Album Review: RHCP, The Getaway

Album Review: RHCP, The Getaway

“Hey man whatcha listening to?” A teenager interrogates me in the yellow box headed past junior high.

“It’s an album called Blood Sugar Sex Magik.” I reply to the stranger on our first ride towards sophomore year of high school.

“What?” The fledgling replies with a singular word and look of distaste on his face—as if he’d just seen his parents poking each other for the first time in the bedroom adjacent to his.

“It’s by a band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers,” I answer while putting my ear buds back in. I’m clicking the button on my CD player skipping tracks of an album recorded fifteen years prior.

 A lot of time has passed between the provenance of this recording and the present day. I think to myself while peaking through a single pane of glass, a partition separating me from confinement and the freedom of adulthood. The real world seems so much more enticing than this hot box filled with vociferous interrogators wondering what the quiet boy in the back of the bus is listening to in his lonesome; but it doesn’t matter, as long as the circular-shaped technology between my hands keeps spinning CDs of the past, I’m happy as can be.

Fast-forward ten years to the present day.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have just released their latest album entitled The Getaway.   The current/regular lineup of musicians (Anthony Keidis: Vocals, Flea: Bass, Chad Smith: Drums, and Josh Klinghoffer: Guitar) has altered as much as the music since the band’s self-titled album was released in 1983. The newest addition to the RHCP’s lengthy discography is full of fresh perspectives. Lead singer Anthony Keidis discusses the album’s single “Dark Necessities”:

It [“Dark Necessities”] kind of speaks to the beauty of our dark sides and how much creativity and growth and light actually comes out of those… Uhm, difficult struggles that we have on the inside of our heads that no one else can see.

Without a doubt, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have viewed their dark sides, especially, the front man himself. Anyone who’s read Keidis’ book Scar Tissue (2004) is aware of the incessant drug-addictions and bereavements he’s had to trudge through the past forty-plus decades.   Having traversed the mire of old times, the band has come terms with getting older while still possessing the energy needed to pump out new albums on a regular basis.

The Getaway (2016) is not a paradigm shift from RHCP’s previous albums. In fact, it borrows sonorities from their 2002 release of By the Way. Different, however, a producer known as Danger Mouse has taken over controls previously manned by the illustrious Rick Ruben. What’s the difference? To my ears, the hallmarks of this new album are highlighted by the use of truncated phrases, pockets of mellifluous integrity, lyrics extending phrases into brief, instrumental breakdowns, and, in general, the strength of the lyrics.

For instance, the tune “Feasting On The Flowers” contains a brief instrumental breakdown at the end of each verse that works to extend each phrase. Interesting, the use of piano is prominent throughout the tune; it works to provide pockets of sonic variety. Finally, the lyrics of the tune seem to express Keidis’ dark past. Is such a lyrics as, “I was walking through the streets I could not hear my best friend call–He was feeling incomplete about to take his final fall—Last thing I remember there were tears of blood and just not mine,” call to mind the bereavement Keidis went through in dealing with the death of his best friend—and, founding member of the RHCP—Hillel Slovak—he died of a heroine overdose in 1988. The chorus lyrics to “Feasting On The Flowers” seem to speak through the apparition of Keidis’ old friend: “Feasting on the flowers, so fast and young—It’s a light so bright that I bite my tongue—I do and I don’t, well I do and I don’t, oh yea—The next dimension, show me in.”

Lyrical interpretations are subjective. I wouldn’t dare say my interpretation is anything beyond speculation. More accurate, the lyrical content is, at times, simply forlorn. For instance, the second to last track on the album (“The Hunter”) is a bluesy tune that discusses human mortality. The discussion goes as follows: as time goes by, old age hunts youth; in the end, physical and mental deterioration tests the youthful spirit in all of us; or, as Anthony Kiedis puts it, “Time gets its way, Strawberries left to decay.”   The 53-year old vocalist hasn’t lost his spark. He’s just writing lyrics that dive further into the pool of melancholy.

In my estimation, the lyrical content expressed within the album’s thirteen tracks reinvents the parody on which “Dark Necessities” is drawn. The album cover belies the album’s pastiche of Terry Gilkyson 1967 song “The Bare Necessities.” Kevin Peterson’s artwork displays a young, innocent girl walking in-step with a large black bear and a couple other woodland creatures on a city sidewalk, as is the clan is abandoning the city for a simpler life somewhere in Big Sur. The lyrics of “The Bare Necessities” tell the story:

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature’s recipes
That brings the bare necessities of life

The Red Hot Chili Peppers seem to have found their current state of Zen. While time continues on and the “strawberries decay,” the band continues to exude their youthful spirit by refusing to where t-shirts, as if they were trying to Getaway to the forest to live a simpler life, one that requires only “The Bare Necessities.” If so, they may at least want to put on some bug spray. It’s summer and the mosquitos are biting in Big Sur.

