Friday, November 26, 2010


  Quick ! Name the first guitarist that comes to mind who can play jazz, metal, funk, and punk, with equal, and unprecedented skill ?
  Well of course, you said Vernon Reid.
  Mainstream fans will eternally recall Reid as the fiery guitarist of Living Colour.  Yet  throughout his career,  Reid has worked with every genre of artist, from the Mariah Carey to DJ Spooky. Rolling Stone may have anointed him a curious #66 on their list of the 100 Best Guitarists Of All Time.  But, here at the DRB, we have Vernon firmly entrenched at number #7, just a half step behind Adrien Vandenberg.  Regardless of rank, Reid is a renaissance musician, a diverse blend of countless musical influences.  In the twenty-two years since 'Vivid' was released to great critical acclaim, Reid has composed a film score. Produced records. Released his first solo album back in 1996. Become a husband and father. And, he can now add Podcaster, to the list.
  We caught up with Vernon backstage at The Fox Theater as Living Colour prepared to mesmerize the masses on the 'Experience: Hendrix' Detroit tour stop.

If you had the chance to go back and speak with the Vernon Reid of 1989, what would you say ?

  What would I say to myself ? Well, if there's anything I would say it's 'Don't be afraid to be even more creative”. Success, the way it came for us, was kind of traumatizing in the sense that, you're struggling, you're struggling, and I think this happened with a lot of band from my 'era' like Soul Asylum, a band like Anthrax, bands that were playing different things, then suddenly you're in the mix and it's like 'whattt ??'.  The other thing, if I was going to talk to my younger self is, 'Man you should start to play piano, NOW!!' Because ten years evaporate and then twenty. But, if you start, soon enough, two and three years pass and you're able to at least passably do it. I've been threatening to sit down at the keyboard, but that's what I would tell myself: “Practice more!” Even more than I did

  If tonight was the last show you ever played, have you accomplished all you wanted to ?

  Everything ? If it all ended tomorrow ? I managed to do a fair amount. There are very few lives that feel complete. Because life is a process, an ongoing process. And one of the things for young people to understand is that you are always you. Its not like the older you is going to be radically different. You're still going to be you. You may leave certain things alone, but your essential personality is the same. I look at my seven year old's (behavior) and I say 'That is a feature!' 'THAT is not a phase!' She's going to be like that when she's twenty-one. There's so many people I would love to have a chance to sit down and talk to, or play with. I feel very fortunate in just the people I've gotten to meet. I've met a lot of my heroes, I've played with a lot of my heroes. From where I came from, my family is not a musician family. I went to a technical high school. I didn't go to a performing arts high school. I was guy who listened to Carlos Santana and then found himself standing next to Carlos Santana. I was a guy listening to the sex pistols, then I met Johnny Lydon. I was a guy listening to the Bad Brains, and I now consider that band to be amongst my really good friends in rock. So, a lot has happened. Still, there's are people I would have liked to have met and played with. I played on Public Enemy's first record. I played on Mariah Carey's first record. I toured with Jack Bruce as his guitar player. I've had a lot of varied experiences.

  How has Fatherhood change you as a musician ?

  It made everything real in a fundamental way. Like witnessing my daughter being born. I was struck by two things. It was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen, and this is an every day, every second occurrence. The first month with her I didn't even pick up the guitar. But, when I picked it up again, I felt great. It makes everything better. Some people take it as 'oh it's a pressure thing' the key to it is. Every kind of person has screwed it up as a parent. And every kind of person has made it work. People in the military people or in other dangerous professions have worked out as great parents. People who have little means have done a good job. Then, again, you have people who have done a terrible job of it. They stayed incredibly self centered or selfish. The economics of it are incidental. You have rich people who have done a terrible job. You have poor people who have done a terrible job. And vice versa. Hopefully, I'm doing a good job. I'm very lucky, that my wife is an extraordinary woman. My wife is also an artist. A choreographer and filmmaker, and active in her profession. That's a great thing for a kid to experience. And, I think were good parents.

  Is it challenging to find a balance in being a musican, father, and husband ?

  I think that's the modern question. Yes, it is from time to time. But the one thing is everyone is in the same mix. In the economy today, the kind of 1950's sitcom scenario is not realistic. You have two income, two career families, almost by necessity. There are people with regular jobs who aren't able to balance it. As I've said before, every kind of person has done well with it, and every kind of person has messed it up, or had a difficult time. Balancing it is key. I think the most important thing is that it's possible to have a great family life while being engaged in whatever profession or career or vocation calls out to you.

 What does this tour with it's relation to Hendrix, mean for you personally.

  It's funny. I actually became a podcaster with a stand up comedian W. Kamau Bell, we have a podcast called 'The Field Negro's Guide To Art's & Culture'. The fifth episode is me interviewing Ernie Isley. It was a incredible honor to talk to him about Jimi Hendrix, because Ernie Isley of the Isley brothers he was kind of post-Hendrix. He was one of the voices that kept the kind of idea of what Hendrix was doing, alive.  Hendrix is a figure that people projected a lot of things on to. Everybody has their own kind of relationship to what he did. I love his music. I love what he did as an improvisor. I love what he did as a songwriter. He created an extraordinary context for what he did on the instrument, and he's very influential. The thing that I'm always at odds with is there are people who are 'Hendrix aficionados', people who are 'Hendrix obsessives', and play everything like him. His life was so extraordinary that he calls out to everyone to live your own extraordinary life, you have to live your own extraordinary life. He died at 27, young and beautiful, and did an incredible amount in a short period of time. And he is a challenge. His music, his existence as a figure, is a challenge in terms of 'how free am I prepared to be?', 'How uncompromising am I prepared to be?', 'What do I really want to say ?', 'What context do I build for the kind of guitar playing that I do?', and to think about that not in a nostalgic way, but in the modern day, in the current day. And having been a person, in a band, playing lead guitar, I'm constantly challenged to rethink what the role is. I think about a cat like Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, and I think 'man this cat is so . . so .'

