Author Archives: Jason Miller

TVD Live Shots:
Def Leppard and Cheap Trick at the SSE Arena
at Wembley, 12/17

I was nine years old, and Def Leppard was the coolest band on the planet. The first record I ever bought with my own money was 1983’s classic rock ‘n’ roll juggernaut Pyromania. It was one of those rare albums where you could put it on from start to finish and never have to skip a song.

Back then you could expect a new record from your favorite band, like clockwork, every two years. But tragedy struck Def Leppard when, on New Year’s Eve 1984, drummer extraordinaire Rick Allen lost his arm in a horrific car accident. Many of the fans, including myself, thought the band might be done. There certainly wasn’t a new record coming anytime soon. That could have been the kiss of death for many groups, but the decade was in full glam metal phase so it would give them the extra time they needed to regroup and reload—which is precisely what they did.

Hysteria was released on August 3, 1987, almost four years after the monumental success of Pyromania. The lead single “Woman,” a favorite track of mine, seemed to bomb in the States and the band and their label were starting to question themselves. But it would only be a matter of time as they had seven hit singles in their back pocket and they were determined to make history. Hysteria hit No.1 on the Billboard 200 and remained on the US chart for over three years, during which time Def Leppard became one of the biggest bands on the planet.

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TVD Live Shots:
Hank Von Hell at
The Garage, 12/15

Somehow I completely missed Turbonegro in their prime. It was only during a six-hour setting with a tattoo artist in London where I heard their music for the first time. I thought, what is this pure rock ‘n’ roll explosion with the insane lyrics and undeniably catchy riffs? It was like a punk rock band had sex with an ’80s hair metal band while listening to Iggy Pop. It had humor, huge hooks, and gigantic riffs, but most importantly, it didn’t take itself too seriously.

While sitting in the chair at the tattoo shop having my arm devastated with multiple needles and black ink, the only saving grace was the loud music. I pulled out my phone and Shazammed the songs, and there were several from Turbonegro, and I was hooked. I would quickly learn that these guys have been on and off for over the past decade, but their most prominent member Hank Von Hell departed from the band back in 2011. Would I ever get to see these guys perform live? Probably not, but as luck would have it while searching through upcoming gigs in London, I saw that the former frontman would be playing a show at The Garage in north London to celebrate the release of his new solo record.

I had to see this show and I was not disappointed. The new record is called Egomania and it’s quickly becoming a late addition to many of the year-end best-of lists, including mine. Hank Von Hell has gone back to the basics. A stripped down glam rock spectacle perfectly balancing the visuals and the songs. A cornucopia of the best of glam and punk from the ’70s glossed over with wit and sonic superiorness. The set focused heavily on the new record and of course, Van Hell didn’t disappoint by leaving out any Turbonegro classics.

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TVD Live Shots: Starsailor at the
O2 Shepherd’s Bush
Empire, 11/29

There are few albums in the world that are flawless from start to finish, and Silence is Easy is one of them.

Starsailor beat the sophomore slump and delivered a stunning album that should have made them one of the biggest bands on the planet. Instead they just never seemed to break out of the European market the way that their peers, and much less talented, Coldplay did. And that still doesn’t sit well with the fans. It resonated again and again with every conversation I had with the capacity crowd at Shepherd’s Bush Empire last week. Why are they not one of the biggest bands across the globe? No one seems to have an answer, and this night that didn’t matter—this night was all about the eleven songs that make up the juggernaut that is Silence is Easy. And did I mention that they had a string section with them?

As I was living in the States around the time of the album’s release, I never got to see them perform on that tour. I was fortunate enough to see them touring on the debut record, but this one is on a whole other level. “Fidelity,” “Some of Us,” “Telling Them,” “White Dove,” these are songs that represent the best songwriting of that decade.

