KISS’ new CD Sonic Boom — A Review [Originally posted on FB 10.08.09]

This isn’t going to be easy.

First, I admit upfront that I cannot be, nor claim to be objective when it comes to discussing KISS. I have 32+ years of baggage, miles, celebrations and memories tied to the band and the music, so I see everything, good and bad, through the wonderfully distorted prism of fandom. I’ve loved them, hated them, defended them, questioned motives and at times thought it was time to put KISS to bed and call it a long, loud career.

As long as you know that as you read, we’ll get along fine. Now, onto the review of, oh my god I can’t believe it…a NEW KISS ALBUM!

‘Sonic Boom’ is in many ways, one of the strongest records KISS has released. Does it match the ferocity and fun of classics like ‘Rock And Roll Over’ or ‘Destroyer’? Not a chance. Is it better than most of their 80’s catalog? Absolutely.

KISS now consists of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Eric Singer [wearing Peter Criss’ makeup] on drums and Tommy Thayer [sporting the makeup of Ace Frehley] on lead guitar. Many fans, your dear reviewer included, had a real problem seeing other people wearing the makeup of original members. That being said, this lineup is probably the most musically talented since 1992, when Simmons, Stanley and Singer had Bruce Kulick on guitar.

The songwriting on this record is really much better than I had ever hoped. Now, don’t think that means KISS have matured all that much, they’re still singing about girls, sex, rock and roll and the celebration of being able to rock 35 years into their career.

Some specifics:

‘Modern Day Delilah’ was the lead single and kicks off the disc. I admit, I didn’t think much of the song upon first listen, but, after hearing it a few times, it really is a strong track with great harmonies and a great vocal from Paul. The star of the track though, even perhaps the star of the record is Eric Singer. His drumming adds a zeal and energy that has been absent…well since he last worked in the studio with KISS in 1992. Now, I love Peter Criss and he will always be ‘the drummer in KISS’ but, Eric’s a better drummer, and his talent carries the entire project.

You want a timeline of how long KISS has been around? In 1988, Poison released a song called ‘Nothin’ But A Good Time’ a song that many KISS fans thought sounded very much like classic KISS. Now, twenty-one years later on the song ‘Never Enough’, KISS ‘borrow’ almost note for note, the riff from ‘Nothin’ But A Good Time.’ Is it possible for Poison to sue KISS for a song they stole from KISS in the first place?

Gene Simmons is now 60 years old. I say that as a fact, and maybe, just maybe, to let Gene know that people really don’t want to hear him sing lines like ‘Baby, it’s time to take off your clothes’. The song, ‘Yes I Know [Nobody’s Perfect]’ has a fun chorus and is damn catchy. It’s just when Gene starts pleading with the woman to ‘take off her clothes’, what sounded in 1976 like a plausible plot sounds now like a desperate, creepy old man. I like the song as a whole, but that lyric creeps me out.

‘Stand’ is the most interesting song for me on the record. It could have been written in the 1980s and been a throwaway track on ‘Crazy Nights’ or even ‘Asylum’ and I would have hated it. I think again the musicianship, the harmonies and even Paul’s vocal [where he can’t really scream the notes at times] all work to make it a great listen, a song that could be part of the live show if the band felt like flexing their musical muscle by playing new stuff on tour. It’s tailor made for the audience to sing along to, but doesn’t sound too calculating.

Now, a word about Tommy Thayer. I applaud him for stepping into Ace Frehley’s imposing platforms when asked. He’s not a bad guitarist at all. And, truth be told, if you tell Tommy to play a Les Paul through the same amplifier setup that Ace uses, it’s gonna sound a lot like Ace Frehley. The problem I have with Thayer’s playing on almost all of the solos is it sounds as if someone cut and pasted classic Frehley solos from the 70’s in ProTools and told Tommy to play them. The only truly original sounding solo on the disc is ‘Modern Day Delilah.’ Everything that follows from the lead guitarist leans too heavily on past KISS glories. As I listened, I could pick out riffs, sometimes even entire solos, which sounded like classic KISSongs. ‘She’ for example seems to be a favorite template for Thayer as, on almost every song, you can hear moments from him that sound like that song from 1975.

Now, the lyrics are strong for the most part, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some eye-roll inducing moments. For example, the entire chorus to ‘Danger Us’ which goes, [say it with me now]: ‘Danger You / Danger Me / Danger Us.’ Again, a catchy song, but the chorus should have been rewritten long before it was recorded. The other moment that made me laugh when I first heard it was, from ‘Hot and Cold, when the line [originally featured on a KISS Lick It Up Tour T-shirt in 1983] ‘If it’s too loud, you’re too old’ is sung with a straight face. Well, I guess if they’re gonna steal lyrics from KISS T-shirts, better to use that one than the one featured on KISSKON shirts in 1994: ‘F*** You! You Blew It!’

