Saturday, September 29, 2012

Beth’s Music Moment: Devo and Blondie Whip It To Shreds tour

Beth and Shane leavingOn Tuesday afternoon, it was time to head south to Carmel, Indiana (just north of Indianapolis) for our third and final September concert. It was a little bit overcast, but the temperature was nice enough that we didn’t need jackets. As you can see, Spudboy Shane was ready for the show, sporting his spiffy energy dome. We had an uneventful and pleasant trip—no flat tires for Joan Jetta this time, YAY!—and we listened to Devo and Blondie CDs as we motored along.

Our first stop was for a bite to eat at a Mexican place, Cancun, which was close to the venue. Decent food, very fast service, and mighty tasty margatitas! (Typo intentional...I’m not sure why Matt and I started calling them that. It’s like me and my martoonis.)

Next it was a matter of finding the venue, which we were able to do without too much trouble. This is a new complex called the Center for Performing Arts, and one of the buildings is called The Palladium. That’s where the concert was. Holy cow, what a gorgeous venue! The floors looked like hardwood (although they may have been something easier to take care of...I don’t know), the hall was mainly white with touches of blue, and the box seats rose in three levels on both sides. None of us had been to this venue before, and we were duly impressed. I had gotten us pretty good seats, maybe eight rows back, and even little me was able to see well (although I had to look around the tall guy in front of me). We agreed that we would go back there in a heartbeat. Carmel is a pretty well-to-do city, and it shows in their new arts complex. Very nice!

The show started right on time, and Devo was first. The set was similar to when we saw them in 2010: a few songs from their latest album, and most of the classics. I was super happy when they did one of my all-time favorite Devo songs, one that they didn’t do at the 2010 show: “Going Under.” I don’t know what it is about that song, but I just love it. They also did “Satisfaction,” which they didn’t do in ‘10. So I was pleased to get to hear them do those two songs. The highlights for me were probably “Going Under,” “Uncontrollable Urge,” and “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA.” UU has the cool moment when they all come to the front of the stage and bounce to the beat. The latter song is nothing less than brilliant, with the first part a bit of a sing-along (“‘Fraid nobody around here comprehends my potato...guess I’m just a spudboy looking for that real tomato”), and then kicking into the second part, with the audience shouting “We shove the poles in hole!” and with spastic keyboards and rockin’ guitar. It’s wild, and it’s always a rave-up.

Let me just say here that people can make fun of the aging band members all they want, but let me tell you something: these guys can kick it. Shane and I have loved them since the ‘70s, when we first saw them on SNL, but we never got to see them live until 2010. We discussed how much they surprised us with their rockitudiness. I was expecting a keyboard-heavy band, and of course, you get a lot of that. They’re Devo, after all. But the drums are heavy and fast (Josh Freese, formerly of Nine Inch Nails and Guns ‘n Roses, does a fantastic job), and so are the guitars. No lie...these guys ROCK HARD.

And let me say again that they always have been subversive. Devo was born out of the Kent State shooting, which was witnessed by founding member Jerry Casale. His and Mark Mothersbaugh’s concept of de-evolution made for some pretty biting satire and social commentary. It’s hard not to look around at what is going on lately, especially in politics, and think, “They were right about it. We ARE devolving.” They were way ahead of their time. They have not stopped the satire, and their latest song is titled “Don’t Roof Rack Me, Bro! (Remember Seamus),” about poor Seamus Romney strapped to roof of the family car. Unfortunately, they didn’t do that song. Maybe next time! I will definitely try to see them whenever they play nearby. This is a band I will never tire of seeing. One of the unsung hero bands of rock and roll, in my opinion. Those of us who have loved them all along have definitely cemented their cult status, but they’re not exactly a household name!

BlondieAfter a brief intermission, Blondie was up next. Debbie came out in a gold lamé trench coat, and still looks fabulous! She sounds great, too. In fact, I’d say that her voice sounded every bit as good as, if not better than, when I saw them twice previously. I haven’t listened to their latest album, “Panic of Girls,” as much as I have their older stuff, so I wasn’t as familiar with those songs. I need to remedy that, because they’re good. They played a nice mix of their hits and their newer stuff, and both were well-received. I would have to say that the highlight for me was “Atomic,” which is odd, because I recall not liking that as much as other songs when it first came out. It’s one of the few songs that has really grown on me over the years, and they do it incredibly well live. There is Clem Burke’s manic drumming (he’s one of the best drummers ever, in my opinion), and then there is the way Debbie’s vocals soar to the line where the audience shouts along with her, “Ohhh your hair is beautiful!” It’s a pretty awesome moment, and I’m smiling as I think about it!