Add to this the crazy story of Phil Spector sitting in the producer’s chair, the signature wall of sound interlaced and influencing the entire record. The album contains some of the last productions by Spector before his murder conviction and imprisonment in 2009 (“Silence Is Easy” and “White Dove”). While only the two cuts with Spector’s production are listed, I would imagine there are outtakes sitting around somewhere that would make for a fantastic deluxe edition. I tweeted this to the band along with a few other fans as well, and the question seems to have gone unnoticed.

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TVD Live Shots:
Jake Shears at the Fillmore, 11/14

It’s been exactly one year since I saw Jake Shears live in London. It was one of two shows where he would showcase new music a few weeks before the official release of his debut record. That was November 14, 2017, and it just so happens that I would be in San Francisco to see the show again on November 14, 2018. I know, what are the odds?

Then again, what are the odds that anyone would put so much time and effort into crafting a remarkable album in the era of the single? A time when albums as a whole are under attack by seemingly shorter attention spans and the current viral flavor of the week? Enter Jake Shears and his eponymous debut record which he’s quoted as saying “This is a fucking expensive record…but I made something that’s exactly the way that I want it to sound. It’s become a lot harder to make music the way I just did it.” Amen to that Mr. Shears.

But it’s not just the investment from a cost point of view that goes into this record, and you can tell there’s not only a tremendous amount of passion here but also a healthy dose of pain. The song titles read like the chapters from a life’s narrative—someone who’s figured out a way to take virtually every element of emotion and inject it seamlessly through a storyline.

It’s like a soundtrack without a motion picture that relies more on storytelling, knockout hooks, soaring harmonies, and enormous production values that take the listener on a journey where they conjure up their own visuals along the way. It’s one of those records you can throw on the turntable, sit back in a bean bag chair with a pair of over the ear headphones and get lost for an hour reading along with the liner notes. When is the last time any music lover did this?

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TVD Live Shots: Daughters at Bottom of the Hill, 11/10 and 11/11

Very rarely will a band live up to the industry hype that’s swirling around it during that ever so important album release and subsequent tour, but this is one of those times where it does. Having signed to Mike Patton’s Ipecac records, the Rhode Island band Daughters return with their first album in 8 years, You Won’t Get What You Want. Critics and fans alike are hailing this record as the perfect evolution of the band. The songs, the lyrics, the musicianship; but most importantly the live show have all come together as the stars have finally aligned for these post-punk underdogs.

How good is the live show? So fucking good that I went two nights in a row and brought my camera to document the experience at the nightmarishly dark and small (but super cool) Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. Daughters would headline for two sold-out nights with rumors that Mr. Patton himself would be in attendance for night two. The calm before the storm took place just after 10PM—then the fury would hit fast and hard.

Frontman Lex Marshall and guitarist Nicholas Andrew Sadler lead the five-piece live band which quickly becomes an orchestrated assault on all senses. It falls somewhere between a Mack truck crashing through a brick wall at 100 miles per hour and a massive wall of noise that teeters in and out of Melvins-style drudge and punk fury. The remarkable thing here, and what makes it so unique, is the underlying melody that brings an element of light to the overwhelming darkness and anger that ignites the crowd. There was a full-blown mosh pit that would rival anything I’ve seen at a Slayer or Lamb of God show.

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TVD Live Shots: Powerwolf and Amaranthe at Club
Live, Milan, 11/7

I love going to see metal shows in Europe because the crowds get so into the show from the first note of the first band to the very last spark of the encore. It’s a fist-pumping adrenaline rush and a celebration of all things metal that just doesn’t happen back in the States.

The lineups at metal shows are quite different as well. This night would have three very different bands representing three different genres, but they would all be equally embraced by the wall to wall crowd. Headlining the night was German power metal titans Powerwolf. These guys are somewhere between Ghost and Sabaton, and they put on one hell of a performance.