In a move that some might question, Eric and Tommy each get to sing lead on a song. Eric’s ‘All For The Glory’ is good but not great. It comes off as a reworking of the same theme addressed in the song ‘We Are One.’ Tommy’s ‘Lightening Strikes’ is the one song I just can’t warm up to on the record. His vocal sounds like a much younger Gene Simmons, and it’s not bad. It just isn’t interesting to listen to. I will say that it is at least listenable. The same can’t be said for when Bruce Kulick sang lead on a song on the ‘Carnival of Souls’ album in 1996, so Tommy has that going for him.

The disc closes with perhaps Paul’s best vocal of the project, ‘Say Yeah’, another song that would work in the live show if they wanted to add it. The one drawback from Paul throughout the entire album is, often he sounds like he’s struggling to hit notes that he could hit just a few years ago. It’s not his fault; I just think some of the songs are a bit too high for Paul to pull off his vocal feats of old. Again, it’s 2009, not 1976.

If someone had told me in 1979, when ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ was racing up the charts and on the radio, that a version of KISS would still be recording music in 2009, I would have thought they were insane. I’m glad they are still around and putting out music that doesn’t [for the most part] embarrass me. Nothing will equal the nadir of their studio career in embarrassment, the classless, stupid ‘Let’s Put The ‘X’ in Sex.’ They’ve come a long way since then, but not so far that they don’t sound like KISS.

KISS is indeed the virus that has infected rock and roll, and it can’t be killed.

I must be sick. I’m [still] a KISS fan.

PS- A word about the re-recorded KISS KLASSICS disc included with ‘Sonic Boom’: Why do this? What’s the point? The recordings aren’t bad but won’t get much airtime on my iPod, in favor of the classic versions I grew up with. Look for this re-recorded album to be re-released with the crowd noise from ‘KISS ALIVE II’ added and titled ‘KISS ALIVE IX’ or whatever version they’re up to by now. — BH

U2 360 Tour: Charlottesville, VA at UVA’s Scott Stadium 10.01.09 [Originally posted on FB 10.03.09]

Thursday night brought to an end my five shows in eight days. [9/24-10/01]. I couldn’t think of a better, bigger way to end it than seeing U2, once called ‘the most important band in the world’ by Rolling Stone, at UVA’s Scott Stadium, with my friend Eddie on his birthday-eve.

Playing a college town always promises a fun energetic show. As the opener, ‘Breathe’ came to an end, Bono asked ‘Is Mister Jefferson in the house?’ and then the band kicked into ‘Get On Your Boots.’ The great thing about seeing this band live for me was, the songs on the new record that sounded somewhat average in their recorded versions [‘Get On Your Boots’ and ‘Magnificent’ among them] came alive with a crackle of electricity that only the live setting can provide. It made me listen again to the new record and appreciate it more.

U2 has always done things BIG. This tour is no exception, with a set that takes six [!] days to construct and uses almost every one of the one hundred yards of the football field. Called the ‘360 Degree Tour’, the focal point of the set [apart from the musicians onstage of course] is the screen. The 360-degree screen is visible from anywhere in the stadium and not only showed video from the stage, but as the show progressed, it turned into a huge gallery of multi-colored light-squares, and then the video image onstage was viewed through that lighted prism. It was a spectacular effect and stunning to watch.

The setlist leaned heavy on the new album, but there were enough classics to keep everyone happy. I told Eddie as we entered the gates to the venue that I didn’t really have one song I had to hear, ‘but it would be cool to hear ‘New Year’s Day’’ [I intentionally have not been reading set lists since the tour started so as to be surprised]. When The Edge began that piano intro, I screamed and sang at the top of my lungs. Had the show been too much and the power gone out at that point, I still would have been happy, but there was more.

Bono has never shied away from delivering a message with his music. For me, the most stirring moment of the show came during another U2 classic, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday.’ Originally written about war in Ireland, Bono claimed it on this night for ‘the non-violent revolution happening on the streets of Iran.’ The video screen then showed footage of protesters in Iran, some beaten and bloodied, behind the green background of the Iranian flag. It was a sobering reminder that it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I expected a message; I just didn’t expect it to move me quite so much.

Walking out of the venue, the thought that kept spinning around my head was that ‘Yes, the world is indeed small enough that anyone and everyone can change it. I/We just have to DO SOMETHING and START NOW.’ I know of no other rock show that has left me feeling like that. After seeing them, I dare you to be cynical.

U2 are a band like no other. They are able to rock, make you think, make you smile, and hopefully spring you into a positive action of your own.

