Little Kids Rock honoring Steve Van Zandt

Many words will be written about this night in its entirety, but right now I just want to talk about the highlights for me, personally. I was up in the balcony, which had to be 80% die-hard Southside fans, if not more, reminding me of the old adage that you can tell a Southside fan because they hope that Steve (not Bruce) will show up.

I was never a Southside diehard, I owned the records and loved seeing the Jukes live, but it was just not my thing as much as it was for some of my friends. But I loved the songs — who wouldn’t love those songs? What feeling person would not just fall in love with the melodies and the words to those songs? — and one of my favorite parts of E Street history is the story about Steve singing the parts to the horn section and Bruce saying, “He’s hired.” (When I got to watch him conduct the horn section at the Carousel House, it was about as close as I would ever get to witnessing that live.) It seems improbable now, that this is all still going, that we still listen to this, that it is not dead.

I was thinking, also, of the day I found Men Without Women at J&R Music, back before every single move an artist made was transmitted with absolute clarity. They were literally unpacking the boxes and I stood there impatiently waiting for them to finish, bought the record, and ran home as fast as I could to listen to it, stopping to call friends: “Did you KNOW about this? It’s out! Steve has a record out!” And being able to go see him, and the Disciples of Soul, and all of those songs and all of those shows.

I was at that show, not because I had any idea that Bruce would be there, but because Steve was playing in New York. It was like that. Bruce was so big at that time and it was the last thing anyone expected, at all. People went to see Steve because of Steve. There was so much energy and it was always big and interesting and loud and full of life. There was a show at the Pony that was being taped for something, and at the end, during “Undefeated,” I pulled out a bottle of bubbles and started blowing them because it felt like New Year’s Eve, it felt like a party, and everyone, audience and band, was laughing and smiling and caught up in the sheer celebration of it.

(Truthfully, I could have done without the years in which every dork in the Tri-State area felt they had to bring an American flag to the show and wave it all night, with poor Steve saying, “Thanks, but could you put the flags down now?” But even that is at least an amusing memory.)

It is good to think about these things on a night when a bunch of artists are paying tribute to another artist. You get all retrospective-y. You remember (or are reminded) of what you know and what you have seen and get to go through it all again.

As for the show itself, the highlights for me (besides the obvious Bruce/Steve and Bruce/Steve/Johnny moments, coming up) were Jesse Malin and Tom Morello. You could pretty much count on those two bringing their A-to-infinity game to this night, and yet, they managed to surpass that. Jesse Malin completely tore the house down with “Lyin’ In A Bed Of Fire,” which HAD to be played. (He also could have done justice to “Forever,” which I am surprised was omitted and was desperately hoping for.) He stalked the huge stage like a panther, with that band behind him doing that glorious song justice every second of the way. He even pulled a typical Jesse moment by going down into the audience and climbing onto one of the tables, which woke people up and raised the energy in the room.

If you’d asked me what I’d wanted to hear, besides anything from Men Without Women, would have been “Sun City.” I try to explain to people who weren’t around then how major that record was, how important that movement was, how it opened up and made accessible not just South Africa, but activism as a whole — these were exactly the points that Tom Morello touched on, coming out and reading from a sheet of prepared remarks, telling the story about creating a mock Soweto shantytown in Harvard Yard when he was in school there – and then – then! “Sun City”! The perfect song for him to do, the song that absolutely could not be excluded if we wanted to represent Steven’s activism and impact of that activism. Tom also got the energy up, invoking his usual routine of instructing the crowd that they were going to get up and respond and sing one more chorus of ‘na na na na na na, na na na na (hey) (hey) (hey)’s, and they did.

[I was then later reminded that I had, actually, seen “Sun City” previously, at the Ritz show above, and also at the Conspiracy of Hope show at Giants Stadium. (I invoke the ‘I am old, I have seen a lot of live music’ clause in my defense.)]

The speeches–Bruce honoring Steve, Steve speaking–were worth the price of admission alone; I tweeted as much of the substance as I could for the Backstreets account tonight, and there are notes for a later, longer piece for the magazine, but the stories and the tall tales and the love and affection was heart-stopping. I want to hear every story, told by Bruce and Steve, in their words, in their voice, for as long and as often as I can. But of course this makes sense, because we all want to hear the great storytellers tell their tales.

The end of the set could have been called by anyone who knows this music, but it was still glorious to hear and watch Steve and Bruce duet on “Before The Good Is Gone,” for Southside to join them for “It’s Been A Long Time,” for the finale to be “I Don’t Want To Go Home.” It was like church, it was like singing hymns, it was shared memory and communal emotion and just, you know, Our Songs. Our guys singing our songs, together, with us. It was a moment where it didn’t matter that half the floor was full of people in evening dress playing with their iPhones, because it was for us. All of it was, but those songs especially.

[Personal to dude at Table 31, the only guy rocking out — and who clearly knew every song — all the way back on the floor, surrounded by people chatting and checking their email, I salute you.]

The other artists were also good, don’t get me wrong here: Gary Bonds was in fine form, Darlene Love is always spectacular, Southside picked a somewhat–esoteric–number, Elvis Costello was spot on (and then after going into the audience to say hi to Steve, just sat at his table for the rest of the night, still wearing his guitar). Everyone else meant well and were there for Steve and for the charity, but I cannot get excited or interested in Broadway stars or American Idol singers, I just can’t. But it didn’t matter, because it was a spectacular evening, and raised a lot of money for a fantastic charity. I’d say “The Big Man would be proud,” but I’m pretty sure he was there the whole time.


