Lindsey Buckingham Right At Home in Lebanon

Lindsey Buckingham/Lebanon Opera House/Lebanon, New Hampshire/12 October 2008

Midway through Lindsey Buckingham’s sold-out show Sunday night, he spoke about the tension that exists in making music for a “selling machine,” and working from what he termed “the left side of the palate.”

“I think one helps the other,” he said. “The audience for the ‘other’ is – you.”

Though obviously a reference to solo projects like the recently released “Gift of Screws,” Buckingham’s “left palate” includes a few turns his group Fleetwood Mac have taken away from their hit-making formula over the years.

The singer/guitarist evenly divided the evening’s music between solo material and Mac songs, but stayed esoteric, saving the big hits for the end of the show.

An enthusiastic crowd was with him for every note.

He opened with two songs from the new album, the frenetic “Great Day” and “Love Runs Deeper,” followed by a pair from his earlier solo works (“Trouble” and “Go Insane”),

The clearest indication that Lindsey Buckingham’s iconoclastic, left-leaning palate was on display came with the first Fleetwood Mac selection of the evening – “Tusk,” the title track of the 1979 album that confounded the music industry, and more than a few fans, who expected another “Rumours.”

He followed it with the poppy “I Know I’m Not Wrong” (also from “Tusk”), and the title cut from “Gift of Screws,” an Emily Dickinson poem turned punk rave-up.

A three-song acoustic interlude surprisingly provided the strongest guitar pyrotechnics of the night. A slightly revved-up “Never Going Back Again” (an overlooked “Rumours” gem) gave way to “Big Love,” a percolating boogie first stripped down for “The Dance,” Fleetwood Mac’s 1997 live reunion album.

The solo turn ended with “Shut Us Down,” as Buckingham’s fingers ranged up and down his guitar’s fret board with the finesse of Leo Kottke, taking the poignant song from a whisper to a scream.

The intimate opera house booking provided a special opportunity to see a performer usually at home in arenas and, during the heady 1970’s, baseball stadiums.  At times, the room seemed too small to contain him.

Several in the crowd reacted like smitten teenagers, rushing the stage and standing for the entire show.

For “World Turning,” drummer Alfredo Reyes tried his best Mick Fleetwood impression, flailing the drums with his bare hands, but came up a bit short.  What followed – a brief hip-hop excursion using Buckingham’s sampled voice – was equally unnecessary.

But all was forgiven with the incendiary “So Afraid,” which brought the entire crowd to its feet, where they stayed for the first finale, “Go Your Own Way.”

His three-song encore included the infectious Mac classic, “Second Hand News,” along with “Don’t Look Down” and “Treason.”  Buckingham was quick to point out that the latter song, the final track on the new album, had nothing to do with current events, but was more about “the lies we tell each other.”

As the night progressed, Buckingham opened up to the adoring crowd, and his stories grew longer and more personal. “You’re blessed to live in a beautiful place,” he said at one point.  “It’s transcendent.”

He was clearly having a great time, and after a feeble attempt to say good night, obliged demands for a second encore.  To the delight of everyone, he played an audience request, “Bleed To Love Her” (from Fleetwood Mac’s last studio album, “Say You Will”).

While he waited for a roadie to deliver a different guitar with a special tuning, he bantered with fans, and even signed a proffered copy of “Buckingham/Nicks” – the pre-Fleetwood Mac album he did with Stevie Nicks 35 years ago.

It was a neat closing of the circle, on a night that left everyone, band and fans alike, satisfied beyond expectations.

Laughing and Crying With Matt Nathanson

How to describe Matt Nathanson to the uninitiated?  Where to begin?

You know at least one of his aching, soul-stirring songs from Scrubs, One Tree Hill or Dawson’s Creek.  They’re perfect for dark moments of epiphany, when you’re reeling from happy to sad and back again.

It’s easy to hear Nathanson sing and believe the words were written for you alone.  They pull at emotions both intimate and universal.

Recently, when Jessica Stone faced an operation that would save her life, but make her deaf, she chose to listen to Nathanson’s “All We Are,” with the refrain, “every day is a start of something beautiful – something real,” before going into surgery.  “Good Morning America” chronicled Jessica’s story, including her meeting with Matt at one of his concerts.

