Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Concert Pics

A few pics from concerts I have been to in the past year.

Sarah McLachlan, DAR Constitution Hall, Washington, D.C., January 10, 2011

Ingrid Michaelson, 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C., October 14, 2010

Jeff Beck and Imelda May, 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C., April 12, 2011.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C., March 12, 2011

Christina Perri, 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C., July 30, 2011

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Hartwood Acres, Pittsburgh, PA, August 7, 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

Guitar Hero

Ok, it's a crappy, cheap, entry-level Chinese-made strat. But it's the guitar my heroes play (minus the crappy, cheap, entry-level, Chinese-made part). Three single-coil pickups, 5-way switching, and the classic strat look. Mine is white, because Jeff Beck's is white (though his is Olympic white, mine is arctic white). The Fender Stratocaster has been around since 1954, and along with the Fender Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul, and Gibson SG, is responsible for most of the great rock and roll of the last 50 years. My guitar is about as far away as you can get from the 2 guitars below and still share the same name. Both of these guitars were owned by Eric Clapton, and both, when sold at auction, held the record for highest price ever fetched for a guitar at auction. The first is "Brownie", the guitar Clapton played with Derek and the Dominos, which he used to write and record "Layla". Brownie sold at auction in 1999 for $450,000, and is currently owned by Microsoft's Paul Allen. The second is "Blackie", which Clapton pieced together from three separate strats, and played from 1973 through 1985. Blackie sold at auction in 2004 for $959,500 to the retail chain Guitar Center.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Jeff & Imelda

Jeff Beck & Imelda May, 9:30 Club, Washington D.C. March 24, 2011
Photo: Greg McDermott

I've been going to a bunch of concerts lately, and I'm definitely falling behind in posting about them here. Hopefully this will be the first of several posts that will help clear the backlog.

Last night I went to the 9:30 Club in D.C. to see Jeff Beck. Jeff is my all-time guitar hero, and is the reason why, at age 44, I have decided to try to learn guitar. About a year ago, Jeff enlisted the services of Irish chanteuse Imelda May and her band to perform a tribute concert to Les Paul, on what would have been Les's 95th birthday. The concert covered quite a few of Les's songs as well as songs from the early history of rock and roll. Last night's D.C. show marked the start of a three week tour reuniting Jeff and the Imelda May Band for a reprise of the Les Paul tribute. I was fortunate to witness Jeff's virtuosity on covers of songs by Elvis, Gene Vincent, Les Paul, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Big Joe Turner and others, though I wished he could have thrown in at least one of two of his own songs. About the only song that Jeff had prior history with was a cover of "Train Kept a Rollin'", which Jeff also covered when he was a member of the Yardbirds. The venue was packed with a sell-out crowd of 898 Beck fans, with a median age somewhere well north of my 44 years. While waiting for the doors to open, the man in line behind me commented "This looks like the line for the assisted living facility". A number of these older folks were clearly not familiar with the 9:30 Club and its standing room only set-up. I was disappointed to find that my usual viewing spot at the club was roped off for a VIP section, so I settled into a spot on the upstairs rail as close to my normal spot as possible. There I made friends with Barbara and Lorraine, two 9:30 newbies who had trouble grasping the concept that if they wanted to watch the show from the rail, they had to stand at the rail until the concert started, or someone else would quickly take their place.

It is interesting to watch Beck play. He almost never uses a pick, playing instead with his fingers. Beck says he stopped using a pick in the early '80s, and has been quoted "I play the way I do because it allows me to come up with the sickest sounds possible. That's the point now, isn't it?" My favorite quote about Beck's playing comes from former Deep Purple guitarist Richie Blackmore: "Jeff Beck plays notes that aren't on my guitar." Speaking of guitars, since this was a Les Paul-inspired concert, Beck used a number of Gibson products, including a Les Paul Standard, what appeared to be a Les Paul Recording, and an ES-175 archtop. However, he just doesn't look right without his signature white Stratocaster in his hands.