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Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA, 9-3-12


Bruce walked onstage all by himself and began the show with a solo acoustic “Factory” (dedicated for Labor Day), and I started to get goosebumps. Every show I have been to recently where he has begun the night in this fashion has always been off the charts. Bringing the band on next and pushing these dirty, snarling noises out of the guitar could only have been “Adam Raised A Cain,” and the flame was lit here for real. I am somewhat of a connoisseur of this particular number (some might say obsessed) and I am personally not sure he could ever play “Adam” unless he meant it; it would feel hollow, empty, forced. You have to imbue it with the tension and heat that was there when it was written. The horns were in on this, too, as well as Curtis and Cindy, and although if you’d asked me in advance how I felt about that, I would have told you that I would have preferred “Adam” straight up, it just added to the texture, gave the song additional depth.

We started looking at each other sideways when “Streets of Fire” was next. Like, these sidelong looks, no one wanting to break whatever spell we had somehow wandered into that was going to open a show night two in Philadelphia with three songs from Darkness On The Edge of Town.

And then.

And then, Roy hits the piano and Bruce touches the guitar and I am holding my breath, I am literally holding my breath, I don’t want to think it, let alone say it. I just kind of stood there hoping as hard as I possibly could, just hoping, not wanting to assume it prematurely, if at all. And then the guitar notes broke wide open and a blonde woman to my left threw her fists into the air and the collective THIS IS HAPPENING started to spread around the edges and into the center and the people who knew what was happening were suddenly connected together and the people who didn’t know what was happening knew something important was transpiring on that stage. The darkened stage and the half spotlights on Bruce and Roy made that crystal clear as well as the actual music, the way Bruce was interacting with the guitar. It was the ’78 intro to “Prove It All Night.”

I am the biggest cynic, I am the skeptic, I need reliable sources, I assume nothing. I realize the role of emotion and feeling in art but I also want cold hard facts. I worried that the reaction to the 78 intro was inflated or exaggerated, but I have to tell you that it was not. It connected with me, hard and fast, it was deep and breathtaking and mesmerizing. I tell people that I remember very little of my first Springsteen shows, I was so overwhelmed with just actually being there, but what I do remember are moments like the ’78 “Prove It” intro, the half-lit stage and the guitar overwhelming everyone’s senses.

Once the band were into the song proper, Nils came in on the end for a solo, and as much as I love Nils Lofgren (I was a fan before Stevie even thought about getting another job), I was not sure I wanted his particular style of playing on this song tonight. But it was perfect, he matched the color and the tone and the energy just right.

When Roy started the intro notes to “Something In The Night,” that’s when we started to wonder — were we getting all of Darkness tonight, albeit in a very different order? It was as powerful as the four songs that preceded it, not one moment of lost power or pacing. It felt like the entire stadium was riveted to every moment.

So when Bruce slipped into standard set mode with “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Wrecking Ball,” I was actually somewhat relieved. I didn’t think the pace of the first five songs could be maintained and I never want the tour to become a greatest hits show. I was pleased that “My City of Ruins” had more focus than the previous night, Bruce continuing the theme of ghosts being benign presences. He added a new story, talking about how buildings can also be ghosts, and a story about one of his family’s early houses, that “the Church bought the house, tore it down, built a parking lot…yet another reason for me to hate Catholicism.” This finished with, “As you get older you realize they walk alongside of you and remind you of the preciousness of life, the necessity of love– we got a lot of ghosts onstage, we’ll do this for your ghosts too.” The horn interlude at the end of the song remains one of the best moments of the live show, and the vision of Bruce out at the center platform, engulfed in a sea of hands at the end, is also priceless.

The next interval is where I think the show started to lose a little momentum. I didn’t expect to get “Spirit In The Night” twice in one two-show run, and the next segue from “Does This Bus Stop…” into “Saint In The City” felt a little off to me. This was my first “Bus Stop” with the 17-piece band arrangement and I felt like it embellished it unnecessarily, the extra horns and the percussion tradeoff is interesting, but doesn’t enhance the actual composition. “Saint” lacked oomph, and then taking that into “Frankie” – a challenge under any circumstance – followed by “Jack of All Trades” would probably be a tough sell in an arena. If I thought people were streaming out of the pit during “Frankie,” that was nothing compared to the exodus during “Jack of All Trades.” I know he is not responsible for what people are going to do outside in a baseball park, and moving around is to be expected — but it was even more than usual. I was severely underwhelmed with “Frankie,” even though I find it to be one of the E Street Band’s finest musical moments in general, the live version is going to be difficult to engage a stadium audience with, always, and I did not resonate with the extra violin intro tonight. (The intro, instead of just going into the melody of the song, also did not help with maintaining the crowd’s attention through a largely unfamiliar composition.)

This is probably why the crowd’s reaction to “Atlantic City” was the most lukewarm I have ever experienced. I mean, Philly usually treats this as their song as much as a Jersey crowd would, but the energy was flat, which is probably why “Darlington County” appeared next. The set would continue to zig zag in this fashion, “Shackled and Drawn” into “Sunny Day,” “The River” into “Lonesome Day,” and then “Badlands” to try to right things again, before “Thunder Road” would bring everything into a close.

At the end of “Thunder Road,” while the entire ensemble was at the front of the stage, Bruce sat down and started to futz with the laces on his boots. We made some jokes about how keeping your shoes tied was important, but then he proceeded to remove the boot and pour a large quantity of sweat out of it. He then did the same with the other boot, while the crowd — egged on by Stevie — cheered tentatively and gave out some hearty “Brooooccceeeee”‘s. (He would comment that it was “like walking around in a swimming pool.”)