The singer-songwriter says he was quite humbled by the experience.

“When you come into contact with someone who is just pretty extraordinary, with such an understanding of the way things are dealt, it puts your life into perspective,” he says.  “It shines a light on the stuff you create versus what happens to you. Jessica is a walking example of what you can overcome by shifting your focus.”

But here’s the thing about the impish Nathanson – one moment he’s choking you up, singing about “the violent, sweet, perfect words” of a lover (on his recent hit, “Come On Get Higher”).  The next, you’re crying tears of laughter as he tries to explain the racist remarks of “Dog, the Bounty Hunter” with a cockeyed theory about mullets.

“You know how Rastas keep a lot of energy in their dreads?  The mullet holds a lot of anger,” he says.  “When I had a mullet, back as a kid in Boston, I know I had a lot of anger.  Since I cut it, I feel free – like Lenny Kravitz.”

It’s hard to tell where the starry-eyed poet ends and the cut-up begins.

Is he a frustrated comedian?

“Oh, no,” he says.  “Stand up comedy – that would be brutal.”

Nathanson honed his split onstage persona through the examples of folksingers like Richard Thompson and Greg Brown.

There’s a clear line between Nathanson’s banter and music, however.

“Songs shouldn’t be funny,” he says.  “I like my music to be very emotional. But that’s one aspect of my dynamic.”

So he introduces a song like “Come On Get Higher” by claiming he wrote it for Bret Michaels.  He’ll then talk for three minutes of his creepy fascination with the Poison singer’s VH1 reality show, which features the faded rock star and “800 women who fell asleep in 1986, vying for his attention.”

“In the end, one woman emerges,” Matt laughs, “through Jell-O wrestling, punching, stripping and phone sex.”

“That’s the sh*t,” he says.  “Not knowing whether to laugh or cry.  When I went to college (Pitzer, in Claremont, California), we brought people like Patty Larkin and Greg Brown. They told hilarious stories that draw you in – I adopted that idea,” he says.

“I’d leave feeling like that was a whole evening.  I’m not U2. I can’t have these transcendent elevated moments all the time,” he says.  “You gotta give people the balance, because as a listener that’s what I’d want.”

Much of Nathanson’s patter centers around pop culture, particularly the 1980s, a decade he considers both immortal and misunderstood.

“The 80’s were impeccable and the production hid that fact,” he said recently.  “I so badly wanted to be in Def Leppard.  I’d give my right arm to be in Def Leppard.”

“That was my jam, if I was younger I’d be busting out New Kids on the Block,” he continues.

At his shows he delights in leading sing-along renditions of Asia’s “Heat of the Moment,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” or, swear to God, Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America.”

He also does a few faithful Springsteen covers like “No Surrender,” a song that appears on his most recent release, “Left & Right.”

The live EP is distributed exclusively through independent record stores.  Locally, it’s available at Newbury Comics.

Nathanson says he never tires of hearing his songs on prime time shows like “Private Practice” and “NCIS.”

“I’m like a thirteen year old girl when it comes to television,” he says.  “Dawson’s Creek played one of my songs and I thought it was the coolest thing – these six characters that I’ve invested all my time in.”

As a kid who grew up in MTV’s heyday, he’s occasionally frustrated with the current state of the industry.   He likened his brief affiliation with Universal Records to “a bad date.”

“I had a lot of illusions that a major label was gonna teach to me make a great record.  What I realized was they really didn’t know what they were doing,” he says.  “I would just pay them money.”

He made his most recent studio record independently (“Some Mad Hope”/Vanguard Records)

“I wanted to get to the bottom of making records the way I want them to sound,” explains Nathanson.

It’s nice to have a modicum of success with the record – AAA radio airplay and a few videos in rotation on what’s left of music television – but that’s not what’s kept Matt Nathanson going for the last 15-plus years.

“I did it for free, and I’d do it for free again,” he says.  “I’m a nerd for the music, I’m trying to get my self off, get lost in it.”

“It sounds real hippie, but that’s what it is.”

