I have to be honest, when my biggest hero announced he was releasing a country album of cover songs from The Everly Brothers with Norah Jones on November 25th, my first thought was: "Billie Joe, what the hell?!" I was afraid to listen to it, afraid it would be a disaster, worried I'd have to write my first negative review, or not write a review at all, and I was dreading it. Seriously dreading it. Most of all, I was dreading how it would be received by the public at large, so close on the tail of Green Day's album trilogy and all the drama that ensued. As it turns out, my fears were completely unfounded. Foreverly is a special little gem of an album that takes us back to bygone days when life was simple, at least in our memories, and music came straight from the heart with just a few instruments to carry it along. Taking me back to my roots, never before in my life have I been so happy to be wrong.
Country music with heart, Foreverly is swimming in the creek on a hot and humid summer day, or hanging out on a wooden pier with your best friend and a fishing pole, or playing tag in an overgrown meadow in the bright sunshine and feeling like the whole world is wide-open, safe and happy. It's Momma cooking fried pork chops and turnip greens with the smell of fresh-baked cornbread in the kitchen while you and your sister do homework and talk about your day. Growing up in the South, Foreverly was like going home.
Staying true to the intention of The Everly Brothers and pulling it off to perfection, there are no big, bolstering vocals or angry, defiant tones from Billie Joe's signature style, which was different, but in the best possible way, proving a surprising range and possibly a new path of self-expression to break up the monotony of rock opera mega-hits. And Norah Jones, bless her precious heart, sounds like she was born a country singer, inspiring flashbacks of the soft, emotional, pure country melodies of Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. The biggest take-away from this album are the vocals between Billie Joe & Norah that blend so beautifully.
The album opens with "Roving Gambler," a banjo and harmonica-filled dance song with a traditional country beat that easily meshes with the sawdust floor, foot-stomping dance at the VFW on a small-town Friday night. It's just a fun song that sets the stage for the second song "Long Time Gone," a sing-a-long that empowers women everywhere to kick that cheatin' man to the curb.
"Lightening Express" sounds like a lullaby. Not totally country, it has the tone and style of a Christmas song, except depressing as hell. It's about a boy who's stowed-away on a train to get home to his dying mother. Reminding me of "The Christmas Shoes" by Newsong, it choked me up and brought tears to my eyes, which was exactly the point.
"Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine" is an upbeat song of pure backwoods bluegrass from the state fair that sounds like a small-town 4th of July picnic laden with stars and stripes and apple pie, or maybe a rodeo with barrel racing cowgirls. It made me want to put on a cowboy hat and roper boots and jump on a horse, if I wasn't, ya know, deathly afraid of horses.
"Down In The Willow Garden" is another slow-rider that sounds like a love song, but is really a morbid little ditty about killing a girl and throwing her body in the river, lest we forget The Everly Brothers were a gruesome bunch. Changing tactics before we all drown our sorrows in a bottle of Jack Daniels, "Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet?" is a sweet song to a new baby, reminding us all that life goes on, and it can be pretty special in the simplest of ways.
"Oh So Many Years" is a wonderful, sweet, old-fashioned love song that makes the heart sing. With a nice guitar riff, piano accompaniment and awesome vocals, it is, in my opinion, the best song on the album. "Barbara Allen" features Armstrong going solo, with Jones singing backup vocals. Not quite as country as the others, except in the chorus, Armstrong pulls off a solid song with nice strings and excellent vocals, as usual. This one sounds right at home in a pub with beer glasses raised in a toast to a beloved woman.
"Rockin Alone (In An Old Rockin' Chair) tells the sad tale of a neglected elderly woman sitting alone in a rocking chair with no one around to care about her. The beautiful, heart-wrenching lyrics and vocals have an emotional pull that sucks you right into the story and forces you to pay attention. In direct contrast, and I'm sure this wasn't the intended reaction, so let me apologize in advance, the song "I'm Here To Get My Baby Out of Jail" made me laugh. With a deep-South blues undertone, this country song is about a long-suffering, dying Momma trying to do right by her ungrateful son who's always in trouble before she leaves this world for good.
The song "Kentucky" is all about the vocals for Norah Jones, who's longing for her beloved home state of Kentucky. With easy, simple lyrics, this song puts the listener in a bluegrass state of mind. "Put My Little Shoes Away" makes you close your eyes, lay your head back and simply listen. In the style of a gospel song you'd hear in church, it's calling the boy home to heaven on the golden wings of angels.