The encore felt slightly rushed – especially given the ridiculous amount of rumors of guests guaranteed by many insiders – and I saw hordes of people wearing hard hats, clearly the riggers going to take the stage apart, heading backstage during “Born To Run” and “Dancing In The Dark.” This is probably why I was completely, utterly unprepared for the intro to “Jungleland.” It felt like I had been punched in the stomach and I had to lean against the barrier and could not look at the stage. I was not ready for this. I did not watch the video of HelsinkiGothenburg, feeling that I would be fine if it was played at a show I attended, but that I had no need to hear it yet. (I also completely understood the people who could not wait for the YouTube video to be uploaded.)

It was probably the quietest “Jungleland” I have ever been part of. There was lots of excitement and jubilation but there was also a lot of standing quietly and listening. I was glad to see the latter, not because I think it is the correct or the superior reaction, but because I didn’t want to feel left out because I wasn’t ready to jump around with my arms in the air for “Jungleland.” I did not think I would have such a visceral, strongly emotional reaction to the song’s performance. I was fine with it being left out of the set and would have been fine if it had sat out this tour or even forever, if that was what Bruce wanted to do. (I am generally more okay than most people with things having an end, especially musically.)

But tonight, standing there, I was glad it was back. I was glad that the people who had never gotten to see it would get a chance to see it. I was glad that Bruce was ready to put it into the set so that it wouldn’t be this specter hovering over everything — I used the phrase “get it over with” but I don’t mean it as dismissively as that, I mean that at some point not playing “Jungleland” would probably make it into a bigger thing than maybe he meant it to be. Obviously, I don’t know; I hope at some point someone doing an interview asks him about this, because I would like to hear about his thought process and how he felt about it and if it was deliberate or if it was just a thing that happened and then he realized he had stayed away from it, and what made him ready to do it again. I don’t even know that he knows; so much of this tour has been about Clarence and about the band and about the band’s history.

I am not sure, of course; these are just things I have thought about and was thinking about while I was listening to “Jungleland” being played in Philadelphia tonight. I was glad to hear it in Philly as opposed to the Meadowlands, it felt more right for me to hear it there for the first time. I stood and listened and I cried my eyes out and realized while I did that that this was going to be the closest thing we were going to have to a funeral for Clarence, or at least for me that’s what it felt like, the chance to release long-bottled up emotion and sadness and sorrow in public with everyone else. I finally tried to watch, and was able to watch, although I couldn’t watch Bruce until the end. And Jake carried that solo with some of his uncle and some of his own and all of the layers of history and responsibility on his shoulders, it may not have been with the same pure power that his uncle could have brought, but it was real and true and did the song justice. That is more than a lot.

I sang that one last verse, the way we used to sing it before we started singing everything, from “Outside the street’s on fire…” until my favorite line about the poets, the one I have tattooed on my arm. Most of the people around me did as well, it was how I remembered doing it, that moment from my first show I always will remember, singing those words out loud for the first time. And then, of course, standing quietly as Bruce finishes the last lines himself. It was solemn and as quiet as a rock and roll song of the majesty of “Jungleland” was ever going to be, and then it was over. It was over, and I looked at Bruce on the big screen and I couldn’t look, I could read a million things into his face at that moment, the hug with Jake, all of it. I do not know that this will ever be different, or easy, nor do I know that it should be.

Then, it seemed like instantly, Max hit the high-hat and Roy hit the chords and it was “Tenth Avenue,” and it was the most beautiful, most righteous juxtaposition you could ever have imagined. “Tenth” has been about memorial and about remembrance and about history but tonight it was even more about celebration; I mean, who doesn’t smile during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”? But the two together were beyond perfect.

It was not a perfect Philly night 2, but it was tremendous in its own ways, and more than enough.


My book Raise Your Hand: Adventures of an American Springsteen Fan in Europe will be out later this month! You can sign up at this link if you’d like to get a note when the book is published.


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The Gaslight Anthem, Live On Letterman


As part of the crowd that joined the TGA fan club on day one* I got to go to the “Live At Letterman” taping at the Ed Sullivan Theater tonight, for a live webcast. The band were the musical guest, and then they emptied the theater out and filled it back up with friends, family, some VIP’s, and us, the great unwashed. The band played a brisk 45 minute set, which you can watch right here.

The fact that you can watch it yourself means there is little point in me telling you about it, but I will offer a couple of thoughts. First is that the time on the road is doing them good, I have seen them three times since May and this was the best performance both musically and energetically. I wasn’t wincing at clams or missed cues or thinking that Brian wasn’t hitting the notes. Second, the sound in the theater was PHENOMENAL. (The webcast sound kind of blows. That’s too bad.) The sound mix is something that fans complain about consistently, and I realize this was not their sound person but it was refreshing in the extreme to hear a pristine, clear, proper mix. I thought the pace of the show worked well, I liked the sequence and mix of songs, and still enjoy hearing “Baba O’Riley.” I thought it was interesting that after the recent trend of Brian shedding the guitar for a few numbers, he eschewed that move completely, likely in the service of not wanting to waste time on taking guitars on and off, possibly not wanting to feel awkward without the guitar to hide behind on TV.

It was nice to hear the “leaked” “Here Comes My Man,” giving us a grand total of three songs from Handwritten, but I have to say that this bullshit of not playing the new material live until the album comes out has got to stop. At this point it is just stupid. The band needs to build a new setlist around the new material and they can’t do it if they can’t play it. Most people who are going to go see the band on the upcoming tours are likely going with an expectation of hearing new material since there is a record coming out in less than a month, and yet, the only songs being played are the single, the one that everyone knows because they played it in Australia, and now, the one that appeared on their website for a few hours over the weekend and then just as mysteriously vanished. Mostly, I just want to hear the damn thing already, and I will go see TGA even if there is no new material, but there needs to be new material already.