-Layton (06/24/2016)

Mary Jane’s Last Dance

Mary Jane’s Last Dance

It’s 6:30pm again. The sky overhead casts its effacing blue shades overhead as dusk nears. I look up and to my left to see the half-circle of crimson waning behind thick woods filled with dogwood trees. It’s still about another couple of hours till the little lightening bugs can come out to dance their conspicuous dance of Bioluminescence. For now, the sultry summer heat causes beads of sweat to profuse from every pore. It’s one of those humid dusks that have you eyeing the sun with indignant eyes, awaiting its escapement under the horizon. The escapement of crimson brings cooler air, less beads of sweat, and, most important, replaces the sultry with the pleasant, thus allowing eyes of indignation to traverse from the half-circle of crimson towards the men and women adorned in sweat-covered clothes pouring their heart’s out with the dulcet sounds of Tom Petty and Johnny Cash. Tonight’s entertainment is the band Petty Cash Junction.

 

“And I won’t back down,” Jimmy Griffin, singer and guitarist of Petty Cash Junction, sings to the hill of fans.   After recently finding out that Civic Park hosts live music every Tuesday evening, Glenn, his girl Janet and I (Layton) decided to make a return visit to last weeks venue. Who doesn’t like Tom Petty? I think. They’re one of those bands that fell into some neutral territory. No one—that I’ve come across—is dissatisfied with or too chauvinistic for the music of Tom Petty. From my view, they’ve cracked into some impartial genre that is generally loved by all.

 

The crowd seems to have the same penchant for Tom Petty as I do. The brave ones dance in the evening heat, mouthing the words: “And I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around.” But now they’re turning their bodies with the rhythms of their own personal dances, none have a set routine—I don’t remember fortuitous gyrating being on the last Richard Simmons DVD. Now the lightening bugs dance a similar dance of Bioluminescence as the sun’s daily death permits the green underneath the lightening bugs’ wings to glow in the newfound darkness.

 

“Hey look, it’s Glenn in thirty years,” Janet points out an old man with white hair dancing the dance of fortuity.

 

“That’s Tom, he’s always dancing,” I reply. You see Tom is that singular man always dancing to every tune no matter what. He shows up to shows as often as the music. If you’re ever in O’Fallon, MO, and come across a bar, restaurant, or park hosting live music, look to the dance floor and you’ll more than likely see Glenn plus thirty, like a white-haired beast during mating season; out of control but in control of his own amusement. Tom is often the only one dancing. It’s highly entertaining to watch.

 

“I hear the train a comin’. It’s rollin’ round the bend,” David Kalz, the other singer and guitarist of Petty Cash Junction, explores the Johnny Cash side of their dual-tribute band. Behind him, the drummer, eyes covered will a bull-cut brown hairdo, is shuffling along in mimesis of the on coming train.   To the left of the mop-headed drummer, the bass player walks on the train tracks laid out by the shuffle beat. He’s bouncing up and down the neck with the conspicuous, repetitive bass riff that sounds something like, “Dum-doom-dum-doom” as the rhythm section cements the pocket for its surrounding musicians to solo over.

 

Whoa! Jimmy can solo! I think as Mr. Tom Petty, now adorned with long, dark brown hair, a gray vest, and a purple necktie sings through his guitar the way he sings through the microphone with his voice. I wish more guitarists soloed like this. Again thinking. You see it’s really like singing through your instrument, better yet, like speaking in an emotional language whose lexicon only the player can decode and reveal. It’s a communicative solo. Imagine yourself, guitar in hand, moving your lips to create a solo out of the instrument in your hands. A sort of backwards take on vocalese (singing a solo while using non-sense syllables). The result: Jimmy’s guitar is singing mellifluous sounds of poignancy to the beer-sipping, gray-haired dancing, bioluminescent-glowing, sentient beings all soaking in the sonorities of an excellent guitar solo. And we all somehow understand exactly what he’s saying. This is the way all solos should come off.

 

“Wow he can really play!” Glenn interjects as I take a sip from my ice-cold beer.

 

“Yea! It’s like he’s singing the notes on his guitar,” I reply.

 

“Exactly,” Glenn and I share nods of agreement.

 

“She grew up in an Indiana town, had a good lookin’ Momma, who never was around,” brown-haired Petty sings “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” Played intermittently between verses, the piano player pulls out a handheld instrument to play the famous wa-wa sounds on the harmonica.

 

I never tire of this song. I think. It’s the mark of a classic. Not a classic like anything booming off Top 40 Billboard Charts recently. More like a fine wine stored in a bottomless bottle. Or, a vintage car well taken care of: shined weekly, washed as much, and taken out for a drive in the sultry summer heat to be shown once again to neighbors and denizens of familiarity. Each year, both familiarity and value accumulate. Interest never wanes. The classic tune is re-sung here tonight to welcoming ears.

