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 This Was.  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, offering new arrangements for every song, Tull’s or otherwise, sound fresh and new. Martin Barre rocked it all the way home.

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)
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Disturbed (Live on Conan O’Brien- 2016)
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Leon Russell: First and Last

I didn’t know who he was at the time.  A couple of other musicians listed among the album credits were familiar though.  Nino Tempo and Sonny Bono were the two.  It wasn’t until many years later I finally noticed Leon Russell”s name.

xmas-gift-for-you-3The album was Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You which I bought new sometime in the mid-sixties.

xmas-gift-for-you-1A Christmas Gift for You was a collection of traditional and new Christmas songs performed by three of Phil Spector’s vocal groups.  It featured the Ronettes, the Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans and, of course, the fabulous Darlene Love whose song Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) is still among my favorites.  That was my first encounter with Leon Russell, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

I listened to Leon Russell more from the late sixties on.  From his work with Joe Cocker, throughout his solo career.  We were fortunate to hear him in concert in Schaumburg, Illinois on October 2, 2010 at the Prairie Center for the Arts.

101001-dailyheraldThat was a real encounter.  Unfortunately, my first and last, captured only in a photo from the show…

101002-leonrussellI love you in a place where there’s no space or time
I love you for in my life you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you.
~Leon Russell – A Song For You

 

Jonathan Edwards

Note:  I’ve been a fan of Jonathan Edwards (the singer/songwriter, not the 18th century theologian) since first hearing his music in 1971.  It took all these years until last night before I heard him perform in concert.  It brought back memories of my first encounter with his music.

Having returned home from college for the weekend, I wasn’t around that October night Poco performed at Notre Dame.  I heard it was a great concert with Poco delivering on their promise at the outset about getting the crowd to “kick up their heels and never let up.”  They had the audience dancing in the aisles.  What I really missed that night, though, was the party after the show.

Frank, my apartment mate, and I hung out with some classmates who lived in a large house they rented outside of town in the middle of a corn field.  The seclusion of this place, notoriously referred to as “the Ranch,” made it an ideal location for parties.  Loud parties.  The living room furniture consisted of two old, comfortable sofas, an equally comfortable easy chair and a high-end stereo system whose gigantic twin speakers were once used in a P.A. system for a rock band one guy had been in.  As I said, the parties were loud.
Enjoying the after-show party I missed that night at the Ranch were not only the usual suspects, but members of Poco who were invited by “someone who knew someone.”  While my friends were rubbing shoulders with the likes of Richie Furay and Timothy B. Schmit (years before he joined the Eagles), I was rubbing noses with my hometown honey. I look back now and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”

The following weekend featured another party at the Ranch, a welcome respite from hitting the books all week long.  Still flying high, so-to-speak, from the week before, a lively discussion ensued about Poco’s show and subsequent appearance at the party.  Ed, the party’s host, picked up a record album.  As he slid the vinyl out of its sleeve and placed it on the turntable, Ed recounted a discussion he’d had with some Poco guys.  He’d asked them what music they listened to when they weren’t playing their own.  They said at the moment they were listening to a new singer/songwriter by the name of Jonathan Edwards.


Ed cranked up the volume as the first track began to play.  Everybody knows her.  She’s the one to love… came blasting out of those speakers.  “This is the guy they were talking about,” Ed announced when the song finished.  We listened to the next five songs on the album’s first side in virtual silence.  Wow!  Great stuff!

Browsing the record bins in the campus bookstore a few days later, I ran across that eponoumously titled album by Jonathan Edwards.  I snatched it up and and trotted over to the cashier, plunking down my three bucks and forgetting entirely about whatever else led me to the bookstore initially.  I couldn’t wait to get a listen back at the apartment, pull out my guitar and start learning how to play those songs.  It was a lofty challenge, but I learned to play a couple and would sometimes include them when entertaining myself or my apartment mates late at night.  One song, Shanty, remains in my repertoire to this day.

Thanks for the years of great tunes, Jonathan Edwards.  Such beautiful imagery from a guy who shares his name with an 18th century preacher man.

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Sounding great at the Altamont. November 4, 1016

Jonathan Edwards – Everybody Knows Her :

City of New Orleans (or was it Chicago?)

The details are a little hazy after all these years.  I suppose that isn’t unusual considering the intertwined memories involved.  What would the Chicago Cubs and Arlo Guthrie have in common anyway?  If you’d ask Guthrie, probably not much.  But memories continue to  churn as they challenge me to line up the details just enough to connect at least some of the dots.

I last saw Arlo Guthrie on Valentine’s Day 2016, in a concert marking the 50th anniversary of his epic Alice’s Restaurant and it was a great show.  One tune he performed was City of New Orleans, a song penned by Chicago’s late Steve Goodman.  You should be well-acquainted with Steve Goodman by now, or at least one of his more widely heard songs, Go Cubs, Go.  Among all songwriters and most of the general public, Goodman was undoubtedly the world’s most devoted Chicago Cubs fan.

