Monday, 16 May 2016

Last Words on...Glenn Frey

Vale Glenn Frey

Eagles songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Glenn Frey passed away on January 18, 2016.

Despite a 14 year absence between their initial breakup in 1980 and their MTV reunion special in 1994, and then sporadic moments in the public eye between then and the release of their first new music since "The Long Run" ("Long Road out of Eden" appeared in 2008) The Eagles were ubiquitous: on radio, on T-shirts, in iconography, in appearances in films and so on.

Familiarity obviously breeds contempt. Because the news coverage and commentary in the wake of Glenn's death was markedly different than it was with David Bowie a week earlier. Almost all of the commentary was glowing for Bowie. The commentary on Glenn Frey was increasingly negative, claiming he was a rather unpleasant individual (and worse).

At the end of the day, it is counterproductive to be negative about him in death, just as it was in life. Sure enough in the "History of the Eagles" documentary, at least during the last half, he painted himself as an arsehole in dealing with his bandmates. We can criticise but nothing is going to change that. He wouldn't have cared what we thought anyway. It is what it is. What is probably better and a more fruitful enterprise is to look at what he managed to achieve.

No matter what we think about the Eagles, a hell of a lot of people like them. Even if you never want to hear "Hotel California" ever again, at least in this country, it broke open commercial radio to independent music (it's funny to think that The Eagles were considered "alternative" for the first couple of album releases!!!). Their albums were masterfully written and recorded, even if the lyrics of "Lyin' Eyes" are lazy and the song drones on for about 3 minutes too long.

Glenn Frey had palpable talent. He is clearly audible as a guest vocalist and guitarist on the early Bob Seger track "Ramblin' Gamblin Man" and on some of the Eagles' early records ("Desperado" especially) his guitar work is stellar.

Ubiquity clouds judgement and can negatively influence taste, but that's not the Eagles fault. You can't blame them for never being away from radio for long. Blame the commercial radio stations. I'm personally glad Glenn gave the world the music he did.

Vale Glenn. He will be missed.

Last Words on...David Bowie

Vale David Bowie

David Bowie left this earth on the 10th January 2016. Yes it's taken me this long to find the words to write in response.

It's hard to process what Bowie's loss means to the world. Or even to me. The music he gave us indelibly soundtracked our lives for so long, and it did so with such potency. It felt like the music's charismatic creator would be around forever.

Never mind the fact that David himself was out of the public eye for a decade before the surprise release of "The Next Day" in 2013. Even with the release of the record, he remained reclusive, rarely making public appearances and making almost no attempts to promote the record. He didn't get a chance to promote his latest record "Blackstar", as his untimely passing occurred two days after the album's release.

Bowie always seemed to be masterfully in control of his music, his image and his career. He changed from one thing to another during the 1970s with effortless ease and grace, always ahead of the curve and defining trends rather than following them. It came as shock to me to read an old quote from the NME dating back to 1984:

"I always thought I was intellectual about what I do, but I’ve come to the realization that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing half the time."

If he didn't know what he was doing then he was constantly trying on new concepts and ideas to see what fits. He was once described by filmmaker Nik Roeg as being "awkward within society". It appears to be that he was possibly changing the outward look to hide the insecurity within. That insecurity drove his restless creativity to go beyond the norms of what should be expected of him.

Watching the "Reality Tour" live DVD again in the wake of his passing, it appears that on this tour he was finally comfortable with himself, in his own skin. He'd finally reconciled what it meant to be David Bowie. It was a glorious sight.

To the every end, with the "Blackstar" album, he challenged the listener, challenging them not to rest on their laurels and the assumptions of what David Bowie could be. He gave us what we now can assume were hints of his impending mortality, but the needle was barely off the record from the first playing of the album before that could fully set in. The news hit the world like a collective kick in the head.

Bowie gave the world so much joy with his fantastic and challenging creativity. He inspired and entertained us for close to 50 years and Earth's loss is Heaven's gain. The music will live with us and I'm personally greatful for his fine works.

Vale David. Your life's work will be remembered long after the pain of your sad passing has faded from our memories.