Setlist [courtesy of U2.com]:

Breathe

Get on Your Boots

Mysterious Ways

Beautiful Day

No Line on the Horizon

Magnificent

Elevation

Your Blue Room

New Year’s Day

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Stuck In A Moment

Unforgettable Fire

City of Blinding Lights

Vertigo

I’ll Go Crazy – Remix

Sunday Bloody Sunday

MLK

Walk On** [REALLY glad I heard this one. One of my faves]

One

Where The Streets Have No Name

Encore 1:

Ultraviolet

With or Without You

Encore 2:

Moment of Surrender

Alice Cooper’s Theatre of Death at The National 09.29.09 [Originally posted on FB 10.03.09]

Remember when you were a little kid at the amusement park for the first time, and all you wanted to do was ride the big roller coaster? You know the one with the corkscrew turns, loops and the darkened tunnel? You talked big, so when it came time to ride, you couldn’t back down, you got strapped in and held on tight. It was exhilarating, exciting, freeing…and it scared the hell out of you.

Well, my musical equivalent of that experience dates back to when I was about seven years old and, one night on television, I saw a video of an Alice Cooper concert from 1973. I was already, at that very young impressionable age, a fan of another band that wore makeup, but seeing Alice walk to the guillotine to be decapitated…it was exhilarating, exciting…and it scared the hell out of me.

Alice brought his ‘Theatre of Death’ tour to The National Tuesday night, and the surprises started early. As the lights went down on a boisterous crowd, a blaring school bell rang, and the show kicked off with ‘School’s Out’. By third song, ‘I’m Eighteen’ had been played, knocking out both encores before anyone had broken a sweat. I looked over at the person next to me and said ‘Hang on, all bets are off!’

I could run through the number of times and ways that Alice was ‘killed’ onstage, but honestly, if you’ve never seen him, you wouldn’t understand. I will say that a highlight for me was hearing ‘The Ballad of Dwight Fry’, complete with the straight-jacket. On previous tours, Alice would scamper around the stage, eluding actors portraying doctors and nurses, escape from the straight jacket and sing the next number. This time around though, he was captured and taking to the guillotine and promptly killed. Another highlight was a silhouette strip tease by a red-headed ‘nurse’ (yeah, a redheaded nurse…Alice knows his audience), that in true Alice fashion ended with the nurse being strangled.

In 1975 that was shocking. In 2009, the violence is delivered with a nod and a wink, letting you know that this is almost like a cartoon and Alice is in on the joke. I mean, where else can you raise your fist and sing along to a tale about necrophilia (Cold Ethyl), and not feel like you have to take a shower afterwards? If you take it seriously, then you’re missing the whole point.

That old roller coaster won’t make you scream like when you were a kid, but it’s still a fun ride. Think of this Alice Cooper tour as that coaster, ridden backwards with a blindfold. You may know the ride very well, but you still never see the turns coming, making for a fun and surprising good time.

Setlist [courtesy of the site SickThingsUK.com]:

School’s Out (part only) / Department of Youth / Eighteen / Wicked Young Man / Ballad of Dwight Fry / Go To Hell / Guilty / Welcome To My Nightmare / Cold Ethyl / Poison / The Awakening / From The Inside (w/ extended instrumental) / Nurse Rozetta / Is It My Body / Be My Lover / Only Women Bleed / I Never Cry / The Black Widow (Instrumental) / Vengeance Is Mine / Devil’s Food / Dirty Diamonds / Billion Dollar Babies / Killer / I Love The Dead (excerpt) / No More Mr. Nice Guy / Under My Wheels / Schools Out (full version)

Thoughts on Lady Gaga, Landmark Theatre 9.28.09 [Originally posted on FB 09.29.09]

Wanted to get some thoughts down, because I am seeing Alice Cooper and U2 later this week, so before it all gets combined in my head, here are some thoughts on tonight’s events:

It took five months, three venues and two resceheduled dates, but Richmond finally got to see Lady GaGa, in of all places, the usually reserved and calm Landmark Theatre [Mosque]. Lady GaGa’s music, for those of you who don’t know it, is dance/techno, so I found it a bit strange and intriguing that the show was at a seated theatre, not sure how the crowd would respond.

Tickets said 8:00…by 8:03, no lie, chants of ‘Ga Ga!! Ga Ga!!’ started and would echo until the star took the stage around 8:50. I can only compare that to the chant of “Meat! Meat!’ I heard before a Meat Loaf show in the 90s.

Wearing a silver, almost aluminum foil-looking outfit, she looked like she stepped out of the film ‘Barbarella’, opening with ‘Paparazzi’ which surprised me, as it’s her latest single. From the start until the end of the proceedings, the poor ushers [the same somewhat elderly individuals whom I saw Saturday working the Seinfeld show] tried very hard to keep everyone out of the ailses, but, after song two [LoveGame, better known as Disco Stick] I think even the ushers realized it was a lost cause.