Matt Nathanson appears Friday, October 10 in Boston (Berklee Performance Center) and Sunday, October 12 in Hartford, CT (Webster Theater)

Local Rhythms – Internet Radio Update

Even though Congress was mostly busy saving the economy last week, they did find time to pass the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2008.

President Bush is expected to sign the bill, which grants a stay of execution to the burgeoning Internet radio business.

Readers of this column know that, a little over a year ago, the government-run Copyright Royalty Board made a decision that threatened to put most webcasters out of business.  The influential Broadcast Law Blog called it “disconnected from the realities of Internet radio.”

The ruling left no wiggle room, and after months of battling for a fairer deal, companies like Pandora were ready to pull the plug.

With the patient so close to flatlining, Congress finally acted.

“There may now be a light at the end of the tunnel in the fight over Internet radio royalties,”
Representative Jay Inslee, a Washington Democrat, said last Sunday.

The new law didn’t set reasonable rates; it simply makes it easier for the two sides – copyright holders and webcasters – to hammer out legally binding agreements of their own.

Whether things get better is, no pun intended, still up in the air.

Writing for Broadcast Law Blog, attorney David Oxenford said the WSA “makes it easy for settlements to go into effect – now we need to see if the hard part – actually entering into those settlements – will occur.”

Companies like Pandora and Last.fm have until next February 15 to sit down with Sound Exchange. Only a cockeyed optimist would count on smooth sailing when that happens.  The history isn’t good.

Sound Exchange is the RIAA-created performance rights organization in charge of collecting royalties. Over the course of this debate, they’ve dismissed the promotional value of webcasting and unblinkingly demanded payments 7 times those of terrestrial radio.  They seem hell bent on eating their seed corn.

According to Pandora CEO Tim Westergren, 70 percent of people who listen to his service on the hugely popular iPhones are doing so for the first time.

“It’s changed the perception that people can listen to music on the phone,” Westergren said in a conference call Monday.

Greed and ignorance could derail this progress.

These missed opportunities hurt everyone.   The new law only buys time until February.  Two much more substantial (and very different) Congressional bills are currently stalled, as everyone waits for the election on November 4.

But at least it’s a step in the right direction.

What’s ahead in entertainment?

Thursday: Chimu Inka, Gusanoz – These Peruvian cultural ambassadors have performed all over the region recently.  They have just a few more shows before heading home, including a stop at the Warner Fall Festival this weekend, and Woodstock High School on Monday.  Their name comes from performer (and Chimu Inka Musical Director) Guillermo Seminario’s pre-Incan ancestors, who were conquered by the Incas.  Seems appropriate for Columbus Day weekend.

Friday:  Moondance, Downtown Windsor – “A whimsical celebration of the moon and its magic” featuring fire-eaters, jugglers, balloon artists and more, celebrates its ninth year.  Of course, there’s music, with Juke Joynt and Vermont bluesman Chris Kleeman.  The forecast at press time was for a perfect autumn night.  Since much of this event happens outdoors, that’s a very good thing.  Circus Smirkus and a dance troupe will also add to the fun.

Saturday: Springfield Apple Festival, Riverside Middle School – This two-day even marks fall’s arrival in my mind.  I tend to welcome out of town guests a lot this time of year (who doesn’t?), and they’re always asking about apple picking and apple cider.  If I take them to this annual Springfield festival, now in its’ 26th year, they’re sure to get their fill.  Great music too, including singer-songwriter Josh “Cherries Jubilee” Maiocco and Alli Lubin.

Sunday: Lindsey Buckingham, Lebanon Opera House – The brains behind Fleetwod Mac has a fantastic new solo album, “Gift of Screws,” and his live shows are stellar.  Never content to stay in one artistic place for long, Buckingham can be challenging.  But this time around, there’s plenty of Mac elements at play on the new disc, which should translate well to the stage.  It’s quite a “get” for Lebanon, really.

Monday: Bryan Greenberg, Iron Horse – The star of the recently cancelled “October Road” television show hits the road with his guitar and a smile.  I have to say, his music sounds pretty good in a John Mayer kind of way.  I wasn’t crazy about the show.  Greenberg just finished making a movie in Boston, “Bride Wars,” with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway.

