I've seen the rock musician Adrian Belew probably five times now in various bands and musical assemblages – with King Crimson, with his Power Trio, and solo at least once if not a couple of times – but until a few weeks ago I always saw him playing his own music.
But Adrian Belew has participated in so many bands over the years that I should have expected him to show up with a friend in tow and do most of the friend's songs, which happened a couple of weeks ago at the HOB* in Boston, when he showed up with a member of the Talking Heads.
You may point out that Jerry Harrison isn't the main Talking Heads songwriter; however all songs on the album Remain in Light are credited to Talking Heads and Brian Eno, so Harrison gets credit for all of them. And since the name of the tour was "Jerry Harrison & Adrian Belew REMAIN IN LIGHT" I feel confident that a court of law would exonerate me from charges of falsely claiming that the band was playing mostly Jerry Harrison songs.
You're probably wondering if this is the part of my music review when I start writing in flowery and verbose language, highlighting nebulous, esoteric aspects of the concert, casting light on little bits of melodic nuance that would have gone over the head of the average concertgoer. Or, maybe the average person wouldn't have noticed the subtleties I focus on, such as contending that the power and elegance of Adrian Belew's singing was brought into sharp relief when juxtaposed to Harrison's croaking style, because the subtleties really weren't there, and I'm reading way, way too deeply into the music. Maybe I'm just using this concert as a way of calling attention to me instead of the band.
That's not my style.
I will tell you in the most straightforward, easy to understand expository prose that Talking Heads music is still great decades later, and that the musicians assembled played faithful renditions of it, with Harrison and Belew and a backing funk band called Cool Cool Cool generating a big, energetic sound that mimicked the Talking Heads stage act at the height of their popularity. Yeah, sure, it would have been great for it to be an actual Talking Heads show with David Byrne singing, but Adrian Belew can still bring it in his 70s, and not only did he collaborate with Talking Heads in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but he can sound a good deal like David Byrne when he wants to.
I can't talk about this night without mentioning the type of mildly irritating fan you might encounter at a general admission rock concert that makes you wish they would go get another beer and get stymied trying to return . Often it's a large man who needs about a six foot radius around himself at all times to enable him to shake and shimmy and dance the night away, while the rest of us are jammed together like a pack of cigarettes. Then he elbows you in the eye socket and turns to you with his hands raised like it's a stickup to indicate that he didn't mean it. But he goes on needing all that floor space the whole night. In this rather different case, I weaved my way onto the floor after the opener had left and stopped behind a man and his son who were best pals, arms slung over each other's shoulders, high fiving, hugging, and so forth. It was kind of sweet! But after the concert started, the tipsy Dad who was sloshing around his second or third tallboy can of beer kept pulling the teen boy close so that their heads touched and I couldn't see the show, even with my big shoes on. I kept eying vacant floor space so that I might slip away from peculiarly amorous father-son act. You're thinking, what's the big deal? Too many fathers and sons don't show love for each other so why complain about these two being best buds? Trust me, it got weirder and weirder as the man got more and more hammered. Plus, like I said, I couldn't see the show.
Eventually, I was able to slide to the left so that I didn't have to keep bobbing and weaving like Joe Frazier to see the musicians between the tilted heads of this overly-close pair. Meanwhile, my buddy Tim abandoned the area headed to the back of the venue floor to get away from them. It wasn't just me.
I'll probably keep going to Adrian Belew shows until they don't exist any longer, or I don't exist, which, if you were paying attention to my early blog posts of several years ago, may be a long way off, as I expect to live quite a bit past 100. Just need Adrian Belew to do the same.
*(I don't like to expand the acronym because my friend Todd hates the HOB).
I would venture to guess (without checking the interweb) that Ticketmaster was established something like 30 years ago. In my not fully informed mind, this was the start of online ticket sales, and I'm sure I was immediately irritated by the fees. Prior to online sales, if you wanted to see the Rolling Stones in Atlanta, you'd have to do what Hache Verde did when he famously tried to awaken our favorite acerbic high school principle at 2 in the morning to head to the Civic Center in Atlanta, GA to buy tickets for a show at Fox Theater.
Fast Forward to early October, 2022. I've obtained tickets for a strange double-bill: 1) Beck; and 2) a Montreal-based band called Arcade Fire. I bought the tickets to see Beck, figuring that, at worst, Arcade Fire would be harmless. Stranger still, I learn that Beck would be first to take the stage.
Shortly after buying these tickets and forking over exhorbitant fees, I encounter a friend – a Canadian friend, truth be told – whose daughter was playing soccer with my daughter, and I ask if he has ever heard of Arcade Fire. His reaction, at first, is to look at me for signs of a punch line. Then, he turns almost angry. "They're one of my favorite artists," he says, incredulous. That's the way Canadians are when you dis their favorite rock bands.
I had never heard of them.
Anyway, it seems I'm going to see this band, but only after the great American (nutty Scientologist, but who cares) Beck does an acoustic set.
So about a month before the show, I get an email from Ticketmaster, my favorite agency that has a monopoly on ticket sales, informing me that Beck will apparently not be playing at the Beck concert. Instead, a Haitian band I'd never heard of would be replacing Beck at the Beck show. Which, it seems, is not the Beck show, but is the Arcade Fire show. But I'm not to worry: "Your tickets are still good!" What a relief!