The Triumphant Return of FACEplant

FACEplant, Grrumble and Shuda: Live at the Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle 14/05/2016

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. And there's nothing like a nostalgia gig to remind yourself how old you've become. Looking around the room at my fellow 1990s gig goers, my how we've aged! But all the beer bellies and receding, greying hairlines are not going to get in the way. The vibe in the room is electric and we're all hoping the main act will lift the roof off of this place.

We're gathered here on something of a red-letter occasion for adolescent Gen X Novocastrian gig goers from the 1990s: when FACEplant, the next big thing to follow Silverchair onto the national stage, make their rumoured resurrection a fact. Stories have been going around for years about this night, and finally, it happened.

The night opened with Shuda, a Central Coast band (they laughingly referred to themselves as "out-of-towners", but near enough). Warming up the crowd and fired up about the impending release of their second record, the crowd took to them and gave them some good attention. Pete Davies, combined larynx and 6-string shredder, is a big bloke with a big voice; the guitar in his hands looked almost miniature by comparison. He gave that thing a guttural rumble that let you know you were alive. He donned a King Parrot shirt for the set. However the band he fronts sounded nothing like the Sydney hardcore outfit. More like Shihad-meets-Iron Maiden. If anything, the first couple of songs sounded a little too deferential to their influences. Over the course of their short set they threw in enough stylistic curve balls to keep us guessing.


Aside from FACEplant getting back together, it was also a showcase for one of their contemporaries of the era, the recently reunited Grrumble. Grrumble made a mean sound out of one Les Paul, bass, vox and drums. While they trod a path with a heavy grunge feel, they always added elements of metal to the mix to create something quite interesting. They were a tight unit back in the day and tonight they proved they still had it. They played a crowd pleasing set, including this writer's personal favourite "Justice". Their 1995 EP has been reissued as was available at the Merch stand. Reviews to come later...


FACEplant (uppercase FACE, thank you) finally hit the stage to the sounds of an electronica and sample-heavy audio experiment. A remix of sorts of what turned out to be the opening song when the band slammed in seamlessly into the first chord. 20 years may have passed between gigs but who'd have known? The hair may be a lot shorter, but the band still had it. Their enthusiasm on stage was almost tangible and the packed house loved them for it. In 1994 the band were playing a melodic surf-grunge but by late 1995 they have turned darker into a drop-tuned, Shihad-esque grind. Tonight's set showed the best of both sides. They gave the crowd plenty to sing along to and quite a few tunes some of us hadn't heard - I'm looking forward to hearing them released in the near future. They played all the tracks from the now-near-impossible to find 1995 EP "Upper Case FACE" and taking a few risks with the arrangement on "Eyes", slowing down the tempo and revving up the drama.

FACEplant have made it clear they want to keep going as of now. If the shows are as good as Saturday night, the future looks bright for them. Now, if only they'd dig through the vault and release the vintage recordings for the fans and get some new tracks on the shelves to further the momentum.

Welcome back, lads...

Monday, 18 April 2016

Axl Rose joins AC/DC

Yes it's true.

Yes ok, it was reported on recently, someone having seen Axl leaving AC/DC's rehearsal space in Atlanta, but so what? That was speculation then, and I don't generally buy into speculation.

Now it has been confirmed by AC/DC's management and their label. Axl has only just decided to accept Slash and Duff McKagan back into the Guns n' Roses camp for a few gigs. While he was in pretty decent voice at recent shows, despite being immobilised with a broken foot. However, the prevailing opinion (and I tend to agree with it) is that Axl is an ill fit for AC/DC. Being a mega-fan of the band, as he is, is not enough of a pre-requisite for joining a band. He just isn't the right voice for the band.

I guess AC/DC need to be aware of the Latin term caveat emptor: "Let the buyer beware". Axl has some form, with his megalomaniac outbursts, turning up late, starting riots, bad behaviour towards fans and so on as a member of his own band. As a hired gun in someone else's outfit, technically there is no room for that sort of thing, but will he try it on? It's certainly possible, given his history.

