Sunday, June 29, 2008

One Off: Rick Wakeman's "Grumpy Old Picture Show" DVD

As I was catching up with some computer issues the past two nights, I popped in a recently acquired DVD. It was a random selection and I held no great hopes for it, but it turned out to be a pleasant diversion.
RICK WAKEMAN – Grumpy Old Picture Show DVD (MVD Visual)
My first serious college boyfriend had a huge mural painted on the hallway outside his dorm room – the inner gatefold painting from the “Tales of Topographic Ocean” LP. It was quite well done actually, and Yes music was constantly booming from his stereo (along with Fireside Theatre albums). So Yes has retained a soft spot in my heart, even though the former boyfriend doesn’t. As prog rock went, Yes did some of the best.

According to Wikipedia, and as initially announced on the official Yes website, Wakeman will not be joining Yes on their 40th Anniversary tour, but will instead be replaced by his son Oliver. The elder Wakeman has been touring with a solo show - an evening of biographical stories and music, captured here one night in Dunstable, England.

Wearing a coat that hits the ground when he sits down to the keyboard and a hefty paunch that falls over his belt as he walks around the stage, he tells bawdy jokes amid stories about growing up, getting sober and playing music, including some tales of his days with Yes and beyond. (Sample quote from a tale about porta-loos, and how he thought he had found a private alternative: “I had lovely wee and then I got a round of applause.”)

There are some hokey “very rare footage” sketches hosted by a BBC-style presenter and dropped in between the chats, like Wakeman portraying a bratty schoolchild in sex ed class (appropriately accompanied by rim shots). Musically, there’s a nice take on “Eleanor Rigby,” plus a few duets with his clear-voiced daughter and a few rather snoozy new agey instrumentals and prog rockers played with guest musicians who are dropped in via a video screen. The climactic version of “Starship Trooper” is a particularly nice choice gone particularfly bad (the singer sucks). Wakemen still excels in advanced synthesizer noodling, some of which sounds better now than it did Back in the Day of Wretched Excess.

Production wise, the DVD is no marvel of technology; just a straight-forward capture of a one-man show from a guy with a scruffy, genial and self-deprecating style – which, frankly, I never would have attributed to the Rick Wakeman of Yore. Much like Ray Davies’ 1996 one-man story-telling show, "20th Century Man," it’s a nice model for classic rockers looking for a new way to reconnect with old fans.

And so, because I count music DVDs, that ratchets up the
Year-to-Date O/CD Tally: 117

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

We Got Out (Pt. 2) - WWJJD?

Still catching up with recent concerts of note…

When I was working on a Post preview of the Celebrate Fairfax! event – a weekend county fair sans livestock – I was offered the opportunity to chat briefly with one of the featured performers, the wonderful Joan Jett. I try not to be jaded, but I don’t often get positively nervous/excited when I’m prepping to talk to musicians these days. But this was Joan Freakin’ Jett!

Glad to report that the woman is a pleasant, giving personality who chatted freely about a variety of subjects, including the reprehensible fact that she’s not yet been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. She seems to harbor no grudge, finds it just another example of the way women are often overlooked in the world, and explained that her appearance at this past year’s R&RHoF ceremonies was not a sign of a bridge being built between her and the Powers That Be, but simply her honoring the request of a friend, the late Mike Smith of the Dave Clark Five, who passed away shortly before the event.

At the end of the brief conversation (she had squeezed me into a busy day filming an episode of “Law and Order”), Jett asked me if I intended to come to the show and invited me to meet her backstage.

Lots of musicians extend such invitations in the enforced friendliness of an interview, but I had an email confirmation of the meeting from her super-efficient PR people within minutes of hanging up the phone.

And I was nervous/excited again, driving to the Fairfax Government Center to make the date a week later. First I met Kenny Laguna, Jett’s longtime manager, musical collaborator and protector of sorts, the guy who handles all the petty details so that she’s free to rock. Another writer (who appeared to know Jett and Laguna personally) and I were the only two people allowed in her trailer before a crush of Meet-and-Greeters, and the other guy did most of the talking. But I was able to shake the iconic female rocker’s hand, get a few autographs on some photos I’d taken at her Warped Tour appearance a few years back and got permission to shoot the concert.

Not only permission, but a full access pass that put me on the side of the stage or in the pit for the whole damn show.

Jett’s a tireless performer, with energy to burn, anthemic tunes that are perfect for a summer outdoor show, and a smile that’s made all the more special for its rare, spontaneous wattage.