With the juxtaposition of simple and pure versus complicated and dramatic lyrics, The Everly Brothers were an iconic musical group whose music successfully zeroed in on the heart of the matter, in both joy and sadness. To hear them honored in this unexpected way was a gift Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones presented with tremendous grace and beauty. Hopefully, they'll gift us with more surprises like this in the...
What happens when a cyber-terrorist attack in the year of 2020 on America's immigration database leaves thousands of Iranian immigrants vulnerable to deportation? The exploitation of one woman's powerlessness by giving her the choice of participating in a research program to create genetically modified humans in exchange for a Green Card, or going back to Iran and facing imprisonment or worse for her political activism. This is the premise of the film Refuge, written and directed by up-and-coming Iranian-American independent filmmaker Mohammad Gorjestani. Featured as an episode on the PBS FutureStates series at http://futurestates.tv/episodes/refuge, Refuge explores the dilemma of self-preservation verses the moral greater good, and asks each of us to decide which choice we'd make when faced with the impossible.
With a gritty, realistic tone and style, Gorjestani successfully sucks you in with the bitter truth that the 'American Dream' of old is no longer viable and the protagonist Sonia could be your beloved next door neighbor or the grocer you buy your bread from or your daughter's college roommate, that it can happen to anyone at any time when technology obliterates privacy and there's no real place to hide. With the broader political implications of this film that are being debated today, I met with Mohammad Gorjestani via Google email chat to get his thoughts on the film and the thought-provoking message, and in my view warning, inherent in Sonia's story:
1) For me, the film was about the escalating use of technology in warfare. In this case, you touched on cyberwar. The GM embryos, though their purpose wasn't actually stated, appeared to be about the creation of super-soldiers. Is that right?
I think everyone takes away different elements from the film that resonate with them the most. For me, the presence of technology in the film, from cyber warfare to facial identification, is part of the picture of a possible future -- one in which security is prioritized over personal freedom and privacy. Today, you see this tension playing out in issues from the NSA leaks to Facebook policy changes, and I wanted to imagine what the future might be like if our society continued to drift in this direction, the trajectory steered by technology. It seemed natural to imagine cyber warfare as an increasing battlefield in this vision of the future.
This "new normal" is the backdrop to the film, but the main focal point is Sonia, a character who symbolizes the potential cost and effects of this kind of societal shift. She's both a struggling immigrant and a collateral victim of an international conflict. Sonia is a character who is simply trying to do the right thing and make the most out of her opportunity to be in the U.S. She's the type of person who, according to the "American Dream," should be rewarded for her hard work. I wanted to lift that veil and peer into the reality of what that experience might be like.
Regarding super-soldiers, yes, that's what is alluded to in the interactions between Sonia and Reza, and his offer of a Green Card in exchange for carrying a genetically-modified embryo.
2) Exploiting a race of people and their situation to have an advantage over the "enemy"?
In the final scene of the film, we see a 4th of July neighborhood party with Sonia on the steps looking on, but not part of the celebration. For me, this was a visual metaphor for the greater immigrant experience -- a part of society but also separate from it. Immigrants are so fundamental to the American way of life and our economy, and yet they exist in the shadows and on the margins. So, I was thinking less about how the US might create an advantage over the enemy, and more imagining how the way things are now might continue and morph into the future.
3) And her being torn between two conflicting loyalties? Wanting to stay in the US where she's safe, both physically and politically, but being morally opposed to GM?
Yes, this is the "making a deal with the devil" aspect of the film. There's really no right choice. It's an elaborate bureaucratic/political version of entrapment. I was interested in how a person like Sonia, with strong values and sense of self, might end up having to relinquish those values for the greater promise of staying in the U.S.
4) What was the inspiration for this film? Was there a specific moment that clicked for you?
I thought it would be interesting to explore an idea for a film set in the not-too-distant future where technology, immigration, and government had dovetailed in potentially perilous ways. Within this context, I also wanted to look at the question of why immigrants are often willing to pay a high price to live a life that many of us take for granted. With Sonia, we have a young, ambitious, and independent character that left a troubled situation in Iran to pursue an education and the American dream -- which ultimately proves to resemble more of a nightmare. I wanted to place Sonia in a situation and give her a choice to make, which blended irony and allegory, and which directly conflicted her values. Ultimately, Refuge is a story about a character facing an extraordinary circumstance, and falling victim to a geopolitical conflict reflective of a world we could all soon live in.