 

Piggybacking classic tunes, Dave Kalz reclaims the mic to sing Johnny Cashes “Get Rhythm.” Taking up a moment of hypocrisy, I must say, “I am so sick of this tune!” To me, Johnny Cash is the apotheosis of country music—yea I know Hank Williams is kicking in his grave somewhere—however, “Get Rhythm” has a simplicity that works against the classic mold discussed above. To me, a tune like “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” has just enough variation to keep my ears entertained. Perhaps it’s the primordial blues changes, or the incessant guitar riff at the beginning, or that same, repetitive shuffle beat heard in every Johnny Cash tune. Whatever it may be this fine-wine-of-a-song does not accumulate piquant flavors over time. Luckily, Jimmy and Dave improvise solos that bring my ears back as the final shuffle of the evening is played.

 

“Look at Tom still dancin’!” Janet points out the silvered-haired man still dancing the dance of fortuity.

 

“Whatever he’s on, I want two of em’,” I say in jest. The old man has an energy sustained by an ineffable endurance. I’m not suggesting narcotics are involved, just the sweet sounds of Rock n’ Roll music on a Tuesday night.

 

Up above, constellations dot the night sky in a glamorous shine. The sun is working its way underneath our feet while beaming its rays and spotlighting the half-moon overhead. Down on earth, in Civic Park, the lighting bugs are the only ones dancing. The music has ended.   People start gathering their coolers, folding up chairs, leashing their dogs, rounding their children, and heading home. Mary Jane has danced her last dance for the evening.

 

-Layton (06/14/16)

A Commemoration of American Pastimes

A Commemoration of American Pastimes

It’s about 6:30pm on this gorgeous June afternoon in Civic Park, O’Fallon, Missouri. I’m sitting under the shade provided by Dogwood trees overhead. Blades of grass tickle my fingers and legs as I lay back against the hillside amongst a community of music fans outfitted with lawn chairs, various fan accessories, and coolers full of beer.

This community has come together for a dusk entertainment provided by a dozen-or-so musicians old enough to recount the stories of Vietnam. With the music of the sixties booming, an older generation has turned out to relive “The Good Ole Days.” Visually, veterans with silver hair—if any at all—gleam in the sun while some wear caps belying the wars they’ve fought in. As I look down the hill and to the left, these silver heads and veteran caps bob up and down to the sound of Deon and the Belmonts “The Wanderer.” Although their knees and hips don’t allow “The Twist” and “The Shake” to be danced quite so eloquently as forty-years prior, the enthusiasm of youthful hearts beat with the fervor of draft day as the Band, Butch Wax and the Holidays, chants tunes of the 60s and 70s with mid evening delight.

“Are you here yet?” The tiresome alert of a mother’s text message buzz’s my hip.

“Yes, I’m sitting in the shade far right of the stage.” I reply.

“Are you standing?” The indefatigable alert continues to buzz.

“Sitting.”

“Oh, we’re [my mother, father, uncle, and some neighborly friends are] sitting to the left of the stage in the sun. Stop by. We have beer.” Vexation continues to alert.

I could go for a cold one. I think.  “Be over in a minute.” I respond to the tiresome buzz.

“You’ve lost that lovin feelin,” two of the five-or-so lead singers of Butch Wax and the Hollywood’s sing as I traverse the shaded, grassy knoll of war veterans and genial families until I reach my sun-spotted baby boomers to the left of the Righteous Brothers.

“You made it. Would you like a beer?” My Dad greets me with an open cooler of Americas.

“Sure. Thanks.” I grab some suds and sit in the remaining twilight and chat with the forebears responsible for creating the vogue of tonight’s 60s entertainment.

“Now, you see the saxophone player in the back?” My Dad asks.

“Yea, he sounds pretty good.” I take in the bright sonorities ringing out of the alto saxophonist’s bell.

“That’s Sonny. He’s a hell-of-a player and I used to play music with him back in the day.” Dad touts past recognitions.

“Wow. Sounds like a fun time.” It really does. I think. And now my thoughts start churning as Sonny steps up to the front of the stage to sing some Al Green. Look at all of these folks: Baby Boomers, Korean and Vietnam War Veterans, mixed in with today’s youth. All down to the right—on the dance floor—forebears and next of kin swing hips and raise their arms with praise for the sanctity of music. It’s amazing. My thoughts continue to churn. It’s as if all prejudices have dropped. All political campaigns have been hamstrung to a halt. All worries have been replaced with sips of America and it’s longstanding traditions.

 It’s a veritable American evening of summer fun: Frisbees fling across the park; kids hop and skip to a musical provenance preceding their birthdates by several decades; dogs sit wide-eyed looking and salivating at funnel cakes and nachos, waiting for little tykes to drop snacks on picnic blankets; under dogwood trees afar, food trucks behind the stage cook up theme-park morsels at Civic Park’s discounted prices—a bottle of water is only a dollar! Nothing subversive lurks in the warm evening air as the yellow mass behind the trees dims and blankets the sky with tints of orange and purple twilight.

“Another beer?” Dad steals me from my reverie.

“Yea,” I gladly take another can of America.