Multiple costume changes, multi-media elements, a great live backing band and her troupe of dancers kept everything very high energy. After the first two songs, she apologized for ‘missing’ Richmond, but announced that the show we were seeing was ‘something no one has seen before [it was in fact the staging and setlist that she’ll use on the upcoming Fall tour with Kanye West].

Seeing her, comparisons to Madonna must be made, and they are valid. The main difference is, while Madonna [and Britney and Christina] tended to walk the line between teeny-bopper and adult artist when they began, Lady GaGa leaves nothing to the imagination. This is a show for grown ups, no innuendo or implied sexuality, it’s upfront with no apologies.

Highlights for me were an exteded version of ‘Just Dance’ and the closing number ‘Poker Face’, played in two diffent variations, first alone at the piano, where she seemed to channel both Jerry Lee Lewis [playing the keys with her high heel shoes and legs streched across the entire piano] and Tori Amos. As that version ended, the band returned and the version featured on the album started, ending the show as it began, with a dance party.

Lady GaGa and her touring band/dancers took numerous bows to a standing ovation before she was carried off the stage. She had not been off the stage for more than five seconds before the house lights came up and the pre-show music started back up. Call it The Landmark’s way of saying ‘Get the heck outta here so we can clean up all this glitter off the seats, and don’t even think about an encore!’

She’s arena ready and I am certain the tour this fall will be quite impressive. I just hope between now and November, she figures out an encore. That’s a must when you play arenas.

One last thing I noticed. Lady GaGa’s music seems to touch all kinds of demographics. I saw white, black, latino, men, women, gays, straights, and even a few people considerably older than myself. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it seems like ‘the freaks’ have taken GaGa to heart, and that’s something I can identify with.

I had a blast and I really look forward to whatever it is she does next.

Thanks to Kelly, Mallory and the girl wearing blue hair and sunglasses for allowing me to cut in line out front.

–Barry

A Rediscovered Gem. Or, ‘Oh my God! He’s playing lead bass!’ [Originally posted on FB 09.12.09

Friday nite my Beatles Mono Box arrived. I will only say that if you haven’t bought a version of the remasters yet, Mono is the one to get. Exquisite packaging. So, very late last night, I set up my single disc CD player, which had been unhooked from my stereo system since 2003. I plugged it into an outlet by my bed, used the headphone input and my noise canceling headphones and spent several hours absorbing perhaps the best pop music ever written.

I’ll write a full review of the set, but I wanted to share one revelation that brought home how important and how great this remastered set is. I have listened to ‘Rubber Soul’ thousands of time in all different formats. I like almost every song on the album [never cared for ‘What Goes On’, sorry Ringo]. So, I’ve heard the song ‘You Won’t See Me’ countless times. Last night, it was like I finally HEARD it for the first time. Let me explain.

The focal point of the song before last night had always been the piano and the harmony vocals, plus the fact that John’s voice cracks repeatedly during the ‘Ooh La La La’ background vocals. Hearing the song in mono though, with everything in both speakers [finally!] the earth-shattering moment came when I realized that Paul plays lead bass throughout the entire song, leading the changes. The guitar is only used to accent the snare, but the bass [especially on the verses] is all over the place, taking charge but staying funky enough to never play the exact same thing on each verse. It really made me sit back and say out loud ‘Oh my God! He’s playing lead bass!’ and I then listened to the song eight or nine times in a row.

If you have ANY version of the song, cue it up and hear what I am talking about. If you have the stereo disc [old or remaster] the bass is in the left speaker and a bit buried, but you can still hear how much work he’s doing. If you have the Mono Box [Lisa! ;)] then cue it up and ‘hear it again for the first time.’

Every instrument benefits from the remasters but in my opinion, I think Ringo and Paul benefit most because, probably for the first time since the original 1960s vinyl mono releases, The Beatles have their low end back!

Just wanted to share. I am sure there are other moments like this on every record. There’s a lot here to take in.
 
–Barry

Roller Coasters, Airplanes and Graveyards [Originally posted on FB 09.10.09]

Part One

The last Thursday in August, my best friend’s six year old son Dylan called me up on the phone. Sadly, I was in a restaurant when he called so he had to leave a message. When I returned home and checked my voice mail, I heard something like this:

‘Barry, this is Dylan. I really wish you would go with us to Busch Gardens one day next week. Please? I hope you can. Call back.’

