Monday, September 12, 2016

Concert Review: Guster - November 21, 2015







It was a beautiful Saturday night in late November, and once again, Mrs. Vie and I were going to witness the always fantastic Guster in concert. After seeing them live earlier that summer, I knew they were going to give an incredible performance. This time around we would be enjoying their show from the Wellmont Theatre, an exceptional venue located in Montclair, New Jersey.

We arrived early, and once again, my lovely wife put us as close to the stage as possible. We were up against the barricade and could easily reach over and touch the stage. It was nice to be that close to the action and my wife was ecstatic. I was pretty excited myself.

The opening band had won the opportunity to open for Guster at this show. For their fall tour, Guster held a contest that a local college/high school band near each venue would open the evening. For The Wellmont Theatre that meant The Emily Youth Project would be the opening act. Clearly I knew nothing about the band, the same as most audience members. This was a local, unknown band who were handed a great opportunity. I was interested in seeing how they would make the most of it.

The Emily Youth Project was nothing short of spectacular. Considering that I didn’t know any of their songs or anything about the band, they came out and gave a stupendous performance. They absolutely blew the crowd away! Although they are a young and new band, they commanded the stage like seasoned professionals. Their ability was magnificent and they showed a maturity and stage presence well beyond their years. By the end of their set, the entire crowd was clapping and dancing along with their songs. I was extremely impressed with the band.

After The Emily Youth Project wrapped up, I took a moment to look around the theater before Guster would come out. I noticed that the General Admission area was pretty much sold out and packed, but the balcony seating was sparse. That was disappointing, as I’ve always felt that Guster is a band that should be selling out the venues they perform at. However, knowing Guster after having seen them a few times, I knew that the size of the crowd did not make a difference to them. They were going to come out and give us a magnificent performance no matter what.

We stood through the setting up of the stage, took in all the little nuances that we could, and then the house lights went down and Guster came out to the roar of the crowd. They opened with a terrific rendition of “Ramona” and the night was off and running.

“Satellite,” the new track “Simple Machine,” and “Happier” were next and it was an exquisite pack of songs to begin the concert. Classic staples and newer hits blended together to start the night off right. I was grinning by the end of “Happier” and just knew that we were in for an amazing night.

My favorite track from the new album, “Kid Dreams” was performed as well as “Never Coming Down” and “Lazy Love.” I felt that Guster paid the right amount of attention to their latest album while mixing in plenty of hits and deeper cuts. At one point in the night, the band decided to take an audience vote on which song they wanted to hear. The choices were “Two Points For Honesty” and “Happy Frappy.” The loudest applause and cheers would get the song performed. “Two Points For Honesty” won out by a landslide and the band went on to play an exceptional version of it. Singer/guitarist Ryan Miller admitted after the song that he didn’t like to perform most of the older songs, he preferred to stick with the newer material. He then admitted that he had so much fun playing “Two Points For Honesty” that the band was going to play “Happy Frappy” anyway. This received a huge roar of approval from the crowd. What he didn’t tell the crowd was that they hadn’t played the song live in so long, they were going to sing the verses out of order. They butchered the verses which forced quizzical glances from Ryan and Adam at each other. When Ryan started to sing the same verse again, Adam noted that he sang that verse already and they made a small bit out of it. Guster always finds a way to entertain, even through their mess ups. And the crowd did not care. They got to hear “Happy Frappy.”

It was also Ryan’s birthday. Toward the end of the set, Ryan was presented with a birthday cake and a little birthday party hat that he wore for a while. It was comical seeing him sing songs with a birthday party hat strapped to his head. It was just another reason to love this band.

The encore was set up in a way that only Guster could do. They made up a song on the spot called “Zombie Jews.” They told the audience that the band was going to lie down on the stage ike they were dead and then they would slowly rise like Zombies to play the encore. Then another verse of the fictious song “Zombie Jews” was played and the band lay down on the stage just like they said they would. It was comical and entertaining. Shortly after lying down, the band slowly rose like Zombies and went into the encore.