The band sounded fantastic, and an excellent addition is guitarist Tommy Kessler. Very, very good. But as always, Debbie Harry is the focal point. I told Shane that she cracks me up, and it is just so cool, the way she makes these faces...hard to explain, but she was always such an incredibly beautiful woman, but she still has this New York punk attitude. When singing “Rip Her To Shreds,” she can sneer like nobody’s business. Haha! She IS a rock goddess.

From the stageSo after a couple of hours of great music, dancing, and singing, the show was over. We were hoping that the two bands might join each other onstage, but that was not in the cards. No matter—it was just a great show and so much fun to see two of my all-time favorite bands in one beautiful venue! They were playing one more show in Chicago the following night, and Shane and I both considered heading up for it! But everyone had to work on Thursday, and I think we all needed a bit of a break. But we agreed that we’ll try to see Devo whenever they come around our way. Definitely a fun band to see live.

On the way home, we stopped and got beverages. Coffee for the guys, and a Starbucks energy drink for me. That was a bit of a mistake. It was fun on the way home, because although Ken dozed off, Shane and Matt and I had fun playing air keyboards and singing along to Devo songs. I was more than a little wired, and ended up staying up until after 4 am. Ugh. At least now I know that a Starbucks energy drink will give me a major boost of wide awake energy if I ever need it!

Carry on, Spuds! Thanks Spud

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Beth’s Music Moment: The Smithereens LIVE!

Smithereens signed[Note: Click on any picture to embiggenate.]

Last night was the second of our September concerts, the Smithereens. Shane and Matt picked us up at 5 pm (None of our cars—Ken’s or mine—are comfortable for four people...thanks for driving, Shane!), and we headed west to Valparaiso. We ran into a little rain on the way, but it began to clear as we got further west.

However, we were soon to encounter an incident that would test our strength and will...a trial by fire that would push us to our limits and threaten to plummet us into deep, dark despair....

Okay, it was a flat tire. Shane was recently told that Joan Jetta has some slightly bent rims, so apparently she is very sensitive to large bumps, and we came upon road construction suddenly and without warning (thanks for the SIGNS, INDoT!). One of those deals where the pavement had been stripped down, leaving manhole covers a couple of inches higher than the roadway. One hit on those and poor Joan sprained her ankle. Shane was able to pull off into a parking lot, got all the needed materials out of the trunk, and Ken proceeded to change the tire. Matt and I milled around and I tried to offer moral support and lend a hand where I could (grabbing the flat tire and rolling it back to the trunk, for example), and it really didn’t take too long to get it taken care of and get back on the road. I think everyone was on the verge of being upset, but we still had plenty of time to get there, and we were glad it didn’t happen when it was dark, and that it wasn’t super cold. However, we couldn’t help but shake our heads over the déjà vu. The same thing happened when we went to see the Godfathers in Chicago! The four of us, concert, Joan Jetta, flat tire. This incident went a little smoother, and we were all determined to not let it spoil our outing. For better or worse, we tend to be optimists!

Smithereens gangWe made it to Valparaiso without further incident, and found the restaurant we were going to. Shane and Matt took a drive recently, and while going through Valparaiso, Matt spotted a place called Industrial Revolution. We all agreed that it sounded like a neat place, so that’s where we went. Really neat atmosphere, sort of a focus on the “working man,” with statues of steel workers, industrial decor (we agreed that the steel girders overhead made it seem like we were standing under the El in Chicago), and sayings about the strong work ethic of workers written on the walls. They even had a small working train that circled on an overhead track. Neat place! The food was fantastic, too. Ken had some sort of bacon burger, I had a burger stuffed with olives, Matt had a Waldorf burger, and Shane had...perch. Haha! He was in a fish and chips kinda mood, so he decided to be a rebel. We tried a bite or two of each other’s meals, and everything was tasty. Next time, I’d probably have my burger medium well rather than the default medium, but it was still delicious.

Then it was time to make our way downtown to the Memorial Opera House. I had looked it up online, and it was built in 1893 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The facade is beautiful, but they really need to do some work on the interior! That is taking place, but in a small town, I’m sure funds for such things are limited, so they can only do so much so fast. I hope they can continue to preserve the place, because it’s a nice, small theater. Definitely an “intimate” venue, with fewer than 300 seats!

