Sunday, April 29, 2018

Concert Memories: Drive By Truckers and Old 97s - March 16, 2013

Old 97s are a band that I got into in my late 20s thanks to a colleague of mine. He was almost as obsessed with music as I was and turned me on to some fabulous bands during the time we worked together. Old 97s were one of those bands and my love for that band ignited when he loaned me a copy of Fight Songs. After hearing “Jagged” just once, I was hooked. By the end of that album I had a found a new band to fall in love with. I immediately got my own copy of Fight Songs and from there I branched out to their other releases. Satellite Rides was next and then I purchased their double live album Alive & Wired. That put this band over the top for me! Their live concert sounded amazing! From that moment, I knew they were a band that I wanted to see in concert.

The opportunity finally arrived in March of 2013. Old 97s were opening for the Drive By Truckers at the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, New Jersey. Having seen several shows there in the past, it was a familiar venue for me. Admittedly, I had no idea who Drive By Truckers were when I purchased tickets for this show. This was my opportunity to see Old 97s live, so I decided to take a chance that the headliners would be decent. I talked Mrs. Vie into attending the show with me and the evening was set.

The Old 97s were still supporting their Grand Theatre records (Volume One and Two) as the spring of 2013 approached. Unfortunately for me, I did not have either of those records, so I wasn’t familiar with the songs they contained. 2013 was an odd year for my music collecting capabilities. Record stores were phasing out completely. Big boxed stores were carrying less and less music, and I had yet to embrace the digital format. It was harder and harder for me to know when new albums came out, or how to get a copy of those albums. Between 2013 – 2016, a lot of albums were released that escaped my notice, or I wasn’t able to add to my collection.

I was also doing a lot of review writing for Hard Rock Hideout at that time, so my desire and availability for new music was limited to what I would get for reviews. Ironically, managing my music collection was becoming a chore that was more hassle than it was worth. Hence, I did not know that Old 97s had two new releases. I went to that show expecting to hear the Alive & Wired hits. What I got instead was a mix between classics and songs that I did not know. Which was okay, because shortly after the concert, I went out and got copies of The Grand Theatre Volume One and Two, and my love for Old 97s was reignited!

Their opening set was short and sweet (10 – 12 songs if memory serves correctly), but it was fantastic! The fact that it is still the same original four members making music together almost 20 years later was impressive. Very few bands stay together with the same exact lineup for every album, so to see the Old 97s do it was a testament to their longevity and dedication.

I knew they were the openers, so we didn’t expect them to play too long of a set. I think we got about 50 minutes from them, which was great. Of course, I wanted to hear more, they were the band that I had come to see, but I understood why that wasn’t going to happen. All in all, I was glad that I got to see what I did from them and I told myself that I would need to see them live as headliners at least once in my lifetime.

Prior to the show, I tried to give myself a crash course lesson on the Drive By Truckers. I purchased their greatest hits record and listened to a couple of live concerts on the internet. They seemed like a solid band and I was hopeful that I would enjoy their show. They weren’t a band that I fell in love with right away, but they had a lot of solid songs, enough to hold my interest, that I figured I would enjoy their set and perhaps walk away from that show wanting to see more.

Sadly, my crash course did nothing to prepare me for most of the Drive By Truckers set. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t good in concert, or that I did not like them. I liked their performance a lot and could tell that they were a finely tuned, talented group of musicians. The problem was that I did not know enough of their songs to really lose myself in the performance like I do with most bands that I see live.

One of the songs I did fall in love with on first listen was “Zip City.” This is a fantastic song about love, lust, angst, and anger, with vocals by the uber-talented Mike Cooley. It was the one song that I wanted to hear that night and fortunately for me, The Drive By Truckers obliged. They performed it as the first song of the encore and it got the biggest roar of the night from me. I sang every word at the top of my lungs with glee. I was ecstatic.

Memories of this evening are dominated by seeing Old 97s live for the first time, but I also have fond memories of my first time witnessing Drive By Truckers in concert. I was impressed by their performance and left with a desire to see them in concert again. After the show, I spent more time listening to their music and while they aren’t at the top of my “go-to” list when I am wondering what to listen to, I do pay a lot more attention to their music and have added a few more of their records to my collection. Sadly, I have not seen either of these bands live since this night. I need to change that in the near future.