I think the wrong way, or the "Hollywood way" to make this film would have been to focus on the institutions and governments as the primary characters, and place the geopolitical conflict at the forefront. I don't think that kind of film is a bad film, but it plays out a grand scale that doesn't resonate emotionally. When you strip back the spectacle of international conflict, you're left with common people who are being affected by something they have no association with. I'm interested in those type of stories. The ordinary person placed in an extraordinary, but realistic situation. And instead of looking at how a person survives that situation -- like so many movies seem to -- I think these stories present an opportunity for us to explore the realities of a greater world through a complex, human lens.
5) With genetically modified food so prevalent now, and the controversy surrounding it, do you see genetically modified humans next on the evolutionary track?
Aren't we already seeing it? =)
6) What are your thoughts on cyber warfare?
It's fascinating because it's happening now, but so many people are unaware of it. It's rarely, if ever, front page news. And we're not just talking about rogue hackers armed with a PC and a grudge, it's major government operations such as the "Operation Olympic Games" virus which the US and Israel allegedly used to shut down Iran's nuclear facilities. This summer, documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that China and the US have been hacking each other since 2009. And just this month, the head of Iran's cyber warfare division was assassinated. The real threat of cyberwar is it's expansive reach and the vulnerability of central systems such as banks, energy facilities, water plants, etc. It's not just about hacking into a computer to steal information, imagine a cyber attack on a water facility to release more chemicals into our water supply. Like any stealth offensive, by the time we become aware it's likely already causing damage. And since to most people this sounds like science fiction, it mostly continues to fly under the radar and isn't part of our public discourse.
7) Is this film concept science fiction to you, along the lines of the flying cars of the 1950s, or do you see it as an inevitable future for the human race?
I think whether aspects of the film are inevitable or not is up for debate, but I think there are certainly elements in the story that represent a possible future, and one that's not very far off. Also, I just read that flying cars are being tested in Slovakia, and that Elon Musk is making a submarine car =)
8) Could this concept have been applied to any group of immigrants and you just happened to choose Iran because you are Iranian and it felt more personal, or do you see a broader political issue with Iran, or even the Middle East specifically?
I think this is a universal story not specific to one community or to any one character. I'm drawn to telling stories that I can take out of my own well of experience and life. I was born in Iran and having nearly all of my family back home allows me to have a very unique perspective on the escalating tension between the two countries (both of which I'm citizens of). There's no question that Iran is a hotspot right now politically, and there is a turbulent history between the two countries, extending back to the CIA's overthrowing of Mosadegh to pave way for the Shah in the 50's, to the hostage crisis in 80's, to the US supplying Iraq during the Iran/Iraq war, to the conflicts we see today over nuclear facilities, etc. -- so this adds a sense of relevancy to the story. But these are conflicts between governments and not necessarily representative of the people.
One of my favorite things that happened this past year was the US and Iranian Wrestling teams competing in LA and hugging and embracing each other after the competition . Most of the Iranians I know love Americans and most Americans I know love Iranians.
Think about that irony for a minute. Indeed.
Gorjestani recently received a San Francisco Film Society KRF Filmmaking Grant for his first feature-length film, titled Somehow These Days Will Be Missed that goes into production next year and can be found at
The documentary Broadway Idiot is less about the process of turning Green Day's smash-hit concept album American Idiot into a Broadway musical and more a poignant portrayal of Green Day's frontman Billie Joe Armstrong's journey from the big stages of rock-n-roll to the scary, unknown realm of musical theater. Often heartbreaking, Armstrong and director Michael Mayer approached this unlikely collaboration with an honesty so extensive, it's impossible not to root for their success, for no other reason than because it is so inspiring.
"We don't know what to call it. It's not an opera really... so I don't know how it's going to go down," Mayer described the musical prior to its Broadway debut, exhibiting an uncertain vulnerability that contradicted all the hype and marketing, but what resonated for me the most in this documentary was the vulnerability in Armstrong himself. Normally cocky and self-assured onstage with his band when Green Day is performing to thousands of fans on any given night, to see this side of him as he learns the ropes of theater performance as a newbie is the gift of having a front row seat to his blossoming, to the place he found by accident where it was obvious to everyone he truly thrived.