Their latest album The Sacrament of Sin was awarded best album by Metal Hammer and for good reason. This juggernaut of a record laid the foundation for a brutal set that spanned their seven studio albums. Standouts of the night included the blistering opening “Fire and Forgive” along with five other numbers from the new album. Another highlight was the last song of the night “Werewolves of Armenia.” There’s something undeniably awesome about power metal in general, but Powerwolf live and breathe this sound and not only make it look easy, but they also make you feel like you are walking into a battleground during the 16th century.

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TVD Live Shots: Slayer, Lamb of God, Anthrax, and Obituary at the SSE Arena, 11/3

Has it really been 37 years? I remember discovering Slayer as a teenager based on the fact that they were the scariest band in the world and I was on a mission to piss off my parents. The satanic artwork that graced their album covers and t-shirts not only looked super cool, but was fascinating to a rebellious young kid looking for his place in the world.

Slayer’s music took you to another world at another time where excess was defined only by how extreme one could push contrary religious views and how heavy music could become.One could argue that Slayer has evolved into a brand, but one that was built around a relentless fan base and one that answered to no one. I spent a tremendous amount of time listening to Slayer in my youth and that time has undoubtedly influenced not only my taste in music but also who I am as an individual—rebellious, curious, questioning everything, and continuously pushing the envelope in everything I do.

So it’s bittersweet that I get to see Slayer live one last time. I’ve seen these guys numerous times over the years, and I guess that I took it for granted as I thought they would go the KISS route and tour for another decade, extracting every last ounce of value out of touring. But they decided to do something that few legacy artists do; bow out gracefully at the top of their game. That’s precisely what this show was about. How does a band wrap up a remarkable career spanning nearly four decades of chaos, ups, downs, tragedy, record label battles and mainstream media backlash? By going out with a bang, literally and figuratively.

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TVD Live Shots: Jeff Lynne’s ELO at the O2 Arena, 10/17

One of the most iconic songwriters of all time is about to turn 71 years old, but you would never guess that based on his touring schedule.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO took to the stage at the O2 Arena in front of a capacity crowd to play the first show of a four-night run at the legendary venue. It’s truly a show for the ages as fans both old and new turned up in droves to see the Birmingham native play the classics with his incredibly talented band. The cross-generational impact of ELO’s music is evident with the diversity of the crowd and even a bit surprising as I saw several millennial hipsters dressed up with fake wigs, beards, and sunglasses in honor of the signature look that has defined Lynne’s brand over the years.

Having seen Jeff Lynne’s ELO last year at Wembley, I was excited to see him in a more “intimate” venue. While the O2 holds a meager 20,000 vs. Wembley’s 90,000, it was a stadium show for an arena crowd, and it was magnificent. Opening the set with “Standing in the Rain” immediately began to warm up the eager audience before launching into “Evil Woman”—then it was game over as the crowd lept to their feet and sang along with every single word.

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TVD Live Shots: Suede at the Eventim Apollo, 10/13

I was gutted to find out that Suede and Glasvegas were playing on the same night in London last week. Not that one is the equivalent to the other—although it could be argued that they shared similar stories regarding their debut records—but as an expat living in the UK and the fact that both bands do not tour as extensively as I would prefer, I put them on the same pedestal personally. Thanks to the Brit-pop gods above, Suede announced a second show at the legendary Eventim Apollo which solved the dilemma. I know, I know, first world problems…

If you are a regular reader of my reviews, then you know that I have a special place in my rock ‘n’ roll heart for all things Britpop, especially the standouts from the mid-90s. Suede is one of them. They stood out from the pack with a sound that is all their own. Their fourth album Head Music was supposed to be the one that “broke” them in the States (beyond the hipsters, that is). But it didn’t—and it’s become a cliché, the story of a band that is huge in the UK, yet unable to penetrate the US. The hype almost always outweighs the substance, or in this case, the US just wasn’t prepared for something of this magnitude. Suede is a different kind of beast. This wasn’t Oasis, it wasn’t Blur, it was more Bowie/ T-Rex/ Smiths-esque.