  Such as on 'In Rainbows' ?

  Yeah! It's beautiful. What he's doing on the guitar, I go back and I hear bits of Wes Montgomery and bits of old jazz in there. So it's an ongoing dialogue for me, and it's a honor to play Jimi's music with such wonderful musicians. Every night I try to bring my own dialogue with it. I'm not so concerned with playing LIKE him. There's certain things (on the tour) that have been very positive. This year, the first half, I played a lot with Joe Satriani, trading licks with him. Today, I'm playing with Steve Vai and trading licks with him. And its awesome, it's completely awesome to be playing with one of the giants of modern day guitar. Hendrix has been made into so much. I come back to, really, what a great creative force he was. He exists on a kind of superficial level, with the head band and the crazy hair, but he also exists on a very soul deep level. A lot of his music is not happy-go-lucky music, like 'The Wind Cries Mary', 'Spanish Castle Magic', 'Castles Made of Sand' . .”

  Hear My Train A-Coming.

  Hear My Train A-Coming. He dealt with the same sorts of things that Robert Johnson dealt with in his own way. 'If Six Was Nine', he dealt with mortality in his music. He dealt with existential loneliness. He dealt with really the blues and heartache. But he also was like a pimp. He was a guitar pimp, too. He was influenced by Bob Dylan and the living influence of Bob Dylan affected his music. Robert Fripp talks about how, at one of the earliest King Crimson gigs, this guy runs up to him and says 'Man, that was great!”. Turns out that was Jimi Hendrix. He was not just about what he was doing, he was listening to everything. And the spirit of what that is, that's what I look for in myself in the sense of being open. Challenging myself. But I'm looking for that in terms of what the next generations our doing. For example, Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, is on the tour, and his two young sons, Graham and Harrison are excellent guitar players.

