ESO Podcast: Ryan Adams and A Rush Reunion

Tie-in for the ESO podcast for the week of January 14, 2019:

Ryan Adams didn’t release an album in 2018 but he’s making up for it: he’s teased no less than three albums for 2019, and the title and cover art are all ready for the first one, called Big Colors and due April 19 with 15 tracks – the first single’s called “Doylestown Girl” and it was released last week for airplay by Pennsylvania radio stations only. A second song, called “Manchester,” has just followed. The second album will be called Wednesdays; it has 17 tracks including collaborations with Jason Isbell, Emmylou Harris and Benmont Tench III.

Sleater-Kinney has announced their next album will drop in 2019 and is being produced by St. Vincent.

If you’re a Rush fan, you’ll want to head to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland on Saturday January 19 for Rush Fan Day, with a new exhibit of Lee’s basses from the collection he’s put together over 40-plus years, a Hall of Fame Series interview with Lee hosted by Alex Lifeson at noon, a book signing with Lee at 1 p.m., and a rebroadcast of Rush’s Hall of Fame Induction.

The event focuses on Geddy Lee’s new book, entitled “Geddy Lee’s Big Book of Beautiful Bass.” It’s a 408-page coffee table book that looks at Lee’s collection and also features interviews from other musicians, including Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, U2’s Adam Clayton, Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, Primus’ Les Claypool and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, and includes a graphic timeline of the bass guitar.

Tickets to the event are $125 for the general public and include admission to the Museum and all exhibits including the Lee bass collection, the Lee interview and exclusive signing, a commemorative credential and a copy of the book, which retails for $75. See, all worth going to Cleveland in January. 

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ESO Podcast: RIP Pegi Young, and Daryl Dragon; Royal Hong(u)rs, IDLES and David Bowie Is

Joining with the ESO Podcast in a look back at favorite moments of 2018: if you know me at all, you know what it is: the Cars’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past April, and with it the inductions of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Nina Simone. Once in a lifetime experience.

Pegi Young, a musician, philanthropist, and former wife of Neil Young, passed away January 1in California following a yearlong battle with cancer. She was 66 years old.

Pegi was well known as a co-founder (with her then-husband) of the Bridge School, a non-profit organization for children with physical and speech impairments (including their son, Ben, who was born with cerebral palsy). For 30 years from 1986 to 2016, the school’s annual benefit concert drew star performers like David Bowie, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Arcade Fire, Jack White, and a reunion of Temple of the Dog.

Before meeting and marrying Neil, she was a musician, and for many years toured with him as a back-up singer. In 2007 she launched her own solo career, releasing five folk/country albums and touring steadily. Her most recent was “Raw,” released in 2017, which as the title implies, was a portrait of the breakup of her marriage. “We go through things we may not’ve expected, what we thought was maybe our future,” she said. “But even if we get the shock of our lifetime, life goes on. You figure out who you are again, and you just keep going on. I’m a living persona of that.”

Also RIP to Daryl Dragon, AKA “The Captain” of Captain and Tennille fame, who passed away January 2 in Arizona of renal failure. Dragon was also a keyboardist and arranger who worked with the Beach Boys and the Carpenters, among others. The title of the Joy Division song “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was an ironic nod at the title of Captain & Tennille’s biggest hit. 

Michael Palin was just one of many, many people recognized on the most recent Queen’s New Year’s Honours list: Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason received a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for services in the world of music, and lead singer for the Alarm Mike Peters has been made an MBE (Member of the British Empire) for services to charity: he has raised thousands for cancer care projects after recovering from the disease. 

According to the BBC, these are awarded for prominent national or regional roles and to those making distinguished or notable contributions in their own specific areas of activity. An MBE, in particular, can be given for achievement or service in the community.

A new album is on the way from IDLES; the band announced that they’re writing a followup to “Joy as an Act of Resistance” in haiku form in a tweet on New Year’s Day: 

Oh hello new year!

There’s no time like the present

To write album three

Also, the “David Bowie IS” mobile app will be available for iOS and Android beginning January 8, which of course is Bowie’s birthday. Gary Oldman will narrate the virtual tour; he takes you through the Diamond Dogs tour here. 

