A blog for Seattle music lovers of all stripes, from hip-hop and indie rock to jazz and world music.
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December 7, 2013 at 11:51 AM
Eddie Vedder didn’t speak to the crowd until Pearl Jam was a few songs into its end-of-tour show at KeyArena Friday, but once he started, he kept up a conversation all night.
“We don’t have to travel anywhere, so we can give it all we got,” he said.
Seattle has seen plenty of memorable Pearl Jam shows over the decades, but Friday’s was epic: a 37-song, three-hour-plus set. Near the end of the encores Vedder even brought out Mark Arm and Steve Turner of opener Mudhoney, plus Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, and the Seattle supergroup ripped through “Search and Destroy.”
December 6, 2013 at 5:54 AM
When legendary singer-songwriter Joe Henry decided to book his first ever solo acoustic headlining tour, he selected just four cities. Seattle was lucky enough to rate, and on Saturday night he’ll play songs at the Triple Door from his dozen albums.
Henry chose Seattle not just because audiences here appreciate him — he was a radio favorite on the Mountain — but also because of a restaurant.
“I had to pick somewhere to play,” Henry said by phone last week. “So I chose cities where I have significant relationships with chefs.”
In Seattle, the restaurant is Brad’s Swingside Café, in Fremont.
“I’ve eaten there dozens of times,” Henry says, “and I’ve never once looked at a menu. Brad is just incredibly gifted.”
The same has often been said of Henry, who Paste magazine once said wrote songs “that don’t fit into an easily defined box,” an apt description of Henry’s entire career, which has encompassed many aspects of music. Though over three decades Henry has never scored a mainstream hit, his albums all contain a rare level of songwriting artistry. He’s also become known as a film composer, songwriter and producer.
Henry produced most of Bonnie Raitt’s recent “Slipstream,” Billy Bragg’s “Tooth and Nail,” the latest hit from Over the Rhine and also tracks by Taj Mahal, Solomon Burke and dozens more. He’s currently taking a break from producing to do these shows.
“I wanted to do these for no other reason than I’m a singer, and I feel compelled to play, to put myself out on the wire,” Henry said.
This isn’t Henry’s only Seattle appearance this season; he was just here last month on a book tour for his excellent new Richard Pryor biography “Furious Cool.” It’s an unusual book, more a grouping of stories on why Pryor was important and what made him who he was than a normal biography. But that’s exactly what you’d expect from Henry, who wrote it with his brother David. Ultimately, it is revealing and rewarding.
That same sense of creativity will no doubt inform Henry’s solo show. He said he picked songs driven by a “need for discovery.” To illustrate, he quoted the line from “The Waking” by Seattle’s Theodore Roethke: “I learn by going where I have to go.”
On Saturday, that need to be “out on the wire,” as he describes it, will take Henry onstage at the Triple Door. But you can bet that sometime during his stay in Seattle, he’ll be dining at Brad’s. He’ll be the guy who doesn’t need to look at the menu.
8 p.m. Saturday at the Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle; $25 (206-838-4333 or www.thetripledoor.net).
November 23, 2013 at 12:32 PM
The holiday season is here, which means traditions like Frangos, The Nutcracker at McCaw and the carousel at Westlake. But perhaps no Seattle holiday tradition is more welcome than Taj Mahal’s annual Thanksgiving stand at Jazz Alley, which started Friday with a wonderful show.
This is the 18th Thanksgiving Mahal has played Jazz Alley. He may be 71, but on Friday showed his chops are intact. He opened with “Fishin’ Blues” on his trusty National steel guitar, and it was played to perfection.
Over the course of generous 90-minute set, Mahal switched guitars and musical genres, often. Mostly he plays what he calls “sweet country blues,” but he mixes genres, and includes Caribbean-inspired rhythms.
Ably backed by Bill Rich on bass, and Kester Smith on drums, Mahal also can sidetrack to a history lesson of the ukulele. Though his repertoire rarely switches from two-dozen classics, this band finds new ways to make old standards feel fresh.
When Mahal switched to electric guitar, he ripped through “TV Mama.” It was like watching a guitar clinic, with the same dirty, funky sound you’d hear from The Black Keys, except this was nearer to the source.
But Mahal specializes in those sweet country blues, and so it was the closer, “Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes,” that was the night’s most resonant moment. He dedicated it to his daughter, who lives near Seattle, and who is the reason this Thanksgiving tradition started.
He said she wasn’t in the audience Friday, but would be later in the run. And though she may be the motivation for his trips here, it was clear Friday that Mahal has found a home at Jazz Alley, and that Seattle has embraced him as part of our cultural holiday fabric.
When he played Jazz Alley that first Thanksgiving two decades ago, it was one of the only places he did a multiple night stand, as blues players usually move from town to town. His booking at the club has gotten longer, and this year he’s doing 13 shows over eight nights. If every show is as good as Friday’s, it makes sense that people want to catch them all.
Mahal said onstage that you can dance sometimes sitting down, you just have to go to “the right church.” For Taj Mahal, and for Seattle, Jazz Alley has become his Church of the Blues. Amen to that.