The encore was a solid pack of hits (including their newest one). The last song of the night was a special Guster joke that they entertain from time to time. Drummer/Bongo specialist, Brian Rosenworcel stepped out from behind the bongos and took the microphone. It was time to sing a cover song. The band launched into Wham’s “Careless Whisper” with Brian screaming his way through the vocals. I laughed through the entire song, enjoying the joke of it. It’s also my kind of esoteric comedy.

Once again, Guster was amazing in concert and I can’t wait to see them again. It was a terrific performance and being so close to the stage for the second Guster concert in a row was a real treat. Compliments to my wife who always seems to bring me out of comfort zone for all the right reasons.

Setlist
Ramona
Satellite
Simple Machine
Happier
Hercules
Careful
Doin’ It By Myself
Captain
Kid Dreams
Homecoming King
Come Downstairs And Say Hello
Do You Love Me
Never Coming Down
Demons
Two Points For Honesty
Happy Frappy
Ruby Falls
Lazy Love
Barrel Of A Gun
This Could All Be Yours
Encore
Long Night
One Man Wrecking Machine
Manifest Destiny
Airport Song
Careless Whisper (Wham cover – Brian on vocals)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen And The E-Street Band - August 30, 2016



Two words sum up the experience of my 20th Bruce Springsteen concert---holy shit! It is nights like this one that remind me why I became a fan of Bruce Springsteen in the first place. With all of the speculation and second guessing about what was going to happen, no one was prepared for what actually transpired. And it wasn’t just the song selection, which was absolutely incredible.It was also the power and the energy produced that made this an unforgettable evening. The interaction with the audience. The boundless excitement that Bruce showed to the crowd and that the crowd showed right back. Every single moment seemed memorable, magical, and mesmerizing. It was pure concert bliss for over 4 hours.

Before The Night Began

Yes, I did get to witness the longest show ever performed in the United States and the second longest of Springsteen’s career. That single fact alone would rank this as one of the best concerts I ever attended, but as we’ve discussed before, length isn’t everything. The power of the performance bears a lot of weight as well. And the performance at MetLife Stadium on that warm August evening was one for the ages.

The event began with a very special opening number. Even though I knew it was coming, starting the concert with “New York City Serenade” was a rare treat for me. I had only seen this song performed live once beforeway back in 1999. I have wanted to see it again ever since. Finally, 17 years later, I would get the chance. My patience was rewarded with a stunning rendition of this beautiful lost classic from The Wild, The Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle. The song worked perfectly as an opener and it slowly pulled the crowd in for what would be an extended night of entertainment. Roy on the piano set “New York City Serenade” and Bruce’s short, quick, acoustic guitar notes sang out into the stadium. We were off and running. Serenade lasted almost fifteen minutes and the roar of approval at the end showed just how beloved this song, and this band, is.

After “New York City Serenade” Bruce welcomed the crowd with a grand “Good evening, New Jersey!” He then told us that they were going to try and play the songs that they didn’t get to the first two nights. I didn’t realize that would mean almost every track that people would want to hear from his first two albums. 5 songs off of Greetings From Asbury Park, N.j. kicked the night into high gear and left several jaws wide open (mine included). It was at that moment I knew this was going to be a concert like none I had ever experienced. Perhaps every third Springsteen performance that I see, I’ll get a track or two from one of the first two albums. Usually “Spirit In the Night” or “Growing Up.” Almost never would I experience more than two and never would they be 9 out of the first 10 songs played. We were well over an hour into the show before Bruce played an original that wasn’t from his first two albums.


“Summertime Blues,” played by sign request, served as the perfect segue from Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. to The Wild, The Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle. I’ve always loved the E-Street version of “Summertime Blues” and it was even more fun on that night in the Meadowlands. After ending the song, Bruce stepped to the microphone and announced “We haven’t played this one in quite a while.” The band then ripped into “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” and all of us were sitting on the Jersey Shore with Bruce, experiencing the boardwalk life, and feeling the thrill of the rides and the smell of the surf.

A blistering “Kitty’s Back” would follow and then the moment of the night for me occurred. I was able to witness a live performance of “Incident On 57th Street” for only the second time in my Springsteen concert attending career and it was brilliant! Goosebumps broke out all over my skin as the song played on. And when we got to the end of the number, Roy’s piano continued, just like it does on the album. Roy wasn’t stopping and most of the fans in attendance knew what that meant. Springsteen paused with guitar in hand and gave us all a sly look as if to ask “should I do it?” More than a few of us screamed “Do it!’ And with that, the opening notes of “Rosalita” hit the air and every single person in MetLife Stadium was on their feet. The rare album sequence performance of “Incident on 57th Street” into “Rosalita” was absolutely awesome and one of the best gifts I ever received at a Springsteen concert.