Wednesday: Fred Haas & Sabrina Brown, Elixir – A dinner show and jam session with the piano playing, sax blowing Haas and his wife, with an early (6:30) start.  Each week a different artist’s oeuvre is explored – could be Ellington, Porter, Holliday, who knows?  I can tell you that the New York City vibe is spot-on, and their French Fries (secret ingredient: sugar) are my all-time favorite.

Stonewall – What If? Worth The Wait

Over the last four-plus years, Stonewall’s live shows earned them a reputation as one of the hardest rocking outfits around.  They are quite literally the band to beat, as several “battle of the bands” contestants left in their musical dust can well attest.  But it’s taken until now for Stonewall to commit their energetic hybrid of metal and melody to disc.

Solid from start to finish, “What If?” was definitely worth the wait.  The fuzz-toned opener, “Blessing For Pearls,” rips a page from Zeppelin and blends it with post-millennial angst.  “Janitor Man” will invite Alice in Chains comparisons – deservedly so.  Lead guitarist and vocalist Josh Parker’s baritone hovers just above a growl.

“Vengeance” is a good example of Stonewall’s hard-edged melodic style.  The 8-minute track begins in a flurry of heavy metal bullets. It then crosses over a polyrhythmic structure featuring a few speedy guitar figures from Parker, before settling into a blistering boogie.

Make no mistake, while most of the record rocks, it’s never buried in sturm und drang.   This thematically dark “Masculincense” (Parker may have wrote it after a night of old Nine Inch Nails videos) churns and roils, then ends with a tasty blues progression.

“Comatoasted” is reminiscent of Primus, another 90’s power trio.  It’s a ride that starts slow and turns into a runaway train.  “Your Sweet Intents” achieves the same energy, showcasing Ryan Young’s staccato drumming and featuring one of Parker’s meatiest solos.

Young and six-string bassist Philip Chiu are a brawny rhythm section throughout, but the duo also bring a gentle touch to the record’s quieter moments.  These include the Stone Temple Pilots dead ringer “Grain,” with Parker majestically soloing at song’s end.  The snarky power ballad “Straight White Teeth,” a Stonewall live staple for about as long as they’ve been playing, makes the move from stage to studio with aplomb.

Speaking of Stonewall standards, it’s a mystery why the punched-up rocker “Hearing Loss” didn’t make it on to “What If?”  Maybe the band is saving it for a future EP.

If they’re reminiscent of anyone, it’s bands whose heyday came long before anyone in the band was born.  The James Gang, Mountain and Three Man Army – the youngsters in Stonewall may not know these relics by name, but be assured their spirit lives in their music.

It’s essential to note the production team that shepherded “What If?” through its’ nearly two year journey to completion.  Early on, Shamus Martin worked with the band at Exsubel Studios, mixing them and helping them find a polished studio sound without sacrificing their live edge.

The production credit, however, goes to the late Doug Bashaw. Committing a power trio to tape – or these days, digital bits – can be a delicate balancing act.  Bashaw added enough studio magic – guitar bags, phased vocals, SFX – to make the record more than simply a document of a great live band, but not at the expense of Stonewall’s essence.

Stonewall CD Release Party

All Ages Show
Saturday, October 4, 7 PM
Claremont Moose Lodge
Tickets $10

Featuring:

Stonewall
Gravity Response
Broken Mindz
Spectris
DJ Staxx

Local Rhythms – MySpace Helps Find The Way

There’s an old saying that if you left a typewriter in a room full of chimps for 100 years, they’d write the Magna Carta.

I say if you gave them a computer, an Internet connection and the same amount of time, they’d create a crappy MySpace page.

There’s such a thing as too much technology.

Just because it’s possible to place a purple unicorn, surrounded by sparkling stars, with “Dare To Dream” in dancing pink letters flashing at a seizure-inducing rate on a chartreuse background, doesn’t mean you should do it.

Most MySpace pages are busier than a Tokyo subway.

It’s widget overload, with spinning photo cubes, embedded video players, and annoying apps like SuperPoke clanging about on a page that’s too wide for my screen to display.