ESO Podcast: RIP Ray Sawyer, New Thom Yorke and Cure albums, goodbye to a juke box hero

Starting out the New Year with a farewell: goodbye to Ray Sawyer, the former lead singer of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, later known just as Dr. Hook. His trademark pirate eyepatch gave the band its name; they were best known for their 1973 hit “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” which propelled them to headline status with a 23-year-old Bruce Springsteen opening for them. But they had others, including “Sylvia’s Mother,” “Only Sixteen,” and “When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman.” Sawyer was 81. 

Thom Yorke is finishing his solo album followup to 2014’s “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” which seems to be written if not recorded at this point. He says, “It’s been hanging there for ages, and it’s been [in] this live show, and we need to get it down into a record now.” The album is due for 2019. 

Yorke says the album is “very different to” anything he’s done before and describes it as “political” and “very electronic.”He detailed his process on the forthcoming release in an interview with Spanish news site El Mundo, saying “the method has been the opposite of depending upon the computer. It’s a strange process in which we construct a song in the studio, break it apart, we reconstruct it with a live mix and it turns out completely differently, and that’s when we record. We have improvised many sounds and effects. It has been a very strange way of making a record, which is very exciting.

The Cure have been touring and playing the festivals pretty prolifically for the past few years, including a residency at SSE Arena Wembley, a huge 40thanniversary show at Hyde Park and headlining the Meltdown Festival, curated by Robert Smith himself and featuring NIN, The Libertines, My Bloody Valentine, P-Furs, The Church, The Soft Moon, The Twilight Sad, The Anchoress, 65daysofstatic and others. But there hasn’t been an album in 10 years – the last one was 4:13 Dream in 2008. But that’s about to change, with a new album due possible as soon as this month. 

Classic rock bands have been called the last group of musicians who can tour without creating new music. You may not lump them in with classic rock, but a lot of bands from the Cure’s commercial heyday in the 80s are on the nostalgia circuit. Although he went through a lyrical dry spell over the past few years, Smith says that being involved in Meltdown has rejuvenated him. “(Meltdown) has inspired me to do something new because I’m listening to new bands. I’ve listened to more new music in the last six months than I ever have. I’m enthused by their enthusiasm. So if it doesn’t’ work, I’ll be pretty upset, because it will mean that the songs aren’t good enough.”

We’ll see how much of the new album makes their set lists when they head out again in 2019; they’re signed on for around 20 festivals already, starting in South Africa in mid-March and then across Europe over the summer. 

Former Foreigner lead singer Lou Gramm announced from the stage after a solo show at Proctor’s in Schenectady NY that the night marked his final show with his solo band.Although he has some dates scheduled for 2019 as part of the Rock Pack,a package tour act that includes Steve Augeri, Kelly Keagy of Nightranger, John Payne of ASIA and others, he’s apparently making good on his previously stated plans to hang up the mic.He said, “You get real excited when you start out in this business, but you’ve gotta be smart enough to know when to walk away from it too. And I just feel it’s that time for me.” 

So now it’s time to wonder: Given that Foreigner is on the wish list of some senior members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee (the late Ahmet Ertegun considered them one of his greatest signings), it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they’ll be one of the populist picks in the next couple of years. Would Gramm return for three more songs with Mick and company? 

ESO Podcast: One Last Time for Hamildrops, the Raconteurs Return, and an Encounter at the Edge of the Universe

From the ESO podcast for the week of December 24, 2018:

It all began in December of last year with the Decemberists, and on Friday, the “Hamildrops“ series came to an end with a fitting finale: “One Last Time (44 Remix)” features the show’s original George Washington, Chris Jackson, reprising his role, Bebe Winans and a gospel choir, and Barack Obama reciting a passage from Washington’s Farewell Address. Hamildrops.com

New Order will be reissuing their 1981 debut Movement in a new “definitive” four-disc boxed CD set edition, due out April 5, 2019. It will include the original album on vinyl LP with its original iconic sleeve, the album on CD (in replica mini-LP sleeve). The audio is thought to be the 2015 remaster. The last disc in this four-disc package is a DVD containing concert footage from two early performances and two TV studio appearances. In addition to the Movement re-release, the standalone singles  “Ceremony,” “Everything’s Gone Green” and “Temptation,” will be re-released on 12-inch vinyl with their original sleeves. The singles will be released one a week starting March 8.