I appreciated the goodwill of the band getting the people in the fan club into the show, and apparently it was not that hard to get tickets, but the entire process of getting tickets and then getting into the theater was agonizing. As a veteran of multiple Late Night With Jimmy Fallon tapings, NBC runs their operation with military precision. NBC numbers tickets and has different lines and funnels the various groups efficiently. CBS had a VIP queue and a regular folks queue and just could not get their shit together. This, of course, has nothing to do with the band (although when CBS security was lecturing us that if we were sent to the balcony that we shouldn’t complain, we did feel like the fans were getting the short end of the stick) but damn it was annoying. I was also happy to finally be inside the Ed Sullivan Theater, which was just cool to think about.

You know it’s a good night when Alex Rosamilia emerges beaming underneath the hoodie, but everyone had big grins on their faces. I took photos with my camera phone from Row J because I wanted to try to capture some of that. They did good; they even did great. It’s too bad the webcast couldn’t show more of that.

*(a longer post that basically translates into, I am hedging that this band will get big enough that I will be happy to be one of the first people to have joined it, just like I remain delighted that I am a five-digit Pearl Jam fan club member)


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I know better, really, I do know better than to fall for amateurs who insist that, say, U2 are playing at CBGB on a Tuesday night in the 1am slot because they looked up every single band on the bill and have never heard of Hoover Monkeys before and they know U2 are in town rehearsing and Larry Mullen once played in a band where the lead singer once said he liked monkeys and if you can’t see HOW CLEAR IT IS then you don’t deserve to see them.

I have had these conversations a lot over the years. I believe in the lottery aspect of the secret club gig or the unannounced appearance, that if you happen to be there because you want to see the act booked on the bill and lo and behold someone else shows up and plays then that is the serendipity of rock and roll. Or if you figure it out, like Gary and the Boners at CBGB, then, hey, good luck to you. This is why I never saw Springsteen play with Cats on a Smooth Surface in the 80s, because everyone overlooked the fact that Cats sucked complete and total ass and I could never bring myself to borrow my roommate’s car to drive down to Asbury on a Sunday night and sit with 500 people who were staring at the door instead of the band all night.

So when my friend Matthew, who just moved to NYC, sent a note pointing out that Bernard Fowler, who has sung background vox for the Stones on tour, was playing a gig the Friday night before Jagger’s SNL appearance, with half of Living Color (who, of course, were discovered by Jagger and who opened for the Stones), along with Alexandra Richards (yes relation) DJ’ing, I did what any self-respecting New York rock fan would do and sniffed at it. I like Matthew and find his common sense to be unimpeachable, so I did not say anything, I just nodded and thought, that’s all well and good but there’s no way I would go to some random club in the heart of Bridge & Tunnel Greenwich Village on a Friday night on a rock and roll snipe hunt.

Two days later, I bought tickets.

I will confess that I was motivated mostly by the thought that the people who just moved to New York might see a Stones club show or Mick Jagger club appearance while I sat home on a Friday night and caught up on The Killing.

I had no intention of waiting on line to get into this venue, so I made sure we arrived after the 8 p.m. posted door time. It didn’t matter, there was a line of gray heads wearing Stones tongue-emblazoned attire of every possible vintage (including this shirt, which was completely unnecessary, as well as likely unlicensed). Everybody around us knew each other, from what I knew were likely to be various associations with Stones fan forums like SHIDOOBEE WITH STONES DOUG, Sticky Fingers Journal, It’s Only Rock And Roll, and lest you think I am mocking them too harshly, my own alma mater, Undercover, The Rolling Stones Mailing List.

For most of these people, who don’t listen to much music besides the Stones, this was an excuse to hang out with each other and see each other outside of tour time. The adage “they don’t get out very much” can be very, very true with some of these people. It is why I always considered myself a tourist and could only deal with the snarky fandom of the people on Undercover, who were well versed in making fun of themselves and the Stones and had both perspective and a sense of humor. Even then, there are limits of how much I can discuss a band. (Seriously, I can’t even deal with most Springsteen fans for this reason.)

The venue did not start letting people in until 9 p.m., one hour after posted door time and half an hour after the show was supposed to start. The club was only able to admit two people at a time, insisting that each entrant step up to a table in a particular fashion. This was not helped by the insistence that there was “ONE LINE FOR EVERYBODY” only to continually let people cut ahead of the people waiting in the line with alarming frequency.

Now, I thought that the reason they only allowed 2 people at a time was that this was a tiny club with a narrow entrance hall and of course, NYFD fire safety rules. Once I actually got inside, I realized it was just ineptitude. You could have driven a six-team of oxen through the entrance. Sullivan Hall was one of the biggest Village clubs I have been in since the demise of the Bottom Line. This was not Folk City or Kenny’s Castaways or Bitter End dimensions.

The club, formerly known as the Lion’s Den, usually has reggae cover bands or other cover bands or bands like Bonerama, who I was later informed was a premiere New Orleans funk act. This may be true, but everyone had the same reaction to their poster in the front window that I did, which was to inquire if the band was named by a bunch of 12-year-olds. (They were playing on the same bill as Mingo Fishtrap. When Matthew read the poster, I originally thought he was making that up.)

