Concert Review: The Steve Miller Band with Peter Frampton

smbandIt’s been too long since I last posted something other than an obituary (although the music world did just lose another great in Glen Campbell). A concert, then, offered a welcome opportunity for change. Last night (August 8) I attended a collaboration of two rock icons at the Colosseum in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Although I must confess I did not stay the entire show (due in large part to a rather frenetic work week), what I did see impressed me, at least as a fair-weather fan of these two legends.

Peter Frampton opened up with an hour and ten-minute long setlist of his greatest hits, many of which were from his most successful album, 1976’s Frampton Comes Alive. While the highlight of his act was a lengthy (about 17 minutes) and rollicking rendition of “Do You Feel Like We Do” – which included his iconic “talkbox” solo and some fun interplay between Frampton and the keyboardist – Frampton also performed a unique version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” (again using a talkbox) as a tribute to Chris Cornell. Frampton explained how he and Cornell had performed this song together a few years ago and, in an acknowledgement of Cornell’s exceptional vocal skills, Frampton allowed his guitar to do the singing. It was a touching and classy gesture on his part. IMG_1365

After Frampton’s gig it was time to say hello to the Steve Miller Band. Steve Miller is 74 years old, but he can still jam – and he had a lot of fun doing it. After playing a few hits, including “Abracadabra,” he welcomed Frampton back on stage for a surprising performance of four old blues songs: KC Douglas’ “Mercury Blues,” Otis Rush’s “All Your Love,” Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied,” and Elmore James’ “Stranger Blues.” This homage to these classic blues musicians elicited a positive response from the audience and it was probably my favorite part of the whole show. Miller and Frampton showed off their guitar chops with a number of improvised solos and duels. And we enjoyed watching and listening!

IMG_1366Frampton exited to much applause for a second time as Miller and his band prepared to return to their greatest hits, but it was at this point that I left (I never would have done this on a Friday or Saturday night, I promise). I did check out the setlist and confirmed my suspicions: Miller concluded the night with the hits “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Rock’n Me,” and “Jet Airliner,” among others. Despite my early exit, this proved to be a wonderful experience. Having known just a few of the songs of both performers going in, I did not exactly know what to expect – but I did not leave disappointed. From the humorous (Frampton accidentally burping on the talkbox while performing “Do You Feel the Way We Do”) to the touching (Miller dedicating “Living in the USA” to the members of the United States armed forces), this concert did not disappoint.

The best musical tribute to Chris Cornell so far…

Back in March 1994, shortly after Soundgarden’s masterful Superunknown was released, Melody Maker‘s Everett True wrote a detailed and often insightful piece about the band on the road (in Tokyo, specifically). Chris Cornell spoke openly with True about his struggles with depression and fear:

“I write songs best when I’m depressed,” Chris tells me. “No one seems to get this, but Black Hole Sun is sad. But because the melody is really pretty, everyone thinks it’s almost chipper, which is ridiculous. Fell On Black Days is another one. Like Suicide is a perfect example.”

We’re they inspired by specific events?

“Fell On Black Days was like this ongoing fear I’ve had for years. It took me a long time to write that song. We’ve tried to do three different versions with that title, and none of them have ever worked. Someday we might do an EP…

“It’s a feeling that everyone gets. You’re happy with your life, everything’s going well, things are exciting – when all of a sudden you realise you’re unhappy in the extreme, to the point of being really, really scared. There’s no particular event you can pin the feeling down to, it’s just that you realise one day that everything in your life is F—–!”

Exhibit A for a “chipper” version of the huge hit is this snappy, big band-ish, “are you kidding me?” version by Paul Anka (yes, the same Paul Anka who wrote the lyrics to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”—one of the very few Sinatra songs I find annoying, even revolting). And in the past few days, understandably, there have been a number of singers and bands playing the song as a tribute to Cornell, who took his life on May 18th, after a reportedly ragged show at Detroit’s famous Fox Theater.

Continue reading “The best musical tribute to Chris Cornell so far…”

Peace, The Strawbs, and the Tragic Passing of Chris Cornell

Tuscaloosa Show, May 8, 2017

I’ve never really listened to Soundgarden, but I’m fully aware of their importance in the history of rock. When I saw this morning that Chris Cornell died, likely of a suicide, it certainly made my heart sink. I thought instantly of fellow Progarchist Carl Olson, who has expressed his love and admiration for Cornell’s music in several posts here at Progarchy over the years. His tribute today to Cornell captures that sense of loss that we all feel when one of our musical heroes passes away.

