Electric and Eclectic: A Concert Review

Martin Barre, guitarist of Jethro Tull for more than 40 years, has recorded several solo and collaborative albums. His latest effort, Back to Steel, was released in 2015. I saw Barre and his current touring band at the Grey Eagle in Asheville, North Carolina on March 24, 2017. The band included Dan Crisp on second guitar and vocals, Alan Thomson on bass and harmonies, and Jonathan Joseph (formerly with Jeff Beck) on drums.

Alan Thomson (bs), Martin Barre (gtr), Dan Crisp (gtr/voc) and Jonathan Joseph (dr).
They played two sets that were heavy on Jethro Tull classics in addition to material from Barre’s solo work. Opening with the driving instrumental “Hammer” from Barre’s Back to Steel, his guitar virtuosity was immediately displayed. “Hammer” was followed by two Tull numbers, “To Cry You a Song” from Benefit and “Minstrel in the Gallery” from the eponymously named album. As Barre doesn’t sing, Crisp handled the vocals and made each song his own, capturing the intensity and inflection of Ian Anderson, without coming off as a mimic. Arrangements were appropriately modified to suit the twin guitars, bass and drums format of the band. In that regard, there were several instrumental breaks during which Barre and Crisp sounded much like the famous twin guitars of Wishbone Ash.

Their next selection was the 1961 blues classic by Bobby Parker, “Steal Your Heart Away,” a song the original Moody Blues recorded in 1964 when they started as a R&B band. It’s been covered more recently by the likes of Joe Bonamassa among others. Crisp’s vocals were pure hard rock blues.

After “Steal Your Heart,” Barre stepped to the mic to welcome everyone and to introduce the band before launching into “Back to Steel” from his most recent album. It was followed by “Love Story” from Tull’s Living in the Past collection. Then it was back to Barre’s creative improvisations on the instrumental “After You, After Me” from his third album release, Stage Left.

Another brief interlude found Barre at the mic introducing a Beatles composition, “Eleanor Rigby” which the band performed with a Tull-esque flare quite unlike the original before segueing into “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” rendered as the title implies, heavy. It was followed by two Jethro Tull songs rarely heard in concert. One was “Sweet Dream,” the first Tull single on the Chrysalis label which made #7 on Britain’s Top of the Pops in 1969. Recorded around the time of their Stand Up sessions, it never appeared on an album until Living in the Past was released in 1972. The second was “Sea Lion” from the 1974 War Child album.

The set closed with an extended “end bit” from Tull masterpiece, Thick as a Brick, featuring all the vocal and instrumental frenzy leading up to a subdued finish.

Martin Barre
After a twenty-five minute intermission, Barre kicked off their second set with a brilliant cover of Porcupine Tree’s “Blackest Eyes,” a tune only vaguely familiar to me. They dove back into the Tull catalog with well-known favorites “Nothing to Say” and “Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of a New Day).”

On the guitar rack near Barre I’d been spying a mandolin. Barre finally set down his electric guitar and picked it up. Someone in the audience shouted a request for “Fat Man,” a Tull song in which the mandolin is featured prominently. Barre and the band, however, chose a different path. They instead performed a mesmerizing cover of the delta blues classic, “Crossroads,” before segueing into “Martin’s Jig,” Barre’s electrified mandolin and Crisp’s lead guitar and vocals filling the venue with multiple sparkling ear treasures.

For their next song, “Bad Man” from Back to Steel, Alan Thomson handed over his bass guitar to Crisp, then picked up a Fender Stratocaster from the stand behind him and placed a slide on his pinky finger. Thomson played the Strat with reckless abandon in a more rocking version of “Bad Man” than what’s heard on the studio recording. It was followed by a bluesy “Song for Jeffrey” from Tull’s This Was release before returning to the Back to Steel album for Barre’s “Moment of Madness.”

Heading into the big finale, they played three Tull classics in a row with new arrangements that only Barre’s band could pull off successfully: ‘Teacher’ from Benefit, and “Fat Man” (sans mandolin) and “New Day Yesterday,” both from Stand Up.  Exiting the stage to a standing ovation, (not much choice as it was a standing room only show), the band returned for an encore, “Locomotive Breath” from Tull’s classic Aqualung album.

Their polish, professionalism and performance left nothing more to be desired. Barre and his band put on more than just a Jethro Tull tribute show, making new arrangements for every song, Tull’s or otherwise, sound fresh and new. Martin Barre rocked it all the way home.