I am not proud. The first thing I did when I got into the club was ascertain if there was any kind of back entrance. (There was.) Then I noted that Alexandra Richards did look like both parents. She was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan TITTIES AND BEER and after half an hour of DJ’ing I noted that she was definitely her father’s daughter, but that unfortunately the level of artistry presented during her DJ set could have been achieved by stealing a couple of her dad’s iTunes playlists. I also didn’t ever consider “Folsom Prison Blues” to be a dance number and noted that playing the original version of “Harlem Shuffle” 5 minutes before it was obvious that the headliner was taking the stage was just legit trolling the crowd in real life.

We were in the back, and had to keep moving back. We had to keep moving back because people were actually crowding up at the front of the stage. I do not know why this surprised me. I also wanted to be in the back so I could see if there was any, you know, movement anywhere. If I was going to be on a snipe hunt I wanted to see the snipe walk into the venue so I could be prepared. Let’s not pretend that anyone in the room actually wanted to be surprised.

At one point we amused ourselves by watching Justin Verlander blow his no-hitter (not that blowing the no-hitter was amusing, just that watching baseball was better than watching everyone posing for photos together as though this was some kind of momentous event). I was the only one with signal so I held my phone up so the group could watch. This wouldn’t really be remarkable except that we were in the biggest crowd of flip phones that I have seen the past few years. The advantage of this was that your view wasn’t blocked all night by someone filming. They would take a shot of what would turn out to be a big white blur and put the phone down.

I won’t lie; the Wimbish/Calhoun rhythm section is formidable. However, the material it was supporting was less so. The highlight of the set was the original number about the environment, with the key phrase being “When will they learn/you can’t eat money.” The other original material suffered in similar fashion; the lyrics were just agonizingly bad.

The set was unremarkable, to be honest, but I don’t know why I expected it to be remarkable in some fashion. I also do not know why I did not convince my boyfriend that we should leave right about the time they started playing “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” Blessedly they played a shorter version than the Stones have ever played live, but watching the people down front jumping up and down in ecstasy was making me sadder by the minute.

As we left the club, they handed us fliers for upcoming shows at the Highline Ballroom featuring various other tangentially connected Stones people as well as one for Ray Manzarek’s band and a Jimi Hendrix tribute. If nothing else, they’re not stupid.

I just hoped no one saw me walk out of the club.




The Gaslight Anthem, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 5-16-12


Tonight’s Gaslight Anthem show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg was, at least in my mind, going to be an album preview, a taste of the new music to come. Alas, this was not to be. After the opening half dozen oldies but goodies, I was ready for the band to dive into the new material. Instead, we only got two new songs, the single ’45’ and “Biloxi Parish,’ which had already made its way into the intertubes by virtue of having been performed live once in Australia. I kept waiting… and waiting… and waiting… before it became obvious that this was going to be just a TGA small club show. That threw things off a bit for me emotionally, the anticipation of “Okay, will the NEXT song be a new one?” having to be replaced with “okay so I’m just going to jump around to everything I already know.” Which is not bad, by any means, just not what anyone thought it was going to be.

The energy throttled up and down tonight, from goosebumps at entry (helped along by blaring “Sabotage” over the PA, which received the appropriate response) to a few lulls at odd and unexpected points, slow songs barreling down the track while some of the rockers teetered on the brink. The entrance into “Great Expectations” was the band and audience on full throttle, with an intensity that surprised everyone, I think. “The Patient Ferris Wheel” was another off-the-charts moment, feeling more like the end of the set than the middle. It was loud and ecstatic and wonderful, but we didn’t exactly break any new ground here and that’s what I was hoping for tonight.

Brian’s voice didn’t seem at its strongest–the high notes on ’45’ were definitely missing–but the energy from the crowd made up for it, as usual. I opted for my side stage spot on the risers instead of heading straight for the front, because I am an old cranky punk lady and do not have the patience for amateur crowd surfers– but was almost sorry at that decision because it was reasonably chill; bouncy and energetic with a small circle pit about a half a dozen people back. It wasn’t perfect and it felt like we weren’t working at it, the new songs not really being new in the true sense of the word, but it was still everything you love about this band, in the kind of place they will very likely not be playing for very much longer.


The very things that make me crazy about The Gaslight Anthem are the exact same reasons I did not trust Brian Fallon or TGA at first: it seems too perfect, my interests too aligned, the influences too close. It took the personal endorsement of several young punks who assured me that they had their bona fides before I relented. Of course I was going to hop on board the minute I was cleared for takeoff. Here is a band that wholeheartedly embraces almost everything I hold dear to my rock and roll heart, whose shows are 90 minute orgies of kids both young and old screaming along at the top of their lungs to every single word, clapping, raising their arms, gleefully participating in call and response. Of course this is home sweet home. There is no irony, there is no detachment, there is a whole lot of gratitude and positivity and plain old FUCK YEAH going on. I am very much okay with all of this.

I freely admit that my interest in this band is from my own rockist prejudices, my preferences about How Things Should Be Done, my selfish desire to keep the music I grew up on alive, to keep kids listening to Who’s Next and London Calling so that the next generation of bands don’t all sound like Dave Matthews and John Mayer. And unlike the Hold Steady, with whom I would probably also share iPod playlists (and honestly like very very much), they ring home for me lyrically. Neither Craig Finn nor Brian Fallon are writing for me but I still resonate with Gaslight lyrics. (And that’s not a diss at Craig Finn, who is a brilliant lyricist, as hard as I try I just don’t click with the stories he is telling.) There have been plenty of other bands in the past who have tried to be the Clash and who I have dismissed in a flat second. I think it is just that TGA have found one particular intersection that repackages it in a way that you love or you hate; it’s not that it’s new or different, it’s just the way it’s put together this time by this particular group of people.