Keep in mind that I have not set foot in an amusement park since August 1994. That’s fifteen years and many many surgeries since I had last attempted to ride a roller coaster. My last trip to an amusement park [King’s Dominion] is most remembered by those who were with me as ‘the time Barry’s cane got dropped by a KD Employee into the Haunted River.’ When that happened, I had to wait around, freezing and wet, while the staff drained the water from the ride to retrieve my cane.

Needless to say, I thought that would be my last trip to any sort of amusement park. But, after hearing Dylan’s message, and the excitement in his voice when I called him back, I told him and his parents [Eddie and Tucker] that I would check with my boss about getting a half day off on Thursday, September 3, almost expecting it not to happen.

Well, I was able to get the time off from work and thus I spent the next few days truly wondering if my body, specifically my knees could handle roller coasters. I mean, I’m nowhere near as limber as I once was, my knees don’t tend to bend when I want them to and, when they do bend, they usually bark at me just make sure I promise never to do that again.

So, Thursday came. I left work at lunch time and the Pickering family [Eddie, Tucker, Dylan and one-year old son Bennett] hit the road for Williamsburg. The weather was perfect, the company was fun and…I was honestly much more nervous than I let on about the whole thing. The main objective was to make sure Dylan had fun.

Usually I hate wheelchairs. My legs work [most of the time] so I tend to choose to walk somewhere rather than use a wheelchair. However, I remembered the last time I went to Busch Gardens [May 1993 for my father’s company picnic] that the park has a whole lot of hills so, I mentioned as soon as things were set and we had a date planned that I would need to rent a chair. Once we arrived at the park, the staff was so great that I won’t even mention that it costs $15 and you have to reserve the chair 24 hours in advance.

Busch Gardens offered a disability discount so, while I expected to pay about $45 for a day ticket, I got in the park for $29. Good deal. Also, Busch Gardens allows those individuals in wheelchairs to enter a ride via the exit ramp and, once they get on the ride, they get to ride twice before getting out of the car. Kings Dominion offered this when I was a season’s pass holder in the 80s so I was glad to see that the practice had not changed.

Okay, first things first. Dylan wanted to ride the Loch Ness Monster with me, so we hit that ride first. It took a bit of doing to get situated in the car, but it was relatively quick. Of course Dylan wanted to ride in the front car, so, here I was, a coaster veteran of the past, riding for the first time in fifteen years, wondering if my knees would allow me to leave the car once it was over…and we get to ride twice!

The Loch Ness Monster has been around since 1978. I’ve ridden it many times in the past so I knew what to expect. I told myself ‘Everything will be fine, once we get past that first loop.’ Then the first loop came. The G-force was so much that my neck basically stayed down, looking at the floor on the loops, but once we were thru that, and as the rest of the ride finished, I thought to myself, ‘Okay…I think I can still do this!’ By the second ride of the Loch Ness, I knew I was gonna be able to have fun and ride everything just fine. The knees might bark some, but they would survive.

Next on the agenda was The Big Bad Wolf, a ride that sadly had its last run on Labor Day, being torn down to make room for new ride. Now, I had ridden the Big Bad Wolf years ago but didn’t remember much about it. The thing I’ll take away from it now is the ride has to have the deepest car seats to get into. I seriously did not think I was gonna be able to actually get into the car. With help from Eddie, I managed to get in [and thankfully, out] of the car but I knew, even if Dylan asked again, I wasn’t going to ride this more than one go round, [two times around in one sitting].

Those two rides are the only major roller-coaster rides that Dylan is able to ride at this point, due to height. So, he’s not yet able to ride Griffon, Alpengiest or Apollo’s Chariot. Feeling torn, Eddie and I decided to ride Griffon because Eddie ‘wanted me to feel the drop of a lifetime.’

So, Eddie and I go up the exit ramp and they ask Eddie where he would like to sit and he says ‘the front’ before I can say anything. I figure ‘What the hell? You’ll live, right?’ The great thing about all the other coasters except Wolf and Loch Ness is that the seats are like bicycle seats. You slide into them and a harness goes around your shoulders, or in the case of Apollo’s Chariot, around your waist. These seats are a breeze for me to get into, and I sincerely hope that all future roller coasters are built with these kinds of seats.

The Griffon was a phenomenal ride, expertly building anticipation, letting you hang for a good seven seconds, staring down at nothing but pavement, before sending you 90 degrees straight down at god knows how many miles per hour. The rush was spectacular and even before the ride ended, I was already looking forward to a second go-around. Let it be noted that The Griffon is perhaps the smoothest thrill ride ever made. It doesn’t jar or shake you around. Like I said, my favorite and the best ride in the park. Check it out if you dare.

Alpengiest was a good ride, similar to the Griffon but more jarring. And Apollo’s Chariot was a blast mainly because the restraint meets you at the hips, leaving your upper body free. All five coasters are top notch and it was well worth the price of admission.

