let up until they left.

Is that bassist John Taylor on keyboards?

Like the 2015 and 2016 legs of the tour, Duran Duran started the evening with the title

track of the new album followed by most of their hits from the 1980s with a couple of more new songs in between. “Wild Boys” followed sending the audience into a frenzy and the Core 4 never looked back. They killed it on “A View to a Kill” which sounded so good you’d swear they lipped synced the whole thing. Afterwards on Night 1, singer Simon Le Bon, soaking in the boisterous crowd, said some of the best places they play include casinos like Agua Caliente and commented that the evening marked the beginning of a new phase of Paper Gods.

Duran Duran played “Only In Dreams” for the first time in the United States on Friday and again on Saturday. It’s a bit forgettable and a somewhat annoying song on the new album, but live it works well. Really well, actually.  It’s catchy with a great guitar groove. Also new this leg was “Is There Something I Should Know” a single track included on the Decade greatest hits album from 1989.

Missing? Oh boy. The fantastic “What Are The Chances” off Paper Gods, “(Reach Up For The) Sunrise” and “The Reflex.” No “Planet Earth,” either. Wait. Say what? Yes “The Reflex” failed to make the cut and should have at least been offered as an alternative to their cover “White Lines.” Duran Duran doesn’t need much help getting their fans standing but “Sunrise” off 2004’s Astronaut gets even the curmudgeon(ist) on their feet. Ok, check that – alternate “White Lines with “Sunrise.”

Alas, beggars can’t be choosers. Or perhaps you’re just left wanting more, more, more. Indeed, it combined a rock concert (“White Lines”), a techno show (“Last Night in the City”), 80s nostalgia (pick ‘em) and 100 percent Duran Duran rolled into a flashy club setting.

Nick Rhodes who missed a number of tour dates last summer because of an undisclosed “urgent family matter” was back behind the keyboards and Le Bon was flanked by John Taylor on bass and now long-time guitarist Dom Brown with Roger Taylor on drums. The stunning Anna Ross brought the counter vocals to Le Bon’s on “Come Undone” (wow!) while both she and fellow back-up singer Erin Stevenson helped fill the stage, kept the audience dancing and the two swapped on a handful of duet duties with Le Bon.

Duran Duran Throws a Party

This isn’t the first time Duran Duran booked this venue on their tour.  The last time they did it followed a sold-out performance at the gigantic Hollywood Bowl. The Show at Agua Caliente offers an arena stage setting inside an intimate theater giving big name acts like Duran Duran an opportunity to connect to their fans in an unprecedented and special experience. They took advantage of the moment and so did their fans.

It was 90 minutes of bliss both nights. Duran Duran looked fresh, sounded perfect and looked hungry for more.  Whether or not Le Bon meant something cryptic when commenting about a new phase for Paper Gods the band shows little signs of slowing down. Neither do their fans. Their dedicated fan base took Le Bon’s comments to heart on Night 2 when he said they better bring it if they’re to surpass the crowd from the night before. They did.

By the way, thanks Mr. Le Bon for saying nothing about the current state of political affairs in America. We attend concerts to forget about life for a while.

Certainly, Duran Duran did their job on these two nights.

Duran Duran Setlist at Agua Caliente Casino (Palm Springs)

  1. Paper Gods
  2. Wild Boys
  3. A View to a Kill
  4. Come Undone
  5. Only in Dreams
  6. Is There Something I Should Know
  7. Notorious
  8. Pressure Off
  9. Ordinary World
  10. I Don’t Want Your Love/Last Night In The City*
  11. While Lines/I Don’t Want Your Love*
  12. Last Night in the City/Hungry Like the Wolf*
  13. Hungry Like the Wolf/White Lines*
  14. Girls on Film
  15. Save a Prayer
  16. Rio

*Denotes Night 2 Setlist Change

Written By: AndrewT