Continue reading “Peace, The Strawbs, and the Tragic Passing of Chris Cornell”

The shocking death of Soundgarden’s legendary Chris Cornell [Updated]

Chris Cornell at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. (Wikipedia)

Update: There are now reports from the medical examiner that it was a suicide. Baffling and confounding.

——-

I awoke this morning to two texts from close friends. The first was terse and direct: “Chris Cornell has died.” The second:

“Just heard about Chris Cornell. Sad day for the music world. I’m in Detroit on my way to Florida. It’s all over the news here. Soundgarden played here last night. I doubt he killed himself.”

The first friend had accompanied me to Cornell’s stunning July 2016 concert at The Hult here in Eugene. We both agreed it was a remarkable show; it was even better than a solid 2013 show at a smaller venue just five minutes from my house. We marveled at Cornell’s range, presence, lyrics, musicianship.

Now we are both stunned by his sudden death in a Detroit hotel, not long after a Soundgarden concert that reportedly concluded with Led Zep’s “In My Time of Dying”—a staple in recent solo shows by Cornell.

There are reports that the death may have been a suicide. If so, that would be even more shocking. There had been ups and downs, but Cornell had avoided the deep dives into oblivion that eventually swallowed up Kurt Cobain, Andrew Wood, and Layne Staley. And had, over the past two decades, thrived both personally and professionally.

Cornell was a drug user in his early teens, then drank heavily (and apparently used drugs on occasion) during the heyday of Soundgarden in the 1990s. He hit bottom in the late ’90s as the band broke up and then his first marriage unraveled. Even then, however, he produced his (arguably) finest solo album “Euphoria Morning” (later updated to “Euphoria Mourning”), which demonstrated that he was not just about grunge, but could dip into gospel, blues, and folk. After a stint in rehab, he joined up with three members of Rage Against the Machine to form Audioslave, one of the finest supergroups in recent memory, producing three studio albums of muscular, confident rock that further demonstrated Cornell’s prowess as a songwriter. Several songs for movie soundtracks followed, including “You Know My Name”, the theme song to the 2006 James Bond film, Casino Royale. And Soundgarden’s 2012 “King Animal” was a solid, often brilliant, return for the legendary band.

Since the early 2000s, Cornell’s personal life appears to have been thriving. He married Vicky Karayiannis in March 2004, and by all accounts was a devoted husband and father. His most recent solo album “Higher Truth” was well received, revealing a mature and confident artist who was still trying new things as a songwriter and musician. In interviews, Cornell was thoughtful and funny; he seemed to embrace his fame without taking himself too seriously, which is not an easy thing to accomplish amid the fame and challenges of being a musician.

Again, I’m simply stunned. My God grant Chris Cornell peace and provide solace to his family during this most difficult time.

Chris Cornell, 1964-2017

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Shocking and upsetting news in the music world today: Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell died suddenly last night after performing with the band in Detroit. No word on the cause of death as of yet. This is another great loss to the music world, and our prayers go out to his family and friends. We hope he is rocking out in peace.

https://www.yahoo.com/music/representative-rocker-chris-cornell-died-age-52-073215382.html

Rockin’ genius to the Hult: Chris Cornell’s magical evening in Eugene, Oregon

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Waiting for the show to commence….

Nearing the end of his stunning two-and-a-half hour concert last night at the Hult Center here in Eugene, Oregon, a clearly delighted Chris Cornell noted that while he had enjoyed his two previous stops in Eugene, this particular night was “special”. He was quite right. I was at his October 19, 2013 show at The Shedd—a smaller and more intimate (that is, cramped) venue—and while it was a very good show, Cornell topped it last night with a generous mix of newer and older tunes—a total of 26 songs in all— the occasional accompaniment of Brian Gibson on keyboards and cello, and a vocal performance that rivals any I’ve heard from him—and I’ve listened to numerous live performances on albums and via YouTube.