for the DRB
*Edited for clarity and content*

Sunday, November 21, 2010


  I arrived early to The Fillmore eager to witness this latest incarnation of The Cult on their  'Destroying L'America/Nomads' tour. Reviews of earlier dates had been mixed, particularly an unflattering description of their June 5th Luna Park show in Sydney, but I remained enthusiastic. This is a band I grew up with and their unique approach to hard rock struck a chord with me at an early age.
  But little throughout the evening went as anticipated. The band pass list did not arrive until 6:45pm, and doors opened at 7pm, so I killed time next door in the State Bar and Grill reading Brett Callwood's recent Metro Times article on 'Celldweller'.
  The list eventually arrived. I was admitted, checked my briefcase and coat, and proceeded to secure a meaningful place directly in front of the stage. For most concerts at the Fillmore, I'm content to sit mezzanine, but not this one. I orchestrated a blood vow with the other die-hard standing next to me, that no one would get through us to the handrail.
  Let me preface the remainder of this article by admitting, like Ian Astbury and fellow founding member guitarist Billy Duffy, I am aging.  I have less tolerance, less patience, for juvenile stupidity. Or perhaps I'm merely more conscious of it. In Europe, throwing a full beer at a guitar player in certain circumstances is actually a show of respect. Well in Detroit, it's a sign you're a dumb ass. Despite excellent aim, two nitwits hurling beer ($5 a cup!) managed to miss members of both bands.
  My obsession with being entrenched at the front rail resulted in a dubious honor. Some overly aggressive young woman, drunk and high on, what Ian referred to during the concert as 'jazz cigarettes', spent the first three Black Ryder songs humping me like I was her drug dealer in a largely pornographic effort to secure a spot at the front rail.
  Two rows of bodies behind her, a near brawl broke out over someone touching someone else somewhere. . . you know how these things go. Some uppity jackass said something flattering about the size of the hooters on the other guys wife. Except this is The Cult and the median age in the front twenty rows was 45 and up, or my name is Captain Kangaroo. Most of us adults have outgrown our ass-kicking teenage years, and simply want to enjoy the show. At a My Chemical Romance concert, I can better understand today's restless youth, filled with Milwaukee's best and hallucinogenics, gently settling disagreements with beer and fists. But The Cult crowd more resembled parents who will be driving their kids to My Chemical Romance.
  Australian support act The Black Ryder were a pleasant surprise. I wasn't familiar with Scott Von Ryper and the exquisite Aimee Nash's shoegaze music, but they easily won over The Fillmore crowd with their enthusiasm and the eerie Stone Roses meets The Cure approach to tempo and drone. Their subdued songs and dark melodies are thick with sex and haunting in a bizarrely addictive manner. Check out the track 'Gone Without Feeling' from their 2009 album 'Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride' for a clearer understanding. My only criticism of this group: You're on this tour to generate interest for your band, to win new fans. If a few of them are in the front row, howling for a pic, accommodate them. Small effort, large reward.
  The Cult, or should I say Ian, Billy, and the current crew of backing musicians they have in place, did their best, despite several considerable factors working against them. One is age, they simply don't have the energy to push it like they used to and that's fine. Fan's will temper their expectations, as both Astbury and Duffy are nearing 50. Two, they haven't released a decent album since 2001. You obsessives that argue Born Into This is a 'great' album can kiss me on my pale white butt cheeks. It's mediocre, especially when held up to 'Beyond Good & Evil' or 'Electric'. Three, they're nearing the end of this leg of the tour, and it has been a grueling three years of touring for the band.
  Still, it all contributed to a slightly uneven show, that alternated between satisfyingly energetic and tired.
  Opener 'Every Man And Woman Is A Star' an excellent new track that could easily have been an outtake from their self-titled 1994 album. Sometimes unfamiliar tracks snuff out the fire before it gets a chance to smolder, but this track is accessible and got the crowd primed. They surprised everyone with an energetic revisit of 'New York City' from 'Sonic Temple' and, highlight of the evening, a stellar reworking of 'White' from 'Ceremony'. 'White', in my opinion, has never received the critical prominence it's due, and it was encouraging to see this forgotten chestnut back into the limelight. Also, their stirring new song 'Embers' showed nearly the same promise as “Every Man & Woman' and was performed with equal ferocity. New material seemed to genuinely reinvigorate the band, albeit temporarily.
  After some early heat, the show descended into the typical Greatest Hits template. 'Sweet Soul Sister' despite being one of the big four from Sonic Temple, falls flat. 'Lil Devil' is performed with what appears to be the minimal amount of effort possible. However, during 'She Sells Sanctuary', Billy excels and I became 11 again, sitting in an apartment in Union Lake, Michigan mesmerized by a cassette copy of 'Love'. 'Fire Woman' ignites the crowd and I am 15 again, roaming the hallways, a high school degenerate, with 'Sonic Temple' in the Sony Walkman. “Spiritwalker' makes the set list, but despite showcasing the talents of hired hand drummer John Tempesta, it's a stale effort overall.
  With 'Wildflower', a good portion of this crowd sang along word for word, and responded joyously as Aimee Nash joined the band onstage with a tambourine. But, one couldn't escape the obvious sense during 'Nirvana', that the energy was rapidly evaporating. Ian valiantly attempted to motivate the crowd, hurling tambourines into the audience, and offering the microphone to enthusiastic fans to sing along. He praised Detroit fans for our resilience in the face of economic turmoil, but everyone who still bothers to add Detroit to their tour does that.
  Predictably, they encored with a standard performance of 'Love Removal Machine'. Mercifully, the overplayed 'Edie' was left off the set list.
  The hard truth is Ian's voice was ragged and he missed or skipped lyrics, often appearing out of breath particularly on 'Rise'. He's gained weight, grown his beard and hair back out, and was in full latter years Jim Morrison parody. It certainly isn't Ian's fault that he happens to resemble James Douglas Morrison when sprouting the shaggy look. But when you tack on in the aviator sunglasses and the Native American dancing on stage straight out of Oliver Stone's The Door's movie, somewhere up in rock and roll heaven, Jim's rolling his eyes.
  I do not exaggerate when I add Billy seemed completely disconnected from what was going on, almost the entire set. He went to great lengths to avoid making eye contact with anyone in the crowd, focusing on instrumentation, and consistently appearing as if he couldn't care less.

  Look folks, it's no secret I love The Cult and have since first hearing 'She Sells Sanctuary' in 1984. I love Detroit and have since 1973.
  But what happened after the concert ended, was the most unprofessional display by both artist AND concertgoers I've seen in some time. After waiting inside The Fillmore for forty-five minutes, only rhythm guitarist Mike Dimkich appeared. He spoke with some attractive locals he was well acquainted with and sourly ignored the rest. It was then explained to the remaining pass holders, the rest of the band would be 'making an appearance' over at the State Bar (where, conveniently, anyone with a driver's license could enter). What in the hell was the point of a backstage pass ? As we made our way to the bar, I hung close to one of Ian's local friends who was texting him directly, trying to get a straight answer amidst all the chaos.
  After another twenty minutes of confusion and waiting, with no one in the bar knowing what was happening, Ian made a abbreviated appearance. He was there long enough to hug the aforementioned friend, and then all hell seemed to break loose. Not everyone in the bar was there for The Cult, in fact a rather disturbing group of suburban idiots seemed convinced that Ian was actually John Mellencamp, who happened to be performing next door at the Fox. From there, the behavior of a majority of the Detroit fans in the State bar can only be described as fucking appalling. Few were patient, respectful, and waiting politely for a moment to interact with Ian. Most behaved like oversexed orangutans feuding over the last banana.
  I was embarrassed to be there, embarrassed to be from Detroit. Even when Kwame Kilpatrick publicly melted down and we were the laughingstock of the world, I wasn't this embarrassed. After being patient enough to sign an autograph for a 9 year old girl who was required to wait with her parents outside the front doors to the State Bar (liquor control laws), overzealous admirers began grabbing Ian, yelling out that it was their birthday and to take pictures with him. Some didn't bother asking, they just threw one arm around him and snapped their cameraphones. It was utter chaos.
  It took five minutes for the breaking point to arrive, and Ian hustled out the back of The State bar with Billy's guitar tech, to the safety of the tour bus. Bassist Chris Wyse remained in the bar, but my impression was other than some female admirers, few realized or cared who he was. Those of us who had been polite and patient, who waited all evening for a moment to shake hands with one of our musical inspirations, got completely fucked. While I'm disgusted with the startling neanderthal behavior of some fans, it was completely unprofessional and inappropriate to move us out of the secured area inside the Fillmore, to a bar.

