Fortunately for the Limousines, In-ter-net has the same amount of syllables as Ra-d-io, as this song, the Limousines response to the very first video on MTV, “Video Killed the Radio Star” from the Buggles, had to be written. It’s catchy for sure, and when I first put it on my iPod and played it in my car, I replayed it a couple of times, and it made me have to watch out I didn’t get myself pulled over, always a good sign.
I’m a little unsure about the video though; it’s a bit over the top, complete with the band rocking out post-apocalyptic style, kids escaping zombies (presumably rock and roll coming back to life – or maybe it’s all those dead video stars?) chase scenes, and zombie suicide scenes…a little much. But see what you think. With lines like, “Singing Glory Days are gone, but everything’s ok, ‘cause we still love our sex and drugs, just like the good old days”, and electrified disco beats, you’ll be noddin’ your head in no time.
The kids are disco dancing; they’re tired of rock n’ roll
Don’t bother telling them that drum machine ain’t got no soul
Wednesday, 8th March, 2011
The most important thing in music – any kind – is commitment to, and enthusiasm for the task at hand.
Craig Finn, the Lead Vocalist (Or more correctly, the Lead Talker, as my wife eloquently put it) of the Hold Steady is testament to this fact. He can’t sing, he can’t dance, and he has the stylistic fashion sense of a night out at the local golf club. And yet, as he spread his arms wide to embrace the crowd, and gazed down at them as he introduced the sweaty band after more than 20 exhausting, exhilarating songs, his plaintive passion and joy for his craft was so infectious, and so contagious, that I doubt there was a single soul in the room who even slightly noticed that this guy is kind of a major dork in a polo shirt.
“There’s just so much joy in everything we do up here. We’re the Hold Steady, and You’re Brisbane, and We Fucking Love You”
And as the band launched into the pulsing riff of “Stay Positive”, the singalong scripture “Woah, Woah”s came up from the crowd, and it was clear that these declarations of love were entirely mutual.
Rock music kind of got poisoned (by Poison?) in the 80′s with weird hair metal and “girls! girls! girls!” codpiece posturing. Musically, The Hold Steady come from an ancestral root of rock that remains untainted by such pollutants, while still retaining the “Cock-Rock” elements that make you want to punch the air. Overdrive pedals, power chords, pentatonic minor scales, tasteful guitar solos all form an infectious backbone for Finn to weave his literary narrative of modern living, of excess, and the supernatural, of faith and restitution. And the band themselves, were absolutely rock solid and amazing. It’s clear that the crew have gotten pretty good at producing this show. The sound was brilliantly mixed, you could hear everyone clearly. People will often complain about a bad mix, but forget to praise a good one.
Perhaps it’s just the Catholic ethos coming to the fore, but you sure do get a lot of value for money from your Hold Steady show. The band played for over 2 hours, drawing from their 5 album catalog, with standout tracks “Your Little Hoodrat Friend”, “Hot Soft Light” and “The Weekenders”. Finn riled up the crowd, encouraging them, singing and clapping along with them with a clearly evident passion and unbridled delight that comes from “Just another day in the Office”. (To be fair, I think he clearly loves his work a lot more than most of us)
The crowd at The Zoo was a mix of young and old, varying between old guys standing around nursing beers, and shirtless hardcore crowd surfers. The Zoo is a great venue to see a band – well set out, intimate and very Brisbane, with its windows wide open (to let the Hard Rock out.)
A lot of the appeal of the stories that are caught up in the Hold Steady lyrics comes from excess, substance abuse and reckless abandon, detailed through the behaviour of Finn’s characters, (how many bands have a dedicated wiki where people dissect and discuss characters?), and in a way, The Hold Steady have a natural fan base in folks who used to take a lot of drugs. But while it may have been one of the factors that drew me to them initially, the element that I walked out with after the gig was one of overwhelming positivity and enthusiasm. Of the fact that if you wholly commit to something, you can achieve it, no matter what. No matter if you are a dork in a polo shirt, you can lead the greatest little hard rock band in the world. Because you committed to it, with positive energy and love.
As the band returned to the stage for an encore (“You Can Make Him Like You”, “Killer Parties”), Finn told the crowd that he’d given up drinking for Lent. But then, he recounted, “I thought – this is Australia! I can’t give up drinking beer!” produced a Stubby from a nearby amp and toasted the crowd. “What the hell – This is a Godless Country anyway, right?”