Simply put, Cornell’s songs are demanding, requiring the sort of range, strength, stamina, and flexibility that very few singers can pull off on a regular basis. And there have been times when the strains of traveling and performing have taken a toll on Cornell’s voice, especially on Soundgarden tours. But the legendary singer and songwriter (Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog, solo) is, without doubt, in a wonderful place as an artist, making great new music and embracing his older songs with unashamed enthusiasm. Late in the set, introducing “Black Hole Sun”—a huge hit that he has sung countless times—Cornell mused that he didn’t understand why some artists end up “hating” those defining hits. “If you don’t want to sing it,” he said, “don’t write it and record it in the first place.” And then he tore into the song as if he had written it just last week, clearly thriving on the interplay between his acoustic guitar riffs and Gibson’s dynamic cello excursions.  Continue reading “Rockin’ genius to the Hult: Chris Cornell’s magical evening in Eugene, Oregon”

Chris Cornell on the making of songs and the craft of singing

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The Australian site MusicFeeds recently posted an extended and very interesting interview with singer and songwriter Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog) about his new album Higher Truth (Progarchy rating: 5 stars). A couple of excerpts:

Well going through the actual lyrics on the record, I seemed to find a lot of recurring themes of love and heartbreak and the passage of time. Where were you drawing from emotionally and ideologically when you were writing the record?

I sort of let that happen kind of on its own and then I sort of have a better perspective on what it all means to me a couple of years later, usually [laughs]. It’s moods and ideas that just sort of occur to me is the best way to put it and I tend to not put that under a microscope too much and the closest that this comes to a concept record really is in that I wanted it to be stripped down and I wanted it to kind of feed this type of acoustic touring that I’ve been doing over the last several years and I wanted that to become a kind of a living thing with new music and generating new ideas, as opposed to always a look back.

So I think like anything else – like a Soundgarden album or like an Audioslave album, the lyrics are often and the lyrical ideas are often inspired by the music and by the mood of the whole thing. And that ends up in this case being love and loss and heartache and the things that everybody goes through.

Has your approach as a song writer changed much over the years or is it similar to how you first started?

I’ve always pretty much done the same thing, which is whatever works [laughs]. So, that is always a moving target I think. Whatever it sort of takes to feel like not only am I writing but it feels good and it feels like I’m writing something that means something to me. I don’t think I’ve ever had writer’s block, I think I’ve just gone through periods where I’ve written things that I don’t particularly like. I guess that’s what writer’s block is maybe, I don’t know. But for me the process is always a moving target. …

When you read a lot of the reviews surrounding the record so far, a lot of the talk has been about just how strong your voice is shining through. How do you rate your voice at this stage of your career? For a lot of artists it can go away and become weaker and for others who work at it it can get stronger and it seems to be the general consensus that your voice is almost as strong as it ever has been.

Well I think it’s different and I think that mostly to do with what I try to make it do and what I want it to do and what’s important for me that it does. You know my approach to singing and what I want it to sound like and the songs that I write are really very different than 20 years ago or 30 years ago even. Really I think it’s more of an artistic issue than anything else. But I also think that there’s a dedication to craft in a sense and maybe that’s not fair and everybody’s different but I think of singing – I approach it as an instrument because it is, it’s a reed instrument really.

There’s a lot of factors that go into creating the particular tones that you want to try to create. The same that there would be if you were a trumpet player or if you played strings or you played the saxophone. Over the years with the amount of experience that I’ve head I’ve figured a lot of things out and have become a lot more experienced and getting a lot more out of what I believe it can do – getting my voice to do things I didn’t think it would do. That sort of learning curve never really goes away.

The entire interview is well worth reading. (Soundgarden fans: the band is planning a 2016 album.) And, as a bonus, here is Cornell performing “Josephine” from the new album; I happen to know it is one of TimeLord’s favorite Cornell cuts—and rightly so!

Godsticks: Emergence

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Emergence posed a bit of a challenge for me.

I am not familiar with the musical genre known as “grunge,” but I was intrigued when hard rock/grunge band Godsticks contacted me to ask if I would review their new album, slated for release on September 4. (Perhaps “grunge” is not the ideal or even the most accurate word, but I will use it for consistency’s sake). Thanks to a suggestion from fellow Progarchist Carl Olson, I discovered the musical talent of Soundgarden, and in particular their album Superunknown. This provided a solid starting point from which I could better appreciate and understand Godsticks’ newest release.