I had a great time hanging out with Dylan, Tucker and Eddie, and ‘racing’ Bennett in his stroller. Funnel cake was had by the end of the day, capping off a great day out.

Thanks to Dylan for inviting me, Tuck and Eddie for coming along, and thanks to Bennett for smiling all day long. I hope to go back soon.

And seriously, ride The Griffon. You’ll thank me later.

Part Two

The very next day, Friday September 4, I flew to Jacksonville, Florida to visit my friend and former co-worker Jonathan. I worked that day until 3, then ran home, finished packing and, by 5:00 headed to the airport.

My flight left at 7:45. First stop was Atlanta, then my connection to Jacksonville. As luck would have it, Saturday night September 5, Virginia Tech played Alabama in Atlanta, so the flight down to Atlanta was basically me and 170 Hokie/Bama fans. It was a fun, at times boisterous flight. Little did I know that the fireworks really wouldn’t start until we landed.

The plane landed at Hartsfield airport in ATL actually ahead of schedule. It was 9:15 and my next flight left at 10:00. Looking out from my window seat at the city that I usually visit every summer, I really felt strange, almost a sense of betrayal that I wasn’t staying in Atlanta. I truly love the city and I feel a sense of electricity hit me when I’m there. Perhaps the city knew this and, perhaps powers were at work to make me stay longer than planned?

You see, we did in fact land ahead of schedule, however, we kept waiting…and waiting…and waiting to de-board the plane. The command never came because someone could not connect the jet bridge to the plane, so, everyone that had gathered their carry-on luggage and stood in the aisle had to put the luggage back in the bins, get back in their seat and prepare for the pilot to ‘drive’ us to another gate. All told, this took about 40 minutes, I finally got off the plane right at about the time my other flight was scheduled to take off.

Now, I do a lot of things well. Sprinting is not one of them. But, on this night, I came damn close to flat out sprinting down the gateway, getting on the train and jumping on an escalator to get from Gate D to Gate C. As soon as I stepped off the escalator onto concourse C, I started loudly talking to any agent within shouting distance, ‘Has the flight to Jacksonville left yet??!’ I couldn’t get an answer, so I lumbered from gate 25 to gate 19. I was happy to see about six other people standing in front of the front desk and, before I could ask anyone anything, an agent said. ‘William Hall?’ to which I gave a wheezing, ‘Yes’. It wasn’t until he handed me my boarding pass before I comprehended in my frazzled mind that the plane was still on the ground.

I found my seat and, for the first time ever, paid the six dollars for a bloody mary while the plane made its way to my final stop.

We landed 30 minutes late, but I eventually found Jon and we made our way to his new townhouse. I had asked him to buy me a bottle of Grey Goose vodka so we could drink when I landed. He did. We drank and watched Lynyrd Skynyrd DVDs until four in the morning. As an aside, Grey Goose does not cause a hangover the day after. Keep that in mind when shopping for spirits.

If you didn’t know already, Jacksonville, Florida is where most of the original members of Lynyrd Skynyrd grew up and where they formed the band. The city is full of landmarks, legends and myths. Now, in all honesty, I went through my Skynyrd phase from 1989-1991 and had not really listened to them much at all since 1991. That changed in July when I attended a Kid Rock/Skynyrd double bill concert in Va. Beach with Trudy. I enjoyed the show, but I really went for the company. Skynyrd however really impressed me and, hearing songs again that I had not heard since high school made me remember why I liked them in the first place. So when it was decided I would visit Jon in Jacksonville, he decided to turn the weekend into a tour of Skynyrd landmarks and old haunts.

First stop was Jacksonville Gardens Cemetery, where Ronnie Van Zant, Leon Wilkenson and Allen Collins are buried. We chose not to approach Ronnie’s grave, so I took a picture with the zoom. I also got a picture of Leon Wilkenson’s grave, which has to be the gaudiest, loudest and most fitting monument to a true individual.

Second stop was, in some ways the highlight of the whole weekend. Jon drove to the suburb of Orange Park, where the Van Zant’s grew up, and where Ronnie’s father Lacy lived until his death in 2005. We drove down Brickyard Road, a pathway later immortalized by Johnny Van Zant in his hit song of the same name. We drove past the cardboard cutout houses, past the paved portion of the road, to a gravel pathway on the property the Van Zant’s used to call home.

We parked the car and, without either of us saying anything directly, we both whispered for the rest of the time we were walking the pathway, toward the driveway and the foundation of where the house used to stand. To some, it may just be a dead end path with overgrown weeds, dead trees and cracked pavement. To me though, it really did seem like hallowed ground, filled with stories and memories. We spent about 30 minutes there and, I’ll honestly never think of Ronnie Van Zant, or any of the band members the same way after that.

