Somehow I totally missed The Replacements when they were in their prime. Maybe it’s because I was just a bit too young or maybe it was because Motley Crue’s Too Fast For Love came out the same year. Regardless, I discovered the genius of this band late and I was absolutely thrilled that I would be able to witness their legendary live show first hand earlier this week in San Francisco. Paul Westerberg and company came out all guns a-blazing. It was like a cross between The Rolling Stones and The Sex Pistols and I loved every minute of it.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the strange antics at the band’s shows including Paul pouring salt and pepper on his guitar, but this time it was beyond strange. There was a tent on stage in the back corner—a camping tent nonetheless—that would play a pivotal role in the show. It served not only as an interesting stage prop, but also doubled as a poetry reading space and a backstage pre-encore gathering area. Whatever the hell it was, it just added to the fun.
The setlist that night was a cornucopia of classic songs that spawned the band’s brilliant catalog. Opening up the night with “Taking a Ride” the first song on their 1981 debut, these guys were flying around the stage like they were trashing a hotel room. Then they tore right into “Favorite Thing” from their third album Let it Be and they were off to the races.
Stone Temple Pilots—just saying the name out lout reminds me of the glorious times of the early nineties. Nirvana single-handedly killed hair metal, flannel was the new black, and Seattle was ground zero for a new movement that would change rock ‘n’ roll forever.
At the very forefront of this new era was an album named Core that would begin the journey of one of the most commercially successful bands of the coming decade. Stone Temple Pilots were bridging the gap between grunge, hard rock, and psychedelic, and they did it all with their own unique style.
40 million records later, the band would continue to dazzle fans up to the point where original frontman Scott Weiland would be fired and later replaced by Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. While this may seem like an odd combination and strange selection for a frontman, you really have to see and hear it to believe how good of a decision that would actually turn out to be. Now, I’ve never really been the biggest fan of Linkin Park, but after seeing Bennington fronting Stone Temple Pilots last weekend at the legendary Fillmore, it begs the question—why didn’t they do this sooner?
What better way to pay tribute to the late great Elliott Smith than having two stellar voices come together on a passion project? Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield have released an incredibly personal tribute to one of the most under celebrated artists of our generation, Mr. Elliott Smith who left the music world way too early. The record, simply titled Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith, was released last month and a short 13 date coast to coast tour followed. I was fortunate enough to catch the second to last show on the tour at the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts Theater.
It was an intimate setting with Avett and Mayfield accompanied only by a stand up bass and set up in front of a makeshift cold war era styled kitchen serving as their backdrop. I personally hate it when artists pay tribute by re-imagining music that doesn’t need to be re-imagined. Avett and Mayfield stayed true to the originals in every sense while their own unique styles naturally took Smith’s music to a new place and breathed new life into already timeless songs.
It’s a difficult line to walk, and both artists distilled the magic of these songs while pouring their hearts into each note and melody. There’s no mistaking they are on a mission to both celebrate and expand upon Smith’s legacy.
The first time I saw Ben Harper live was in 1998 at the now defunct H.O.R.D.E. festival. Summer festivals were arguably at their peak, and H.O.R.D.E. pulled together all of the top “alternative jam bands” of the time. Founded by Blues Traveler and led by festival staple The Black Crowes, it was sort of like Lollapalooza for the folks who loved beads and hacky sacks (amongst other things).
Ben Harper was three albums into his career and really making a name for himself as one of the best live shows on the circuit. I remember being backstage at one of the shows as I worked for Sony Music at the time. They had a sort of self-serve ice cream stand set up, and there was a guy back there digging out a couple of scoops. He then looks at me and asks if I wanted some ice cream. I said, “Holy shit—you’re Ben Harper,” and gladly accepted his offer.
I was a casual fan of Ben Harper and had his first couple of records and I recognized him instantly. I chatted with him for a few minutes as we ate the frozen treat on what was a blistering hot St. Louis afternoon. We had a conversation about the tour and his set list that day and after a few minutes Ben said he had to run. I thought to myself, Ben Harper just served me ice cream and then hung out to chat, how fucking cool is that?
Coal Chamber arrived on the scene at a time when Nu Metal was at its peak. They brought a unique approach with them as front man Dez Fafara carried an element of Goth into a world that was ruled by dreadlocks and suburban white dudes rapping over drop D tunings. The first two records, 1997’s self-titled debut followed by Chamber Music were two very solid offerings to the metal community and arguably could be considered two records that gave RoadRunner records a much-needed and expanded fan base.
Most of the other Nu Metal bands went to major labels while Coal Chamber signed with what was, at that time, considered an indie label. Unfortunately, any music sub-genre that rises so quickly can also fall just as fast. Nu Metal was bound to run its course, and when it did there was a dramatic shift along with a substantial backlash to follow.
Fast forward ten years or so and the band that made Nu Metal listenable for lots of goth loving metal heads around the world returned to the stage with an almost original lineup touring to support a new record simply called Rivals.
Swervedriver is a perfect example of what happens to a brilliant band that doesn’t fit nicely into any one category. More than a decade later critics and fans continue to adore and celebrate the band’s seminal “breakthrough” album Mezcal Head, but the band somehow never quite broke as big as they likely should have. Who’s really to blame in this case? Radio? Press? Retail?