Jack White’s band the Raconteurs have released their first new music in more than 10 years. An album yet to be titled will drop in 2019; two songs from it have been released with accompanying music videos, “Sunday Driver” and “Now That You’re Gone.” 

A musical based on her life opened on Broadway last week, and now Cher has announced that she will release her memoir in 2020 and that a biopic will also be released. 

On January 1, NASA’s New Horizons probe will achieve the most distant flypast in human history when it encounters the space object Ultima Thule at the farthest edge of our solar system. NASA felt that this occasion needed an accompanying anthem, and there’s only one person to turn to for that, so Brian May will release his first solo song in more than 20 years from NASA Mission Control in Greenbelt, Maryland on New Year’s Day. The song is called “New Horizons,” and May has released some teasers on his Twitter feed. “New Horizons” will have its global premiere broadcast live on January 1 at 12.02am EST (5.02am GMT) at the moment when the Ultima Thule encounter is confirmed.  

The Sound of Doors Swinging Open: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2019

And just like that, it’s here: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2019 has been announced. (ICYMI: the Cure, Def Leppard, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Radiohead, Roxy Music, and the Zombies). And quite a class it is. As pointed out by Future Rock Legends, it’s the biggest since 2004, taking up almost half the total ballot. There are no FYEs (First Year Eligible acts- thanks to the “Who Cares About the Rock Hall” podcast for the handy terminology), there are three FYNs (First Year Nominated) in Def Leppard, Roxy and Nicks. Not only are Hall watchers excited, but the music and mainstream media have taken positive notice as well–something no doubt being noted with pleasure in both Cleveland and New York. I thought this would be a bellwether year, and now that we can look at the trends, they’re interesting –and for the most part exciting–indeed. 

Notably, a few Rock Hall truisms bit the dust this year. Firstly, the Hall is starting to chip away in earnest at its long-held Americentric bias. We saw this really get started last year, when eight of the 19 nominees (Dire Straits, the Moody Blues, Eurythmics, Judas Priest, Kate Bush, Radiohead, the Zombies and Depeche Mode) were British. UK acts made up a slightly smaller percentage of the ballot this year (plus one German act in Kraftwerk), but whereas last year only saw two of those acts inducted (the Moodies and Dire Straits), this year every single UK act nominated will enter the Hall this March–five of the seven inductees, and all of the males and groups. 

Secondly, two living women are being inducted outright in the Performer category. It’s pathetic up until now, comments that the Hall won’t induct more than one woman/female act per class has been essentially accepted wisdom–and it never should be again. Although Nicks won’t gain another vote, Janet will get one, and that’s profound. 

Third, the Hall is basically admitting that yes, a larger class is possible. Rock Hall Monitors put forth a strong case for them a few years ago, and since then there have been pleas from all over. It’s common sense: going bigger is the only real way to address the backlog and achieve real diversity in classes, both in terms of historical era and subgenre, HBO demands be damned. Last year we had six, including the Early Influence with Sister Rosetta, and this year seven. It may not augur well for non-performers or the finale jam; we’ll have to see. This year’s jam could be delightfully weird if it happens. Worst case, it could push some potentially on-the-bubble acts (Dick Dale, Shangri Las, for example) to the Singles category. Do we have to have a trade-off? 

Fourth, it’s clear that the NomCom is trying to steer the ship towards more diversity, and however it was achieved (more on that in a bit), this year marks that shift clearly. Donnie Durham described it perfectly in his blog, so with thanks I’ll borrow it here: “60’s British Invasion, early 70’s Art/Glam Rock, pure classic rock, 80’s hair/glam metal, 80’s alt/goth rock, R&B/Dance/New Jack Swing, and modern alternative/indie rock.” It would have been pretty much impossible to get a bad class from this ballot (the NomCom deserves credit for navigating the competing demands placed on it so well) but it could have gone slightly more classic rock (using the Steven Hyden definition) with Prine and Rundgren, and set the stage for “more of the same.” Now doors are being opened all over the place, and as more of these up-to-now underrepresented acts go in, we’ll be looking back at the class of 2019 as the tipping point. The question is, will the artists/styles still left out in the cold (metal comes to mind) get in on the largesse? 

