365 Day Song Challenge: Day 25 – “Imagine”

Day 25. Worst song you have ever seen performed live

“Imagine” — Melissa Etheridge

There are some people who could sing the phone book (assuming you can find one) and sound good.

Melissa Etheridge is not one of those people.

There are people who can sing a capella and sound amazing.

Melissa Etheridge is not one of those people.

There are people who can sing with minimal instrumental accompaniment and sound good.

Melissa Etheridge is not one of those people.

When I saw today’s topic come up in the 365 Day Song Challenge, at first I was at a complete loss. I’ve seen a lot of live music over the years, but for some reason, I think you block out some of the worst ones. For instance, I know I saw Whitesnake back in the late 80s and I’ll guarantee it was terrible, but all I really remember are the girls in tight leather skirts, high heels, and big hair. Then again, that may have had nothing at all to do with Whitesnake being terrible.

I was saved in late December when I went to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra. People rave about these guys, and to be sure, they’re good musicians, but after about 90 minutes of 80s hair band wankery, I was more than ready to go home. (“Oh! But it’s Christmas 80s hair band wankery! It’s so good!” Um, no it’s not.) I thought I had my “worst live song” post all wrapped up.

And then New Year’s Eve rolled around.

I’m no Melissa Etheridge fan on the best of days. I was permanently traumatized in the late 90s when I would set my radio alarm clock to wake me to the sound of WXLO in Worcester, MA. And for some reason, for the span of about three months, they would invariably be playing “Come To My Window.” I still get nauseated just thinking of it. (And no, I don’t know why I didn’t just pick another station. Quit being logical.)

So, on New Year’s Eve I was watching Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper’s show when they cut to Melissa. Apparently she’s hawking a new album six months before it’s even released. Who does she think she is? Axl Rose? Anyway, she was playing some song that I’m told is old but I had successfully avoided until now. As if this isn’t scary enough, while she’s playing, I can’t help but notice that she looks exactly like Hillary Clinton now! Dead ringer! Actually, if it was Hillary Clinton singing, that might explain a lot. When she finally finished, Anderson Cooper excitedly tells us that Melissa will be playing “Imagine” just before midnight. Oh boy!

Sure enough, a few minutes before midnight the music starts and Melissa begins to warble the opening lines of “Imagine.” The house immediately starts shuddering, the result of shock waves from John Lennon spinning in his grave at the speed of a jet turbine. I was sure the Apocalypse was upon us. Was it Y2K, 14 years late?

After three painfully long minutes, the song ended, the tremors stopped, the ball dropped and life returned to normal. Reports were that only 14 people of the more than one million revelers were lost when they fell into the Lennon-spawned seismic cracks that had opened in the streets of New York City.

Okay, it wasn’t quite that dramatic. But still really, really bad. “Imagine” is a pretty simple melody. I’m no singer, and I can do a respectable job of it. But, I kid you not, I don’t think she hit a single correct note in the entire song. Her supporters will say she was “interpreting it” in her own inimitable style. Of course it’s inimitable: It’s awful. Who would want to imitate it?

Here’s hoping next New Year’s Eve is less disastrous.

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 24 – “New Constellation”

Day 24. The last new song that you heard that you really liked:

“New Constellation” — Toad The Wet Sprocket

For those who don’t know, Toad is back. They are the latest in a long list of bands that broke up a long time ago, and then the members (or a specific member) figured out that there was something about the band dynamic they missed. Which is good because I was never really impressed with lead singer Glen Phillips’ solo work.

I heard the news a few months back. Their web site had a link to the title track from the new album (which, at the time, wasn’t released). I listened to it and immediately liked it. And not just because I’m a Toad fan. “New Constellation” (the song) is a catchy, uptempo number (possibly their most uptempo ever, but I could be wrong) that grabs you from the opening notes. Or it did me, anyway.

New Constellation (the album) sounds like Toad but has some fresh spins. It’s identifiably Toad. They didn’t go crazy and try to redefine their sound, but it’s not just a retread of old material, either. More than a few of the songs wouldn’t fit on any previous album. And that’s what you’re looking for from an album. Unless it’s an AC/DC album, in which case you’re looking for a slightly different spin on what they’ve done for four decades. (And, no, I have nothing against AC/DC, as you’ll see in a few days.)

That’s all I got today.