America, that’s the theme tonight. And now I see the war veterans dressed up in their army fatigues. Their heads: full of thick, black and brown hair slicked back with Butch Wax. The Righteous Brother’s have taken the stage with Phil Spector’s wall of sound. Unchained Melodies and string orchestras supplant the dozen and turn this into an outdoor ballroom somewhere in a history of American greatness.

But the time is present. We can truly enjoy the sanctuary we’ve all come to attend! The Musical sonorities have turned on youth in the hearts of tonight’s elders. Suddenly, I feel older, observing the young men and their girls dancing hand in hand with their brimmed caps turned camouflage, their girls adorned in long, pin-up dresses and Audrey Hepburn pixie cuts. Although it may be 2016, tonight we’ve stepped back in time into the “Good Ole Days.” Tonight, in O’Fallon’s Civic Park, it’s a Commemoration of American Pastimes.  I wish we could stay forever.

-Layton (06/09/2016)

An Irish Evening in Missouri

An Irish Evening in Missouri

I’m sweating profusely on this late afternoon in May. The sun is beaming yellow-orange hues through the open door. The hues settle on my light blues and shrink the blacks beads centering my eyes. I glance up to the open door across from the café chair I’m sitting in to see the silhouette of the pretty girl I’ve been awaiting for the last ten-or-so minutes. As she walks nearer, the color of her dark brown hair, yellow tank-top shirt, and hazel eyes create an introduction that sends both a smile and a blush to my face.

“Hi, it’s so good to finally meet you,” she says.

“Yea . . . same to you,” I introduce myself to her and embrace the shadow made sentient being with a hug that tells me Yes she is indeed real.

“Do you want to eat first or go for a walk?” I ask her.

“Uhm . . . I don’t know. Either way works for me.”

“Let us walk then,” I decide for her. And off we go through the door of introductions and outside where the sunbeams dusk into our eyes and into the eyes of spectators, vendors, and furry beings on leashes. It’s Irish Fest in Frontier Park, St. Charles, MO.

“I’ll take a Guinness,” I order to the half-drunk attendant at the beer garden.

“And what about you sweet honey?” The half-drunk old man flirts to Laura with the point of a finger.

“Oh, I’m okay. Thanks,” she turns the finger limp.

“Aw come on now. You’re no fun.”

“I don’t drink beer,” Laura asserts with an indignant tone.

“Alright then, suit yourself,” the half drunk impertinent man drops his failing attempts to be Mr. Debonair. I give him seven bucks, stiff him on the tip—rightfully so, and commence our walk around Irish Fest. Laura and I observe the light-eyed, befreckled, smiling faces intermingled with a multitude of non-Irish folk. For tonight, we’re all pale, red-haired, brown-spotted bodies with a penchant for rainbows ending in jackpots of gold. With the price of a Guinness costing seven slips of green paper, we could all benefit from filling our pockets with twenty-seven carrots of heavy accolades.

Second stop, we arrive at the vendor selling Apple Orchard so Laura can quench her thirst with something less yeast filled. Miraculously, the man tending this tent is even more drunk and presumptuous than Mr. Debonair. I ignore this, turn around, and face the flow of brown liquid running adjacent to the park. The Missouri River, only twenty yards from where we stand, is running mightily—not like the Mississippi, but in full force—down the south side of St. Charles’ Main street.

What are the people in Ireland are doing right now? I wonder as the vendors pump out potato cuisine, Irish spuds, and, over on the northern side of the park, Celtic music is singing folklore tails originating from an island far away. The grass is lush and dark green from spring rains, the same rain from last night’s precipitations pour down the less-mighty Missouri with enough fervor to prevent the want for a fortuitous swim at dusk. It’s as if I’ve been transplanted backwards a couple of generations to an event hosted by my Irish forbears. Differently, there are enough potatoes in the surrounding area to stop the potato famine, thus freeing up docks somewhere in Ellis Island’s past. As the sun becomes swallowed up behind the less-mighty river, Laura and I proceed to the North end of the park in anticipation of tonight’s musical entertainment. Six figures take the stage and begin playing to a full crowd.

 I am building a boat

And building an Ocean

And Waiting for the rising tide

With my sinners rope

My right hand of hope

To pull me over the side

I am building a boat

After the first verse is sung, the fiddle kicks into high gear; a six-piece folk band from Kansas City, Missouri, called The Elders, provides tonight’s musical entertainment. Although the group is from America’s Midwest, their sound has an antedated sound rooted in a universal folklore pulling strands from Ireland’s histories.

Their music is both upbeat and lyrical. The harmonies they pull off are at times majestic and the rhythmic pulse is always there, but varied with syncopations that are fresh and interesting. The fiddle player strains her bow to the max with double and triple stops at a tempo that would challenge the technique of the first violinist playing for the St. Louis Symphony! The keyboard player doubles the chorus melodies with one hand on the upper keyboard (organ) while the other hand comps syncopations (on the piano) that line up exactly with the drummers accents.