November 22, 2013 at 2:56 PM
The finale at this year’s Experience Music Project Founders Award tribute to Crosby, Stills and Nash could not have been more predictable, but it was also appropriate — and magical. EMP’s annual Founders Award raises money for the museum’s youth programs, and each year Paul Allen handpicks a superstar act to honor at the big-ticket gala. Past honorees have included Carlos Santana, Buddy Guy and Ann and Nancy Wilson.
This year’s event Thursday night was the best Founders ceremony yet, perhaps because CSN’s folk rock sensibility fits so perfectly with the current crop of Seattle musicians who toasted them. Over two hours, a dozen local stars — along with visitors like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jason Mraz and Shawn Colvin — played their favorite CSN songs. Usually tribute shows lag, but this one started great and got better.
The Head and the Heart seemed like a perfect fit early in the bill, and it was. Their take on “Simple Man” was sublime and drew rousing applause. Pete Droge and Elaine Summers did a moving “Our House” which ended, appropriately, with a photograph of their own home.
Sean Nelson chose to go deep for a Byrds’ song, “Everybody has Been Burned.” Backed by a crack house band (including guitar whiz Ian Moore) it had a biting energy. John Roderick took on “Southern Cross,” and pulled off the difficult vocal shifts.
But the musical highlight of the evening came with Brandi Carlile’s show-stopping performance of “Long Time Gone.” She sang it as if she were Janis Joplin mixed with Joni Mitchell, and it was just the right mix of rough and sweet.
It wasn’t just Carlile who made the song come alive — Stephen Stills came onstage to play guitar, and proved that he still has incredible chops. In his remarks, Paul Allen noted that EMP had been inspired by Jimi Hendrix, but “as an aspiring guitarist, I was pretty interested in Stephen’s playing. He’s a killer guitarist.” Allen is right.
Allen cited CSN’s harmony singing and songwriting, but also their ability to tackle political issues. Dan Rather had been at the event early on, as he’s profiling CSN for a television special. Krist Novoselic was also present, and played accordion in the lobby.
When Crosby, Stills and Nash finally took the stage themselves, Nash said, “I can’t tell you how special it is to hear musicians we respect doing songs we wrote.” All three members thanked the crowd, and Stills joked that winning awards was a sign they had gotten old.
In a fitting move, it was a group of young musicians — Vuga De, from EMP’s youth programs — who presented CSN their actual award. That was a perfect set up for the finale, which anyone who knew anything about CSN’s catalog could see coming.
The Founders Award celebration raises thousands of dollars that go to music education programs. If there’s an unofficial theme song to those efforts it must be CSN’s “Teach Your Children.” So on that classic, CSN was joined by a dozen Seattle musicians. It was a touching, and perfect way to end a special night.
November 19, 2013 at 5:30 AM
This two-CD set captures 29 of the performances from the Crossroads Festival last April in New York. Eric Clapton puts this festival together every two years to benefit his drug-treatment center, and usually it’s been outdoors. This year he moved the fireworks inside to Madison Square Garden and even included local boy Robert Cray, who contributes an excellent “Great Big Old House.”
The set is dynamite. It helps that Clapton plays with an intensity on his seven tracks that he often lacks on his tours. But what really makes the show come alive is the pairings of players. Clapton, for example, performs “Lay Down Sally” with country guitar player Vince Gill, and it’s a fabulous rendition.
His duet with Keith Richards on “Key to the Highway” is somewhat less successful, as their styles don’t mesh as well and Richards sounds off his game. But when Clapton joins the Allman Brothers Band for “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad,” the results are epic. There’s also a two-disc DVD release with a slightly different track listing. Any fan of guitar rock will want them both.
October 15, 2013 at 3:40 PM
Editor’s note: You may recall that Charles R. Cross, who’s been following the Beatles most of his life, reviewed the historic concert by Paul McCartney at Safeco Field back in July, where two thirds of Nirvana sat in. Though earlier today we ran a wire service review of Paul’s new album, “New,” we asked Charles to weigh in, too. Here are his thoughts:
Paul McCartney, ‘New’ (Hear Music)
“New” is Paul McCartney’s latest, and 16th, solo album. The title is appropriate because it’s a fresh direction.
McCartney decided to audition several producers, but in the end couldn’t decide; so he used four. It’s a fresh approach, but results in a disjointed feel, as if this were a collection of singles (like early Beatles albums).
Giles Martin produced six of the twelve songs, and they are the least successful. “Looking At Her” simply has too many production flourishes, particularly its heavy use of distortion. Like McCartney’s choice to still dye his hair, this obvious ploy makes the 71-year-old sound like he’s unnaturally trying to look younger than he is.
In contrast, Mark Ronson does wonders on the rockabilly “Alligator.” Ronson, best known for working with Amy Winehouse, also did the title track, which is reminiscent of “Penny Lane,” with lovely horn parts.