And the night was only getting started!I got to witness Springsteen’s cover of “Pretty Flamingo” for the first time ever and it did not disappoint. A brilliant performance of “Atlantic City” came next and served as another segue, this time into the pack of Born In The USA songs that would follow. “I’m Goin’ Down,” “Darlington County,” “Working On The Highway,” and “Downbound Train” left my throat raw from screaming and singing at the top of my lungs. A gorgeous version of “I’m On Fire” followed to wrap up the Born In The USA package. I was stunned and speechless by that point, but Springsteen was nowhere near done.

The album that was the purpose of the entire tour finally had a couple of songs performed. “Hungry Heart,” and “Out In The Street” would be the only representatives from The River that night, and that was okay with everyone in the crowd. By that point, Bruce could do no wrong. A fantastic rendition of “Living Proof” was next, but sadly, most people sat through it. Showing once again that the 1992 Springsteen songs just don’t get any love, which is a shame. I was extremely happy that Bruce pulled out “Living Proof” and it only added to the unique spirit of the night for me.

Five fan favorites wrapped up the main portion of the evening. By the time the crowd was chanting the Badlands chorus, over three hours had passed since the opening notes of “New York City Serenade.” And we still had an encore to go. The encore provided another first for me at a Springsteen concert. Seeing a performance of “Secret Garden.” I forgot how grand that song is! I would later learn, thanks to the wonderful fan site Backstreets (www.backstreets.com), that it was only the 4thtime ever this song had been performed live. No wonder I forgot about it!

MetLife Stadium Going Crazy For Bruce!
 Even though I’ve seen “Jungleland” performed quite a few times, I have never witnessed a version like this. Perhaps it was the intensity that the night demanded, the song selection that led up to it, or just the setting that we were in, but this was one of the best “Jungleland” I’ve seen. Springsteen sang with an intensity that we haven’t felt on this song for a while, and Jake Clemons absolutely nailed the solo made famous by his uncle. After the solo, Jake stood on the stage, motionless and Bruce walked over and embraced him. It was a very touching moment in an emotionally charged night.

“Dancing In The Dark” found Bruce playing dance leader and pulling people from the pit onto the stage to dance. One wise gentleman held a sign that read “I’d go a bit woozy if I could dance with sister Soozie” (referring to none other than violinist Soozie Tyrell, of course). He got brought on stage. Another witty fella held a sign that read “My wife gave me permission to dance with Patty”. He got hoisted onstage, although it took a little extra effort to get him up. He was a big man and apparently it’s not as easy to climb onto the stage as people think. A girl with a sign that said “Last dance before school” got raised up. And a random girl got to dance with Bruce. All of these people were in their glory. All of these people lived a moment in their lives that they will never forget. He even let them all join on the microphone and sing the chorus with him. Who does that? And that is what makes Springsteen such a master. I am sure the security detail absolutely hates that he brings people on stage like that, but Bruce isn’t hearing it. He wants everyone in the building to have the night of their lives every time they perform.

The night ended with the same song that ended the previous two MetLife Stadium shows, “Jersey Girl.” By this point it was well after midnight, but no one had left for the parking lot. The New Jersey crowd sang along with “Jersey Girl” to finish the night and a lot of guys held their ladies, swaying and swooning to the Tom Waits classic that Bruce has made his own.

When it was all over, Bruce had performed for over 4 hours (1 minute over to be exact) and I was exhausted. I was euphoric, but I was still exhausted. After 20 Springsteen concerts, I had never witnessed one quite like that and it immediately went to the top of my list as best Springsteen concert ever. In a few months, we will see if it still remains there, but I don’t see any way that this could be knocked off the top of the perch. It may even be the best concert I’ve ever attended. The night was full of magic and memories that are going to stay with me for a lifetime.