Yea, this group knows what the hell they are doing, I think. What a pleasant surprise it is to hear such a formidable outfit of musicians all capable of showering the world with their musical greatness. A group exhuming with passion, challenging the precedence of folk music’s archetypes, improvising with lines of impetus, and singing their hearts out to the less-mighty Missouri river on this cloud covered evening. With the beer poured and the Irish wannabes soaking in the sonorities of their forbears, I stare in awe as the band I expected to sound like a two-bit Flogging Molly transcends all prejudices with a fresh precedence of Celtic exuberance, an exuberance outweighing the negative possibility of getting soaked in the future precipitation belied by the dark clouds above; the clouds are darkened more by the suns disappearance beneath the less-mighty Missouri river. The show goes on, and, no matter the weather, I’m in it for the long hall.

“This next song I wrote shortly after my dad passed away a few years ago. The music came to me after about a bottle and a half of wine [he chuckles]. I hope you enjoy,” Ian Byrne, The Elders lead singer, prefaces my favorite tune of the night. “Lucko’ The Irish” is a melancholy that reveals a harsh, yet veritable history of Irish pasts. I’ll let Ian Byrne’s lyrics to the chorus of the tune tell the story:

We’ve been beaten burned and enslaved

Starved from our lands where our fathers dug their graves

Never loosing faith we have fought for every mile

Sill no matter where you go you’ll always find

An Irish smile

A slow drone, played by the accordion, bass, and guitar, creates an open platform for the lead singer.   Accompanied by four-part harmonies, Ian reveals despondency in Irish folklore.

It’s a Celtic ballade to my ears. The image on stage portrays a sextet of modern-day troubadours speaking to the audience and the past contemporaneously. Their music tickles my ears and gives me Goosebumps as the chorus hits. All members are belting their voices through the audience and into the dark flow of the less-mighty cascade trudging further and further south. Although the Missouri river hasn’t gone anywhere, The Elders have taken us on an adventure across the pond. The less-mighty flow has turned into the River Shannon. Somewhere St. Patrick lurks with an Irish smile. The geography has changed here in Frontier Park. It is now An Irish Evening in Missouri.

Somebody told me, “You had a Boyfriend.”

Somebody told me, “You had a Boyfriend.”

God it’s good to have the whimsical-trio back together: Layton, Art, and Glenn, I think to myself. I can always count on Art and Glenn to be in attendance for a late night of music; our friend Tom Foolery usually shows up when this trio goes on an adventure. Per the usual, the duo-of-fun and I traverse the steps leading up to the bar, order a round of domestics to sip on, perch ourselves at the nearest open table, and perk our ears to the ringing of the nearest tune.

“Comin’ out of my cage and I’ve been doin’ just fine,” the lead singer puts on his best Brandon Flowers impression. Different from the straight-laced Mormon who front’s the bandstand for The Killers, tonight’s singer, Joe Perry, is adorned in sleeve tattoos, a vest (tuxedo-style), and a new-age Homburg hat topping streams of long brown hair. He looks like the lead singer of that one Seattle-based band from the 90s; the group that did “Black Holes Sun.” Although Joe Perry may look like Chris Cornell, the music being played is a hodgepodge of pop music ranging from the late 80s to now.

Yup he sure looks like a rocker, I observe. Of course, Glenn’s making his way to the stage to fill in the free space next to a PA speaker and, also, to get hit on by cougars; they’re plentiful and hunting tonight. Meanwhile, Art and I lay back and take in a version of Duran Duran’s “Rio.” Although it may not be the most vogue song for a cover band to perform, I’ve always dug the tune. That sax solo in the middle is worth the price of admission. Sadly, the quartet on stage (vocals, guitar, bass, and drums) lacks the brass needed to replicate such mellifluousness; however, the lead guitarist plucks the solo in parody and my concerns are placated for now.

Whoa, I perplex. Looking behind the singer, I observe an older gentleman with sticks; he’s having the time of his life. The bespectacled man is besotted as he pounds out a flurry of sixteenth notes on the hi-hat. What I like most about this drummer is this: he looks so candid in his playing that his travails are shown brightly on his face: a face penetrating thick-chalk smoke; a face straining with utmost effort fueled by rhythmic perseverance; a face that belies old age but exudes youthful naivety. Put simply, he’s having the most fun. He’s a hell-of-a-lot-of fun to watch!

Unfortunately, the countenance of the man fronting the stage is one of a too-cool kid. Picture Matt Dillon’s face in The Outsiders, Miles Davis’s stern expression on the cover of the Tutu album, Donald Trump’s face when asked about his own personal views on foreign policy, or, most touted, Hillary Clinton’s face any time of any day ever. What do the quintet of facial expressions have in come? A lack of enthusiasm!

For fuck sake at least pretend like you’re having fun, I deliberate after observing the dichotomy of supercilious egotism to humble exuberance ranging from the bow of the boat to its stern (the stage). This ship is sailing in different directions. The bow towards haughty disdain for the clubs patrons—he barely even acknowledges the crowd—while the stern is picking up the slack, smiling at everyone while sweating a profuse amount of joy through his soaking wet t-shirt.