Speaking about the positive support system so different from the competitive eat-their-young mentality of the music and film industries, nothing emphasized this more than in the candid interview where he described the effect becoming part of this musical had on him after his experience of the early days when he was learning the ropes in the music industry, "In the old days, coming from sort of an underground scene, there was a lot of bands that you would watch that were your friends' bands and things like that. You know, everyone would sort of feed off each other and have fun, but at the same time be learning. Once Green Day took off, we started losing that. We were losing friends. Which is fine. You only need a few... It just became difficult to sort of find kindred spirits... It didn't happen in rock-n-roll. It happened in theater. That's the thing that blindsided me."
"You only need a few" sums up the pain that rejection in the early days caused him, compared to the discovery of the kindred spirits he found when he embraced the passion and "seductive and inspiring" bug of the theater. Billie Joe Armstrong had been bitten and watching him onstage in the role of St. Jimmy was magic. Describing St. Jimmy as a "part of myself," Armstrong reveals that all the characters in one way or another were part of the whole of his entire life experience. From the unexpected and unplanned family in his late teens, early 20s that forced him to grow up, to the demons in his addictions he portrays in St. Jimmy, to his coming of age amid the rock-n-roll scene, Armstrong gives a little bit of himself in every facet of the storyline. When he said "This album is my baby, so I wanna make sure nobody fucks it up," it's apparent he isn't speaking from the ego of a rock star.
Broadway Idiot is screening in San Francisco from Friday, October 18th through October 24th at The Vogue, and I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone who wants behind-the-scenes access to the imperfections and inspirations of the creative process, where egos and individual agendas are checked at the door in lieu of a collaboration of kindred spirits intent on creating art, and the outcome is merely an...
I'm told Joey Ramone of The Ramones, the punk rock icon who graced us with songs like "Beat On the Brat" [with a baseball bat], was actually a very tolerant, gentle, progressive soul. With this in mind and in contrast to the tone and lyrics of his music, speculation about how he'd react to today's modern punk scene, and especially to the punk wannabes who wear Hot Topic like a badge of honor, is a mixed bag of evolution and mutations I believe he'd embrace, ridiculousness he'd flat-out reject, and stagnation and stubbornness he'd be resigned to accept, if only for the nostalgia.
Hands-down, "Punk You Let Me Down" by Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits is the funniest 'f**k you' song I've ever heard, if for no other reason than because of the blatant truth and honesty in the lyrics so many current and former "punks" don't have the guts to express themselves, and the smack-down of its delivery in the context of a rap song. The icing on the cake lies within the catchy beat that throws this song right into the heart of mainstream top 40 music, a position reviled with such contempt by punk scene purists that the insult of it would be considered beyond redemption. Put all of this together and you've got a band who created a song that hit its target with the precision of a sniper in a shooting gallery.
This ability to hold a mirror up to society, even when society is their own backyard, through satire and cringe-worthy honesty is the genius and greatest strength of Bobby Joe Ebola. It is also their biggest so-called weakness and the ultimate inspiration behind this song; because their music didn't fit into the mold some punks felt it should; because it was different and therefore rejected by this same group of punks; because even in this microworld of purity and idealism that prides itself on nonconformity therein lies a certain expectation of conformity. For all of these reasons, Corbett Redford and Dan Abbott, frontmen for Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits, wrote a song to tell these punks exactly where they could stick their time-warped vision of themselves, with hilarious results.
If this were another genre, like country music or even hip-hop, the rejection Bobby Joe Ebola experienced would be almost understandable, considering the rigid expectations of the consumers who buy the music, but punk rock is supposed to be different. The entire premise and the history they glorify was founded on dissent, stepping away from the norm and pushing boundaries, something some members of the calcified old regime stubbornly refuse to acknowledge, forcing Bobby Joe Ebola to slap them with a very harsh reminder.
So the question remains, would "The Ramones... tell your ass to shut up" as you wallow in the glory days of the '80s while snobbishly judging those who have evolved from it? Would Joey Ramone be appalled at today's punk scene or would he embrace it all with nary a negative word? How would he compare the punk of his heyday to the punk scene we have now? I don't know, but I hope like hell, at the very least, as Corbett Redford put it "... he might cringe at some of the emo/screamo Warped Tour/Epitaph hair bands that are making the...
Last Saturday morning I awoke with a burning desire to eat Froot Loops and watch Saturday morning cartoons. I'm not sure what prompted this regression into childhood, except it probably had something to do with getting Bobby Joe Ebola's latest project in...