Drive By Truckers Setlist
The Southern Thing
Get Downtown
The Fourth Night of My Drinking
Space City
Why Henry Drinks
Women Without Whiskey
Drag the Lake Charlie
Self Destructive Zones
Steve McQueen
A Ghost to Most
Sink Hole
Uncle Frank
Lookout Mountain
3 Dimes Down
Used to Be a Cop
Where the Devil Don’t Stay
Hell No, I Ain’t Happy
Zip City
Let There Be Rock
Shut Up and Get on the Plane
Angels and Fuselage

Monday, April 9, 2018

Concert Review: Neil Diamond - August 18, 2005

On a hot August night in New York City, I watched Neil Diamond perform live for the second (and last) time in my concert viewing history. The first time I saw him perform  I went from being a casual fan to a huge fan. Thus, expectations were high the second time around. I already knew what Neil Diamond could do in concert and I was anxious to witness a repeat performance from this stage master.

This time around, the venue was a little closer to home. I was taking my new bride to Madison Square Garden for her first Neil Diamond experience. She was a little skeptical, wondering how an easy listening performer like Neil Diamond could put on a rocking concert for the ages. But I assured her that you had to witness Neil Diamond to believe it. I was giddy for the opportunity to see him live again.

After a nice dinner at a quaint little restaurant inside of Penn Station (that is unfortunately long gone) we walked our way into Madison Square Garden and found our seats. I’ve said this before and I know that I will say this again, Madison Square Garden is the mecca for concert performances. Some of the best shows I’ve ever seen have happened at the Garden. From KISS, to Billy Joel, to Pearl Jam, to The Police, to Neil Diamond, some of my greatest nights have taken place inside those hallowed halls.

Our seats for that evening weren’t the best ones, but they weren’t horrible either. I honestly didn’t think it mattered where we sat, Neil was going to give a grand performance that would suck us in regardless. That night we were in section 404, high up near the ceiling, but close to the stage. As I said though, it didn’t matter. As long as I was in the building, I was going to get rocked.

Neil Diamond did not disappoint. He opened with some exceptional hits (“Crunchy Granola Suite,” “Desiree,” “Beautiful Noise,” and “Cherry Cherry in the first five songs) and the crowd responded with gratuitous roars. The way he crafts a setlist is pure poetry. Mixing beloved classics with a sprinkling of lesser known new songs, Neil knows how to pace a show that will keep fans involved. The loud sing-alongs like “America,” “Forever in Blue Jeans,” and “Sweet Caroline” were appropriately spaced so that the audience could catch their breath in between belting out the hits with the maker himself.

Halfway through the set I was sweaty and tired, and Neil, 30-something years my senior, was just getting started. He is a true showman and newer bands could take lessons from this man on how to put on an unforgettable concert experience. He never stopped and I don’t think he even slowed down. With a catalog as vast as his, it was going to be hard to please all the fans, but Neil did his absolute best, being sure to play the hits that everyone loves. Slow songs, fast songs, and every hit in between came out on stage that night. And each one sounded like they were being sung by a performer in his twenties, even though Neil Diamond was in his mid-sixties at the time.

And while my wife was impressed, I don’t think she enjoyed the concert as much as I did. She never did want to go see him again. Which means she did not take to the show like I had. Personally, I thought it was almost as grand as the first time that I saw him in concert, which is a huge compliment, because the first time I saw Neil Diamond in concert will probably go down as one of the ten best concerts I’ve ever seen.

My only complaint would be the last song of the night. After an encore of “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” Neil decided to end the night with “I’ve Been This Way Before.” I know it was a number one hit, and I know that a lot of diehard fans probably thought that was an exceptional closer, but to me it was not the way to end the evening. If he had put that in as the first song of the encore and closed the night with Brother Love, it would have had a much more robust impact to me. There was still nothing to truly complain about at the end of the evening. Neil gave his all and I got my money’s worth from his concert performance.

Unfortunately, I would never get to see Neil Diamond in concert again, and probably never will. Earlier this year, he announced that he is retiring from touring after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It was sad to hear and the concert world took a big hit when that news was released. Anyone who never had the glory of seeing Neil Diamond in concert really missed out. He was a true entertainer and performed two of the best concerts that I have ever seen. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t see him in concert more often. At least I have the memories of two wonderful nights to reminisce on. And I’ll always have his recorded music to remind of what a great entertainer Neil Diamond was.