“He [the singer] definitely looks like he thinks he’s too cool for school,” Art rightfully observes.

I never understood David-Lee-Roth syndrome. Perhaps Joe Perry really is from Seattle. In this case, his predisposed depression—brought on by perennial rains in the Pacific Northwest—mitigates the culpability shown in his current apathy. More than likely, he thinks he’s the shit, thinks he should be playing somewhere bigger, better, more self-satisfying. The band name (Scarecrow Joe) fits the singer well. Sadly, this scarecrow is too stationary to even walk Dorothy down the yellow-brick road.

It’s a shame. Joe is an excellent singer, he’s got the rocker look going, and his band’s support tout’s their musical aptitudes. With added enthusiasm—on the part of the singer—this relatively new cover band will be competing for shows with St. Louis’s top musical acts in no time.

“Hey guys, sorry to be staring at you while I was playing. It’s just what I do,” the drummer informs Art and I that he meant no offense by glaring our direction while thumping along to The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.”

“Hey no problem. You look like you’re having the time of your life,” Art replies with enthusiasm.

“Keep doing what you do man. You’re a lot of fun to watch,” I add. After a final thanks and a couple of handshakes, the sweat-soaked man retires to the bathroom before the third and final set begins.

“He’s got to be one of the humblest, candid drummers I’ve ever meet,” I share with Art.

“Yea. All the drummers you’ve ever played with either drank too much or took themselves too seriously.”

“Ha-ha,” I respond to Art’s maxim with a chuckle that almost forces the beer out of my mouth. Like when you take your vitamins in the morning and the gag reflux you constantly convince yourself you don’t have flairs up and you suffer to or three takes to get your once-daily-whatever tablets to go down.

So rare it is to meet a good musician, one that’s having fun, staring out into the crowd, and pulling reactions from fans with a tender smile. The drummer gets it—now if we could only get the scarecrow to come to life. Heck, even Chris Cornell smiles while performing black magic, I mean, “Black Wholes Sun” to thousands of sun-deprived Seattleites. But tonight it’s not raining, the moon is waning, the clouds above barely obscure the moonlight on this mild spring evening. All is good. We have our beers in hand, our ears perked to the tenor of Joe Perry’s voice, our faces smiling back at the drummer’s seductive countenance of music-induced happiness, and all we want is a little more from the singer. If only he could drop his cavalier attitude and step into the trance being performed behind him.

“I backed my car into a cop car the other day,” the parody of Modest Mouse’s “Float On” begins.  Did Joe back his Caddy into a Townie Brownie’s cruiser earlier? That might explain why he’s so upset.  I ruminate until the sixth round of domestics kick in and lose my train of thought as that guitar riff sucks me in with its seductive ways (as if taking a lesson from the rhythm section).

Now Glenn and I are floating around the dance floor trying to avoid the bite of the cougar while still ogling at forty-year-old beauties turned coquettes for the night.  Nobody told me she had a boyfriend.  The ring on her finger works as a force field I can’t, and never will attempt to, penetrate.

 

-Layton (5/22/16)

Well Before Midnight

Well Before Midnight

“Dammit . . . she stood me up,” my thoughts sulk.

Earlier, before thinking the five undesirable words, I was excited to prognosticate what the night had to offer: “I’m going to see ‘Midnight Reveille’ with a pretty girl,” I thought as I walked around St. Louis’s Central West End in an effort to find tonight’s venue (Nathalie’s).  I had been so hopeful.  But now my date and the prognostication have both turned into a chimera of Jane Doe and me sitting by myself—my only comfort being my new friend Sulk.  Remedying my cold thoughts with healing qualities, I order a pint of Guinness and strap in for an evening of music, beer, and newfound solitude.

“All you want to do is use me,” the singer (Erik Sims) does his best Bill Withers impression.  Adding to their cover of “Use Me,” Erik’s voice is a bit grittier and bluesy—the Delta side of the soul, not the R&B side. Regardless, the band supports him with that groovy ostinato riff that goes something like, “DoDo-Da-Do—Da-Do etc.”  And now I’m following in sync by swishing the beer around in my mouth and tapping my feet to the rhythm of the bass guitar.  I figure it’s a better alternative than dancing by myself, especially, considering the small size and intimate setting of tonight’s venue; the square-sized bar takes up over half of the tiny room we’re stationed in.