Smithereens onstageOkay, now for the show. I’ll get the bad stuff out of the way first so I can focus on the good stuff. First of all, this was an old crowd. I’m not even going to say “older,” because they just seemed OLD to me. I suspect that they sell season tickets to events at the Theater, and many of these folks were more of the “musical comedy” set, and just happened to find themselves at a rock concert. I know, I know...I’m 50, so I suppose technically, I’m old, too! But I don’t FEEL that way, and I was ready to rock to one of my all-time favorite bands! I was standing and kind of dancing at one point, and Ken said to me, “You’re the only one standing.” I said, “I don’t care!” Haha! I hope I didn’t embarrass him too much!

Second, this was billed as the Smithereens playing some Beatles songs and their own hits. They released an album that was a song-for-song remake of “Meet the Beatles” called “Meet the Smithereens,” and I really enjoyed it. I figured they’d play a handful of Beatles tunes interspersed with their own songs. It was kind of the opposite. They’d play about three Beatles songs and then a Smithereens song. Boooo! I was sitting during the Beatles songs. I mean, they’re great songs, and they play them very, very well, but I didn’t come to hear a Beatles cover band. I came to hear the Smithereens. How many times have I heard those Beatles songs? I won’t say “too many,” because they’re wonderful, timeless songs, but definitely “plenty.” I wanted to hear the Smithereens, dammit!

Smithereens Shane and BethNow for the good stuff. This is a group of excellent musicians. It was such a small venue that the sound was incredible—completely undistorted, crisp, and clear. The vocals were understandable and not muffled at all. Each member played and sang great, and I would say that they are definitely superb craftsmen in their profession. The guitarist, drummer, and bass player were just fantastic, and Pat, the lead singer, still has a great voice. For a band of four, they make a great “wall of sound” with just lead, rhythm, and bass guitars, and drums.

As I said, their Beatles covers were very well done, but when they sang their own songs, that is when they really shined. These are just fantastic songs that still hold up well. They rock hard, but they are melodic. They did “Blood and Roses,” “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” “Only a Memory,” “A Girl Like You,” “Sorry,” “Top of the Pops,” “House We Used to Live In,” and one of my favorites, “Blues Before And After.” They also did a cover of a Who song from “Tommy,” and although I can’t recall the name of that one, they ROCKED it! Many of these came at the end of the set, when they asked people to come up to the stage and rock out. That is when they really kicked it in, and little me was able to sneak my way right up to the stage, where I danced and sang and had fun. Other fun extras were a snippet of “Get Together” by the Youngbloods and...I kid you not...the Batman theme! That is surf music at its heart, so I was having fun dancing to that. I was right in front of the guitarist, Jim Babjak, and he was tearing it up! He gave me one of his guitar picks, and when they finished up, I shook his hand, and then he took my hand and kissed it. Aww!

Smithereens pickThey were available a little later in the lobby, and I had come prepared with my CD insert for “Especially For You,” probably my favorite album of theirs. They all signed it, and Jim, the guitarist, took it and said, “Oh wow...I was a kid then!” I said, “So was I!” (It was released in ‘86.) I told him that they really tore it up with their own songs, and they should play more of them. Jim said, “I think so, too!” Maybe he wants to rock out a little more? It sure sounded like it! So here is my advice to you guys: you have an incredible catalogue of music, with some of the best pop songs from the past few decades. You saw the reaction to your own music...people were dancing and yelling and absolutely loving it, while everyone was sort of “meh” with the Beatles stuff. Not because you don’t do it well, but because we’ve heard it so many times before. Your main strengths are your great musicianship and your truly excellent songs...some of them really rock, some are a little slower, but they’re all very good. As the Kinks said, give the people what they want. We don’t want another Beatles cover band...we want the Smithereens!

Thanks to Ken, Shane, and Matt who were willing to stick around so I could stand in line and get my CD signed. I am proud and pleased to add it and the pick to my little collection of memorabilia (along with my signed Dennis “Machinegun” Thompson drumsticks, my CD insert signed by Fee Waybill of the Tubes, and my Devo smiley face super ball). Thanks to the Smithereens for rocking out most awesomely, and I hope I get another chance to see you, and that you play almost all of your own songs, because they really are fantastic! There is a reason I’ve loved you all these years. The fact that I was dripping with sweat after dancing up by the stage should tell you! (See picture for proof. I worked up a sweat!)

Our next and final September concert is coming up in two days! It’s the Whip It To Shreds tour with Blondie and Devo. It will be the third time I’ve seen Blondie and the second time I’ve seen Devo. We are once again going with Shane and Matt, so fingers crossed that we won’t have a déjà three when it comes to Joan Jetta’s tires!

Rock on, Citizens.