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 23 – “Outside”

Day 23. Song from a band or artist that you have met in person:

“Outside” — Tribe

Here At The HomeDuring my freshman year of college, I was a reporter for my college newspaper, Newspeak. (Very Orwellian, I know. It’s since been renamed The Tech News, which was also its original name before some genius thought Newspeak was clever.) That was the start of an ascension of editorial positions that culminated with Co-Editor-in-Chief. But enough back-patting.

At the time, I fancied myself to have a pretty good knowledge of music (and compared to the average person, I think I did). As such, I became the de facto features writer, which meant I got free access to review shows. (Read: I got to see a lot of local and small-name bands ranging from mediocre to downright awful.) You may think that getting in free would make the bad shows more bearable. You’d be wrong. It just makes it easier to leave in the middle.

Occasionally, however, you’d get the shock of something special. One night in 1990, Tribe was that something special. Tribe was an up-and-coming band getting a lot of buzz in the Boston area. It was a little bit of a coup when they got booked to play a show on campus. Their song “Abort” was getting airplay, even though they only had a self-released album at the time. Even so, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of them.

Typically I didn’t do interviews with the bands I covered, but for some reason, that night I got one. It was before the show and I met with them in their “dressing room” which was nothing more than a storage room to the side of the “club.” They looked like a normal bunch of people, although I do remember thinking that Janet LaValley, the lead singer, was dressed much more formally than the others. We chatted for a while. I found out some interesting things, such as, this was the first band for all of them. (Kind of amazing to think that is was everyone’s first band ever, and they eventually got signed to a major label). They gave me a demo tape, (which I still have because I’m a hoarder, er, collector) and off I went to watch the show with everyone else.

There was a bit of a transition between the five people I’d talked to and the people who appeared on stage. Janet LaValley, in particular, seemed to have a persona that she put on (which was accentuated by the attire I mentioned previously). She played sort of the detached, crazy-eyed chick, which I thought was interesting. But even the others, who were pretty laid-back during the interview, were much more serious on stage.

Now, I must digress a little to tell you about Lens and Lights. They were (and are) the on-campus organization that did sound and lighting for shows. I was actually in the club for a while, but to be honest, when I was there, many members didn’t, shall we say, believe in deodorant. Generally clean, but not pleasant-smelling. Have you ever been cooped up in a projection booth with someone emanating serious B.O.? There isn’t enough stuff you can jam up your nose to make that a pleasant experience. I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me deciding to quit. But I digress on the digression.

While their lighting was generally pretty good, let’s just say that I never thought they did a very good job with sound and leave it at that. Especially at smaller shows. The sound at this show was terrible. As in, couldn’t-make-out-a-word, music-so-muddy-you-could-get-stuck-in-it terrible. In retrospect, that could have had something to do with the acoustics of the venue—the basement of a residence hall. But it’s much more dramatic to say “They sucked!” So: “They sucked!” I left the show feeling utterly underwhelmed. Thanks, Lens and Lights!

When I got back to my dorm room with my friends, we listened to the demo tape. I remember saying “This is the band we just heard?” After the disappointment of the show, the tape was a revelation. It had only three songs, but they were all really good. And from then on I’ve been a Tribe fan.

“Outside” was one of the songs on that tape. (For audio of the song, go here. There’s a lot of good Tribe-related stuff on that site, I’d recommend checking it out.) I like how the track builds and builds, culminating with the call-and-answer part. Good stuff.

Unfortunately, Tribe didn’t last very long: Two major-label albums and a few years. I did manage to see them another time in that same venue (when, to be fair, the sound was much better). They just never caught on outside of Boston, and ended up disbanding. A couple of the members went on to form a software company (which came up with Guitar Hero among other things). In another interesting note, “Outside” was featured in the video game Rock Band (and not Guitar Hero for some reason).

So maybe there’s hope for a comeback.


365 Day Song Challenge: Day 22 – “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love”

Day 22. A song from a band or artists (member(s) deceased) you would have loved to have seen:

“Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” — The Blues Brothers

2137_11_screenshotI’m so glad to see so many of you lovely people here tonight, and I’d especially like to welcome the members of the NSA who are monitoring this blog and every other blog on earth. I do sincerely hope you like the post, and remember, that no matter what you do to live, thrive and survive, there are some things that make us all the same. You. Me. Them. Everybody, everybody.

While I love Real Genius, I think my favorite movie is still The Blue Brothers. Being a little too young to remember Belushi and Aykroyd on “Saturday Night Live,” the movie was my introduction to these characters and the music that they resuscitated from the dead.