“I’ll take a Stella Artois,” I say to the bartender; he’s struggling to keep up with the mere half-dozen-or-so patrons perched up on stools lining the square perimeter.  Thankfully, my attention distracts to hear an original tune called “Devil’s Daughter:”

First night I met her it was the hard way

She was smoking a big cigar down on Broadway

She looked me up and down I nearly turned myself around

And walked the other way it was my first mistake

Cuz I bought her a drink

Who woulda thought to think she was the Devil’s Daughter

Sweeter than holy water

I myself would have turned around; I prefer my female acquaintances to be smoke-free. And what Broadway is he talking about?  Broadway in Manhattan?  North Broadway in St. Louis? Perhaps the Devil’s Daughter is hanging out in the northern part of St. Louis city, much evil has persisted there in recent years.  More accurate, the Devil’s Daughter is a past love—perhaps unrequited—that has “done wronged” tonight’s singer/songwriter. I’d like to go up and ask him the name of Satan’s offspring: Ask him what went wrong? What bar they were at?  How long it lasted? And how the bitter end unfolded?

Unfortunately, the stock lyrics of this bluesy tune don’t paint a picture in my mind. For example, I don’t know the color of the coquette’s hair (probably fire red), the color of her lipstick, or, less visual, the practice of her tantalizing ways.

Finding the balance between music and words is a problem for a lot of Blues musicians. For instance, I can tell that Erik is a great singer and guitar player, however, his lyrics don’t implant images in the listeners mind.  All we get is a series of words replicating lyrics of the old Delta Blues artists.  It’s not so much that the lyrics don’t paint a portrait in my mind, it’s that we already know “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”  We’ve already heard the story of a man buying a woman a drink and suffering later consequences. The story line is ubiquitous in lyrics sung by chanteuses and troubadours dating back to unrequited loves provenance with Beata Beatrice in the 13th century! Essentially, beatific Beatrice wouldn’t give it up for poor, dejected Dante; tonight we celebrate their seven-hundredth centennial.

“Eh, I’m probably just bitter because my date has turned ghost and, therefore, any musical content related to women only paints the color blue in my mind at this point,” I realize my sulking ways.

But the band really is good. The drummer’s brown curls bob to the four-four beat he’s embellishing; the guitarist chunks the bluesy chords adorned lightly with jazz flavors telling the listener, “Yes, this was written in the nearest century”; the bass player bob’s in sync with the drummer, walking the primitive blues changes from Georgia, all way across Busch Stadium, and arriving somewhere deep on North Broadway; the keyboard player fills in with B-3 accompaniment; and, Erik closes his eyes and tells us about the bitch he should have walked a way from years ago.

“I like their music.  Guess I’ll forgive the lyrical transgressions and end things on a high note,” I think to myself.  I’m several-beers in now and the show is coming to a close. Perhaps I’ll take a walk down Broadway and get my fix of pagan solicitations. After all, it is Well Before Midnight.

-Layton (5/13/16)

The Muny at Forest Park

The Muny at Forest Park

Disclaimer

I normally review concerts; however, this week’s blog observes and comments on an academic commencement. This deviation is due to two things: For one, I finally finished my Master’s degree in music from Webster University in St. Louis, MO; secondly, the concert I attended this weekend wasn’t blog worthy—unless you considered drunk slurring and vociferous, oppressively bad rock music celebrating, or, rather, degrading the sanctity of Mexican independence to be worthy of a short story.  I can see the title now: “Cinco de Mayo Gone Wry.” So no, I didn’t end up going to the city with a cute girl; I will this upcoming weekend! Therefore, this week’s blog is devoted to a sunny day at “The Muny in Forest Park.”

Platitudes Commence: Commencement 2016

“Dear God it’s hot.” I think to myself as “Pomp and Circumstance” marches through the PA speakers on this sunny, windy day 7 May 2016. “The Muny at Forest Park,” as the commercial anthem goes, is packed with thousands of soon-to-be-graduates adorned in square hats complimented below with colorful robes further embellished with sashes, tassels, stripes, scarfs, maces, and berets signifying varying levels of academic achievement; basically, the more embellished your attire, the more surly you’re allowed to be without coming off as haughty. In this sense, lavished sartorial designs reflect honorable intelligence rather than state-of-the-art fashion sense.  Thankfully, such aberrations in decorum are appropriate but once a year.

“Why are the ladies on both sides of the stage conducting Pomp and Circumstance to nobody?” Asks the simply dressed fine arts graduate sitting next to me.

“They’re acting as translators for auditory impaired patrons in attendance today.” I reply with a haughty tone of condescension belied by the comparatively lavish sash I wear around my neck. Luckily, the condescension passes over the cute brunette sitting to my right as she chuckles and then says, “Oh, right.” And now the fine arts section of the audience, and, everyone else in attendance, braces for the procession of bagpipers as they march on stage and the commencement begins.

As the bagpipers belt out their Celtic theme in a major key, the lavishly dressed professors and PhD candidates process in succeeding fashion from the rear of the theater and take refuge on the shaded Muny stage. Everyone in their seats, a chamber ensemble of talented young vocalists take the stage to sing Webster’s new alma mater, “Webster U. You are Our Home.”