Having never seen Suede before I had no idea what to expect. Holy shit these guys were on fire out of the gates. One would never guess that frontman Brett Anderson just turned 50. The energy, charisma, the passionate crawls, the taunting of the audience, the fucking jump shots—Jesus Christ this guy had more energy than most punk rock singers. You can’t watch Brett and not see a bit of Bryan Ferry, and that’s okay because like all the great musicians in the world, he takes inspiration and makes it his own.

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TVD Live Shots: Glasvegas at Heaven, 10/12

I can’t believe it’s been a decade since the release of one of the most critically acclaimed debut albums of all time. Glasvegas released their eponymous debut record in September of 2008 and I saw them live the following year as they toured the States. I was working for their record label, Sony Music, at the time and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more significant buzz on a band from the UK Stateside since Franz Ferdinand or maybe Editors. The record was celebrated and praised by all the big media outlets in the UK, was nominated for the coveted Mercury Prize award, and topped virtually every best album year-end list. So was it overhyped? Absolutely fucking not.

Then again that could be said with 90% of the UK bands who find success in their home country but fail to get traction Stateside. I can tell you this, it’s not because the label didn’t push them, they did. Several folks at the record label were very passionate about this band and rightfully so. The problem I think was that radio (still a big factor for determining success at the time) had no idea what to do with them. I mean, what station would play a band that sounds like The Clash crossed with Elvis and produced by Phil Spector and the Ronettes? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Glasvegas is an important record because it made a statement in a sea of copycats looking for radio play. It was part throwback, part future-forward, and drenched in emotion. From the opening cut “Flowers and Football Tops” to the very end of “Ice Cream Van,” this record has something for everyone. Of course, the highlights were in the meaty center propped up with the brilliant “Geraldine” and “Daddy’s Gone,” but it felt like a single piece of work at a time when the album was under attack. I would even go as far to say that this was one of the last few true albums, or at least the last of the great debuts.

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TVD Live Shots: The Posies at De Helling, Utrecht, 10/11

This is the first time I’ve seen The Posies live, having been a huge fan now for nearly three decades and it was not what I expected—at all. It reminded me of the first time I saw self-help guru Tony Robbins speak live, where every other word out of his mouth was an F-bomb. I was shocked (not offended by any means) because I had always assumed he was pretty clean-cut and conservative. Not the case. The same thing happened in Utrecht last week. I went to see one of my favorite bands from the early ’90s live and was shocked at what I saw. I, of course, expected the incredible songs and the brilliant harmonies, but I didn’t expect it delivered in true punk rock fashion.

Holy shit these guys were on fire! I was expecting a laid-back singer/songwriter-styled power pop show. What I got instead was nothing short of beautiful, heartfelt rock ‘n’ roll chaos. It was a roller coaster ride that very quickly became one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, indeed top 5. There were crashing guitars, spot-on harmonies, double jumps, a drummer climbing on top of his kit, and most importantly the songs and the chemistry of two of the world’s most undercelebrated songwriting teams.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me take you back to 1993 when I first heard The Posies. It was a confusing year for music as grunge continued to dominate, hip-hop’s east coast vs. west coast feud was taking shape, and Whitney Houston was breaking records with the release of The Bodyguard soundtrack and a single that would redefine her career. But there was something else happening in the background; Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, better known as The Posies, would release a power pop masterpiece that would redefine the genre.

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TVD Live Shots:
Pale Waves at the
O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, 9/27

The Cure crossed with the Cocteau Twins with a touch of Blondie—that’s how I would describe one of the hottest bands in the UK at the moment, Pale Waves.

You can’t go anywhere in London without seeing posters plastering tube stations and busy street corners announcing the band’s debut record My Mind Makes Noise which was released last month and hit number 8 on the UK albums chart. Led by lead singer and guitarist Heather Baron-Gracie, Pale Waves are taking the UK by storm and priming themselves for the rest of world with their brand of incredibly catchy goth-synth-pop.

