Album Review: Styx – The Mission

Styx dives into its past with The Mission (out June 16) the band’s 16th studio album, it’s first in 14 years and a return to form as they invite the listener on a journey to Mars through this concept effort the classic rockers spent two years writing and recording.

Styx is no stranger to concept albums finding smash hits in the 1980s with Paradise Theater and Kilroy Was Here. So, The Mission hardly qualifies as ground-breaking since it’s not the first time Styx or any band for that matter embarked on a journey to a faraway place and put it to music. Ambitious, though, it is.

It’s hard enough to write an album filled with tracks mostly separate from one another. Try writing an album of songs with one leading into the other creating a storybook with the music as narrator. The Mission which chronicles the first manned mission to Mars in the year 2033 probably won’t produce any singles or get much radio play. OK, who are we kidding, don’t expect any of the songs to air on traditional radio. And the new album probably won’t generate new fans but certainly those who moved on from The Grand Illusion and Paradise Theatre or perhaps simply forgot about the band might return to the fold.

The Mission begins with “Overture” and moves froward from blast off on the rocking “Gone Gone Gone” as each song develops the story of leaving earth on a trip to Mars like the adventure getting there with the vintage “Radio Silence,” trials  faced on the rhythmic “Red Storm” and finally ending with the quirky “Mission to Mars.” It’s a fun album and quite creative when you think about it. “The Outpost” surely stands out, keeps that familiar Styx sound but feels new with a bit of modern rock flare, “Time May Bend” offers solid guitar work while the dreamy “Locomotive” meanders a bit and “Hundred Million Miles From Home” features classic Styx melodies.

The album comes in around 42 minutes with 14 songs though “All Systems Stable” is a mere 18 seconds, “Overture” and “10 Thousands Ways” come in less than 90 seconds and the cool piano heavy “Khedive” is around two minutes as these shorter songs serve either as setups for the longer tracks or perhaps “intermission” between acts. The Mission certainly feels theatrical and as the closing song “Mission to Mars” comes to life you can almost see cast and crew singing together on stage towards a final climatic ending.

Overall, The Mission definitely sounds like Styx and in many ways picks up where the band left off before the break-up that ended their headlining arena days. It’s got lots of 70’s guitar, 80’s synths and the classic Styx harmonies with lead singer and keyboardist Lawrence Gowen and lead guitarist and singer Tommy Shaw trading on main vocals along with driving classic rock guitar chords, fully heard bass and strong supporting keyboards.

Styx consists of Shaw, Gowen, original guitarist James “J.Y” Young, original bassist Chuck Panozzo, drummer Todd Sucherman and bassist Ricky Phillips representing the longest running line-up in the band’s 45 year history. But it’s the first album of original material featuring the current members as Phillips came aboard after 2003’s Cyclorama  but played on the covers album Big Bang Theory in 2005.

“Hundred Million Miles From Home,” “Radio Silence” and “The Outpost” probably comprise the handful of songs that manage to standout as individual efforts. But with the resurgence of vinyl that’s not a bad thing. You want nostalgia? Then open the record jacket. Indeed, The Mission fully involves the listener, requiring set-aside time to follow the band’s adventure from beginning to end. Even better? Surely, it’s an album destined for the live show something Shaw mentioned he’d like to play in its entirety.

At the very least, for those who’ve seen the band anytime in the past 10 years, hopefully The Mission means a new stage show but certainly guarantees a variety in the setlist instead of the same old fare along with the exact same in-between-song conversations.

Grade: B

Styx – The Mission Track Listing

  1. Overture
  2. Gone Gone Gone
  3. Hundred Million Miles From Home
  4. Trouble At The Big Show
  5. Locomotive
  6. Radio Silence
  7. The Greater Good
  8. Time May Bend
  9. Ten Thousand Ways
  10. Red Storm
  11. All Systems Stable
  12. Khedive
  13. The Outpost
  14. Mission To Mars

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Def Leppard and Poison Have A Good Time in Portland

Bono take note:

This is how you entertain and put on a rock concert.

Def Leppard played to a jam packed, sold out crowd at the Moda Center on Saturday in Portland, OR along with a strong supporting act by fellow 1980s stalwarts Poison and thoroughly showed why 40 years later people still flock to these arena rock anthems played flawlessly by guys in their 50s.

Let’s go a different route on the review as I usually write these with my “reporter’s hat” on, meaning if it’s good for this blog it’s good for a newspaper (that’s my personal expectation anyway and always hoped for accomplishment). All training aside, I’m going full-on blogger (credit to my wife who suggested I try something different). Forgive the use of “I” and the more casual tone. Perhaps I’ll find that’s what people prefer and today serves as a changing of the guard, so to speak.

Besides, I just wrote a review for Def Leppard last fall and they served the same setlist while replacing REO Speedwagon with Poison and keeping Tesla as the starters. I didn’t even take my notebook to write things down and had no plans to give Def Leppard due credit. But alas, a good show is a good show and deserves positive commentary. My apologies, I failed to arrive on time for Tesla and sat down about five minutes before the lights dimmed for Poison.