AC/DC have been a massive concert draw and record seller for years, despite many people thinking that Brian Johnson was an ill fit for the band. Brian made it work, however. Loads of fans loved his voice fronting the band. Indeed his first appearance on record with them, "Back In Black", is the biggest selling rock album ever released at the time of writing. Since "Who Made Who" in 1986 they've been rather pedestrian on record, in this writer's opinion. The Bon Scott albums, all of them, are unimpeachable. A large number of what has come since is interchangeable at best and disposable at worst. What value is Axl Rose going to add to the band? Sure he's a famous name, but that's not enough.

It was like adding Terence Trent D'Arby as vocalist to replace Michael Hutchence in INXS. A big name, a great voice, but not the right fit. It remains to be seen if this can be pulled off...

Heat the popcorn, it will be very interesting...

Brian Johnson Leaves AC/DC

It's been news for a while now that Brian Johnson, longest serving vocalist for AC/DC, is no longer singing for the band.

Notice I didn't say "left the band". It depends on whose side of the story you hear as to whether he left for of his own accord, or he was pushed. A rather contentious podcast recently suggested Brian was forcefully ejected after disclosing his serious hearing loss, however the official press release from the band suggests he left.

We'll probably never know for certain. Suffice to say that the band have now been through their 3rd singer in their 40 year career and they are now looking for another one.

The question that I need to ask is why wasn't hearing protection ever considered at some stage in the past? It's not that big a deal, really. It shouldn't have come to this. Iggy Pop may reckon hearing protection is for chumps, but if you're onstage every night for 40 years dealing with volume at that level, seems fair to use it, doesn't it?

Now I hear Angus on the lookout for a new replacement singer to complete the last 10 dates on the Rock or Bust tour. Initial signs are not promising but more on that later...

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Vale Lemmy

Inimitable frontman for Motorhead and former bass player for Hawkwind, Lemmy has died at age 70 after a short battle with illness.

Lemmy's rock and roll lifestyle has never been up for debate. Indeed, he never hid his vices either. The faster and louder aesthetic was, in a sense, a musical reflection of how he lived. However, he always seemed unflappable. He always seemed as though he was rock solid. Despite the fact he often sang about living in the moment and not giving a shit about tomorrow, it felt like he'd be around forever.

From a musical standpoint, his bass playing was more akin to a rhythm guitar player. Heavily strummed with a pick and played at massive volume, it had its own unique sound. You knew instinctively, as soon as it starts, that it's Motorohead.

The last album Motorhead released, "Bad Magic" was issued in 2015 when Lemmy was 69. It's one of the loudest and heaviest things the band have ever done. There was no signs of slowing down, or even changing the well-worn formula. Age did not weary him.

Vale Lemmy. Thanks for the music.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Vale Stevie Wright

Stevie Wright, aka Little Stevie, vocalist for the Easybeats, has died at the age of 68 on 27th December 2015, due to complications of Pneumonia.

Stevie was born in Leeds, England in 1947 and migrated to Australia at age 9. He joined as the Vocalist of the Easybeats with fellow migrants at the Villawood Migrant Hostel in Sydney when he was 17 (in 1964).

It's remarkable that by the time he was 22, the Easybeats had ceased to exist and he was, for all intents and purposes, a washed-up rock star. He did some theatre work in the form of Jesus Christ Superstar with John English and then had his biggest solo success with the albums "Hard Road" and "Black Eyed Bruiser" in 1974-5 before being dropped by Vanda and Young at Albert Productions for being heavily addicted to narcotics.

Sadly, Stevie's addiction held him down for the better part of two decades. It is well documented elsewhere the depths the addiction took him, the battles with electro-shock therapy moreso, so I don't need to go into them here. The only surprise to most is that he made it this long.

His contribution to Australian music cannot be understated. His charisma was fiery stage presence was of that, of not greater than that of John Lennon, if Molly Meldrum is correct (and I don't doubt it).

Those early Easybeats singles are still visceral and exciting 50 years later. Later tracks like "Evie" and "Guitar Band" crackle with soul. It was a real shame he couldn't go the distance. At one point he was viewed as the likely successor to Bon Scott in AC/DC, but with the addiction...

Vale Stevie. Thanks for the music.