The hands of God (if God had time to play a strat)

Jeff doesn't interact with the crowd very much, and half of what he did say on the mic I couldn't understand anyway, but the crowd was more than happy to have him let his guitar do the talking. As for Imelda, the girl sure can sing, and she shimmies very well in a tight dress. She explained to the audience that she had pre-recorded back up vocals for some songs, and was singing the lead vocals over these precorded tracks, much like Mary Ford had done when singing with Les Paul. The lack of talking and the shorter songs of the early rock era allowed the band to pack 26 songs into a 90 minute show.

All in all a very enjoyable evening with one of my rock idols at one of my favorite clubs. Now I just have to wait for him to come back through town with his regular band playing Jeff Beck music!

Jeff Beck and Imelda May covering one of Les Paul's biggest hits at the original Les Paul Tribute concert.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Full of Grace

I've been listening a lot over the past couple weeks to Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. I only recently discovered this Vermont-based band, even though they have toured relentlessly over the past few years and have a rep as an outstanding live band. Their self-titled 4th studio album was released in June 2010. It's good old-fashioned 70's-tinged rock and roll (indeed it seems as if a couple of her band members don't realize that hairstyles have progressed since the 70's). Plus Grace has the best scream in the business. Do yourself a favor and give them a listen. I'm looking forward to checking them out in person when they pass through the D.C. area.

A Blonde Frenzy

As a professed lover of redheads, what to do when one of my favorite redheads and favorite singers goes blonde? Such is the dilemma presented to me by Alison Sudol, aka A Fine Frenzy. Based on this photo I will give her the benefit of the doubt. After all, if she discovers that blondes don't have more fun, a return to redness is just a salon appointment away......

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jenny and Johnny

I love Jenny Lewis in all her incarnations: Rilo Kiley, eponymous solo artist, and her latest role as one-half of Jenny and Johnny. Johnny is Johnathan Rice, Lewis' longtime boyfriend who has played on all of her solo work, and has now graduated to sharing title billing. Jenny and Johnny released their debut record (I'm Having Fun Now) on August 31, and have been touring in support of the album since then. I caught their show at the Black Cat in DC on September 16, and at the Ram's Head Tavern in Baltimore on October 25. Jenny seemed sensitive to the fact that she is the better known of the two, and that the majority of the crowd was there to see Jenny Lewis, with or without Mr. Rice. As such, she engaged in very little banter with the audience, and let Johnathan handle the mic most of the time. It was also clear that they wanted this to be a true Jenny and Johnny show, and therefore at the Black Cat played all but one of the songs off their debut, while slipping in one unrecorded song (Just One of the Guys), three songs from Jenny's solo albums (The Next Messiah, Carpetbaggers, and Acid Tongue), one Rice solo song (The End of the Affair), and closed with a cover of the Everly Brothers tune "Love Hurts", a hit for the group Nazareth in the late seventies. The Ram's Head show was very similar, subtracting "Love Hurts", and substituting the Rilo Kiley hit "Silver Lining" for "Acid Tongue". For Acid Tongue, Rice pulled several young ladies from the audience to provide backing vocals. Don't get me wrong though - I'm not implying that Lewis faded into the background. She is an engaging performer whom I have now seen in concert 4 times. And everytime I simply cannot take my eyes off her onstage.

An Audience Participation of "Acid Tongue". Black Cat, 9/16/10

Crappy Cell Phone Pic - Jenny Lewis at the Black Cat. 9/16/10

One of the more interesting songs on I'm Having Fun Now is "My Pet Snakes", a song that Rice said was about friendship, but looking just below the surface it seems to be a song from Lewis to Rilo Kiley bandmate (and co-founder) Blake Sennett. If it is indeed about Sennett, it does not bode well for a Rilo Kiley record anytime soon. The song starts with Jenny singing:

Oh I don't believe in double vision
And I don't think that two heads are better than one

Possibly a reference to a struggle for control of the band?
And continues later:

And if you don't believe in destiny
Then take what you are given
You and I got caught between magic and business

We walked in on you while you were polishing your knives
(Jenny: While your eyes were turning green)
Sleeping in a twin bed with a serpent by your side
(Are you trying to compete with me)
You talk a lot of shit but you never start a fight
(Fantasize about killing me)
God it makes me queasy when you smile
(Through your jealousy)

This is a key passage that provides evidence that the song is about Sennett. In addition to the themes of competition and jealousy that may have been present as the media and public's focus within the band increasingly centered on Lewis, Sennet was once quoted in an interview saying that he had a dream about killing Lewis.