  Some of Ian's response, I can partially understand:
  For him and Billy, two men who have platinum records, who once filled stadiums with the mainstream hordes clamoring to hear 'Fire Woman', the downside of rock has been a bumpy ride. No record label, financing your own tours, and belligerent concertgoers throwing beer at you. Anyone in those shoes, would be annoyed with their reversal of musical fortune, and frosty towards aftershow engagements.
  But, I simply expect more and better from a band charging $30 to download TWO new songs.  I expect musicians who have already received (minimum) $2500 of my money over the last twenty years, in concert tickets, t-shirt, posters, record/CD/EP/CD singles/DVD sales, etc, to take a minute, shake my hand, sign a $25 t-shirt I just bought, and if there's enough reasonable time, pose for a picture. When you say 'Meet and Greet', guess what? I expect to meet and greet the artist. Particularly if said musicians are trying to slowly rebuild a disintegrating fan base, show by show. Otherwise don't make Aftershow passes available.
  Why you may ask, do I have such high expectations ?
  Becasue people like me, make Ian Astbury rich. People like me, allow him to forgo a life washing dishes in a Hamilton, Ontario Tim Hortons, so he can tour the world pretending he's in The Doors.
  The Fillmore was half empty for this concert. And, only about twelve us with Aftershow Passes remained waiting in a secured area. Hardly a mob. I don't expect musicians to endure an unsafe environment, or placate every nut job who demands an autograph. But, there's a right and wrong way to engage your true fans. This was a textbook example of how to half ass an after show meet and greet and alienate your well-meaning, lifelong supporters.

for the DRB

Monday, November 15, 2010


  Mediocre bands litter the Detroit landscape like dog feces. It's to the point, that when some no-name outfit produces a record that's merely 'above average', it's hoisted in the air and paraded down Woodward like a Thanksgiving Day float.  So it's fitting the combined musical forces of native son Vinnie Dombrowski, the provocative Danielle Arsenault, hometown guitar legend Dave Black, another local legend in bassist Dana Forrester, and mysterious drummer Leander Decordova, were expected to not only satisfy, but exceed the extremely high expectations on their second full release. The first Crud album was a sonic assault on the Detroit music scene, a musical traffic signal indicating that not only was the devil at the wheel, but Hell remains straight ahead for most of us. Few albums possess that raw authenticity to grab you by throat and shake you out of your everyday complacency. 
  So we've all been wondering the same thing: What could possibly be next ? The anticipation for COMI has been building for months and has been fully justified given the talent level of these musicians.  
  Well, with their sophomore release, Vinnie and his partners in crime have successfully proven one absolute musical truth:

Rock is no longer dead.
It is now a zombie that Satan chained up in mom's basement.

  'Crud On Monster Island' is pure spectacle. It's underground theater, complete with lion headdress, blinding lights, and a tour de force of rabid musicianship. And, it's been a long time folks, since anyone around here has put out a record this good.
Not that COMD is going to appeal to everyone. It's still noisy, fetish, sex rock, no question. There's some NIN (intentional or not, the subtle influence of Reznor's enigmatic 'Gave Up' from the Broken EP is everywhere on this disc), some Front 242, and a deliciously sexy streak of early Blondie. If Blondie dressed in leopard skin, howled like a she-wolf, and challenged the Skull Ape to battle for musical dominance. But it's been blended in production to be a bit more ear friendly, than your typical industrial mishmash. Dombrowski and the Patalan brothers realize a record like this has to not only make a statement, it has to BE a statement. And CRUD have nearly perfected the difficult art of crafting an appealing song, without compromising their artistic vision.
  There's a distinct damnation theme prevalent. Song titles such as 'Die With The Sinners', The Devil Is A Patient Man', and 'I'll Be Damned' offer foreboding. This is a record about choosing the path of the damned and repeatedly reaping the consequences. Upon repeated listens, one senses this album is as much about therapeutically embracing the sinner within all of us, as it is about sin.
  'Bomb Bomb' leads off the album, and though it's a bit of 'Reality part 2', it's still sinks its hooks into you the minute you hear Vinnie singing the ridiculously flattering line 'she give me bomb bomb, when she boom boom'.
  'We'll Not Be Broken' quickly sets itself apart as the album highlight, and should become the next CRUD processional. The synergized energy of this track is flat out jaw dropping, as Crud turn down the grit and smooth out the rough edges. The end result is more than a solid rock song, it's a rock anthem, and a theme for our city in these dark days.
  'Balaam's Ass Speaks' draws it's deceptively crude title from an obscure Old testament story where a donkey was granted the power of speech. After getting slapped around by it's owner, Balaam, out of the blue the donkey suddenly asks, 'Whyare you beating me, man?” Leave it to Vinnie to take that story and transform the theme into a driving S & M classic.
  'I'll Be Damned', with it's 'Hell can't hold me' chorus is another victory, and listening to it, I couldn't help recalling the Alice and Chains I knew and loved back in 1992.
  I'm purposely not  mentioning every track, because 'CRUD On Monster Island' contains some startling changes of timing and instrumentation that readers and fans should discover on their own. However, I will reveal this: be prepared for when CRUD decides to, unexpectedly, unleash the horns.
  Yes, you read correctly, horns.
  My sole dislike of the record is the repetitive nature of some songs. The screaming, the riffing, and the machine gun drumming, could bleed certain tracks one into another without much notice, but this is petty consequence on a record of this nature.
  Overall, a stellar achievement.