It’s fascinating to watch a group build a buzz the right way—by putting in the work. Having recorded and released a slew of widely acclaimed singles and gigging with successful peers The 1975, the buzz was building and undeniable. They would go on to win the coveted NME Under the Radar Award earlier this year and performed at the much-celebrated awards ceremony along with the likes of Alt-J and the mighty Liam Gallagher.

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TVD Live Shots: Spiritualized and YAK at the Eventim Apollo, 9/21

If I never see another live show in my life after watching Spiritualized last week in London, I think I’d be ok with that. This was one of the most incredible musical performances I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen thousands. Start with one of the best songwriters on the planet, add a live orchestra alongside the band, top that off with a full choir, and you have the makings of a once in a lifetime gig.

Spiritualized is best known for the critically acclaimed 1997 release of Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, which NME magazine named as their Album of the Year, besting Radiohead’s OK Computer and The Verve’s Urban Hymns. This not only put them on the map but instantly secured them as one of the most important artists of the 1990s with We Are Floating in Space acclaimed as one of the best albums by virtually all the major music press around the world.

The Eventim Apollo was the perfect setting for this sold out extravaganza which was led by the man behind Spiritualized, Jason Pierce, directing the two dozen-plus musicians across the legendary Apollo stage. One would not be wrong to compare the wall of sound to the sort of experience you’d get from seeing a Pink Floyd show during their peak. It was a perfect combination of brilliant songwriting alongside stellar musicianship, with the icing on the cake being the orchestra and the choir.

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TVD Live Shots: The Quireboys, H.E.A.T, Aaron Buchanan, and Those Damn Crows at
the O2 Forum, 9/14

The Quireboys made a triumphant return to the stage in London to a sold-out O2 Forum crowd. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of their landmark record Homewreckers and Heartbreakers, these veteran rock ‘n’ rollers proved that they are still very relevant and that rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well on their watch.

This would be a special one-off performance of the Homewreckers album in its entirety. While it may be a cliche these days to go on tour and play a classic record from start to finish, the Quireboys are anything but. These guys have stuck to their guns and their original sound from the beginning—one of the few bands who have a three-decade-plus career who never have to claim that they are “going back to their roots,” as they’ve never left them.

Spike looks and sounds fantastic as does the rest of the band. The songs hold up incredibly well, and that’s because of their dedication to keeping their brand of rock ‘n’ roll fresh. Being from the States, I remember the first time I saw these guys on MTV. I must have played their debut album A Bit of What You Fancy a hundred thousand times. I missed Homewreckers as it wasn’t a hit in the US, but I’m glad I got to see this show and even picked up the 10th-anniversary edition of the record which the band signed for me. (They are all super cool by the way and signed CDs and took photos with fans for hours before the gig.)

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TVD Live Shots: LA Guns at the O2 Islington, 8/31

I’ve always loved LA Guns and thought that these guys conjured up their own unique sound during an embarrassing mess of look-alike hair bands from the late ’80s. These guys were a bit more rough around the edges and had a much more raw, sort of lo-fi sound to their debut record that helped it stand out from the slick production and ridiculous lyrics of their peers. That self-titled debut album is an absolutely fucking masterpiece.

While I’ve celebrated several of the other releases from these guys, this is the one that set the bar, the one that all others shall always be compared to. The band sort of lost their way as they would split into two dueling projects and there’s not enough time in the world to discuss that saga. The good thing is that founding members Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis finally did the right thing and came together again. Even better, they made a brilliant record. A return to form for a band that everyone knew had this in them—it would just take a decade or so of bad decisions to get to this point.

The record is called The Missing Piece, and I guess you could consider it a reunion recording, but more importantly it is the first album of new material featuring both singer Phil Lewis and guitarist Tracii Guns in 15 years. Oh, and it’s bloody brilliant. But don’t take my word for it. How about the 77 plus nearly five-star reviews on Amazon, or the critics across the blogosphere praising it left and right.

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