Well, none of them really matter too much anymore since the world of social media and streaming has taken over. With that said, it’s always a welcome treat when a band of this magnitude reunites, delivers a masterpiece of a record, and tours the US sounding better than ever.
Swerverdriver’s Mezcal Head was a real game changer when it came out in 1993. I remember seeing these guys open up for Rage Against the Machine back in 1992. That was a time when metal kids were really open-minded and the dudes in Rage were cool enough to take a chance on having someone truly unique opening their shows.
Shoegaze as a musical style was something that I had never heard of before as I completely missed My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive because I was listening to Slayer. Many other metal heads were probably equally as clueless. But I dug Swervedriver, and so did the majority of my metal friends. The problem then became—SHOULD they have taken that tour with Rage or should they have gone out on the road solo (as they had a huge buzz about them already) or gone out with a more “shoegazy” type band. Who can say?
Every year there’s one artist who seemingly comes out of nowhere and takes the music industry by storm. Many times it’s an artist who has one big hit then disappears from the face of the earth. It’s usually due to the lack of depth on their record, but every once in a while a new talent breaks through for all the right reasons. This time around it’s the latter as Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne has crafted a start-to-finish masterpiece.
Hozier’s self-titled debut is a brilliant mix of gospel, blues, soul, and stellar songwriting. It’s the kind of record that makes pop music feel far less disposable and the Grammys appear like they know what they are talking about for once. Speaking of the Grammys, this was the first show Hozier played after his stunning performance with the one and only voice of a generation, Annie Lennox. It was one of the most talked about performances at the annual awards show, if not the absolute best.
The breakthrough song “Take me to Church” was rightfully up for Song of the Year, but lost out to Sam Smith. While not quite as bad as the clueless Grammy judges awarding a comedy duo for Best Metal Performance, it certainly was a snub in my book.
It was a Saturday night back in 1991. My friends and I were all gathered around watching Headbangers Ball as we would do almost every weekend. That’s when it happened. Rikki Rachman, the host of the show, just played the number five “Skullcrusher” of the week, a spot rightfully owned by Motley Crue’s “Dr. Feelgood” video. He announced that there was a new band that he would like to introduce us all to. That band was Nirvana and the song was “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
It was the first time I had ever heard of Nirvana and it was about to change everything. My friends and I who were all listening to “hair metal” at the time all looked around the room at each other but no one said a word. We didn’t have to. We knew that the days of hair metal ruling the charts were numbered. The writing was on the wall and it was Kurt Cobain’s handwriting.
It wasn’t all bad though, because of course this movement would give us brilliant artists such as Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and so many more. We would soon become fans of this new genre called grunge and would trade in our zebra striped spandex and eyeliner for flannel, matted hair, and ripped jeans.
Although this movement was spearheaded out of Seattle, there was one band that was paying very close attention from across the pond. They were called Bush and they delivered a “grunge” masterpiece by way of Great Britain called Sixteen Stone. It would go on to sell more than 6 million copies and Bush would end up becoming one of the most commercially successful rock bands of the 1990s.
Sometimes you just need to get out on a Monday night and go see some good metal. I had a choice between Periphery or Sleeping With Sirens. I choose Periphery mostly because I hate emo metal, but even more because Wovenwar and Nothing More were rounding out the bill that night at the legendary Fillmore. This show was perfectly primed to be a shredfest and that’s exactly what it was.
It was the eve of the release of two new albums from Periphery—Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega. Two epic metal records that go from blistering technical metal, to free-flowing jazz, to soaring harmonies—all intertwined effortlessly with insanely heavy riffs. In an era when record sales are at an all-time low, who in the hell releases a double album? These guys do and they deliver big time.
Hailing from Maryland, Periphery is rapidly expanding its audience and, as founder and guitarist Misha Mansoor recently told Rolling Stone with a laugh, “Lately, we’ve even seen some females there who aren’t completely miserable.” I love that these guys have a sense of humor.
It was a beautiful spring day in Austin, Texas back in 2004 and I was on my way to pick up the Godmother of punk rock, the legendary Patti Smith. I was working for Sony Music at the time and Patti had just released her Columbia Records debut Trampin’. I was asked by the label to pick up Patti at her hotel, take her to KGSR for an interview with Jody Denberg, then over to Waterloo Records for an in-store signing. When I got to the hotel it was insanely busy and there wasn’t one legit parking spot open and of course I was running late, so I parked illegally thinking that I would be in and out.
It ended up taking me a bit longer than I had anticipated to get back to my car as several folks who were staying at the hotel recognized Patti as we were walking through the lobby. She was very cool and stopped to chat with each of them along the way. As we reached the parking lot, the hotel manager made an announcement over some sort of loudspeaker that sounded like it was broadcast to the entire city. “The owner of a red Saturn sedan parked illegally will be towed,” blasted through the air as if it was a public service announcement. Patti looks at me and says something to the effect of “I’d hate to be that person today,” I looked back and said to her, ‘That’s our ride.”
To make a long story short, I got to my car just before the tow truck did and we were on our way. Patti along with her antique camera asked me to stop several times so she could snap a photo or two along “the Drag” while telling me stories about her camera and even a story or two about her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith of the groundbreaking band MC5. It was an epic afternoon that turned out to be one of the most remarkable moments of my career in the music business.