I think that John Mellencamp might be the coolest guy on the planet. He’s the personification of the most interesting man in the world. He’s got the stories, the songs, the women, the style, and an entourage of brilliant musicians and producers to back it all up. He’s the very definition of Americana and often cited as the only roots rocker who matters to his generation and pretty much my lifetime.
Touring in support of his latest record Plain Spoken, Mellencamp treated a sold out Paramount Theater to a stellar performance of both his classic and new songs. I loved the fact that Mellencamp only peppered in the “hits” during the first half of the set so that he could focus on the newer material right out of the gate.
Opening up with “Lawless Times” and then straight into “Troubled Man,” both cuts from the brilliant new record, was the perfect way to set the stage and the mood for the evening. Here’s a guy who continues to evolve as a songwriter while not forgetting to celebrate his past. Later on in the set would be another track from the album, my absolute favorite, “The Isolation of Mister.” If you don’t have this record yet, it’s the best thing he’s done in the past ten years in my opinion. I would have been OK with him simply playing the new record in its entirety.
An evening with Alice in Chains, a sold out crowd, and a setlist that perfectly captures the legacy of one of the most influential and successful American rock bands of the last two decades. No opening band, just two hours of epic music. And they sounded so spectacular live that I would easily list them as one of the top five touring bands on the planet at the moment.
Frontman William Duvall is simply masterful at handling lead vocals and his guitar adds a welcomed layer to the band’s colossal wall of sound that wasn’t there before. And before you say that no one can replace the late, great Layne Staley, I will say that I agree. He’s not trying to. Duvall sounds fucking amazing on the classic material and adds a new dimension to the Alice in Chains sound—keeping it alive and well.
And how’s the rest of the band? Jerry Cantrell looks and sounds as good as ever before, Sean Kinney still pounds the shit out of his drums, and Mike Inez continues to make it look effortless laying down the bass upon some of the heaviest grooves of all time. Collectively these guys look like a band that still very much loves to perform, instead of those who tour only for a paycheck.
I am going to get a tremendous amount of shit from my heavy metal friends for this one, but who really cares. I have a thing for Charli XCX. Not only because she’s incredibly attractive (I think it’s ok to say that because my wife has a crush on Mason Jennings), but more importantly because she’s got attitude and substance. Out of all the generic pop stars out there Charli has a sort of punk rock I don’t give a f**k mindset that I think is missing from much of the crap cluttering up the last of the available airwaves.
She reminds me of a very polished Joan Jett. On top of that she has a full band behind her that really kicks ass. When I heard that she was coming to the Fox Theater in Oakland I had to be there to photograph what was sure to be an epic pop show. I didn’t really care who was opening the show that night as I just really wanted to see Charli, but then BØRNS hit the stage and completely blew me away.
After a bit of research, I discovered that these guys are on Interscope and have a pretty good buzz behind them based on one of their songs being featured in a car commercial. The song is called “Electric Love” and the only bad thing about it is that apparently Taylor Swift tweeted about it (by the way that’s not a selling point to your target audience).
It’s been an epic past few weeks for me. First I got to watch Marilyn Manson interviewed at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in the south of France—check out my recap here—and then I got to photograph Manson’s epic live show here in the Bay Area. Within the span of fourteen days I saw two very different sides of Manson. One where he was a calm and reserved storyteller, and the other the exact opposite in the form of a flamboyant rock star commanding the stage and demanding attention.
During Cannes Lions, Manson joined Tor Myren, Chief Creative Officer at Grey Advertising, on the main stage for an interview appropriately titled “A Conversation with the Antichrist.” The topic was branding lessons for marketers. The format was talk show style. The players were two of the most creative minds on the planet, but with very different roles; an artist and an advertising exec, and it was brilliant.
The result was a side of Manson that many of us don’t get to see: a stripped down minimal makeup wearing Manson coming across very soft-spoken and seemingly shy. It’s a much different persona than the than larger than life one Manson assumes on stage.
Marilyn Manson continues to evolve as an artist. His latest album The Pale Emperor is an absolute masterpiece and his best work to date. This album is much more about the music and the lyrics than any elements of shock rock in his earlier work. It’s a very bold statement from Manson and has the substance to back it all up while along the way reminding us that he can still write a riff that will tear your head off. He wasted no time at all letting the capacity crowd at Concord Pavilion know that.
Taking their name from National Lampoon’s favorite vacationing family, The Griswolds are touring in support of their debut album, Be Impressive. This Aussie foursome lit up the Independent and played an impressive set for a capacity crowd that fell somewhere in between the sounds of MGMT and Vampire Weekend—but with the energy of an atomic explosion in their live show.
There’s been a recent surge in bands with this type of sound though. I think it started with Youngblood Hawk and I really thought they would blow the scene wide open, but that never happened. Passion Pit could have easily carried the torch a bit further but their second record was a bit disappointing as I think they lost their quirkiness which really made them stand out amongst the pack. The Griswolds on the other hand are in control of their own destiny with their next record, which I believe the band is heading back home to record as I write this.
Highlights from the set and recommended listening from their debut are “Right on Track,” “16 Years,” and “If You Wanna Stay,” in that order. It was incredibly difficult to get good photos from this one as the lights are always challenging, to say the least, at the Independent and there’s no photo pit. Luckily they have a very cool fan base that can be very accommodating to photographers.