“I’m so happy for Chris.” I think to myself in recognition of my fellow fine arts graduate and composer of the above mentioned alma mater. You see, Chris won the composer competition last year for composing “Webster U.” And now I’m hearing it for the first time; tears are swelling up in my eyes as I take in the beauty of the piece and sense the piquant adoration I am feeling for the man sitting two rows in front of me; Chris is going to the prestigious USC next year to attend film-scoring school. “What a pleasure it is to share this commencement with such talented, intelligent beings both on and off stage.” I think to myself as Webster University’s president, Elizabeth J. Stroble, now takes to the podium to provide us with the commencement’s opening remarks.

After a few bromides are spoken in acknowledgement of the hard work achieved by today’s graduates, the moment of the commencement speech finally comes. Jim Weddle, managing partner of Edward Jones Investments, takes the podium and makes an honest observation of how all speeches should be orated:

“What I know about good speeches is this: they should all start with a great opening statement, end with a great closing statement, and be as close together as possible.”

So true. With the sun beating down on the thickly dressed graduates, now sweating profusely through their undergarments, the orator addresses a bulk of the demographic sitting below him:

“The majority of you fit into what is called the ‘Millennial Generation.’ That is, most of you were born in the early 80s to the early 2000s. And us baby boomers [Mr. Weddle initially graduated from Webster in the 70s…] are having a hard time understanding you. You all just do whatever you want.”

And now I’m thinking to myself, “Is he really going to spend the majority of his address talking down to the generation in front of him?”

“You all have a hard time communicating with people . . . My advice, just put down your cellphones while you’re in a meeting at work. Pay attention.” Mr. Weddle continues his harangue of condescension. Although the speaker is doing his best to woo the young constituents in from of him, his opening remarks sound quite acerbic in my ears. Finally, the speaker switches gears and makes a meaningful observation about us ‘Millennials’.”

“Whenever I think of your generation [the Millennial Generation], I quote the late Oscar Wilde who once said, ‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.’ You see, your generation stays true to themselves more than any other. You seek what is truly in your heart.”

And now the condescension transmutes to emphatic inquiry as the speaker asks us ‘Millennials’ to continue our quests of self-enlightenment and to not retract from our current paths of truthfulness.

“Why hasn’t every generation acted in a similar way?” I think to myself. “Why haven’t all generations sought the truth in everything they due instead of settling for a relegation of the truth brought on by oppression; the strictures of society and Uncle Sam delegating everyone to a shameful existence of fallacy. Instead, neglect the oppressions and move forward towards enlightenment in everything you do. Because if you strike out attempting to please others, you only learn that true fulfillment comes from within.”

This speech is beginning to have the effect on me that all good speeches do. I’m challenging my perspective, thinking critically about what’s being preached, and observing how big of a splash it produces in my pool of ideas. Sadly, lot of commencement speakers have a more soporific effect, due to, their lethargic, not well thought out prose inundated with useless clichés adorning hard work and perseverance. Contrarily, Jim Weddle’s speech is building vigor and interest. Now my thoughts subsume me and a political rant is taking place in my inner dialogue:

“Why is it that people don’t seek fulfillment in their dreams? Why the hell should we increase the minimum wage to $16 an hour when fast-food joints and other minimum-wage jobs are simply a stepping stone to more fulfilling careers? I get the argument that workers living in poverty most likely aren’t qualified for higher paying gigs. However, I believe the crux of American enterprise is due to lacking work ethic: the McDonald’s worker who keeps forgetting to put napkins, ketchup, or, your order in the to-go bag, the Starbuck’s barista who puts whole milk in the lactose intolerant customer’s coffee, the Taco Bell worker at the drive through window who keeps forgetting to put the soft taco in with the rest of your combo of inauthentic, Mexican cuisine, and the retail associate who rings out two different-sized shoes for a customer with equally proportionate feet. None of them should be awarded for these lacking efforts. Now, I realize that not all lower-level employees practice such failing work efforts. However, adding to the wages of such a dilapidated work environments only increases the acceptance of poor work ethics. If only everyone in the world could attend college, or gain the personal edification that qualifies attendance at this commencement.”

The fact is, everyone deserves to be lifted up with a commencement speech. Everyone deserves the fulfillment that comes from working hard and the succeeding address that compliments such success. Everyone deserves a career that fuels their catharsis and the equivalent monetary bonus to pay for the sweat and tears, the perseverance, and hard work accomplished along the way.

“Essentially, I believe pecuniary interests should not become augmented until the equivalent work ethic and sustained results have been proven. I’m not for an authoritarian leadership. I simply believe my ‘Millennial’ constituents and I are for the fulfillment that results from pouring your heart into your dreams. No one has the dream of working in fast food the rest of his or her life. I’ve never seen such a dream reflected in the eyes of anyone working for the pittance that is minimum wage. But that’s what it is, a pittance. Like most scholarships and grants, the limited monetary support underwrites the beginning of a better existence; the beginning of a future life of fulfillment; and, the beginning of a dream soon not deferred. Everyone can and deserves to achieve thus. I hope all of us in our fancy robes and colorful embellishments realize this and take action. I know I will.

The bagpipes reenter. The commencement is already over.

-Layton (5/7/2016)