Though it may be a bandwidth torture test, MySpace is still a great place to find music.  Lately, I’ve noticed a few improvements that make it even better.

I’d done little with my own MySpace beyond “friending” local bands, and encouraging them to “friend update” me with their events.

When it comes to music, MySpace is the iTunes of social networking sites.   But it’s long been a chaotic chore to actually find a band, even if you know their name.

Now MySpace Music, the recently launched joint venture with the major labels, offers some spiffy new tools.

A Top Artists search engine is perfect for locating area bands.  All it takes is a zip code and a genre.  A couple more clicks creates a list of shows.

Best of all, it’s easy to make a music player with all my favorites so everyone can hear it for themselves.

I know that Facebook is better for networking with people, but when I want to find a Friday night destination, these are the tools I need.

The rabid community of MySpace music fans doesn’t hurt, though.

Recently, Dave Van Guilder of Christopher’s Bar and Grill in Ludlow launched The Local Scene (myspace.com/localscene68), with links to a passel of area bands, promoters and producers, many of which are new to my ears.

It’s not perfect, but MySpace is definitely improving.  I haven’t seen a purple unicorn in days, and my personal playlist, located at myspace.com/localrhythms, is growing like crazy.

So please friend me, or just stop by and play with my retro-cool embedded Beatles video widget.

With a little help from my new favorite search engine, here’s some entertainment to think about in the coming days:

Thursday: Dar Williams, Woodstock Town Hall –
A singer-songwriter who works at the junction of heartache and hilarity, Dar is touring behind a new album.  “Promised Land” features a pop sound with more sheen than her previous works, particularly on the hand-clapping “It’s Alright.”  Though she had plenty of help on the record (Marshall Crenshaw, Suzanne Vega) she’s going out solo for this show, true to her coffee house roots. (Uh, no, apparently – she’s bringing two musicians, Bryn Roberts on keyboards and Everett Bradley on percussion. Plus, the charming Shawn Mullins is opening. Thanks to Amy Putnam for the info!)

Friday: Hexerei, Imperial Lounge – Claremont’s heavy metal heroes have been busy laying the groundwork for a big at the golden ring. Their New York City-based management team landed them a spot on “Rock The Ink” a three-day celebration of music and tattoos later this month in Providence.  The show also features Sevendust and Godsmack, so good for them.  Oh, and their “Paid in Full” CD is polished and ready – great news all around.

Saturday: Xylem, Seven Barrel Brewery – Fans of the Grateful Dead should like this band, a four piece that blends folk, rock and grooves.  They’ve played several times at the Goshen Pagan Fest. The existence of such an event surprised me; it might even surprise some residents of Goshen.  It’s nice too see Seven Barrel returning to two nights of music a week.  It’s a bit cramped at times, but always fun – plus, the beer is great.

Sunday: Second Wind, Newport Bridal Show – I heard a comic the other day saying that there is no greater love in the world than that between girlfriends at their weddings.  What else explain their joy in spending 500 bucks on the ugliest dress they’ll ever wear in?  Anyway, I love the folksy duo providing the entertainment for this ladies only event – is that why it’s on a Sunday in the middle of football season?

Monday: Old 97’s/Charlie Louvin, Higher Ground – What a double bill!  The headliner is a high energy Americana outfit that hit a sweet spot in the mid-90’s.  Charlie Louvin is a living legend that’s practically in his 90’s, who’s influenced many a player, including George Jones, Elvis Costello and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, all of whom helped out on his eponymous 2006 CD.

Wednesday: Jukejoynt, Wilder Club & Library – Dave Clark and Jed Dickinson play their original music in the performance space in celebration of a major accessibility project.  Dave’s local music library at yellowhousemedia.com is growing every day – you should check it out.

Skydog – The Duane Allman Story

Skydog – The Duane Allman Story
By Randy Poe

A book review

On March 23, 1969 a young guitarist, with a reputation as a hired studio gun on several of the best R&B records of the era, invited a group of musicians to his Jacksonville house for a jam session.  Hours later, the playing was over, and every musician in the room was energized by the experience.