Setlist
New York City Serenade
Blinded By The Light
Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?
It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City
Spirit In The Night
Summertime Blues
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Kitty’s Back
Incident On 57th Street
Rosalita (come Out Tonight)
Pretty Flamingo
Atlantic City
I’m Goin’ Down
Darlington County
Working On The Highway
Downbound Train
I’m On Fire
Hungry Heart
Out In The Street
Living Proof
Candy’s Room
She’s The One
Because The Night
The Rising
Badlands
Encore
Secret Garden
Jungleland
Born To Run
Dancing In The Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Twist And Shout
Glory Days
Shout
Jersey Girl

Monday, August 29, 2016

PREVIEW: Bruce Springsteen And The E-Street Band - MetLife Stadium - August 30, 2016






Tomorrow, August 30, 2016, I will be attending my 20th Bruce Springsteen concert. It will be my third time seeing him at MetLife Stadium and my 11th time seeing him in a stadium setting. As any fan or setlist gazer knows, the last two shows at MetLife Stadium were two of the most epic shows in his storied career. Opening with “New York City Serenade” and closing with “Jersey Girl” on both nights is super rare and ultra special. I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen “New York City Serenade” performed live, but I would love to see it again. Hopefully he will make it three for three by opening with that song on the final night at MetLife Stadium.

I’ve already emotionally abused myself for not going to the other two shows at MetLife Stadium. I wanted to go, but figured that one concert would be enough. After seeing the setlists for the first two nights, I just got angry with myself. “I should have done all three,” I constantly repeated in my head. It was a 3 hour, 52 minute performance on night one, and a 3 hour, 58 minute performance on night 2. And I missed them both. What was I thinking? “Backstreets,” “Lost In The Flood,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” (which I’ve NEVER seen live), “Something In The Night,” Spirit In The Night,” and “No Surrender” all performed and missed out on. A special guest appearance by Tom Morello, missed out on. An onstage wedding proposal, missed out on. All because I told myself one show was enough.

But I do have that one show coming up tomorrow night. And I am hopeful that it will be even better than the first two nights. And knowing Bruce performances as well as I do, it’s not out of the range of possibilities that he performs for 4 hours or more on Tuesday night. But as many women will tell you, length isn’t everything; it’s the performance itself that matters. And with that in mind, as much as I want the longest show ever performed in the USA, I also want the best show ever performed in the USA. I want to see super rarities and cuts so deep that even I have to scratch my head and go “what song is this?” I want to rock so hard that I literally hurt the next morning and need four ibuprofen and three cups of coffee just to get out of bed. And I know that Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band can deliver.

With that in mind, here are some of the rare songs that I would like to see performed live tomorrow night:

Stray Bullet (from The River Boxset)
For a tour supporting The River Boxset I am surprised that more songs from that box set haven’t been performed. Other than “Meet Me In The City,” none of the previously unreleased material was performed live. I’m still not sure how that is possible. Springsteen could make up for that on Tuesday with a rousing rendition of “Stray Bullet.” It is the best outtake on The River Boxset and it is a hauntingly beautiful song that I would love to hear in concert.

Incident On 57th Street (from The Wild, The Innocent, and The E-Street Shuffle)
Always amazing to see in concert, Springsteen performed this one in Europe to open a show. It was just him, the piano, and this song. I wouldn’t mind seeing a reenactment of that. If the band chooses not to open with “New York City Serenade,” this would be an excellent backup choice

Hunter Of Invisible Game (from High Hopes)
This is a terrific song from an underrated album that I have been listening to a lot more lately. I didn’t find High Hopes to be spectacular when it first came out and I ranked it very low on the overall Springsteen album ranking. Yet over the last two weeks, I’ve listened to High Hopes quite a bit, and I must say that I truly enjoy it. One of the hidden gems on that record is “Hunter Of Invisible Game”. It is a beautiful song that has gotten almost no attention since it was released. That’s a real shame

All Or Nothing At All (from Human Touch)
Springsteen rarely plays songs from Human Touch or Lucky Town and when he does, it is almost always one of the title songs. “All Or Nothing At All” is a gem of a song that has almost never been played live. I had the joy of seeing a rare performance of the song at my first ever Bruce Springsteen concert back in 1992 and it was amazing. “All Or Nothing At All” is a powerful song that packs a mean punch. It’s a rocker that would get the crowd moving whether they know it or not. It may have a lot of people pulling out their phones to see what song it was, but it would be an amazing moment to hear this song live again. And it would breathe some much needed life into the Human Touch/Lucky Town albums.