Is the governor singing?

I was listening to the radio last night.  It wasn’t how I used to listen to the radio when I was a teenager.  I’d be in my bed, ear pressed to the tinny speaker with the dial tuned to WLS, “the Big 89” from Chicago.

That was then.  This is now.  I was streaming a classic rock station through a smart television equipped with a radio app and connected to an audio system.  The end result was the same.  Music from the sixties.

A strong male voice was singing passionately about a girl.  I recognized that familiar voice, but not the song.  Singing in a full, rich baritone and ultimately reaching crescendos layered with full orchestration, while repeating the name “An-ge-LI-ca,” it was compelling enough for me to uncover more about the song.  I located the station web site where a slowly scrolling playlist noted the title currently streaming was Angelica by Scott Walker:

You know, it’s been a while since the sixties.  For one split second, upon seeing the name “Scott Walker” scroll past, I envisioned a notorious politician crooning from behind a podium, and it wasn’t Scott Walker the singer.

A group named the Walker Brothers had a hit song in 1965 titled The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, the refrain of which I often sing aloud while shuffling around the house on gloomy, winter days.  It was that song in which I’d first heard the Scott Walker I was hearing now, the one my mind’s eye initially offered up as a politician from Wisconsin.

Most of what I know about Scott Walker the singer, I learned on Wikipedia just a few minutes ago.  Most of what I know about Scott Walker the politician has come from newspaper articles and social media over a number of years.

The Wikipedia article about Scott Walker the singer is surprisingly good and rather extensive.  It captured my interest for quite some time as I sought out YouTube videos of him as a solo artist and singing with his brothers.  I don’t spend that kind of time on politicians.  Unless, of course, they’re singing.

For better or worse, Scott Walker the politician isn’t among them in the above mashup video.  But depending on whether it’s Scott Walker the singer accompanied by his brothers, or Scott Walker the politician accompanied by his environmental policies, The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore can carry two distinct messages.  Sad as it is, I prefer the singer’s.  The other is unthinkable.

 

 

Disturbing the Sound of Silence

Letting go of the past can be a challenge.  We’d like to think the music we grew up with was the very best and most innovative.  To some extent it can be argued that certain songs and musical works set a standard that might never again be achieved.  Mozart’s innovative symphonies and operas are held up as examples of classical innovation.  At least that’s what I learned in a “Classical Masters” course many years ago.  Duke Ellington and Miles Davis were innovators and giants of jazz.    Their music is still regarded among the best in that genre.

When modern orchestras and opera companies perform Mozart’s works, they may tweak portions here and there, but the result is still the same breathtaking music that we can only assume sounds the way it did in its original form, perhaps taken to new sonic levels through vastly improved acoustics or recording technology.  When contemporary jazz ensembles perform the music of Ellington or Davis, we anticipate new, uncharted improvisation, for that is the very essence of jazz.

In popular music, we cling to the past more than ever.  Who can top Sinatra’s interpretation of the American songbook?  Tony Bennett perhaps?  Who can surpass Elvis and his Jailhouse Rock?  No one else has ever done it justice, though I must confess I’ve enjoyed the Jeff Beck Group’s cover of it on their 1969 Beck-Ola album.  Or how about any originals by the Beatles or Dylan?  There are some “prettier” covers of Dylan tunes that have been released, but the originals still endure.

A music video has been circulating on Facebook recently, linked from within a “Society of Rock” online music zine article.  The video is Simon & Garfunkel performing Sound of Silence in a 2009 reunion performance at Madison Square Garden, fifty-two years after they first introduced the song.  It’s usually accompanied by comments like, “Nothing beats the original,” or something similar.  The zine article that many ignore is about this year’s Grammy-nominated, live cover of Sound of Silence performed by the metal band “Disturbed” on Conan O’Brien’s late night television show.

While the band’s name and heavy metal music may be disturbing to some, Disturbed’s live performance of Sound of Silence was one of those “Oh, my!” moments that made me wonder why I don’t listen to more metal music.  Granted, nothing can approach the seamless, soaring harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel in their 2009 performance.  But for me, the orchestral crescendo backing the unique vocals of Disturbed’s singer, David Draiman, snatched away any preconceived notion that there are no other ear-worthy versions of that song.  I’m only sorry it didn’t win the Grammy for Best Rock Performance.  It might have led to a greater appreciation for the original artists by Disturbed fans too young to remember them.