for the DRB
Photos by LUX Concert Photography 

Friday, November 12, 2010


 Sometimes, in this unpredictable music business, you're required to cover an event that is less enjoyable than two root canals, regardless of how many free hot dogs, free Budweiser, and free tickets are thrown in your lap. With certain artists, no amount of musicianship, lyricism, or 'undiscovered rarities', is going to win you over. Such was the case with the Lifehouse 'Smoke and Mirrors Tour' landing at the Fillmore this past Monday. No offense to Lifehouse, a talented group for what they do, but I'd rather watch grass grow than hear 'Hanging By A Moment' one more time, from now until doomsday. Same for American Idol 'winner' Kris Allen, though I will confess SOME of Alyssa Bernal's material, turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
  That being said, I ventured down to The Fillmore to embrace the Detroit Rock Blog's second VIP experience over the last few months (see our recent article on The Palace). And I am proud to report, the Fillmore does not disappoint.  It is an excellent live venue, not only for musicians traveling either a certain upward or downward level of fame, but for fans of live music. They do provide several seating choices: you can fight with the masses to see who can make it to the very front of the general admission floor area; or you can sit back in the mezzanine, the balconies, or the main floor area surrounding the main bar, sit back and take in the show. Though we prefer the spaciousness of the Fox, lets face it, not everybody can fill the Fox to capacity. The staff of the Fillmore was enthusiastic, articulate, and answered our never ending questions about seating and ticket availability with patient smiles. For that we are grateful.
  Plus we got two free beers. And some decent quesadillas.

  Alyssa Bernal:
  We'd never heard of her and, at first, were more fascinated with her bassist. Bernal may be groomed for pop stardom, but her Bass player appeared as if his life dream is to join 'Rancid' with his Sex Pistols attire and pink & green every way mohawk.
Bernal's voice stubbornly drew our attention back to this gifted youngster, who originated her career on YouTube. But, she quickly separated herself from the pack via the attentive eye of legendary producer Pharrell Williams.
Despite a beautiful voice, her songs weren't overwhelmingly memorable, with the exception of the curiously catchy 'Stay'. The song possesses a rare quality, that when played live, it immediately grabs you. It's soft, melodic, and honest, and I like that in a single, regardless of who's singing it.
No question, eventually she's going to be in league with the Sarah McGlachlan's of the pop world. Her voice is young magic, and could melt Jason Voorhee's heart with her saccharine melodies and roller skate choruses.

  Kris Allen:
  Gawd, I feel sorry for this guy.
  He seems like such a nice fellow, in the TV interviews and when he rolls onstage, half-halfheartedly belting out 'How You DOING DETROIT!'.
I know what you're thinking . . how can I feel sorry for someone who's a millionaire musician, out on tour, amassing fans, doing what he loves ?
Well, for one, the guy sold his soul to American Idol for that fame. He's got a certain level of talent and, on stage, performs with an earnestness forged in the fires of reality television Hell. But tonight he looked as though he'd rather be anywhere instead of Detroit. And anywhere but on stage.
Not that his performance wasn't solid. The world's biggest karaoke contest winner of 2009 did a fair job given his 'aww shucks' personality and haggard energy. We all know Kris prospered from a Faustian bargain, to overcome the far superior Adam Lambert. And, now he's in the thick of it, carrying the Idol mark of Cain, and finding it doesn't wash off as easily without the golden pipes of a Carrie Underwood. While he may be painfully overrated, I feel, in light of his ability, he's also painfully (with help), overachieved.
Some of the material from his self-titled album showed spark. Red Guitar is a joyous, highlight that exhibited musicians finding a comfortable space, individually, while playing as different pieces of the same puzzle. It's the moment Kris comes across as the most sincere, and the most in tune with his fellow artists. 'Live Like Were Dyin' does borrow from Tim McGraw but drew the crowd right in with it's infection chorus. His cover of eighties pop gem 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' was actually spirited.
 But there were some unfortunate and undeniable gaffes. He possesses an albums worth of decent material, yet failed to play two of his most recognizable singles ('The Truth' and 'No Boundaries'). Furthermore, he devoted eleven minutes of the set to covering Tears For Fears AND The Beatles 'Come Together'.
One cover is fine, two is karaoke. Unless you're Ann and Nancy Wilson.
  Someone needs to sit Kris down and gently explain that 'Come Together' has been officially retired and should never again be covered by anyone.