I have heard “Baba O’Riley” live dozens of times; if there is a song I should be burned out on it should be “Baba O’Riley,” and yet, when Brian announced it my immediate response was to make sure my phone was carefully zipped away in my pocket so I could pogo up and down like it was brand new. They play it straight but not without enthusiasm and humor, they are playing it for an audience that had likely largely dismissed the Who as their parents’ music or if not, at least as music made by dinosaurs and not relevant to them. It is all of those things and it is also just a song, just a cover, just a moment. I am sure that if I go back and watch the Livestream that I will find Brian’s voice lacking and the band not playing together in a couple of spots but that did not matter right then, what mattered was the guitars and the bass and the drums and Brian’s voice and the crowd singing along out of tune and off kilter and with love and affection. This was why, despite the show being filmed, I took out my camera and used up the last of my battery to try to capture it, put it in a bottle, give me a jolt of adrenaline the next time I need it.

I apologize in advance for the CARYN SINGS THE HITS OF THE WHO LIVE AT MHOW nature of this recording. (Brian didn’t even try for the Daltrey power screams and I didn’t even notice that I was doing it.)


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The Music of the Rolling Stones, Carnegie Hall, 3-13-12

Michael Dorf presents
The Music of the Rolling Stones
Carnegie Hall, March 13, 2012

This was the most star-studded Carnegie tribute benefit show out of the five I have attended (Springsteen, R.E.M., The Who, Neil Young). The announced performers were strong from the outset, it didn’t feel like the organizers were scrambling for talent (which is what it seems like sometimes, with the lineup only filling out a few weeks before the actual show). That’s why it was so surprising that it was so uneven and ultimately unsatisfying.

Unlike previous shows, there was structure: it was going to be the songs from Hot Rocks and they were going to be performed in order, which I do not understand; it’s not like this was Exile On Main Street where track sequencing would actually matter. Sometimes structure is liberating; other times it is just, well, restricting. Unfortunately it was the latter tonight.

THE GOOD: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” performed by Jovanotti, Members of TV On The Radio, and a high school choir was inspired and energetic. “Wild Horses” which was originally billed as just Marc Cohn, but added Rosanne Cash and Jackson Browne. People were going nuts and it was performed as well as the song could be performed but it just wasn’t that exciting. (I realize the song isn’t that exciting, and would call it ‘overrated’ in the canon myself.)

THE VERY GOOD: Ronnie Spector handled “Time Is On My Side” well. Marianne Faithful with “As Tears Go By.” A little disappointed that David Johansen, a clear favorite, didn’t bring more to “Get Off Of My Cloud.” Taj Mahal brought along a tremendous female vocalist to accompany him on “Honky Tonk Women,” which brought up the energy in the room.

THE EXCELLENT: Peaches played “Heart of Stone” fairly straight, with more than a little Janis Joplin, I thought. Steve Earle rocked out “Mother’s Little Helper” commendably. Ian Hunter absolutely brought it for “19th Nervous Breakdown,” surprising even me (and I’m a fan). Ian was one of the only performers to note that he was at Carnegie Hall, that he had seen Frank Sinatra here, and that Sinatra had stood where he was standing now. A little bit of nerves can be a good thing, I think.


The Mountain Goats were excited and enthused but still struck the right tone for a stripped down “Paint It Black” on piano and drums; I hate to say something like “they practiced and it showed” but I always have respect for someone who cared about doing a good job.

Gomez performed an exceedingly brave arrangement of “Jumping Jack Flash” that slowed it down and sped it up and then ended it on a Ramones-worthy pace; initially you weren’t sure this was a good idea but by the second verse you could feel people’s attention creeping back and they got a big hand at the end. Angelique Kidjo tore up “Street Fighting Man” and was one of the better matches between artist and material in that stretch of the show.

Rickie Lee Jones and “Sympathy For The Devil” could have been a huge trainwreck but the performance was flawless and it actually worked, the people around me who suddenly got all chatty because it was relatively quiet shut up by the second verse, and the fans up in the cheap seats were adding faint “woo-woo”‘s in the appropriate places at the end. At first it seemed to throw her off, but by the end she was doing it herself, working it into her arrangement.


Finally, I loved Rosanne Cash’s “Gimme Shelter”; it was warm and not as angry or fierce but it was loud and strong and absolutely valid.


Last but not least: the house band, which was basically Patti Smith’s band, led by the inestimable Lenny Kaye, plus a keyboardist I did not recognized. This was an inspired choice, because these guys actually played in cover bands and could follow the artists as they made their way and sometimes struggled through the material. Only complaint is that sometimes they just weren’t loud enough.

THE QUESTIONABLE: Glen Hansard is a tremendous talent but – “Under My Thumb”? One of these things is not like the other, said my brain when this pairing was announced. I appreciated his arrangement, with a stand-up bass and minimal guitar, but asking the auditorium to snap their fingers – I am sorry but this is not a crowd participation number in any way, shape or form. This was just a huge mismatch that didn’t work.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops performing “Midnight Rambler” was something I was very interested in, but I feel like they didn’t take it far enough. They stripped the lyrics down and cut out most of them and I feel like this was largely a missed opportunity.

Jackson Browne and “Let’s Spend The Night Together,” acoustic; the crowd went nuts because it was Jackson Browne but this just left me flat. Even the idea of it would leave me flat.


THE UNNECESSARY: Juliette Lewis saunters out in rhinestone high heels and glitter hot pants and attempts to sing “Satisfaction.” She meant well, I am sure, but she cannot sing, and she has no rock and roll stage presence. She shouted, she ran around, she over-sang, and the audience, being old white men of a particular age, ate up the fact that she has awesome legs and is cute. I have no quibble with her acting but she does not belong onstage performing rock and roll. I cannot believe there was no qualified musician available to perform this particular number.