Here are both performances, snatched from YouTube, so you can watch as well as listen.  Simply click on each of the links below to enjoy.  If there’s a favorite cover version of a song you like, feel free to share it in a comment.

Simon & Garfunkel (Live at Madison Square Garden- 2009)
sg

Disturbed (Live on Conan O’Brien- 2016)
disturbed

Me and the Seminar on Non-Violence

When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you, pull your beard and flick your face to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.  – John Lennon, 1969

I was scanning the course catalog for something to satisfy both a philosophy requirement and a serious desire to avoid picking a snoozer.  My final semester at the university was otherwise unremarkable so I registered for “Seminar on Non-Violence.”  Seminars were generally less structured classes with fewer students.  The syllabus offered a mix of readings, contemporary and historical, all covering in varying degrees the philosophy of nonviolence and its role in the global struggle for human rights.  Current events provided immediate relevance and inspired more pointed discussion about the importance of peaceful protest in the expanding anti-war movement.  Of the dozen or so students in the seminar, I recognized some faces from campus demonstrations in which we participated.

As spring approached and the weather warmed, class would sometimes meet outdoors on the south quad.  There we’d spread out on the lawn to take on a discussion and take in some sunshine.  Lively discourse, earnest conversation and occasional debate were de rigueur.  There were no written exams. The violence of trying to distill such profound thought to mere multiple choice questions was unacceptable.  Frequently, we’d reflect on an event or an opinion and write a brief essay about it.  Toward semester’s end, we were each to synthesize our final thoughts into an informal presentation to the class.

With some hesitation, I suggested playing guitar and singing a couple of protest songs for my presentation, after which we’d discuss the impact of music.   The TA’s eyes narrowed and her lips pursed as she thought a few seconds..  “Yes,” she finally responded, “Topical songs have been an important form of nonviolent protest.”  I even sensed a bit of enthusiasm in her voice.

After class I strutted over to the campus library where I finished my shift shelving books on the seventh floor.  Ironically, that’s where the philosophy books were housed.  The lavatory wall on that floor displayed some of the most creative graffiti on campus.  But that’s another story I “Kant” get into right now.

Returning to the apartment later, I removed my six-string from its case and began rehearsing.  I settled on two songs, Universal Soldier by Buffy St. Marie and The Times They Are A-Changin’  by Bob Dylan.  The first one I’d been performing around campus for a while.  It was a straight up anti-war song.  I’d learned the Dylan tune many years before and played it often for friends.  It was decidedly an anti-establishment song.

The day of my presentation was sunny and warm.  We checked into class and immediately moved out to the grassy quad.  I opened my guitar case, sat down on the lawn and tuned up during some perfunctory discussion.  When the TA invited me to begin, I strummed a couple of chords and started singing, He’s five foot two and he’s six feet four.  He fights with missiles and with spears…  Finishing to light applause, I was asked to play another.  So I continued with The Times They Are A-Changin’, followed by more applause.  The TA asked if I knew Me & Bobby McGee.  I did and she encouraged me to keep playing for the remainder of the class.  Gleefully, I continued.  Me & Bobby McGee by Kris Kristofferson and Working Class Hero by John Lennon are the only two others I recall playing.  I’m certain there were more.

You might wonder how Me & Bobby McGee fit into a “Seminar on Non-Violence” presentation about protest songs.  I wondered the same thing.  But when you think about it, I’d trade all of my tomorrows, for one single yesterday, to be holding Bobby’s body next to mine, is as beautifully non-violent as can be imagined.  Then and now, we could all use a little more beauty and a lot less violence.

Me & Bobby McGee by Kris Kristofferson (Covered by Janis Joplin):
janis

The Art of Sharing

I entered a Facebook challenge today, something I’m generally not inclined to do.  The idea is to occupy Facebook with art.  The concept is simple.  A friend posted an image of a painting to his timeline.  It was a painting by a 17th century master.   The simple challenge goes like this.  Whoever “likes” the post is assigned an artist chosen by the poster and is asked to share a painting by that artist on their own timeline.  I was asked to share Degas.

Edgar Degas was a 19th century Parisian Impressionist who grew up with a deep appreciation for music fostered by his parents, both of whom were accomplished musicians.  The Degas painting I chose to share is titled L’Étoile (The Star).   In it we see a lone ballerina on the stage, footlights shining brilliantly on her as she performs.  She maintains a graceful, majestic pose “en pointe,” balancing on one leg.