  Well the Detroit fans should be happy.
Ten years into it, Lifehouse has reached the point where they simply can't perform every song the fans are screaming for, at every concert or we'd all be there until the dawn's early light crept over the top of the Leland Hotel. So whenever a lead vocalist pulls out the trusty acoustic guitar for a 'medley', it's actually a feather in their cap of longevity. Though, the last time I had to sit through a 'medley' of hits was Kid Rock back in 2004 at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids.
But for the songs Lifehouse did play in their entirety, they gave it their all, particularly guitarist Ben Carey. Ben possesses a unique talent for combining his seasoned skill playing guitar, with the showmanship of a veteran rock musician. Carey didn't appear as tired, or as occasionally bored by the fame, as the rest of the band. He jumps around on stage like a kid on Christmas morning. Singer Jason Wade and bassist Bryce Soderberg definitely had legitimate moments of excitement, where they seemed plugged into the performance, such as on the white hot 'Falling In' where Wade dueted with Alyssa Bernal. But also seemed resigned to phone brief sections of this one in.
  Still, I can't be too hard on Lifehouse, and Wade in particular.  It was a Monday night, on a long tour, and, frankly, the fans still got their moneys worth.
  The show opened with Wade singing a welcome to the crowd, an intro they titled 'Hello There' on the set list, as the band took the stage in typical rock star fashion. They bled the opening into the rousing song 'All In' from their latest album 'Smoke & Mirrors'. And for a moment, all seems promising. The band seems to be in top form as they roll through Spin, Nerve Damage, and 'You And Me' with equal fervor.
  There's nothing different or original about these takes on old favorites, but there's nothing necessarily negative about them either.
  Their performance of 'Whatever It Takes', however, is as solemn as the song itself, and in the crowd, tears are flowing.
But, when Soderberg takes over the vocals on 'Wrecking Ball' they flat lose the momentum and never quite regain it, until near the encore. Wade follows 'Wrecking Ball' with what could only be described as the 'LIFEHOUSE request hour'. The rest of the band takes a break, while Wade performs whatever song titles are screamed out to him by zealous fans. He begins with 'Breathing' from their first album 'No Name Face', then obliges the crowd with a few moments of 'Storm', 'Sick Cycle Carousel', and teases with a snippet of 'Everything'.
  I understand that when your hits are bittersweet acoustic gems, and you have a fan base to satisfy, there's no way to keep the shine from being dimmed somewhere during the set. But, honestly, it felt like I was back at my high school prom, slow dancing to Taylor Dane.
  The fans, however, loved it.
  While 'Hanging By A Moment' is always good to get a mellowed crowd revved back up, in this case it could have been played by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the flock would have responded with the same energy, hopping up and down, and singing along. The band cleverly utilizes this energy to draw everyone back into the flow of the concert, though if you look beneath the surface, it's obvious they're getting tired. They coast through 'First Time' satisfactorily, but nothing more.
  Broken is where Wade turns the emotional jet engine back on. Every meaningful note is sincere, sad, and perfect. This is the high point.
  They encored with the superb rocker 'Halfway Gone'. And, finally, mercifully, Lifehouse satisfies their devoted legion, with what a vocal majority have spent the entire concert howling drunkenly for: a full, heavenly, performance of fan favorite 'Everything'

  A study of contrasts:
  Bernal is cute and has a beautiful voice, no question, but coming off the stage, when it's time to sell merchandise, pose, and make witty banter with new fans, she let her annoyance show. You see, this is the foundation, the time to build your audience, and to generate word of mouth interest in your upcoming album. Easiest way to achieve that when jumping on and off the tour bus, is with a little friendly interaction. It's also where it stops being glory and starts being work. She's young and it shows, lacking the patience an artist develops (or doesn't) after a few years on the road. She was tired, frustrated, and after multiple autographs, curt.
  The opposite must be said about Lifehouse' Jason Wade. Though Jason was tired, and obviously ready for a nap, he patiently explained to those of us waiting that he would load his guitar into the bus and be right out. Touch of class, this kid. He'd just played an blue-chip show, and the last thing anyone wants to do after rocking out for 16 songs is listen to fans blather about how, back in 2000, your first album changed their life. They've heard it before, likely in every major and minor city in the states. That's the influence a musician can have. But this is also the job, and after a decade in music, Wade clearly understands his greater responsibility to the masses.
  Fans are fickle. And they age. But, they'll remember the five minutes a favorite rock star took to shake their hand or speak with them, well into their seventies.
  So Wade patiently signs the autographs, he poses for dozens of pictures, talks with his fans about whether or not he's sick, how many shows they've been to, favorite songs, “Hi, this is my mom!”, “Can you sing this?”, “When are you coming back to Michigan?”, and on and on.
  I was impressed.
  And that says a lot because deep down I believe Jason and his three band mates got together in a college dorm room ten years ago to sign a different kind of Faustian bargain. This one involved little more than agreeing to write nothing but sad bastard music, a little heavier than straight emo, but completely geared towards the heartstrings of women 15-40. This was how they would amass their popularity and rock and roll fortune.
  So be it.
  The guy talked to every fan who was waiting in the November cold. He signed an autograph for every request. And he spoke to fans with a respect that let them know their loyalty was appreciated.
  Hell, he even answered an interview question for the Blog.

  Well done, Jason Wade, from a non-fan.
  Overall, it was a good performance, and you conducted yourself afterward with class.