THE UNINSPIRED: Oh, I just don’t know where to start here. “Brown Sugar” by Jackie Green (straightforward and unmemorable), “Play With Fire” by Rich Robinson (missing emotional timbre entirely), and the worst offender, “Ruby Tuesday” by Art Garfunkel, which just completely emasculated the song and turned it into an AOR arrangement.

The show’s ending was unfortunate. Marianne Faithful was brought back out to perform “Sister Morphine” and while most Stones fans actually give a damn, this was the equivalent of letting the air out of the balloon for most of the people who were there, because it was the cue that there were no actual Rolling Stones in the building. I don’t think this was fair to Marianne and it wasn’t the best note to end the show on; c’mon, it was SISTER MORPHINE for heaven’s sake, the song she wrote about overdosing, that she had to fight with the Stones about to get her fair share of royalties – this is not how you want to end this night that’s supposed to be celebrating 50 years of the Rolling Stones making music, or all the people who just donated money to help keep music programs in schools.

And, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, either rehearse the finale jam number with all participants, or drop it. This is the third time I’ve had to watch people walk out with lyric sheets and mill around the stage and kill any energy that was left in the room because they didn’t know the words or the song. “Tumbling Dice” is quite possibly the Stones’ worst live number–even back in the day, through the magic of bootlegs, it went on and on and on and has none of the energy of the original. As an encore number that only a few musicians were actually interested in, it just stopped things cold, especially once people were fleeing the auditorium during “Sister Morphine” (and may I add, shame on you).

It’s a great cause and a great concept and as long as I’m interested in the artist who is the subject of the tribute, I’ll definitely be coming back.


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my best shows of 2011


Even I am not immune to the year-end listing process. Here’s my list of favorite/best shows of 2011. It’s so skewed as to representative of nothing except my particular universe – but it’s not like I’m pretending that 2012 isn’t going to be a laundry list of Springsteen and Afghan Whigs shows.

1. Twilight Singers, San Francisco
2. Wild Flag, Bell House
3. U2, Montreal night 1
4. Big Audio Dynamite, Roseland
5. Horrible Crowes, Bowery Ballroom
6. Twilight Singers, Webster Hall
7. Gaslight Anthem, Asbury Park Convention Hall [I feel the need to footnote this show by pointing out that it was amazing before Bruce showed up.]
8. U2, Giants Stadium
9. Bryan Ferry, Beacon Theater
10. Patti Smith & Lenny Kaye, St. Mark’s Church

Greg Dulli
patti smith

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Welcome to Mats City: the NYC “Color Me Obsessed” afterparty

Tonight, Gorman Bechard’s Color Me Obsessed finally made it to New York City, and #1 Mats Fan Jesse Malin organized a homecoming party worthy of the movie, the band, and the fans. Highlights included Patrick Stickles from Titus Andronicus absolutely nailing “Sixteen Blue,” Kevn Kinney’s lovely “Here Comes A Regular,” Tommy Ramone (who, you may remember, produced Tim) singing “If Only You Were Lonely,” – the list goes on, and on, and on, but was capped off (in my opinion) by the video above, Craig Finn and Tad Kubler doing “Within Your Reach.” (I apologize for not continuing into “Color Me Impressed,” which was the next number and was mindblowing, but there was no way I could have kept the camera steady the whole song.)

There were some numbers that were slightly questionable–Robert Gordon wanted to do well with “I Will Dare” but, regrettably, did not, and no matter how many times he jumped around, Willie Nile did not convince me that he had ever heard “Can’t Hardly Wait” until last night. On the other hand, several musicians I was completely unfamiliar with delivered incredibly, highly convincing performances of deep catalog cuts: Bree Sharp conquered “Unsatisfied” with aplomb, Dave Hause brought much needed energy to spot-on versions of “Anywhere Is Better Than Here” and “I.O.U.,” and Alex Levy covered “Portland,” even. Matthew Ryan pointed out he was singing along to a lyric book because he had previously made up his own stories to the songs and Todd Youth wanted him to get it right. Jesse Malin gave us a joyous “Alex Chilton,” and D-Generation bandmate Danny Sage’s “Answering Machine” (prefaced by a great Bob Stinson story) hit the perfect emotional notes. And I need to give props to a backing band, led by Todd Youth, who were crisp and sharp and professional, with just the right degree of raucousness. For a Replacements fan, it was a tremendous event.

There is something about standing in a room surrounded by people singing along as loud as possible to songs that you love, especially when it’s not something you get a chance to do any more. I am always appalled when Jesse Malin covers “Bastards of Young” because no one knows the song and worse, no one cares to know the song. There was an incident at a Justin Townes Earle show where I was openly mocked for singing along to “Can’t Hardly Wait” despite Earle’s encouragement. Even when Marah would cover the same (sometimes with the horns, even!) there would be disgruntlement around me. So it was good to be surrounded by kindred spirits for the first time in a very long time.

Having spent 20 years of my life carrying the torch for the Replacements, it’s been a crazy couple of years for me. I finally made it out to Minneapolis, had a drink at the CC Club, sat on Bob’s Bench and paid my respects, went to a show at the Seventh Street Entry and sat there singing along to Replacements songs. Like, these were not just things I did to tick them off a list, they were as real and as vital to me as visiting Abbey Road, Cap Rock, 315 Bowery, or the corner of 7th & Main in downtown Los Angeles – the list goes on (and hopefully you get the idea). Standing on the Bowery again singing along at the top of my lungs to my old musical compadres, just up the road from a place I saw the same songs performed a long time ago, was sad and sweet and satisfying. I just felt lucky, lucky to have the memories and to have seen the band and been there when so much of what people miss and long for and wish they were there for happened.