What do you get when you combine hot guys, insane musical talent and a bent towards Big-Bang-Theory-like geekiness that loves science and space? The Phenomenauts, coming to a space station near you. From London to San Francisco to The Static Room recording studio in Oakland, Cali., The Phenomenauts are like...
It's kind of hard to imagine four teenagers living the charmed life of being born into families who can open any door with just a phone call feeling Lost At Seventeen, but like teenagers everywhere making the transition from carefree kids in high school into the challenges of adulthood and making it on their own, the guys in Emily's Army struggle with the rest of us to prove themselves on their own terms. Indicative of the prevailing notion of altruism with their generation, 'their own terms' includes at the forefront, using the advantages of their upbringing, and the doors that fall open as a result, to find a cure for cystic fibrosis, a cause so personal to them, they named the band to reflect it.
Emily is the cousin of Max Becker, lead singer and bass player, and Cole Becker, lead guitarist and singer, and both primary songwriters for Emily's Army, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was two years old, not expected to live beyond her 12th birthday. She is now 17 and a dancer, with a life expectancy of 38. Her struggle inspired the brothers and two of their best friends, Joey Armstrong, drummer, and Travis Neumann, guitarist, so much, they aligned with her under the banner of Emily's Army in grade school and set out to raise awareness to help her, creating not only a band, but also the Emily's Army Foundation with Pipeline for a Cure.
Recently recognized as a band to watch in 2013, Emily's Army makes their national debut this year as a fully touring band on the entire Vans Warped Tour throughout the summer, before traveling to the U.K. for approximately ten shows amid the release of their second full-length album Lost at Seventeen through Adeline Records and Rise Records, respectively, produced by Grammy award winning artists, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and Sound Engineer Chris Dugan.
A pop-punk riot full of snarky teenage angst, Lost at Seventeen tells the story of teenagers on the brink just trying to figure things out, while mocking the world around them, the girls who have rejected them and the idiots who have crossed their path. Max describes their sophomore album as "Kind of like Catcher In The Rye... where it's stuck between two stages of life, where you're trying to figure out what to do and you honestly don't know what's going to happen..." To reinforce this, the album opens with "Part-Time Bum," that begins as a throw-back to late seventies punk before diving into the funny dance vibe of pop-punk, slash, surfer beach bash about a guy who spends all his time laying around the house or hanging at the beach, and who's "job" is washing dishes and doing other chores as he bums off his parents. "Gubermensch" mocks the bully who lives life with a chip on his shoulder and an angry stance; and "Avenue," my favorite song on the album, is a simple plea of unrequited love, set to a catchy beat and easy lyrics. "I Am The President" has all the expected political attitude of a punk rock song, but "War" captures the heart of it. With interspersed rockabilly guitar solos and drum antics that set the tone, this is one of the coolest and funniest songs on the album. Like an Uncle-Sam-Wants-You poster from a bygone era, for the lyrics "We need more pawns" and "We need you out there/Even though we've won" alone, I give Lost At Seventeen five stars. Ya know, if I did cliched rating systems like that.
They were on Warped Tour for a little over a week when they met Ron Jeremy, the adult film star who was enjoying the festival. Like other teenagers who haven't yet been jaded by life and can still appreciate the humor in the unexpected, it was a starstruck moment for them to get photos and autographs. When not hanging out with porn stars and playing in the band, the guys in Emily's Army play sports, love to travel and hang out with their families, and surf. Lots and lots of surfing. There had to be something more. I was sure of it. Being clean-cut, all-American boys was all well and good, but they're teenagers for cripes sake. Where was the dirt, the scandal? I had to know these things. So I asked the burning question, "Tell me something you've done on Warped Tour that your parents don't know about." After much laughter and joking around, Joey answered with "Yesterday, Travis ate three waffles-on-a-stick. I don't think he's allowed to do that." Hmmm...
The guys became animated, excited as the conversation moved towards their favorite subject: music. Travis chimed in with "My favorite thing about music is just, it's really fun and it's entertaining, it's a great way to bond and meet new people and build and strengthen relationships you already have," and Joey followed him, emphasizing why they do it as he explained, "It's about being creative. I have the opportunity to make something. It's not every day you get to create something that's like you can be totally passionate about... but every day we're passionate about creating music." Max added, "We're with our best friends. We have fun doing it, and we get to express ourselves. So, why not?" But Cole, being the youngest, and from my observation, the heart and soul of the band, got right to the point, "I'm gonna play music until I die. That's all I...