Magic (from Magic)
“Magic” was played almost every night on the Magic tour. Then it was put up on the shelf and as far as I know it was never brought out again. I am not certain how this song would go over in a stadium setting, but Springsteen made “Empty Sky” work in a stadium, so anything is possible. “Magic” is one of the best songs Bruce has written in the last ten years. And while it is politically filled, it is still a brilliant song. And yes, I want to see this song for selfish reasons. I missed the Magic tour, thus I’ve never seen this song performed live. And I want to.

Of course there are other songs that would make the night super special as well. “Trapped,” “Cynthia,” “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City,” “Save My Love,” and “Born In The USA” are all rare enough songs that have a realistic chance of being performed. And any of them would make night three at MetLife Stadium a real treat. Whatever happens, I know the night will be special, because, let’s face it, any Springsteen concert is. If you’re heading out to the show enjoy it! And even if you’re not, be sure to check back here for my full concert review. I’ll try to have it up by next weekend.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Classic Book Review: Gene Simmons - Sex, Money, Kiss






13 years ago, Gene Simmons released his second book, Sex Money Kiss. It was the follow up to his best-selling autobiography, Kiss and Make Up. While his first book was a pure autobiography, for book number two, Simmons went in a bit of a different direction, combining biographical elements, with personal finance advice, lifestyle advice, and even relationship advice.

Sex Money Kiss is an enjoyable read filled with tongue-in-cheek humor and interesting behind the scenes looks at the business side of the music industry. Gene takes us on his personal finance/business/music career journey that started at a very young age when he would buy comics in bulk and weed out the valuable ones for resale. His entrepreneurial mind was working at an early age and never stopped.

Simmons goes into detail about projects he’s worked on over the years, both successes and failures and explains how each takes the same amount of time and commitment. The same amount of energy will be put into failures as successes. In order to succeed, one must possess the “never give up” mentality, knowing that eventually one of the ideas is going to strike gold. Simmons also spends a lot of time discussing work ethic and work habits. He provides sound advice about dedicating oneself to their work for the agreed upon time that one is working. He also preaches that if overtime is available, take it. If there is an opportunity to work weekends, seize it. The nights will still be free to do whatever you want, but while there is a chance to earn money during the day, do it.

The years of KISS are covered throughout Sex Money Kiss as well. From their humble beginnings to their mega farewell tour, Simmons discusses what was happening in the background to make the career of KISS such a success. He details how he was involved in a lot of the business side of things in order to get a better understanding on where the money was going and who was actually pocketing it. From dealing with promoters, to distributors, to record executives, Simmons tried to be involved with as much as possible. As he states several times throughout the book, “No one knows YOU better than you.” It is important to be involved in these aspects of your life. And while he was discussing it from a music industry perspective, the advice is applicable in all of our daily lives. How much involvement do we really have in our own investments?

Failed ventures are well documented in Sex Money Kiss also. From a KISS sneaker line, to unmade movies, Simmons discusses all of the projects that he is or was working on and their various stages of success and while ultimately some of them never came to market. He also discusses his own personal involvement in negotiating the terms for all of these projects, which ultimately led to more money into the band’s (and his) pocket. And while a lot of it may appear that Simmons is bragging about all of his successes, there is much more that can be read into these stories. It is an inspirational read meant to fire the reader up to take charge in their own lives. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Work and work hard, while pursuing a fun hobby that may eventually turn into a career. And always pursue a way to get paid for what you are doing. And make sure that you are paid well for it.

Overall, Sex Money Kiss is an enjoyable read filled with solid advice on relationships, work, and money. And while most of it may be taken with a grain of salt and admired from a far perspective, Sex Money Kiss has plenty of good advice throughout. It also serves as a companion to Kiss and Make Up, giving more details to certain stories that happened throughout the career of Gene Simmons. If you are a fan of KISS, the music industry, or if you are looking for a light read on saving and investing money, I highly recommend that you seek out the classic gem, Sex Money Kiss.