Singer and guitarist Bret Michaels was on fire from the start, simply a ball full of energy and seriously happy to be on stage. Poison opened with “Look What the Cat Dragged In” then “Ride the Wind,” the popular “Talk Dirty To Me” and dedicated “Something to Believe In” to the United States military. This was the only mention of anything political for the evening as Michaels repeated he did not want to get political but simply wanted to dedicate the song to the men and woman of our armed forces who allow us to party. And that he did.

That was it. Nothing else mattered. Just rock, a good time and playing hard. I was afraid he might be veering off to say something, not sure which way he leans, or who he’s pissed off at, and yes had it interrupted the show a bit or was just plain dumb, no matter what he said, I would have mentioned it here.

Instead, we got three glorious hours of music by talented musicians who wanted to play their wares for an enthusiastic crowd from the floor to the rafters. Seriously, I haven’t seen the Moda Center this packed since seeing Rush on their 40th Anniversary Tour (which by the way you can see me in the opening sequence of Time Stand Still, filmed at the Portland show, holding signs – finally made Rush immortality!) Love how Def Leppard can still pack an arena. They’ve even got a new album, not new so much anymore, but it rocks!

Back to Poison. Clearly, they draw a strong presence because the usual smattering of empty seats for the opening acts were filled for these guys. Michaels commanded the stage like a headlining act and drummer Rikki Rocket put on a drum solo that even Neil Peart could be proud of. Did you know he’s a stage 4 cancer survivor?

Poison wrapped their set with “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” (of course) and ended with a rousing “Nothin’ But Good Time” which got everyone off the seats and ready for more. Opening acts typically serve as a “warm up” to the headliner which in all my years of attending concerts I’ve never quite experienced until now. Indeed, Poison got the crowd wild and ready for Def Leppard, who took the stage just a mere 20 minutes after Poison’s 11 song, hour long set.

Thank you Def Leppard for choosing the Moda Center over that (insert mattress company here) amphitheater across the Columbia River located no where near Portland and a pain in the butt to get to. In fact, when the show was announced so many months ago I emailed the band, or whoever actually receives the “contact” email from their website and thanked them for choosing a venue actually in Portland and, most importantly, the more intimate arena setting. I have no idea when the last time these guys actually played in the city but it’s been a while. A long while.

They opened with a new song “Let’s Go” from their 2015 self titled album and of course played all their popular radio staples and two more from their latest. Oh heck, check out my review of their show in Eugene, OR to see the setlist. It’s the same. Like I said, Def Leppard never gets old and I’d pay the cost of admission just to see “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”

Singer Joe Elliott sounded really good. In fact, one of the best vocals I’ve heard from him though he did get drowned out at times with Rick Savage’s bass guitar and a sometimes over exuberant Rick Allen bass drum. Actually, that’s the only hiccup on the night for both Poison and Def Leppard as the vocals were often over-matched by the rest of the band, most notably the bass guitar and drums.

Def Leppard played a 17 song set lasting about an hour and 40 minutes and encored with “Rock of Ages” (Allen providing that hallmark opening), and what now feels just as popular as “Sugar,” the audience kicked it into high gear for the final song, “Photograph” featuring the usual slide show of photos from year’s past of the band. Yes, I’ve seen them now several times in the past few tours and a fresher stage show is due but if that’s the only complaint then please keep coming back.

It’s the band’s 40th anniversary this year so, so much for a 40th anniversary tour. Elliott said it snuck up on them and it’s also the 30th anniversary of their smash Hysteria. which is finally now available on vinyl, well at least easily accessible on vinyl (available Aug. 4).

Def Leppard leads a host of bands still charging forward like it was 1977 as discussed in an Associated Press article, though it left out our friends from Sheffield, England. In a somewhat rare moment of discussion between songs, Elliott talked about meeting Savage for the first time as a teenager and by the end of the night, the two decided on starting a band together.

Forty years later and they still haven’t burned out or faded away.

By the way, we’ve probably entered a new reality when attending concerts. The police were readily present and closed off a main street, complete with police car serving as a barricade, that passes by the Moda Center.

Def Leppard Setlist – Portland, OR (Moda Center)

  1. Let’s Go
  2. Animal
  3. Let It Go
  4. Dangerous
  5. Foolin’
  6. Love Bites
  7. Armageddon It
  8. Rock On
  9. Man Enough
  10. Rocket
  11. Bringing on the Heartbreak
  12. Switch 625
  13. Hysteria
  14. Let’s Get Rocked
  15. Pour Some Sugar On Me
  16. Rock of Ages
  17. Photograph

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Midnight Oil Burns Bright in Portland

Midnight Oil at Revolution Hall in Portland, OR

Finally. The Oils are back.

One band you thought lost in the annals of 1980s rock history, Australian rockers Midnight Oil made a triumphant return to Portland on Monday playing a blistering two-hour set to an ecstatic sold-out Memorial Day crowd at Revolution Hall.