The album’s best song, though, was produced by Ethan Johns. “Early Days” is the sparest song on the record but showcases McCartney’s voice, which remains strong and youthful. This ballad is autobiographical, but also bittersweet.
“We willed the thrill to never stop,” McCartney sings on “Early Days.” As an album, “New” may lack cohesion, but there are thrills Paul still can create.
October 15, 2013 at 5:30 AM
Maybe Pearl Jam’s new album, “Lightning Bolt,” should have been the album to earn the name “Ten.” “Lightning Bolt” is not only the group’s 10th studio album, but also one of its most consistent and mature.
The band’s 2009’s “Backspacer” proved Pearl Jam could still top the charts and stay relevant in a rock landscape much changed from the early years. “Lightning Bolt” may do even better on the charts because it achieves something few legacy bands manage: It takes a classic sound but builds upon it with nuance, so that it sounds new but without being jolting.
All the essential Pearl Jam touches are here: Mike McCready’s crunchy guitar solo on “Sirens”; Matt Cameron’s infectious backbeat on “Getaway”; Stone Gossard’s riff-heavy punch on “Let the Records Play”; and Jeff Ament’s bass thunder on “Infallible.” Pearl Jam has always been a better band in concert than on its studio records, but “Lightning Bolt” shows that performance gap narrowing, and the band sounds cohesive here.
October 14, 2013 at 12:12 PM
Bonnie Raitt was born to play Benaroya Hall. Her father was a Broadway singer, and her mother was his musical director, so it was no surprise Raitt started her concert Sunday with an opera joke.
“We’re going to do some Wagner,” she said. “The reggae versions.”
Instead, Raitt played a sublime two-hour concert Sunday evening, mixing blues burners and plaintive ballads. The show earned her several well-deserved standing ovations, and much applause for her stellar four-piece band. (more…)
October 11, 2013 at 12:07 PM
When Bonnie Raitt comes onstage at Benaroya Hall this Sunday, she’ll almost certainly put on a concert that will look effortless. Raitt has a voice as clear as it was 40 years ago when she dropped out of Harvard to learn the blues from Son House.
During those four decades, she has been on the road constantly. Her current tour started last fall after the release of “Slipstream,” one of her biggest albums in years. Her Seattle show comes after months of playing these same songs (along with her well-known hits, and standards like John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery”). (more…)
September 24, 2013 at 5:13 AM
Nirvana, ‘In Utero’ (Geffen/Universal)
There has never been an opening line of any album that was more self-referential, or revelatory, than the first words Kurt Cobain sings on “In Utero”: “Teenage angst has paid off well / Now I’m bored and old.”
Cobain was 26 when he composed those lines — just two years after Nirvana’s breakthrough album, “Nevermind” — and he already felt the weight of the world upon him. Those words, though, were quintessential Cobain: full of psychological contradiction, but also beguiling.
If that opening salvo from “Serve the Servants” seemed insightful when the album came out in 1993, 20 years later those lyrics seem prophetic. Next April will mark two decades since Cobain’s suicide, but this month represents the 20th anniversary of “In Utero.” The album is being rereleased today and given an extensive box-set treatment. There are five different format variations, with remastered and remixed tracks.
What will excite fans most is the “super deluxe” three-CD/one-DVD “In Utero,” which also includes the December. 13, 1993 MTV “Live and Loud” broadcast from Seattle’s Pier 48. It was an incredible performance, maybe Nirvana’s most consistent Seattle show, and it is captured here perfectly on the DVD and accompanying live CD.
Most hard-core fans will quickly skip over to the dozen previously unreleased demo recordings on the first two CDs of the set. Though some of this material has leaked out on various bootleg recordings, the sound quality on tracks like “Forgotten Tune,” which is an instrumental jam, makes you feel like you are in the room. There is, however, no lost “nugget” on this set like “You Know You’re Right,” though “Jam,” which ends the second CD, shows how musical the band could be even screwing around.
The set includes two full versions of “In Utero”: the first is the official released album with Steve Albini’s mixes, while the second has new mixes. Kurt was unhappy with the sound of “In Utero,” and for any audio engineer, or audiophile, it is fascinating to compare the various demos and mixes here of essentially the same songs. I prefer the new mixes, but that may be splitting hairs.
But it is the songs on “In Utero” that matter the most, and they soar. “Heart-Shaped Box,” “Pennyroyal Tea” and “All Apologies” represent the zenith of Cobain’s songwriting acumen; the album’s overall aesthetic, which leans more punk than pop, is admirable, too. Kurt wanted to step back from being a pop star, and he did so here by writing lyrics that were mostly about his own internal struggle.
“In Utero” was Nirvana’s third album, and it was the trio’s best. “Nevermind” will forever be Nirvana’s most famous album — and most influential — but “In Utero” is Cobain’s and Nirvana’s finest artistic accomplishment, if only for the songwriting. This deluxe treatment, whether you buy the single CD, or the vinyl or the full “super deluxe” set, is simply marvelous.
Two decades later, “In Utero” feels anything but “bored” or “old.”
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