  Take a cue, rock and rollers.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


  Sponge fans of all ages and backgrounds gathered at The New Dodge Lounge in Hamtramck Friday night to take part in a unique occasion, the first annual 'Get Plowed with Sponge' Pub Crawl, hosted and promoted by Dana Forrester of On The Rocks Detroit. This creative adventure provided Sponge's diverse plethora of hardcore supporters an unusual opportunity to, not only get lit up with the band as advertised, but also support the Firefighters Engine Relief Effort, and get a small taste of the rock and roll tour experience. Which in this case, entailed shuffling from live showcase to live showcase on a heated bus filled with other rowdy fans, local scenesters, and most importantly: the band. Though I will admit, initially, not knowing what to expect, it turned out to be the kind of cut loose, shot drinking, nonstop good times, we lovers of Detroit music like to have on a cold Friday night.
  At least once a year.

  The New Dodge: Hamtramck
  There's a quiet excitement buzzing as soon as you walk in the door of the best bar for live music in Hamtramck. Dana Forrester (60 Second Crush & CRUD) and her husband James Trunko (of Mound Road Engine fame) are greeting fans, handing out the event badges to lucky attendees. Many are old friends or established Detroit scenesters, laughing, and hugging, happy to see one another since the last gathering. Some are new fans eager to sit in the vicinity of one of the Motor City's most successful musical exports. Stories of 'How did you first meet Sponge' are already being shared, Natural Light arrives by the case, and toasts to the band are raised.
  Then Detroit's version of Alt rock royalty arrives: The Patalan Brothers, Kyle Neely, Billy Adams, the invincible Vinnie Dombrowski, and CRUD's mesmerizing front woman Danielle Arsenault. Each artist takes time to greet, shake hands, and work this crowd of the devoted with a patience and charisma sadly lacking in modern rock today. (When's the last time Nickelback took us on a pub crawl ?) No, Sponge make it clear from moment one they appreciate their fans. Not just for showing up to another concert, but for the time considerations, as many fans now have families. Some are unemployed, some are working two jobs just to cover the rent. In light of the current economy, particularly in Detroit, to attend an event such as this, despite the surrealistic appeal of riding on a bus with rock stars and the fact most of the money raised is donated to charity, for some it's a necessary financial sacrifice.
  Four cigarettes, one effective megaphone, and two discussions of meeting Vinnie when he was playing an Orbitsun's show later, the voice of God, I mean Dana, announces that it is time to load up, and all 80 of us are suddenly thrust outside in the bitter November cold, with the stark choice of Bus #1 or #2 staring us right in the face.
  My heavy decision is made easy thanks to the charismatic Mike Close. I'm summoned to ride with him and his lovely companion Julie Pratt on bus #1, and thus, the evening is already promising.
  Although, these fans range in age from early twenties to middle sixties, the core of the evenings attendees are late thirty/early forty somethings. Primarily those who were 18-19 on September 1st, 1994 when the song 'Plowed' was released as a single, and Rotting Pinata had reached 58 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart. These fans passionately and vividly recall a time when Sponge were at the top of the Alt Rock radio heap and riding a wave of national popularity.
  In other words: SIXTEEN YEARS AGO.
  It matters little to these Detroit devotees that Sponge, though still occasionally touring the U.S. and an eternally popular draw in Michigan, now travel at a much more defined edge of musical relevance. On the (thankfully) heated buses, over the course of two hours, they discuss which was the best tour, how many shows they've attended, and what b-sides are to be considered 'must have'. Astoundingly, a highly spirited discussion erupts over whether the song order for Wax Ecstatic should have been changed prior to release.
  Let me tell you people, THAT is a fan.
  Someone who argues that 'I Am Anastasia' should have placed higher in the pecking order than 'My Purity'. But, it also provides a glimpse into the curious appeal of Sponge, whose fans are unquestionably passionate, right down to album track listings.

 The New Way: Ferndale
  For the first two minutes after we arrive in Ferndale, it's complete chaos as Vinnie, who never seems to tire of being patient with the public, signs t-shirts and CDs, poses for pictures, and wades through adoring fans. The New Way is jammed, whether it be a traditional Friday night crowd, word of mouth, or the sudden addition of a multitude of raucous Sponge fans. Patrons can barely walk to the bathroom, let alone shoot a game of pool, but it's all fun and all in the name of rock and roll. Pub crawlers refuel on Bud Light and shots of whiskey, until the band is prepared and they begin to call for Vinnie to perform.  The crowd is so thick, the tour manager has to pry his way through to lead Vinnie up to the stage. Fox 2's Ron Savage conducts a brief interview, and Vinnie, ever the class representative of our city, bestows thanks and praise to all in attendance. Then without warning, the pulsating build up of the night's energy simply takes over.  The band launches full scale into a Red Bull version of 'Plowed', with all cylinders firing. And the waiting crowd responds in kind, shouting every word.
  Each of us forgets it's 2010 and that some of us have to be at work at 6am the next morning. For a brief moment, it's 1995 again, and we're all getting ready for Lollapalooza! The worries and responsibilities of middle age adult life disappear in a rock and roll haze. For the second number, Vinnie calls Danielle Aresenault up on stage and they perform live gem 'Party Til We Drop' a favorite, mostly I suspect, as the lyrics involve Danielle asking where the cocaine is?