Getting high off the secondhand smoke from the weed passed around by the middle-aged dudes in front of me, I settled in for a relaxing night under the stars at my favorite venue. Going into this concert review blind by intentionally not listening to Mumford and Sons' music beforehand, and maybe it was the weed-induced mellow mood, or quite possibly the English accents, but when lead vocalist, Marcus Mumford said, "Shall we sing a song together Berkeley?" at The Greek Theater in Berkeley, Cali. on May 30, 2013, I fell in love just a little bit. It's been a while since I experienced the wonder of discovery and the innocent, naive conviction that music really could change a person's life, because a band's music reached me on a profound, emotional level.
Like being transported back to my hometown in Alabama, Kentucky bluegrass mated with English working-class and gave folk rock mountain music a sexy accent and an aggressive edge that transcended the eclectic mix of demographics eagerly foot-stomping and clapping to the songs together. With deep, soul-searching lyrics of lost love, obsessive love, regret and joy; and talent and skills that are interchangeable and unwavering, Mumford and Sons proved no matter the genre, when a band has that special "It" factor, fads and trends and market analysis really do become irrelevant, so lost in the emotional pull and the human masses who respond.
"Whispers In The Dark" gave credence to this phenomenon when in the moment at the change-up, the band members were so consumed at once, so lost in their craft, the audience, the stage, the job they set out to do seemed to fade away, and the collective hearts just stopped beating to listen to the regret of "But fingers tap into what you were once/And I'm worried that I blew my only chance." I was mesmerized by the light show during "Thistle & Weeds" as it changed from the urgency of solid red into the sad acceptance of pure white rain as Mumford sang the somber, ominous notes of "But plant your hope with good seeds/Don't cover yourself with thistle and weeds/Rain down, rain down on me." And "Little Lion Man" got the crowd on their feet, clapping and foot-stomping to the raucous beat as Mumford angrily mocked the subject of the song who blames everyone else for his problems, ironically taking responsibility instead. Trying to decide a favorite song, I was torn between the conviction of "The Cave," the longing and frustration of "The Ghosts That We Knew," the plea in "Below My Feet," and the willful blind love of "Lover's Eyes," resonating with all of them equally in my own life as the crowd sang along, seeming to agree with me.
Even as they covered the music of iconic artists who came before them, Mumford and Sons succeeded in making it their own. Teasing the crowd just before the band covered "I'm On Fire" by Bruce Springsteen, Mumford joked "I know you all want to hoot-n-holler, but now is not the time. Shut the fuck up." Gathering in a tight circle, with only a spotlight on the four of them, it was easy to believe this song was one of their originals. Moving from that song straight into their own "Reminder," with only a spotlight and a four-part harmony, the lyrics "And I've been traveling oh so long" and "Oh my love don't fade away," with horns rounded it out to build into a powerhouse that only got stronger.
In every song, this band displayed a joy in the music, as if they're still just four men playing for kicks in the pub back home and not a band on the rise packing out venues. It was this intense immersion that motivated the audience to root for them, and all I could think was "Holy shit. Their talent." Looking down on the sea of people "hootin-n-hollerin" as one as Mumford and Sons finished their set, I couldn't help but smile. It was a standing...
"It's been a long time since I've been able to say this. Berkeley, California!" shouted Billie Joe Armstrong to his screaming hometown crowd at The Greek Theater on April 16th, blowing kisses to the audience as a green-haired Tre Cool ran up to the drums, bassist Mike Dirnt took command of the spot to his left, and a stoic Jason White stood to his right... and the energy only escalated from there.
Opening with the tour theme song "99 Revolutions" from Green Day's latest trilogy album iTRE!, all I could think was Holy Fuck! The light show. The heart-pumping energy. The band members' inability to age. It all came together in one perfect moment to remind us all, despite events of the last six months, a golden oldies seniors tour this was not. As a legacy band, Green Day pulled off a rare and amazing feat: they really can have it both ways, simply because they've earned it.
As if to reinforce this new lease on life from a band that has grappled with its recent share of struggles, Billie Joe Armstrong told the crowd, "We're all fucking still alive. Live every fucking moment!" Part motivational speaker to his own inner demons and part prayer revival to the punk rock gods, the band immediately went into "Know Your Enemy" from the album 21st Century Breakdown, as Armstrong's nephew Mateo, in honor of his seventeenth birthday, did a perfect stage dive and was carried by the fans through the pit, making it clear this tour is about respecting the best from the past as they embrace the uncertainty of the future, the prevailing theme of the trilogy itself.