Duane Allman, the man who’d gathered them together that day, stood in front of the open doorway and said, “anybody in this room not gonna play in my band, you’re gonna have to fight your way out of here.”
He called his brother Gregg home from California, and the Allman Brothers Band was born.  Their fusion of rock, blues and jazz gave birth to a new genre of music, simply (and somewhat deceptively) called “Southern Rock.”

But the original band would only exist for two and a half years, until Duane died in a motorcycle accident, four days after checking out of rehab.

“Skydog” chronicles a story that’s been told before, in Scott Freeman’s “Midnight Riders – The Story of the Allman Brothers Band.” But what makes Randy Poe’s excellent biography a worthy addition to the canon is his focus on Duane Allman’s evolution as a musician.  Poe largely eschews the band’s well-known tragic elements for a detailed look at the life of a single-minded performer who reshaped American music.

The Allman Brothers were an interracial band in a segregated South, featuring two drummers when such a thing was unheard of.  Their music hinted at jazz, but could rock like the English Invasion groups Duane and Gregg emulated with their first band, while staying rooted in blues traditions.

No one had even imagined a sound like the Allman Brothers, until Duane Allman invented it that fateful day in March 1969.

“Skydog” – the nickname was given to him by Wilson Pickett – shows that it wasn’t an easy road.

With bands like the Allman Joys and Hourglass, Duane Allman enjoyed a reputation for flashy playing that made he and his brother a hit in the “garbage circuit” – clubs and roadhouses throughout the South who welcomed the band’s mix of blues and Yardbirds covers.

Their first break came when recording sessions done with songwriting legend Jim Loudermilk led to a West Coast contract with Liberty Records, at a time when old time labels were trying to capitalize on rock and roll.

The experience was a double-edged sword for Duane.  On the plus side, his band frequently shuttled up to San Francisco for shows at the Fillmore West.  There, they met concert promoter Bill Graham, and laid the groundwork for their legendary “Live at the Fillmore East” album.

Duane also picked up slide guitar, after seeing Jesse Ed Davis play “Statesboro Blues” with Taj Mahal one night in Los Angeles.   The Allman Brothers would later copy Davis’s arrangement of the song and make it famous.

But Hourglass never found its musical voice, making two forgettable albums.  Eventually, Gregg chose to work off their record contract in L.A., while Duane went home to look for studio work.

His first stop was Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals; he’d made some friends when Hourglass recorded a blues-based album there (which Liberty later rejected). Studio owner Rick Hall told Duane he had plenty of hotshot guitarists on the payroll, but that he could hang out and see what transpired.  Eventually, his work on Wilson Pickett’s cover of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” – which Duane suggested to the incredulous singer – got him noticed.

In short order, Allman’s distinctive playing was heard on records by Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Arthur Conley and others.  Later, he made his mark on Boz Scaggs’ debut, one of the first albums made at the now-legendary Muscle Shoals Sound studio.

Soon, the Allman Brothers Band’s trajectory would begin in earnest.  Two and half years later, Duane Allman was dead.  Though his brilliance is to many fans a tragic footnote in the band’s 40-year history, “Skydog” makes clear that though the Allman Brothers could carry on in his absence, they would not have existed without Duane.

The book also explores Duane Allman’s work with Eric Clapton – their mutual admiration society meeting, shared taste for excess during the making of “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” and Duane’s short touring life (three shows) as a member of Derek and the Dominoes.

Poe breathes life into this seminal period of American roots music, and one of the era’s most important figure’s coming of age.

In an earlier review of “Skydog,” it was stated that the book “suffers from a lack of source material – the bibliography is several pages long, but Poe conducted few, if any, of his own interviews.”

That is incorrect. In a 3-page acknowledgments section, Poe thanks several individuals for their participation in the book, including ABB members Gregg Allman and Chuck Leavall. This reviewer regrets his error, and hopes that correcting the record within 24 hours of posting the article will mitigate the unfavorable impressions it caused.

Too much time is spent on the already well-documented post-Duane Allman Brothers era.   When he focuses exclusively on Duane’s music, especially through the insights of people like Rick Hall, Jerry Wexler and the various members of Allman’s early groups, “Skydog” is a solid biography.