The three Welshmen of Godsticks play with as much dexterity – and power – as any “mainstream” alternative/grunge band. Darran Charles can shred on guitar, and his edgy vocals remind me of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, although his voice is deeper. Steve Roberts (drums) and Dan Nelson (bass) make up the rhythm section, and both men prove more than capable of matching Charles’ frenetic playing. The album is high octane and high energy, but most of the songs may be considered “radio friendly.” And like the albums of more prominent grunge bands such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam, Emergence is noticeably pessimistic in tone, although not overwhelmingly so (see Ruin, Much Sinister, Hopeless Situation, etc.). An underlying sense of hope can be detected in the music, although this hope must be searched for, and may best be described as gritty. Take, for instance, this excerpt from the title track:

“They pray that we won’t form a tribe

Let’s  leave all that bull**** to one side

It’s clear that when the place gets stormed

We’ll find the strength to emerge reformed”

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Each song is excellent, and I would recommend reading the lyrics while listening to each tune. All That Remains is a beautiful ballad, the softest song on the album. Charles demonstrates his skills on acoustic guitar on this tune, but he truly shines on the electric guitar. The title track is a frenzied rocker, and from the opener Below the Belt to the closer Lack of Scrutiny, this album will hold – or more likely command – your attention. Although Roberts and Nelson no doubt contribute to the album’s overall quality, Charles is the driving force behind the band, his guitar, vocals, and lyrics taking centerstage.  I highly recommend this album for anyone interested in a creative hard rock/grunge band. Godsticks deserves more attention not just from the progressive rock world, but also from the larger music world, and hopefully this album will only propel them forward to even bigger things.

 

 

 

Zac Brown + Chris Cornell = Southerngarden

Chris Cornell cemented his reputation long ago as one of the greatest rock vocalists ever, first with Soundgarden in the 1980s and ’90s (and currently), and then with Audioslave in the early 2000s. But Cornell, who is now 50 years old, has a rather intriguing history of crossing genres, beginning with “Temple of the Dog” (1991), which was certainly rock, yet with hints of gospel and folk. His surprising 1997 version of “Ave Maria” (on “A Very Special Christmas 3”) indicated an interest in music far outside the usual grunge/metal arena. And with his 1998 song “Sunshower” (on the “Great Expectations” soundtrack), which became a hit without ever being released as a single, and “Euphoria Morning” (1999), his first solo album, Cornell further demonstrated his ability to sing (and write) within numerous genres. His 2009 album, “Scream,” caused plenty of screams—from fans who welcomed the electro-R&B-Timbaland-produced songs and from those who hated it and saw it as a sign of the apocalypse.

In recent years, Cornell has written and performed a hit song for a blockbuster movie (“You Know My Name”, the theme song for the 2006 James Bond film, Casino Royale), sang lead on the funky, Euro-fusion tune “Lies” with Gabin, and crooned a mellow, old-school duet (“All I Have To Do Is Dream”) with Rita Wilson on Mrs. Tom Hanks’s 2012 solo album, “AM/FM.” And in his various solo acoustic tours [see my October 2013 review of one such show], Cornell has always played some left field tunes, such as Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean,” which he first played unplugged many years ago as a slow-burning blues song (and inspiring a similar take from “American Idol” winner David Cook in 2008).

There are more examples, but that’s enough of an intro to Cornell’s latest collaboration, which was released last week: the single, “Heavy Is the Head,” with the Zac Brown Band, which appears on ZBB’s forthcoming album, “Jekyll + Hyde”. I’ve enjoyed the ZBB’s past albums, which are a mixture of Souther-country-rock, traditional country, and some Jimmy Buffet-type tunes, and I expected I would enjoy the tune. In fact, I think it is a great cut; it is far heavier than expected and is a near perfect marriage of Southern/country rock and grunge, hence my use of the word “Southerngarden”. The song is built on a distorted, grungy bass line, which leads into some distorted guitar and Cornell’s somewhat menacing vocals; it builds over some fine riffs and, at the 3-minute mark, a nifty Soundgarden-ish breakdown and some trademark wailing. Here is a recent performance for SNL, marred only by a bad mix (the vocals are pushed too the back):

Great pop & rock music is NOT dead

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I thoroughly enjoyed Brad’s righteous, even rockin’, post earlier this week in response to the “Rock is dead!” crowd. Mankind, it seems, has an innate attraction to the apocalyptic, including in the realm of rock. It brought to mind a piece I wrote in November 2008 on the Insight Scoop blog regarding a number of silly stories about how the Pope (then Benedict XVI) was somehow and in some way embracing and celebrating the music of the Beatles on the 40th anniversary of the release of the “White Album”. That led to a little rant on my part about how stupid it is to say, as did L’Osservatore Romano, the semi-official newspaper of the Vatican, that the popular music of the late 1960s was far superior to that of the early 21st century. To that end, I made five points. Here is the post, below the fold (the pic above, by the way, is “The Music Man” painted by Norman Rockwell in 1966):

Continue reading “Great pop & rock music is NOT dead”