Saturday night, we had a great meal at Crossroads, where the Florida football game was on every television in the place. By the time we sat at our table, Florida had a 14-0 lead. By the time we got our meal, it was 28-0. Florida would win 62-3.

After dinner it was back to the apartment to watch Va. Tech with KISS on the iPod.

Sunday afternoon, we rented a boat and traveled around Doc’s Inlet. At the last minute, I remembered sunscreen and slathered some on. We carried a cooler of soda [and only soda] and got a quick lesson on how to drive the boat, how to start the boat and how to park the boat.

I had a good time on the boat, though I think Jon drove a bit too fast. The capper was a fabulous meal at Whitey’s Fish Camp, where you can tie your boat to a dock and walk in for fresh seafood. I had amazing spiced steamed shrimp and Jon had fried shrimp. The restaurant is known by locals as ‘Ronnie’s hang out’ because, in the 70s, Skynyrd would have band meetings at the restaurant. Once that fact was published in a music magazine, Whitey’s Fish Camp’s place in Rock Lore was secure, even if it wasn’t exactly true.

Sunday night, surprisingly not sunburned; we rested before heading out to see the movie ‘Extract.’ I had only heard that the film was made by Mike Judge, who gave us ‘Office Space’ and ‘Beavis and Butthead’. I did not know that Mila Kunis was in the movie, nor was I aware that Gene Simmons was in the film. All in all, a great cast that had a good story. Some scenes fall flat, but it was still enjoyable, and Mila Kunis is nice to look at no matter the film.

My thanks to Jon for hosting me for the weekend and thanks to his dog Sally for sharing her futon with me.

Travel day Monday went smoothly, although I was exhausted upon my arrival home. My brother Brian and my niece Madison met me at the airport [she wanted to ride the escalators] so I got to see Maddie for a moment before she headed back to her mom in North Carolina.

It was a whirlwind of a long weekend but it was a wonderful way to bid farewell to summer. Thanks again to friends for this past weekend and to friends for this past summer, which was filled with unforgettable moments, phenomenal shows and lasting memories.

–Barry

McCartney – FedEx Field 08.01.09 [Originally posted on FB 08.03.09]

McCartney – FedEx Field 08.01.09

Let me say right off the bat that this note is not just a review of the aforementioned concert, but rather a recap of the entire weekend [the exciting bits anyway]. So, here goes.

First I want to thank my boss Frank for convincing me to buy tickets a few days after they went onsale. I didn’t buy tickets immediately because I couldn’t find a ride and didn’t want to spend dough on a concert without a confirmed way to get there. Frank convinced me by saying simply, ‘Michael Jackson is dead, how many more tours will Paul do?’ That sentence repeated in my head for the rest of the workday so, that night while seeing Hank Williams III at the National [July 1], I asked my friend Eddie if he would want to see McCartney. I know Eddie loves music, but, I honestly can’t remember a conversation where the Beatles or McCartney came up, so I was genuinely surprised when he answered with an enthusiastic ‘Hell Yeah!’ So, the ride was secured. The next morning, I bought tickets.

Now, fast forward one month. It’s Saturday around 5:00 in the evening. We’ve checked into the hotel and are looking for some pre-show food. Near our Comfort Inn were a McDonald’s and a Burger King. Since Eddie was driving, I let him choose. He picked McDonald’s and we made our way inside. ‘Wow, I haven’t eaten McDonald’s pre-show since 1988,’ I said. [Rod Stewart on the Out of Order Tour @ The Norfolk Scope] As I got up to the cashier I glanced back at Eddie and asked, ‘What do you want?’ He looks at me and says, ‘Burger King.’ As we exited, I said ‘I STILL haven’t eaten McDonald’s pre-show since 1988,’ which had Eddie in hysterics and became his favorite line of the weekend. That’s why it’s included here in the review.

We arrived at FedEx and quickly found a handicapped parking spot [concerts are really one of the few places where the Handicapped Membership card does have its privileges] and waited for the gates to open. Once they did, we made our way inside and quickly found the Tour Merch stand.

This is where we would spend the next, oh, thirty minutes or so.

I bought a tour shirt, but Eddie’s size was sold out, so, we had to scamper to another nearby stand to ‘hopefully’ find a shirt for him. We got in another line and thankfully found the shirt in his size. Then, it was off to find our seats, but not before paying ten bucks for two bottles of water.

Now, I told you I bought tickets several days after the seats went onsale, so I was fully expecting mediocre seats, already consoling myself by saying ‘at least you’re in the building, enjoy it.’ Little did I know that our seats were going to be only seven rows off the field, slightly stage left, with a great [and I do mean GREAT] view of everything. I sat there in my seat almost stunned that, seven rows below me, some people paid $200 for seats for what I thought was a lesser view than my $90 seat. I still don’t know how I managed to get that lucky.