When the main set ended, Jett came to the side of the stage and nearly collapsed. She seemed to deflate into a rag doll heap, leaning against the stairs as if she were too exhausted to play. And yet, after being enclosed in a circle of affection and support by Laguna and her fellow Blackhearts, she roused herself for a full-on encore. A rock legend. A class act.

Side note: that night marked the debut of Jett’s new signature Gibson guitar, designed to her own specifications by the instrument giant. Laguna called me a few days later to say that the company was excited to hear that a photographer was on hand, and askd that I send pics of Jett playing her new axe. Haven’t heard back from anyone on the Jett or Gibson side (I assume I would if they were using any of the photos) but if you see a Gibson ad that looks like any of the photos here, let me know!

While we’re at it, let’s add to the O/CD Tally with the album that Laguna was nice enough to give me at the show.
1. JOAN JETT and the BLACKHEARTS – Sinner (Blackheart Records)

and I’ll tag on a bunch of albums that came to me in conjunction with other past Post previews, along with the links to the original articles, for archive sake.

2. JON DEE GRAHAM – Swept Away (Freedom)
The CD soundtrack for the documentary film about one of Austin’s local heroes.
3. JON DEE GRAHAM – Swept Away DVD
show with the Squirrel Nut Zippers

4. TAB BENOIT and LOUISIANA’S LEROUX – Last Train to Nashville (Telarc)
show at the State Theatre

5. PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND – Made in New Orleans (Preservation Hall)
OMG! The nice folks at Shore Fire sent me the deluxe edition of this CD/DVD set, the one that comes in the Every-One-Truly-Unique packaging, with a Polaroid photo taken by PHJB director Ben Jaffe and collectors’ items like original press releases, photos, even receipts from band expenses, like the bill from a BBQ dinner! Way cool.
show at the Wolf Trap Barns

6. MACEO PARKER – Roots & Grooves (Heads Up Recording)
show at the State Theatre

7. and 8. MATT KEATING – Quixotic (Kealon Records)
show at St. Elmo’s Coffee Shop
I got two copies of this one – a generic cardboard advance before I interviewed Keating, and the commercial release, with a truly stunning photo on the cover – a windfarm under a gorgeous blue shy (unretouched, he swore to me).

10. EAST VILLAGE OPERA COMPANY – La Donna e Mobile (Brick Wall Mgmt.)
Music video single
11. EAST VILLAGE OPERA COMPANY – Habanera Redux (Carmen) at Irving Plaza (Brick Wall Mgmt.)
show at Reston Center Stage

13. RICARDO LEMVO – Shall We Salsa (Trilogy Records)
An emusic download that I made for myself.
show at the Rosslyn Spectrum

14. SAW DOCTORS – That Takes the Biscuit (Shamtown)
show at the Birchmere
And here’s a pic from that wild Irish romp of a night.

Year-to-Date O/CD Tally: 116

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

We Got Out - and We're Still Catching Up

I have been a very bad girl (that phrase will get me some new Internet hits). I have been to three shows in the past two weeks and haven’t posted pics or reviews. I still have a bit of a time and procrastination problem, so tonight I’ll just mention one – those nice boys from Ireland, Bell X-1.
When we last saw the guys, it was at a pub in DC where the stalwart Sally and I were invited to have a few drinks with the band at an intimate press party (recapped in the blog entry for January 23).

Hugely popular in the homeland, Bell X-1 released its American debut, Flock, in February and started making the radio/TV rounds, including a spot on “Letterman.” After having hung out with them, and seeing what polite, soft-spoken guys they were, it was a hoot to see them on my TV full of rock swagger and sharp music.

Of course, Sally and I had to make it to their concert at the 930 club at the start of this month. I’d heard that the band’s NYC dates were SRO, but this was an instance in which DC’s most modern venue pushed its mobile stage forward to make the club look smaller, and even then it wasn’t very crowded.

At first, the band seemed a bit bummed by the quantity of the crowd, but its quality warmed them up. This was an audience that roared its approval, called out titles and sang along with songs that one could never have expected them to know. The band got looser and smiled more, dropped cool Talking Heads references into two songs, and lead singer Paul Noonan offered an acoustic Depeche Mode cover during the encore. Well done, boys.

Trivia note: frontman and primary songwriter Noonan was originally the band’s drummer but original vocalist Damien Rice left to pursue a solo career, so Noonan came forward to take the spotlight. Suffice to say he’s a natural.

And that leads to a new title to add to the O/CD Tally:
BELL X-1 - Flock (Yep Roc)
This was an official copy of the commercial release.
I got a generic advance late last year, in advance of the pub meeting.
Year-to-Date: 102