It’s been a while since these guys performed on stage. Well, at least, before the current Great Circle 2017 World Tour which started in April. Lead singer Peter Garrett took some time off to put his money where his mouth is so-to-speak getting elected to the Australian House of Representatives so the band went on hiatus. It’s been 15 years since their last studio album and nearly as long since any semblance of a tour but for the fans these are not the forgotten years. Nor have Midnight Oil lost their ability to play.

Every song – every song – bested the original studio versions.

Monday’s show defined a rock concert performance. The Oils played 23 songs covering all the favorite radio staples that put them on the charts in the United States, a number of deep album cuts and perhaps a few only the Powderworkers probably appreciate.

Midnight Oil started the night with the rocking “Redneck Wonderland” off the 2002 album of the same name followed by “Best of Both Worlds” and the moving, but so very fitting, “Armistice Day” the only cut off 1981’s Place Without a Postcard with Garrett changing one section of lyrics to “Memorial Day.”

The contemplative “Antarctica” the final track off their smash Blue Sky Mining was oh so good, and they mixed it up on “The Dead Heart” with an acoustic opening that led into the traditional version which started a string of their most popular fare – “Beds are Burning” featured some cool guitar effects, “Blue Sky Mining,” and stellar guitar interplay from guitarists Martin Rotsey and Jim Moginie on the great “The Forgotten Years” which closed out the opening set.

Midnight Oil returned for two encores the first featured three songs ending with the awesome “Dreamworld” off 1997’s Diesel & Dust and finally closing the show with “Tin Legs and Tin Mines” and “King of the Mountain.” The setlist touched every album (thankfully the totally under appreciated “Golden Age” off their “latest” album Capricornia made it) except their eponymous debut from 1978.

Leave it to the Australians to decide whether Garrett was a force to reckon with while in office, but who could disagree that he’s certainly one on stage. Nominate him for the hardest working man in music, please, because even at 64 he put on his own show as only a leading frontman can do. Gregarious, animated and sometimes over the top wild gestures, he looks a bit like a towering Michael Stipe with the antics of OMD‘s Andy McCluskey. Garrett’s vocals stood up the entire evening and with such a strong cast of musicians around him it was one of those shows that started with a bang and never had an ounce of whimper.

Rotsey and Moginie traded on solos while Moginie also took to the piano playing beautifully on “Short Memory,” but so special was the two playing, often the same chords and notes together tightly, perfectly synced – totally killed it on “Truganini” – giving all the songs so much balance and life. Don’t think bassist Bones Hillman was a background shadow offering set-up beats either and drummer Ron Hirst was sometimes nearly as fun to watch as Garrett. Midway through the set starting with “When the Generals Talk” Rotsey and Moginie traded in the electrics for acoustics while Hirst effectively used a simple snare/cymbal set-up as the five-some and Jack Howard, who piped in the occasional horn, worked the stage upfront and slowed the pace a bit.

OK, Midnight Oil doesn’t shy away from speaking about politics or other world affairs. It’s pretty much how they got started. And how they rose to fame. But thankfully Garrett doesn’t preach, because well you know we attend for entertainment purposes of hearing a great rock concert. Instead he gives mostly respectable quick bites in between songs. He doesn’t like jet skis. And wonders about a world with less for military budgets and more for those helping with peace efforts.

Alas, no surprise, he doesn’t like President Donald Trump though he seemed surprised at the number of professing supporters at a recent show in New York after calling for a show of hands. He sort of, kind of, asked for a show of hands in Portland but seemed to recuse himself and got on with the show.

Yes, Midnight Oil practically exemplifies politics and social justice and the environment and all that but it just seems inappropriate when a band hailing from another country attacks the sitting president of the country they’re touring freely and making money and entertaining and all that. Seriously, what good could come from the Foo Fighters verbally attacking Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull while on tour Down Under? NOTHING. A last minute jab at Jared Kushner (huh?) “and the creeps in the White House” near the end of the show was uncalled for and hardly left an impression.

But, Garrett also led a minute of silence for those slain in Portland on Friday trying to protect two women (one a Muslim) from harassment by a deranged, white supremacist, fanatical Bernie Sanders supporter with sympathies to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and hatred towards Christians and Muslims. Despite a packed house, you could hear yourself breathing. It was a moving, rather emotional and something to experience. Thanks, Mr. Garrett.

Fortunately, the Oils seem rejuvenated with no plans to disappear again. Supposedly a new album is in the works. And based on this success of this tour, expect Midnight Oil to return but probably not in the small, intimate, grand venue that is Revolution Hall.

Midnight Oil Great Circle Tour Setlist in Portland:

1. Redneck Wonderland
2. Best of Both Worlds
3. Armistice Day
4. Say Your Prayers
5. Stand In Line
6. Put Down That Weapon
7. Golden Age
8. Sins of Omission
9. Truganini
10. When the Generals Talk
11. Short memory
12. Luritja Way
13. Kosciusko
14. Antarctica
15. The Dead Heart
16. Beds Are Burning
17. Blue Sky Mine
18. Forgotten Years
19. Mountains of Burma
20. Don’t Wanna Be The One
21. Dreamworld
22. Tin Legs and Tin Mines
23. King of the Mountain

Written By: AndrewT

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