And fifth, for good or bad, the trend towards populism is in full effect and actually picking up steam. From the day the “Voice Your Choice” kiosks were installed at the Museum, the Hall dangled the carrot of them offering fans a direct impact on the ballot, and it’s clear that this was the case: the Hall proudly points out on its site that five of the top ten choices were included on the ballot. We have no way of knowing if this is coincidence or mandate. The Hall’s been assailed by both fans and artists (usually the ones who score higher on popular success than critical acclaim) about fan involvement, so it looks like they’re trying to appease everyone. If you’ve read this blog before, you know I’m a n elitist snob believer in lasting influence over commercial impact and in expert opinion that takes the long view so obviously, I’m not so down with this. 

A few thoughts on this year’s inductees: 

The Cure: A big surprise for most of us-I know I gasped out loud right off the bat on seeing their name. Not only is their induction a nod to their legacy, but it’s also pivotal for other 80s New Wave/alternative acts and bands that followed, like the Smashing Pumpkins (whom the Hall can’t continue to ignore). 

Def Leppard: Not one of my initial choices, but I hear the arguments for including them as part of a complete portrait of the 80s and as a pivotal act in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. They’re also good guys who’ve stood by their bandmates, paid homage to their forebears and dammit, they’re going to make that ceremony fun. I’m down with it, especially if Dr. May does the honors.

Janet Jackson: I predicted her, and there’s no arguing that she had momentum, but I still wasn’t completely convinced. In this case I’m happier for her fan base (Kristen Studard’s response was just a MOOD), especially those at Induct Janet, who always took the high road and persevered through disappointment. Congrats, guys: It’s an incredible feeling – enjoy every minute. 

Stevie Nicks: Her solo career is marginal on paper, but this is a case when that’s beside the point. Simply, she’s a powerful symbol for women and for a whole new generation of female performers–there’ll be no shortage of A-listers ready to pay homage. 

Radiohead: Well, finally the complaining can stop. 

I was never on board with the idea that their not getting in last year was “punishment”: You can call the Hall a “piss stain” or beg to be excluded and it’ll still put you in. But if they didn’t make it purely on the basis of votes, the composition of the voting body didn’t change that much in the intervening year, and in fact tipped a little more towards classic rock. It’s plausible that the Hall, mindful of the uproar and its effect on credibility (something they’re usually studiously oblivious to), massaged the results. Not a comment on the band, but rather on the system, how problems are handled, and why we won’t see transparency here anytime soon. 

Roxy Music: As Nick Bambach said, they’re the missing link for experimental art rock, and much like the Cure, it’s a huge moment for their artistic peers and heirs. T. Rex’s chances stand in a new glow, and Duran Duran is already being touted as a frontrunner for next year. And of course, Brian Eno finally enters the Hall – will he be another multiple inductee? 

The Zombies: This one puts a smile on your face – how can anyone not be charmed? Good to think that fans will discover more of their output beyond the three big singles. What remains to be seen is if, as widely thought, this is the grand finale for the 60s, with acts like The Monkees, the Marvelettes and the Shangri-las relegated to the Singles category.  Hopefully not. 

So there you have it. Although some deserving names–Kraftwerk, LL Cool J– are still missing, it’s a great class – and my list of Hall of Famers seen live goes up by two with Def Leppard and the Cure. A few surprises will be in store between now and March 29 as we hear about the inductors and possibly the Singles category. There’s a lot to look forward to. 

The Home Stretch: Random Thoughts on the 2019 RRHOF Fan Vote

It’s December – anticipation is running high, and there’s magic in the air. Yes, the announcement for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2019 is nigh. And oh yeah, the holidays are coming, too. 

Gotta start with a big thanks to Future Rock Legends for keeping track of the numbers, letting us know when something happens and publishing those handy-dandy graphs. We numbers junkies salute you. 

The Hall monitors have been busy analyzing the ballot and making insightful predictions. I can’t improve on their work, so PLEASE check out the quality blogs listed in the blog roll on my home page. I’ll make a go of some predictions, and note a few interesting events that have happened over the past eight weeks relative to the fan vote. 