Introducing City of New Orleans, Guthrie told a story about the song and his first encounter with Steve Goodman in 1971 at a club in Chicago.  He didn’t mention the club’s name, but his description of the venue, his performance and the circumstances surrounding their meeting sent chills down my spine.  He talked about how tired he was at the end of his second show, when a young guy with a guitar approached and asked if Guthrie would listen to a song he’d written.  Arlo admitted he wasn’t very gracious to the stranger and tried to leave, claiming to be tired and not wanting to hear any more songs.  But the young songwriter, who introduced himself as Steve Goodman, continued to press him.  So Guthrie made him a deal.  If Goodman would buy him a beer, Guthrie would listen for as long as it took to finish the beer.

Goodman played his new composition, City of New Orleans, and asked if Guthrie wouldn’t mind passing it along to Johnny Cash.  Guthrie was so taken by the song and the young songwriter that he eventually asked permission to record it himself.  Arlo Guthrie recorded and released City of New Orleans in 1972.  It became a hit for Guthrie and paid for Goodman’s rent (and Cubs tickets) for years to come.

It was cold that January night in 1971.  A college buddy and I had driven to Chicago for a concert.  We drove to Chicago quite often for concerts and I thought this time it was to hear Small Faces featuring Rod Stewart.  Whoever it was cancelled due to illness, leaving the two of us in the Windy City with no particular place to go.  We headed to Old Town where we spotted a flyer stapled to a utility pole.  Arlo Guthrie was appearing at the Quiet Knight, a music club in Lincoln Park.  We climbed back into the car and drove over to the corner of Lincoln and Belmont avenues.

We enjoyed listening to Arlo Guthrie’s late show that night.  I recall someone in the audience shouting out a request for him to play Alice’s Restaurant.  His response was, “Go see the movie.”  I can only imagine the mood Guthrie might have been in after playing two shows, then being approached by a young stranger, guitar in hand, asking him to listen to an original song.  We can all be grateful he was thirsty enough to make that offer, though.  Sometimes a beer for a song isn’t such a bad deal after all.

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Eclipse

And everything under the sun is in tune.  But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

Surrounded by darkness, an explosion of colors pierced the air as if the northern lights were suddenly and fully ablaze from above.  A mild hallucinogen might have enhanced the experience.  It was no ordinary Eclipse.  That natural phenomenon typically isn’t accompanied by any sounds short of ambient traffic noise or, if you’re lucky, the early evening chirping crickets confused by a sudden onset of dusk.  Or perhaps the ever present chattering of locusts.

No.  It was no ordinary Eclipse.  This Eclipse would be repeated nightly for several weeks or even months.  And it would be accompanied by virtually the same sounds each time.  The wailing of voices.  A steady beat of drums accentuated by an occasional cymbal crash.  A rhythmic shrieking of electric guitars.  The heavy thumping of a bass guitar, along with a sometimes lilting, sometimes bellowing Hammond organ.

This Eclipse emanated from a stage upon which stood four men and one woman among towering stacks of electronic boxes powered by massive watts of amplification. The colored lights from above were among the first of the laser light shows whose wondrous spectacle would only improve over time.  A man made Eclipse to be sure.  In many respects, no less stunning than the natural phenomenon itself.  In both instances, holding a rapt audience in awe. Just as an Eclipse is supposed to do.  Just as Pink Floyd intended it.

There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.

Pink Floyd – “Eclipse” (Live at Wembley Stadium, 1974)


Irish Eyes

With few exceptions, Sylvia and I among them, it’s all Irish eyes at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest this weekend. We accompanied my former Notre Dame classmate and Irish pal Frank to opening night .  Thursday evening’s preview session stepped off with newcomers to the festival, Barrule, a trio from the Isle of Man comprised of bouzouki, fiddle and accordion.  Their blend of Manx jigs, reels and songs provided a pleasant opening to this celebration of Celtic music and culture.

Barrule

Another new band at the fest is Runa, in whose blend of traditional roots music and contemporary Irish folk songs we heard hints of bluegrass, jazz and blues.  When They deftly wove verses of My Girl into a Gaelic song, the audience responded with even greater enthusiasm.  We’ll definitely hear more from Runa as we seek out their extended performances over the weekend.

Runa

A longtime favorite, whose appearance marks their 20th anniversary on tour, is Solas.  I first heard Solas on the radio some years ago. Their haunting cover of Jesse Colin Young’s Darkness, Darkness sent shivers down my spine and the rest of their preview performance last night exceeded my expectations, blending both traditional Celtic music and contemporary original compositions.   I’ll be seeking out more Solas during the remaining days of the festival…

Solas

…and I’ll be keeping my eyes (and ears) peeled for more great performances like these.