It was a sweltering midwest summer back in 1984. I was ten years old and I had just heard Slide it In from Whitesnake for the first time. I remember the cassette tape was white with black print—which I ultimately played so many goddamn times that the cassette turned completely white—the print rubbed off from flipping it over so often in the player. But there was no need for song titles on this one as my friends as I had every song memorized. How many records can you do that with today?
Thankfully someone had created auto-reverse by the time I discovered the seminal masterpiece simply known as Whitesnake (1987). Again, here was an album that I would just listen to non-stop from start to finish. It was brilliant. Whitesnake stood out from the other bands at the time because they had substance. David Coverdale knew how to put together one hell of a band, and he still does to this day.
Fast forward twenty years to the biggest show I’ve ever seen happen inside the Regency Ballroom. David Coverdale and his reinvigorated Whitesnake are touring in support of The Purple Album. Comprised of songs from the three Deep Purple studio albums that David Coverdale appeared on, Burn, Stormbringer, and Come Taste The Band, the album is a brilliant tribute to Coverdale’s former colleagues.
Watching Starsailor perform one can only wonder how on earth any one band can make such glorious music. Every single song is absolute perfection and frontman James Walsh has one of the most remarkable voices on the planet. When I saw that they would be coming to San Francisco on their current tour I was beyond excited. When I heard they were playing a new song in their current set, I got the sense that there has to be a new album in the works, right?
The first time I saw Starsailor was at SXSW back in 2002. It was a time when SXSW was all about showcasing new bands instead of building a four-story Doritos branded stage in the middle of downtown Austin for Snoop Dog to headline. Starsailor was THE buzz band that year and they took to the stage at one of the biggest venues in Austin at the time, the Austin Music Hall.
The place was jam-packed and a remix of “Poor Misguided Fool” played over the monitors teasing the crowd a bit as they took to the stage and tore into the original version. It was epic.
I’ve seen some crazy live shows before in my life but I have to say that Refused is the absolute fucking craziest. Last time I heard these guys they had just released their groundbreaking record that changed everything, The Shape of Punk to Come. This was the first time anyone had ever fused together so many genres so beautifully while making such a bold statement at the same time. Just as Punk Rock had killed Disco in the early eighties, Refused would seek to kill the Pop Punk movement.
While they didn’t necessarily succeed with their mission before disbanding, their swan song would go on to inspire many bands across many different genres long after its release. Finally metal fans and punk fans can share the same mosh pit and find common ground on what they love so much about their genre of choice. Kerrang! listed The Shape of Punk to Come at #13 on their 50 Most Influential Albums of All Time and the legacy lived on last week at The Great American Music Hall.
The show sold out in about 5 minutes upon the announcement. Being a photographer, it’s a nightmare scenario trying to capture the energy of the show and rock ‘n’ roll theatrics of the band when you have a crowd that just wants to throw a brick at your head. But in the name of all things punk rock, I squeezed my way up to the front and pretty much got beaten into the side of the stage for as long as I could take it, give or take twenty minutes. The results, well, I’ll let you be the judge.
“Put your fucking phone away and live in the moment,” says Noel Gallagher to a fan in the front row who seemed to be bootlegging the entire show at the Warfield last week.
Gallagher is a rare breed of singer-songwriter. Having represented the better half of Oasis for more than a decade, he continues to deliver and build upon his legacy with his solo project The High Flying Birds. How important is this man to rock ‘n’ roll? Beatles’ producer George Martin described Gallagher as the “finest songwriter of his generation” and he recently won NME’s prestigious God Like Genius Award.
Gallagher has nothing left to prove in terms of his contributions to rock ‘n’ roll. So it’s enough to make a music fan ill reading some of the reviews for his latest record Chasing Yesterday. It’s difficult enough for a well written album review to shine through in a world taken over by peer-to-peer recommendations and user-generated reviews. It’s even worse when it’s written by a snarky over-opinionated critic who’s struggling to stay relevant. (By the way, the record has 74 five-star reviews on Amazon—and Pitchfork gave it a 5.9 which loosely translates to mediocre; not good, but not awful).
Do The Jesus and Mary Chain still matter? Of course they do. This groundbreaking Scottish band paved the way and drew the blueprint for some of the most innovatively original bands of the last two decades. The Raveonettes, BRMC, Catherine Wheel, and countless others pretty much owe their existence to the sound that the Reid brothers perfected. Last week The Jesus and Mary Chain celebrated the 30th anniversary of their seminal masterpiece Psychocandy by performing the record in its entirety for two sold out nights at The Warfied.
I totally missed this record when it came out back in 1985 as I was celebrating hair metal at the time (and still do actually), but I would later became a big fan. To be completely honest, Psychocandy wasn’t the record that pulled me in. I discovered the band for the first time when I heard Jim Reid sing “I wanna die just like Jesus Christ, I wanna die on a bed of spikes.”
It was 1992’s Honeys Dead and their stint on the Lollapalooza tour that year that pulled me in. I would later go back and revisit the critically acclaimed Psychocandy and even though I dig the record, I think Honey’s Dead and its follow-up, the terribly underrated Stoned and Dethroned, are superior records in every way. Maybe it’s a time period thing, I don’t know, but I just prefer the songwriting, the lyrics, the production, and the evolution of the band over those two records in particular. I think it was their creative peak.