As you might imagine, I immediately seek to rectify the situation by telling Ticketmaster that I don't care that my tickets are still good. I don't want them anymore. To which Ticketmaster replies that "we are just the ticket vendor. The promotor is not offering refunds at this time." I then have my battery of lawyers reach out to MGM Fenway, the alleged promotor, to threaten the legal action if I do not get a refund. (In fact, I reach out to the Office of the Attorney General of Massachusetts to loudly complain about the bait-and-switch.) The acerbic high school principal, who is to accompany me, is about as interested in seeing Arcade Fire as I am. In other words, he isn't interested at all. I had already challenged him to find a single good song by Arcade Fire, something I could hang my hat on back when the worst of the situation was that we'd see Beck first and then would have to sit through Montreal-infused rock fare. Now a good song was needed just so that the night wouldn't be a total bust.
Meanwhile, I offer up our tickets for sale. Mind you, I had already bought tickets for $56.50, which came with a whopping $25.75 in fees (nearly half the ticket price). Now, by reselling through Ticketmaster, I would incur new fees. Additionally, people buying our tickets would also pay fees. (Yes, it did occur to me during this process that I have had a lifelong career in the wrong industry.) However, I was willing to take a modest loss, so I sought to price my resale tickets below other offers already listed. Alas, the evil promoter, which by now was quaking in its boots, disallowed the reselling of tickets at a price below face value. The best I could do was match what Ticketmaster was selling tickets for. And since there were still plenty of tickets left, only a sell-out would cause someone to buy my tickets.
A week before the concert, my acerbic friend and I were resigned to enduring this show. No doubt, we'd have fun, despite our lack of interest in the music and MGM Fenway's efforts to stymie us on reselling the tickets. Maybe we'd enjoy a drink, and there was still an outside chance that the music would be tolerable. This was something that we joked about relentlessly, as we were pretty sure that the music was not going to be our cup of tea.
When Arcade Fire finally came on and played their first song, Age of Anxiety I, my acerbic friend to turn to me and yelled, "This band is lame!" But from that point on, the band ripped through the rest of their set, playing an entertaining array of Québécois-infused pop music and ending the show with a superb rendition of the Pixies "Debaser."
The next morning, my wife, who had heard of my Ticketmaster and MGM Fenway complaints many more times than she cared to, asked me how the show was. "Strangely enough," I had to admit, "It was really good."
Never saw the Haitian band.
Each morning I wake up hoping that when I look at my handheld device I will be treated to some really awesome news. Maybe there's an email asking if I would mind terribly if a highly respected publisher would issue a hardcover edition of a novel I wrote in the 1990s, which they've not actually read but are guessing must be good. Or maybe someone wants me to join their rock band as their drummer, touring with them across the world, but only if i get a legit neck tattoo. (I'll do it!)
Better yet, maybe there is good news from the latest and greatest European war, the one that had been foreshadowed by the American government for weeks ("they are massing troops on the border; now they are bringing in supplies of blood."), news that tells us that the invaders had decided to go home instead of fighting on. Or that that Vladimir Putin, one of the biggest jerks in the 21st century, has been deposed – thrown in jail, made to scrub floors, and forced to write on a chalkboard 50 times "I will not invade a sovereign nation." In a just world, a-holes get their comeuppance and live through decades of having their names peed upon, euphemistically, by "the public at large." Then, after they die and are buried, we pee on their graves too, and not so euphemistically.
Alas, fantasies! The news of the world is generally pretty bad, and no one wants to read my novel or add me to their rock band. Not to mention that all of our hopes and dreams about Russians finally throwing off the yoke of oppression seems unlikely, given that protestors are apparently being given 15-year prison sentences for complaining about the war.
OK – a tiny bit of good news: it does seem that Ukraine has beaten back the invading hordes around Kyiv, taking back territory. Alas, even this has an awful side, as we find the streets of Bucha littered with executed civilians.
Maybe better news tomorrow.
When I was a kid, rock bands didn't design tours around playing a single album beginning to end. We the fans had to settle for listening to the hits at rock concerts.
You'd think a concert of nothing but hits like Howard is hearing tonight at the Fargo Dome would be perfect, but sometimes it's more perfect to hear a whole album, especially if you love it and have played it many times through. I didn't regularly listen to any Elton John albums beginning to end because I didn't own any. Probably Howard did, but would still prefer to hear the hits tonight.
My friend Tim recently confessed that he didn't particularly care for the full-album concert: there is no mystery as to what the next song is. For this, the priest told him to say three Hail Marys and an Our Father, and to sin no more. I'll concede that it can be fun to guess what the band will play next, but when I'm listening to an album I love, I'm rarely disappointed that I know the order of songs. Preparing for a climax that you know is coming any minute can be enormously invigorating.
I've seen four of these one-album shows, and I'm all for them. First I saw Liz Phair doing Exile in Guyville at the Paradise Rock Club in good old Allston, MA. Then Mike Doughty, twice, doing the first and best Soul Coughing album, Ruby Vroom, which includes "Screenwriter's Blues" and "True Dreams of Witchita," two of many "hits" for Soul Coughing fans on this album. And most recently, I saw the Irish American punk outfit Titus Andronicus do The Monitor beginning to end and back to beginning again (they played the first track twice!).
Now I'm ready to lead a campaign in which we the public conscript the band Spoon into service playing A Series of Sneaks beginning to end. Either that or Telephono, their first album.
Not sure if it will be an old-fashioned letter-writing campaign or if I'll employ social media. Stay tuned on those details.
J'Biden Era Haikuage
People's Arms. That's right!
200 million shots
In 100 days
We are good people
But we still have far to go
Repair. Restore. Heal.
There's nothing new here
The Affordable Care Act
We're restoring it
Democracy is fragile
The world is watching
Strategy is based
On Science, not politics
Truth, not denial
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