Crunchy Granola Suite
Remember Me
Beautiful Noise
Cherry, Cherry
You Got To Me
Play Me
Love on the Rocks
Forever in Blue Jeans
You Don’t Bring Me Flowers
September Morn
Lonely Looking Sky
Holly Holy
Sweet Caroline
I’m A Believer
Glory Road
And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind
Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)
Red Red Wine
I Am…I Said
Cracklin’ Rosie
Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show
I’ve Been This Way Before

Monday, April 2, 2018

Concert Review: Pop Evil - March 24, 2018

On a chilled Saturday night, I drove to the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey, to see Pop Evil’s perform as a headlining act. They were touring behind their latest self-titled release and I was excited to hear some of the new songs in concert. I was also excited to see this band live again, as it had been over a year since the last time I witnessed their magnificent concert.

I arrived early to see the opening acts, as I like to do, and was rewarded with a real treat. The first act of the night was a New Jersey based band called Ronin and they were exceptional. If you get a chance to see this band live, do yourself a favor and do it! I was so impressed by their quick set that I wanted to hear a longer performance. Alas, that was not going to happen. They gave a short, impressive, opening set and then it was time for the next act.

The next two bands of the night were just not for me. They weren’t awful, and they had stage presence, but I just wasn’t into their music. Perhaps it was the anticipation of Pop Evil coming on later, perhaps it was that Ronin had set the bar so high, but whatever the reason, I did not care for the next two acts. I kept an open mind, but I won’t be seeking out music from either of those bands.

As for the main treat of the night, Pop Evil was incredible as always. Although I did like their performance last year more than this year. If for no other reason than the fact that last year’s show was longer with more songs. I did think it was odd that Pop Evil was only playing 16 songs on this tour. That’s small for a headliner and the entire show was only 75 minutes. If they were co-headlining with someone, I would get that, but they were on their own. They should have given us 85-90 minutes and 19-20 songs. That was the only complaint I had though. Pop Evil has honed their live show through endless, rigorous touring, and they are a well-oiled machine that just knows how to give a performance.

And for me, it was a chance to release my inner rock demons. Where else can a corporate 9-5 guy go to unleash his pain by screaming “Be Legendary” and “Take It All” at the top of his lungs? Not to mention random high fives by strange dudes. That’s the power of rock and roll. It is an intense feeling that when let out into the night can be as powerful as anything in the human experience. Due to the maximum volume of the speakers, I was able to scream as loud as my diaphragm would allow and not bother anyone around me. And sing-screaming along with my Pop Evil favorites was a cleansing experience. It felt so damn good to rock that hard for an hour and change. And I was grinning the entire time.

Ten years of Pop Evil and they are still going strong. The setlist consisted of a few songs from the first two records and a large dose of the later hits as well as a good amount of songs from their latest release. “Hero” and “Monster You Made” got huge ovations and reactions from the crowd, rightfully so. They are two of the bands most beloved songs and always sound exceptional in concert.

“Silence and Scars” was the highlight of the night for me. I absolutely love that song and it was the first time that I got to hear it live. They did the song justice with a wonderful performance. I was on top of the world by the time the song was over.

Hearing “100 in a 55” brought back memories of the first time I ever saw the band. It was in that very building, although the layout was much different. Starland Ballroom had a facelift a few years ago and the design, while similar, is much more open than it was when Pop Evil first started performing there. Thinking back to the night I first saw the band filled me with joy. I could remember hearing “100 in a 55” for the first time and watching people sing along to it. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, these guys are great. And look how many people know this song. This band is something special.” That song cemented the decision for me to go buy their first album. It was one of the best music decisions I’ve ever made.

Pop Evil came once again, conquered once again, and kicked serious ass once again. I am already looking forward to the next time that I will see them live again, even though I have no idea when that is going to be. Hopefully it will be sooner than a year from now, but whenever it is, I know it’s going to be a fabulous night of real rock and roll!

Ways To Get High
Boss’ Daughter
Torn To Pieces
Waking Lions
Ex Machina
Deal With The Devil
Nothing But Thieves
Art Of War
Monster You Made
Silence and Scars
Be Legendary
Take It All
100 in a 55