Jesse Malin and the Todd Youth All Stars doing “Alex Chilton”

Encore with everyone, “Bastards of Young”. Watch Patrick Stickles walk around filming everything.



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Wild Flag, the Bell House, 10-15-11

This was only my second Wild Flag show, having been out of town the first round of club shows. I paid full price to see them at Radio City, opening for Bright Eyes; even from 15 rows back in the canyon of Radio City, they ruled, and hard. With the space and the echo, that was where I first realized that the thing they reminded me of more than anything was Isle of Wight era Who – the lengthy jams, the interplay of drums and guitar. I know, you will tell me that you cannot compare a band that does not have a bass player with the Who, let alone Entwistle-in-a-skeleton-suit era Who, but somehow they are channeling that spirit.


Up close, pressed against the stage on Saturday night, Wild Flag were once again awe-inducing. They are amazingly tight for a band that has just barely been together. What seems to be my problem with the album, that there isn’t enough room for it to breathe, is an asset live. There is little chatter, the occasional “how are you all doing” seems more like an afterthought, not in a bad way, but because they are so immersed in each other and what they are doing. They careen from song into song. Everybody plays. Everybody sings. Everybody dances. Mary Timony raises her guitar in the air and above her head and into the amps, generating feedback. Janet Weiss remains one of my favorite drummers ever to watch, I could pick her style out blindfolded. Rebecca bounces behind the massive keyboard. And Carrie Brownstein, is a guitar hero more than ever. More than ever, she is mixing Patti with Pete and watching her windmill over her SG was one of those OH MY GOD moments. There were girls over my left shoulder dancing and screaming and waving their arms in the air every time she kicked a leg out.


If there was a negative, it was that there aren’t enough songs yet, even extending some of the interludes on the songs from the album doesn’t quite do it for me. I want more. I need more. It felt like we were just getting started when they walked off the stage and came back on again, three sharp chords in a row and I high-five a friend as they zoom into “See No Evil,” right, fitting and proper, although far more physical than Television ever would have been, it was just right.



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Bryan Ferry, Beacon Theater, 10/6/11


This was only my second time seeing Bryan Ferry, believe it or not (and I can’t find any documented record of the first time I saw him, more on this later). I bought this ticket without knowing anything about the tour or having heard his new solo album, or even knowing if it was good (it is), but more because at this point I start to worry about ever seeing certain artists. It was an indulgence, and I was prepared to be a little bit of a tourist or an outsider at this show in exchange for being able to see Bryan Ferry on stage and hear him sing live.

I needn’t have worried. The show was way more accessible than I anticipated; when I leave the show thinking, “Gosh, it would’ve been nice to have seen ‘Virginia Plain’,” you certainly weren’t hurting for a solid coverage of hits. I didn’t know about, but wasn’t surprised at, the production values, from the 7-piece band (including Andy Newmark on drums and Chris Spedding on guitar), the 4 backup singers, and two occasional dancers, to the elaborate visuals used as backdrops. While this was a thoroughly adult show, I was glad to see enough weirdness in the first ten rows to make me feel like this wasn’t totally adult AOR land.

I just wanted to spend 90 minutes watching Bryan Ferry live and in person, so the combination of all of the above was like one gigantic, lush treat. I had an amazing seat in the 7th row, the sound was flawless, and the performance was fantastic. And the man in person did not disappoint. Superficially, no one wears a suit like Bryan Ferry, even if it didn’t have gold lame on the lapels and he wasn’t wearing eyeliner, like in those first photos of Roxy Music I ever saw that drew me in initially. He was always some kind of punk rock James Bond for me, playing baccarat in the South of France while listening to the Stooges, or something like that.

Ferry’s instrument didn’t seem aged or weak or flawed, and the selection of songs, again, was completely satisfactory, ranging from Roxy favorites to solo hits: “Kiss and Tell,” “Avalon,” and “Casanova.” There were three Dylan covers, and I had forgotten about the “Watchtower” cover (although it owes more to Neil’s version than Bob’s). Ferry was animated and engaged and appeared to be having a great time with the other musicians onstage. I would have liked a stronger horn section, but, you know, not everyone is Andy Mackay. I would have wished for more songs from the new record, but I always wish for more songs from the new record no matter who I am seeing.

The clincher for me was the closing number, which has, apparently, been his trademark closing number for years: “Jealous Guy”. I had forgotten about the song, almost, and when the opening notes came out of the PA it was one of those moments of recollection and memory, just a tumult of emotion where I was almost snapped back in time to 1981, when that song was on WNEW constantly, when I lived within blocks of the Dakota. Time stood still for a few moments, especially as he stepped to the mic to whistle the bridge. It was surprisingly moving. The encore was yet another cover, “Hold On, I’m Coming,” which of course was carried off deftly and with aplomb.

I was glad I went, I was glad I finally got to see him now, I am thrilled he is still so vital and vibrant and the show is so worthwhile.

Addendum: I am positive that I saw Bryan Ferry at a benefit concert at the Ritz in 1987 or thereabouts, with Johnny Marr on guitar. I cannot find documentation of this anywhere, and it’s possible that one or the other was there, but not both. I found a listing for a SNL performance the two did in December of 87 and that seems like the right timing, I was worried about getting home from a rally in DC the day of the show and literally had to run from Port Authority down to the Ritz and didn’t get to change. All the dates match up but I can’t find a listing anywhere that confirms my memory (or fantasy, as the case may be).


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