OK, let’s get predictions out of the way: 

Who I’d like to see inducted: Todd Rundgren, Janet Jackson, The Zombies, Kraftwerk, MC5 

Who I think will be inducted: Def Leppard, Stevie Nicks, The Zombies, Janet Jackson, Todd Rundgren 

This is all based essentially on “feel.” I wasn’t too sure about Todd, but he may just have the name recognition for the voting committee. After watching how the Hall has handled the Musical Excellence designation in recent years, that’s not how I want him to go in, although having six names in is better than five. 

At one time I was convinced Radiohead was a lock, but not now. I still don’t think it’s a case of punishment, although a many do (See: Sex Pistols and “piss stain”) but I think things are going to continue down what’s essentially a classic rock path still. To be honest, this makes me a little nervous about Janet’s outlook, which I hate, but looking at the list, it just doesn’t seem like “the year” for most of the acts. Roxy may have a chance if enough Brits turn out for them, likewise the Cure, but I think it’s an outside one at best. 

Again – if the class does slants to classic rock despite the ballot, the Hall has some work to do. Will the NomCom respond by gradually watering down the classic acts beyond the “marquee” name they seem obligated to include? As I’ve said before, 2018 will be a pivotal year in the direction the Hall takes. 

Up until the past few days, the fan vote has been one of the most drama-free on record, and Votem continues to improve the interface (being able to check standings without voting should have happened before now, but it’s nice to have regardless). 

But it wouldn’t be the Hall without some drama somewhere. Earlier this week, I was alerted that fans on the Rundgren and Zombies Facebook pages are using random temporary email generators to pad the votes. It seems like a lot of extra work to me, but I guess there’s no foolproof system. It’s nothing like the bot invasion of 2014, but disappointing nonetheless. 

Early on, Questlove went on a mini-rant that I found a little odd, given that he certainly knows how the system works and how much the fan vote counts for: 

I’m not sure, but I think this is Janet’s highest finish ever; the Jan Fam is sensing her momentum. I feel there’s a tendency for fans to go all out in the first year out of excitement, then if they don’t make it in there’s a dropoff, then on the third year they realize there’s a shot and get a little better. After that…? NIN fans are probably –and rightfully–pretty disgusted at this point. 

And just this past week, I saw that the Hall retweeted a tweet from the Zombies, offering the ribbon from their current exhibit in a drawing of fans who’ve voted 50 or more times. This means that info is being kept about which URLs are voting for whom and how many times, and that info is being given to the acts. Interesting. In this case it’s happened fairly late in the game and a fan has to have already done the work, but in the future will we see acts offering incentives? That doesn’t seem right.  Apparently it’s “very legal” but I’m not sure it’s “very cool.” 

At any rate, we’re less than three weeks away from having a new Rock Hall class to cheer, puzzle over and analyze. See you at the announcement! 

ESO Podcast: A Night at the (Rock and Roll) Museum

For the Earth Station One podcast:

The first major art museum exhibition dedicated to rock instruments will open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 8th, 2019.  

“Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll,” will feature more than 130 instruments dating from 1939-2017 and used by artists including the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Metallica, Jimmy Page, Steve Miller, St. Vincent, The Rolling Stones and others. 

Most of these instruments have never been seen outside of performances; they’re drawn from more than 70 private and public collections in the U.S. and the U.K. 

Some of the featured items will include Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” Strat, Eddie Van Halen’s “Frankenstrat,” Keith Emerson’s Moog synthesizer and Hammond organ, and drums from Keith Moon’s “Pictures of Lily” drum set.  Also included will be vintage posters, famous stage costumes such as Jimmy Page’s dragon outfit that he wore from ’75-’77, and historic videos.  

The exhibition will be on display at the Met through October 1st, 2019, before moving to The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in November 2019. 

***

If you weren’t able to catch the “David Bowie Is” exhibition, or you want to relive it, the David Bowie Is augmented reality app will be available beginning January 8, 2019, on what would have been Bowie’s 72nd birthday. It will be available in seven different languages for both iOS and Android. The AR version will be released first with the VR version to follow later in 2019. 

The app will let you explore hundreds of costumes, videos, handwritten lyrics, original works of art and more at your own pace. The AR version, a first of its kind, mirrors the physical exhibition through a sequence of audio-visual spaces. 3D renderings preserve and present everything in 360-degree detail, along with an immersive audio experience featuring Bowie’s music and narration, best experienced with headphones. The app will also feature almost 60 items not included in the original exhibition, some entirely new and exclusive to this AR version.