It started with the movie, certainly. So many quotes; so many funny scenes; so many wrecked police cars. But my love for the music followed soon after. It wasn’t long until the other albums were being sought out, in addition to the soundtrack. The renditions of the songs they covered not only did the originals justice, but in many cases, I think surpassed them. For some songs, I actually prefer the Blues Brothers’ versions to the originals. (I can say the same thing about The Commitments, as well.) For example, I’ll take The Blues Brothers “Gimme Some Lovin'” over Steve Winwood’s high-pitched, nasally vocals on the original by the Spencer Davis group any day. That statement has probably already sent the purists into a frenzy. Oh well. Perhaps it’s because I heard the covers first, but I simply like them better. I don’t care what you say.

There’s no denying the duo were great showmen, but none of it would have been possible without their amazing backup band. “Jake” was a passable vocalist, and while “Elwood” could blow the harp pretty well, that’s just not enough. The fact that many members of their backup band had played on the original versions of the songs they were covering certainly didn’t hurt; it lent the band an air of credibility and professionalism. It allowed them to be taken seriously, at least after a little while. I also think it helped that they didn’t phone it in. They had a passion about this music that was palpable, and it made overlooking their shortcomings that much easier.

While the movie contained many great tunes (including a bunch that didn’t make the soundtrack), “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” was sort of the showpiece of the film. Originally recorded by Solomon Burke, and then covered shortly after by Wilson Pickett, for me Jake, Elwood, and band take it to a new level. Maybe it’s because I can see them dancing to it whenever I hear it. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the movie a bazillion times. I dunno. What I do know is I love it, and I would have loved to have seen it live.

Unfortunately, it’s not to be. The band members seem to be dropping like flies. We all know that Belushi died many years ago, but in the last few years we’ve also lost Steve “The Colonel” Cropper (guitar), Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass), and “Mr. Fabulous” Alan Rubin (trumpet).  There will be no more “getting the band back together.”

At least not here, not now. (Honestly, from what I’ve seen of Blues Brothers 2000, they shouldn’t have done it then, either. At least not the movie. Avoid it at all costs.)

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 21 – “So What”

Day 21. A song from a band or artist (member(s) alive) would love to see perform in person:

“So What” — P!nk

I’ll admit it: I’ve got a bit of a thing for Pink. (It’s stylized as “P!nk” but I’d prefer not to have spell check screaming at me 300 times in this post, so I’m going with “Pink”.) I think she’s pretty hot, and having seen interviews with her, there’s something very interesting about her beyond her looks. Honestly, though, I’m a little afraid of her. She’s got the bad-ass thing going, and I don’t think it’s a front. I’m pretty sure she could kick my ass.

That said, I genuinely like her music. Well, most of it. I like her music after she took control of her career and started making the music she really want to, instead of being a producer-created R&B singer. That transition happened with her second (and breakout) album Missundaztood, although a couple of songs from her first album are okay.

As for today’s song, it’s pretty much her flipping the bird to her (then ex- or estranged or something) husband and the world. It’s the type of song she does well, and often. (While I respect that she writes pretty much whatever she wants to in her songs, I think if I was her husband, I’d be afraid to say “boo” for fear of a scathing lyrical reprisal heard by millions of fans.)

But the music in and of itself isn’t enough to make me want to go to a live show. There are a lot of artists I really like that I’m in no hurry to see live. Which is where the DVD of her Funhouse tour comes in. Her shows are productions. She can sing. She’s not a product of Autotune. She’s not lip-syncing. She can rock and she can go the route of the “pretty song” too. Have you seen her performance in “Glitter In The Air” from the 2010 Grammys? It’s here. Watch it. See what I’m getting at?

Bottom line: The girl knows how to put on a show.

And I guess that’s why I’d like to see her and not some others. She’s got the extra entertainment factor thing going. If I’m going to shell out $100 for a ticket, it better not be the same experience I’d get listening to the album. I’m beyond the point of going to a concert just to go to a concert. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt (literally).

The downside is that there are a boatload of other people who want to see her, too. Sure, I’ll see Genesis from the back row of a monstrous arena, but I’m not doing that for everyone. I’d want to be pretty close to the front, although three feet from the stage might be too much to ask. (Why so close? She has some, ahem, nice costumes.) So it’s not likely to cost me only $100 a ticket to see her. Plus, her shows sells out at the drop of a hat.

So I don’t know that the likelihood of me seeing Pink anytime soon is very high. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ruling it out. But it doesn’t seem likely.

What’s that? Tickets are on sale? Count me in…

You gotta check this out…