In the next verse, Jenny sings:
And if you don't believe in chemistry
Then what were we doing?
You and I had everything
From rebirth to ruin

With Johnny chiming in:
Everytime you come around I have to run and hide
I get claustrophobic even when I am outside
I thought that we were brothers
Man I thought that we were tight
Sucking out the venom of your bite

But maybe, Jenny indicates, the door is not totally closed:
And I don't believe that paradise is lost
I say this with my fingers crossed

And if you don't believe in prophecy
Decide when it's finished
You and I tried everything
From heroin to Guinness

And if the song is about Sennett, the next move appears to be his:
2009 it was a bastard of a year
I cannot get stoned no more
I only get the fear
We could have it out or we could have another beer
All the best of luck with your career.

I certainly would love to see a Rilo Kiley show. But I know I will go see Jenny in whatever her next incarnation. She deserves to be better known, and she and Rice sound great and perform well together. Pick up the record, see them in concert, but do SOMETHING to introduce yourself to the music of Jenny Lewis.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Last night I saw singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson at the 9:30 Club in D.C. I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase the "Ingrid's Top Ten" package, which allows 10 fans at each tour stop to attend the soundcheck and to have a "Meet and Greet" with Ingrid. The day before the show I received an e-mail from Ingrid's management that informed me that in order to attend soundcheck, I needed to be at the 9:30 Club no later than 4:00 pm. No small feat since I woke up the morning of the show in Duluth, MN. Luckily all my flights were on time and I made it home with plenty of time to spare.

At the appointed time, me and my fellow meet-n-greeters (eight 20-something women, which prompted Ingrid to note "One of these things is not like the others") were ushered into the club, where a spread of pizza, salad, deserts, and non-alcoholic beverages had been laid out for us. We were given laminated "Ingrid's Top Ten" credentials, a poster, and a set list for the evening's show, all of which were later autographed by Ingrid. Sound check was interesting to see - though a more tedious process than I imagined - the first 30 minutes were spent soley on setting the correct drum levels. During this part of the check Ingrid posed for pics with us. After sound check we had to leave the club until the official doors opening time, but we were put at the front of the line for re-admittance.

Ingrid with guitarist Bess Rogers

The Irish duo "Guggenheim Grotto" opened the evening with a set that was well-received by the sold out crowd. However the energy was cranked way up when Ingrid and her band, clad in floor-length dark robes, entered to Led Zepplin's "Immigrant Song". Casting aside the robes, the band launched directly into "Soldier", off her 2009 album, Everybody. From there Michaelson cruised through a 17 song, 90 minute set that was full of her trademark stories and self-deprecating wit. Highlights included a stunning instrument-free cover of REM's "Night Swimming", which Ingrid performed alone on stage, after first using a looping pedal to set a vocal melody track which she then sang over. For most of the audience every song was a highlight, as evidenced by the enthusiastic sing-alongs. The ground she covered was familiar, and included fan-favorites "Breakable", "Everybody", "You and I", "The Chain". and "Maybe". As when I saw her in July at the Denver stop on the Lilith Fair tour, she closed with a tongue-in-cheek cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic", and performed "Be Okay" and a revved up punk version of "The Way I Am" as encores.

Ingrid Michaelson at 9:30 Club, 10/14/10

Ingrid and her band (l-r, Chris Kuffner, Elliot Jacobson, ? , Bess Rogers, Allie Moss)