The hauntingly beautiful visual impressionism of Degas’ dancer immediately prompted my recollection of a song to accompany it.  Musical impressionism, if you will.

Following up on the success of their 1966 hit song, Walk Away Renée, the Left Banke, a baroque-rock band from New York, released Pretty Ballerina later that same year.  Both songs were inspired by the girlfriend of a band member whose name was Renée.  Pretty Ballerina features an oboe during the instrumental portion of the song, joining a string quartet before the music pauses then returns to the refrain of the song.  Listen for yourself while gazing at the Degas and you might very well catch a glimpse of Renée pirouetting to the music.

The Left Banke – Pretty Ballerina

I had a date with a pretty ballerina,
Her hair so brilliant that it hurt my eyes.
I asked her for this dance and then she obliged me.
Was I surprised, yeah, was I surprised, no not at all…
Just close your eyes and she’ll be there.”

— The Left Banke, Pretty Ballerina

Pièces de résistance

The insidious writer’s block settled firmly in and I’ve been at a loss for words.  Except for those moments when awareness of this phenomenon is superseded by the enduring memory of selected lyrics to certain songs.  Here’s the playlist currently on my mind.  And sure to be on my stereo.  Resist!

songsresistance

1.  The Times They Are a-Changin’ by Bob Dylan
There’s a battle outside and it’s raging.  It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls.

2.  Revolution by the Beatles
But if you want money for people with minds that hate, all I can tell you is brother you have to wait.

3.  Volunteers by the Jefferson Airplane
Look what’s happening out in the street.  Got a revolution. Got to revolution.

4. The Revolution Starts Now by Steve Earle
The revolution starts now when you rise above your fear and tear the walls around you down.

5.  Universal Soldier by Buffy St. Marie
His orders come from far away no more.  They come from here and there, and you and me, and brothers can’t you see?  This is not the way we put an end to war.

6.  Uprising by Muse
They will not force us. They will stop degrading us.  They will not control us. We will be victorious.

7.  Student Demonstration Time by the Beach Boys
I know we’re all fed up with useless wars and racial strife. Next time there’s a riot, well, you best stay out of sight.

8. Working Class Hero by John Lennon
As soon as you’re born they make you feel small.  By giving you no time instead of it all.  Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all.

9. I Ain’t Marching Anymore by Phil Ochs
Its always the old to lead us to the war. It’s always the young to fall. Now look at all we’ve won with a saber and a gun.  Tell me is it worth it all?

10.  Get Up, Stand Up by Bob Marley and the Wailers
You can fool some people sometimes. But you can’t fool all the people all the time.  So now we see the light.  We gonna stand up for our rights.

11. Sunshine by Jonathan Edwards
Some man’s come he’s trying to run my life, don’t know what he’s asking. When he tells me I’d better get in line, can’t hear what he’s saying.

12. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Gil Scott Heron
The revolution will be live.

13. All You Fascists Bound To Lose by Woody Guthrie
People of every color marching side by side.  Marching across these fields where a million fascists died.

14. Which Side Are You On? by Pete Seeger
Don’t scab for the bosses. Don’t listen to their lies. Poor folks ain’t got a chance unless they organize.

15. Street Fighting Man by the Rolling Stones (Rod Stewart cover version)
Hey!  Think the time is right for a palace revolution.

What do you think?

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

“The snow’s coming down.
I’m watching it fall.
Lots of people around.
Baby please come home.
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
(words and music by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, 1963)

I hear this song every year during the holiday season.  It’s familiar refrain, “Baby please come home,” rings out like a Salvation Army bucket volunteer’s bell.

This Christmas, as in many past, there are those whose loved ones aren’t with them.  Perhaps one is recovering in a hospital or rehabilitation center.  Or one may be off fighting a seemingly endless war on foreign soil.  Or maybe one has simply and inexplicably left home, never to be heard from again.  Whatever the case, the song can conjure up some sad imagery during a time when joy and festiveness abound.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like this song.  I’ve heard it at least once every year for the past fifty years, and more often since it’s singer, the incomparable Darlene Love, performed it live for twenty-six consecutive years on David Letterman’s late night television show.  It’s a seasonal highlight for me.  I can honestly say it’s my all-time favorite rock ‘n’ roll Christmas song.

It’s a great song for sure.  I hope your Christmas is shared with family or friends you love and with those who love you in return.  If you find yourself listening to Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), remember those for whom the song is more than just a catchy tune, but rather a heartfelt plea.

Peace and love to you this Christmas.

Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home):