  Shelly Kelly's Irish Tavern: Fraser
  I have a confession to make. Upon arrival at this cozy Fraser nightspot, I was temporarily distracted from covering the event by the green and black Shelly Kelly server 'uniforms' and the distinct ability of one bartender to carry Budweiser bottles in her cleavage: America's Got Talent!!!
  Vinnie and the band disembark, mingle, sign countless autographs, and drink shots with a few long time enthusiasts, before taking the stage for the second, spirited version of . . you guessed it! 'Plowed'.
  “Pub Crawlers are you out there! Pub Crawlers are you out there ?!” Vinnie asks.  Yes they are and they respond with drunken devil horns, screaming, and glasses raised.
“It's called 'Let's Get Plowed with Sponge! So it's Plowed number two time here tonight! And it goes like this!”
  For me, the theme is already going stale, and I seize this opportunity to order some french fries. But the band's energy is undeniably addictive, and few could make the same song played just twenty minutes prior, carry the same impact. To their credit, Sponge rip through it with a fierce level of determination. It certainly helps that, positioned directly in front of the 'stage', the die-hards are dancing, jumping, recording, and singing along as if it's the first time they've ever heard 'Plowed' played live. When Vinnie abruptly stops the music and lets these dilettantes finish, they carry the song to it's end.
  “Trageddddddddyyyyyyyyyyy!” They howl in near perfect unison.
  Vinnie gave thanks to the pub crawlers, Shelly Kelly for hosting the event, and Motor City John before beginning the words to 'Molly (16 Candles)'.
  I'm not making this up. One woman standing near me is crying. Big salty Sponge tears. In the same way that years ago, the DRB gave his heart to the Detroit Lions, she heard 'Rotting Pinata' and gave her heart to Sponge. Although, I seriously doubt she's been disappointed like I have.
  No offense, Mr.Tyler, but try finding that kind of band devotion at Aerosmith's recent lackluster exhibition at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
  The triumph of this performance was that the DRB was able to record it, finish a giant plate of Shelly Kelly's excellent french fries, and navigate the crowded, narrow walkway up to the mens room. But as I said, this routine is already getting stale, and the DRB is looking to the band to change it up. . .

  Hayloft: Mt. Clemmens
  . . which is exactly what the band does. At the Hayloft, they subtract the drums so that Vinnie, Kyle, and Andy deliver  acoustic versions of 'Plowed' and 'Molly'. This performance succeeds on so many levels, I can barely find the words to describe it. Although it wasn't their most energetic, it was their most intimate performance of the night.  And, they delivered more than just a MTV Unplugged take on 'Plowed'.  It's an emotionally satisfying rendition that finds Sponge at their raw best, connecting with those of us from the buses, but also reconnecting with the casual admirer or total stranger who just happened to stop into the Hayloft that night. In that moment, for those two songs, U2 would have been jealous.
  I could have watched another 8 or 9 songs in this manner, but, this gig is over before it's time, and we are in and out of the Hayloft in record time.
  Andy Patalan breaks up the next leg of the drive with several rounds of Sponge trivia.  The questions consist of info only a relative, or lifelong fan would know, such as how many Tims' have been in the band ? (Answer: 3, Tim Patalan, Tim Cross, Tim Krukowski) Some character shouted out 'Buster Douglas!'

  The Ugly Duckling: Harper Woods
  At the Ugly Duckling, our entire group convenes in the entryway, as unexpected confusion stops the Sponge train cold. There's a curious twist of events. Turns out, shocking as this is to believe, there's no PA system in place at the Ugly Duckling. Also performance space in this locals favorite seems to be limited. However, there IS a fully functioning, state of the art karaoke system. Quick thinking prevails, as Andy Patalan seizes his moment to deliver a stunning rendition of Journey's 'Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin''. In a moment of what can only be described as on-the-spot genius, the surprisingly entertaining (and first ever) 'Get Plowed With Sponge' Karaoke Spectacular occurs. The three ballsiest souls in the room volunteered to serenade us with their own take on 'Plowed' in hopes of snagging a Sponge t-shirt. All three attempts are courageous, but Holly Rotter had already set the bar awfully high with her dance remix version of AC/DC's ballroom/barroom anthem 'Big Balls'.

  Back to The New Dodge Lounge:
  It's getting late. And reality of real life is setting in. The Sponge Army trudges back to the two buses.  We load up and discover, halfway back to the New Dodge, that we forgot the Patalan brothers.
  Some fans we are ?
  Fortunately, the Patalan brothers manage to find their way back to the bus. 
  The evening finishes back at the New Dodge where new friends, and old, disembarked from our travels and either went to the bathroom to throw up, or said their goodbyes, or both. I found myself in the fortunate and highly enviable position of buying Checkers cheeseburgers for a starving and grateful Andy Patalan, who sat with our interesting group of jokesters in the back of Bus #1. He and I were able to talk openly about his experience with the band, how they chose the songs for set list, and what the current life of a Detroit touring guitarist consists of. One fact remaining to be ironed out: Will we ever see a release of Sponge's live version of 'Kiss From A Rose' ?
  Perhaps next pub crawl?
  The DRB must dish out some praise. Dana and James are to be commended for deftly maneuver two busloads of intoxicated fans, their quick response to unexpected hiccups, and their overall professionalism. There were no fights, no one got arrested, and for navigating five bars with a rock band and their rabid fans in tow, that's quite an accomplishment. It seems that whether it's Mustache Parties, Pub Crawls, or sexy Halloween hooliganism, On The Rocks Detroit has positioned themselves as THE go to company for event promotion.
  Most important, at the end of the evening, forty dollars for charity was a fucking bargain.

for the DRB
Pics by Mike Close
Video from Fox 2
and Mike Close