And he’s pretty right – but this is certainly not a country without positivity and love and enthusiasm. Those things were abundant in the Valley that morning as we all spilled out into the street into the late summer air.
When you think about the lions of rock still roaring in the winter of their lives, there are many that come to mind, Mick and Keith, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, Elton John, and others, but one you probably don’t think of that often is one that has continued to roar and breathe new life into his music, even through years of declining record sales: Al Stewart. Stewart, well known for his two big 70s hits, the mystically enigmatic Year of the Cat and Time Passages, is on tour, (to the tune of about 80 dates a year) as he has been off and on for almost 45 years now. Even though the ‘80s saw an end to his popular success, he has continued to tour and release quality albums throughout the years, and his devoted fans still follow; Stewart obviously does not care about the hits, only satisfying his curiosity for history and how to incorporate it into his music.
As Stewart stated in a recent interview, he tries hard not to violate his “50-year rule,” trying not to write about anything that has happened in the last 50 years. “Until you have some distance, people get hysterical about overstatement. You have to put things in perspective.” Putting Al Stewart’s own life in perspective is somewhat difficult to do regardless of the time limits; a description of the lives he’s touched reads like a who’s who of famous musicians. He bought his first guitar from Andy Summers, (many years before the Police formed), was a key player in the British folk movement, roomed with Paul Simon, played with Cat Stevens, had Jimmy Page, Richard Thompson and most of Fairport Convention as session musicians on early albums, met, hung with, and backed a Yoko Ono film (of people’s bottoms) financially, well before she met John Lennon, and all of this in the ‘60s before he had achieved worldwide fame… I could go on, but you get the idea.
Stewart is absorbed…or rather, obsessed, with history (and wine) and one of the great things about his live show is how he imparts his favorite historical stories to the audience with an intellectual humor that belies the dust on the stories he pulls out. With great wit and charm, he tells his stories and then pulls the audience into his historical musical storytelling, building musical and historical threads to the past – with great guitar riffs.
Accompanying Stewart right now is his familiar sidekick Dave Rachmanoff, who played blistering lead guitar to complement Al, and nailed everything, including all of the complicated and beautiful Peter White riffs.
Nachmanoff, an excellent sideman guitarist, has been playing lead for Al since the mid-2000s, which is an accomplishment in and of itself, as he joins the platinum selling Peter White, as well as Jimmy Page, Tim Renwick and Richard Thompson, as past Al Stewart guitarists. Rachmanoff’s brother (who also happens to be a Virginia criminal lawyer), joined them on stage on bass, as he does for shows in the Washington, DC area, creating a three-piece set and an overall much larger sound than when Al has played by himself.
Noting before his song “Antarctica”, that there were two intrepid British explorers dispatched to find Antarctica during Britain’s Colonial days, and the first, who did not succeed and died on the return journey, is celebrated in song and story throughout England, while the man who actually was successful in getting the job done was lost to history and became virtually unknown over the years. “And that’s because,” he related, “for an Englishman, it’s better to have died trying to do something than it is to have actually succeeded doing it.”
Many of his classics were played, as well as some of Stewart’s more contemporary pieces. With “Lord Grenville”, his hauntingly beautiful song about the Elizabethan sailor and explorer Sir Richard Grenville, Stewart transports listeners away to days gone by; his storytelling ability creates vivid images of people and places long forgotten. The power of music lies in its ability to transport you to another place, and this is Al Stewart’s strength. His songwriting is unique, if he wrote a chorus, “it would have 200 words” he said; Stewart doesn’t do catchy choruses, but he doesn’t need to.
“On the Border” carries you along to Spanish ships running guns and tiny port towns and sounded great live, and Al pleased the crowd by playing the classic “Year of the Cat”, which Nachmanoff’s lead helped bring to life. As Stewart noted, after playing the same song a thousand times, “you need to work on playing it different ways to keep it exciting to you.”
Check out “Year of the Cat” below, as Stewart plays with a full band on the German Musikladen program in 1979. This is a reworked, extended version that is brilliant, absolutely worth checking out. Below that is a link to the newest Al Stewart release, a great live recording with Nachmanoff, Uncorked.
Tommy Gann is a musician who has put in the hard yards touring all across venues in Northern Virginia, DC and Maryland over the last two years. A talented multi-instrumentalist, he sings like a young John Mayer, and brings a mix of pop, rock and raw soul to his new, self-titled EP – available now on iTunes.