The tickets said 7:30. And 7:30 came and went. After 8:00 passed, I realized the oldest rule in the book when it comes to stadium shows: Stars don’t show up until it gets dark. So, I knew we had about another hour to wait, but said nothing. No need to be the messenger the masses get mad at.

I must mention that the pre-show music was a disc that alternated between string quartet renditions of Beatle songs and a ‘dance remix’ disc that offered some truly horrid re-workings of McCartney solo/Wings material. Only Paul McCartney could have versions of his own songs played as pre-show music to his own damn show, and get away with it.

Then, just after 9:00, the stadium lights blacked out, the screens went dark and a roar went up. The instantly recognizable lead riff from ‘Drive My Car’ tore into the night, and then we were off.

First, here’s the setlist in full. Take a moment to just soak this in. I get excited all over again just reading it. Hearing this all live was, in a word, unforgettable:

1. Drive My Car

2. Jet

3. Only Mama Knows

4. Flaming Pie

5. Got To Get You Into My Life

6. Let Me Roll It / Foxy Lady

7. Highway

8. The Long and Winding Road

9. My Love

10. Blackbird

11. Here Today

12. Dance Tonight

13. Calico Skies

14. Michelle

15. Mrs Vanderbilt

16. Eleanor Rigby

17. Sing the Changes

18. Band on the Run

19. Back in the U.S.S.R.

20. I’m Down

21. Something

22. I’ve Got a Feeling

23. Paperback Writer

24. A Day in the Life / Give Peace A Chance

25. Let It Be

26. Live and Let Die

27. Hey Jude

Encore:

28. Day Tripper

29. Lady Madonna

30. I Saw Her Standing There

Encore 2:

31. Yesterday

32. Helter Skelter

33. Get Back

34. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)

35. The End

Okay. Now that you know what was played, some thoughts. I was thrilled to hear ‘Only Mama Knows’ from ‘Memory Almost Full’, one of his albums that I listen to often. Another happy surprise for me was the Wings classic ‘Let Me Roll It’, which has one of the meanest riffs at its core, one that truly feels right when blasted over a stadium sound system. And, even though I readily admit that I personally am burned out on ‘Live And Let Die’ and said before the show that I didn’t care if I heard it ever again, I have to say, when heard live Saturday with the expected pyro and surprise fireworks, I wasn’t bored. [That’s the KISS fan in me talking.]

Before I go any further, I must mention Paul’s band, which thankfully still includes ‘Wix’ [Paul Wickens] on keyboards and Abe Laboriel, Jr. on drums. Abe is still a mad man when it comes to the drums and sang the harmonies on almost every song. He’s a star and the band was top-notch. ‘Wix’ even played the keys with his elbow during ‘I’m Down’, as a nod to the Shea Stadium show where Lennon did that in disgusted amusement because he couldn’t hear a thing.

The most memorable moments for me were the dedications. Paul dedicated ‘My Love’ to Linda, and played 1982’s ‘Here Today’ dedicating it to John [last names aren’t necessary for you, right?]. The greatest though was the ukulele intro of ‘Something’, dedicated to George, as Paul had performed in 2002 at ‘The Concert for George’ [and if you haven’t seen that DVD yet, see it soon!]. After ‘Something’ finished, I don’t think there was not one soul there who at the very least didn’t have a lump in their throat.

Paul McCartney is now 67 years old. He’s one of the few performers who captures both rock music’s glorious past, while still being relevant in today’s ‘scene’. He and Dylan are the only two I can think of from ‘back then’ who are still making new music and performing new music, not because they have a deadline or a contract to fulfill, but because they want to.

We’ve all lived with Paul’s music for most of our lives, so, it really is like visiting an old friend who will play your favorite songs for you. We’ve all got our all time favorites. For me, when ‘Day Tripper’ started, I suddenly had a flashback to when I discovered The Beatles when I found my aunt’s 45 records at the age of five, [summer 1979] one of which was ‘Day Tripper. I also thought about a friend I made in High School named Todd, who has to be the world’s biggest McCartney fan. We spent many a lunch period talking Beatles music. The memories were thick all night long. Saturday night was a vivid reminder that music, unlike almost anything else, can be your time machine.

In short, Paul McCartney is still one of the best at what he does. He knows it. We know it. Let’s hope he keeps doing it for a while longer.

Thanks again to Frank for the convincing, to Eddie for the driving and the company, to the site http://www.setlist.fm for the set list. And thanks to you for reading.

‘My heart is like a wheel

Let me roll it to you’

Barry

08.03.09