Going from "Know Your Enemy" to "Stay The Night" from the recent trilogy album iUNO!, and from there, straight into "Stop When The Red Lights Flash," from the trilogy album iDOS!, with a seriously cool red light show that looked like it came right out of the pits of Hell, Green Day backtracked again into "Letterbomb" from the back catalogue album American Idiot, before jumping forward into the trilogy albums once again for the radio-friendly calm of "Oh Love" off of iUNO!
And so it went, this whiplash of adrenaline-pumping great songs, one after another, emphasizing the then and now. Though the show leaned heavily towards Green Day's greatest hits from the back catalogue, as far back as the early 90s, and though I would have preferred a full-out show of nothing but live songs from the trilogy albums, especially of "Dirty Rotten Bastards" from iTRE!, "Wow! That's Loud" from iDOS!, and "Fell For You" and "Troublemaker" from iUno!, with the back catalogue as an encore, nothing felt lost or needed or missing.
To illustrate this, one of the highlights of the show happened when Green Day played the 1994 hit song "Welcome To Paradise." With a blinding, feverish light show and heart-racing intensity, Dirnt's mad skills on the bass, Tre Cool's frenetic beat and White's guitar invasion, Armstrong belted out the song like time had actually stood still and almost two decades of new music had never passed. When the song ended, there was a moment of comedy when Billie Joe Armstrong told the sound booth to "turn that blinking light shit off. It's driving me crazy" when they realized the lights were stuck and maybe not supposed to compliment the song quite so much.
Like a maestro conducting his orchestra of willing fans, with one point of his finger and a raised arm, Armstrong demanded cheers from a section of the audience before moving on to the ones waiting in the wings. And again. And again. And again, before diving back into the song "Stay The Night," with the new addition of him singing the lyrics "I gotta know/If you're the one that got away" a cappella, before Cool kicked in the beat again and the music revved back up.
"Stray Heart" from iDOS! was a definite fan favorite, and "St. Jimmy" from American Idiot sent the pit into a frenzy of headbanging fun that set the stage for Mike Dirnt's bass-heavy "Longview" from Dookie and the tradition of pulling a fan from the audience to sing the final verse. "Hopefully, somebody weird" Armstrong told the audience as he searched the pit for that lucky fan to come up on stage. Little did he know the fan he chose would steal the show, if only for the few minutes it took to finish the song. Like a young Billy Idol, this hardcore punk rocker with the blonde spiked hair and a great voice climbed onto the stage like he owned it and had been singing "Longview" his entire life; and to Green Day's credit, they gave him more stage time than they normally would have, simply because they seemed so impressed. His photo is in the slideshow. If anyone knows who this guy is, let me know. I want to talk to him!
"King For A Day" from Nimrod had the usual shenanigans that had me laughing all the way through it, with a sax and vocal duet between Jason Freese and Billie Joe Armstrong; and "Jesus Of Suburbia" from American Idiot proved once again Tre Cool still owns the drums and will go down as one of the greatest drummers in the history of rock-n-roll. One surprise for me was "X-Kid" from iTRE!. Though it's a huge fan favorite, it wasn't even in the top ten as one of my favorites from the trilogy, but hearing it live was sheer perfection and made me re-think my list.
During a montage of covers, Green Day played "Shout!" by The Isley Brothers, where Tre Cool disappeared from the drums and the others laid on the floor of the stage during the quiet time, while Armstrong contemplated the universe next to the Drunk (on life and rootbeer) Bunny. Amid the gorgeous open-aired theater, beneath a clear sky, under the moon and stars, it was as if the universe itself was smiling down on Berkeley as Armstrong asked, "Boys and girls, boys and boys, girls and girls, aren't we all entitled to a family?" Continuing with the lazy drawl of someone completely relaxed and at peace with the world, he stated, "Civil rights baby. Civil rights."
The show ended with what's become the tradition on this tour "Brutal Love" from iTRE!, in my opinion the best song in the trilogy and one of Green Day's best songs to date, which makes me wonder why the entire tour isn't primarily focused on the trilogy. Though I'm sure they have reasons I'm not aware of, the question "What do they have to lose?" keeps running through my mind. I want to see Green Day say Fuck. This. and give "Brutal Love" its chance as a single release. And while they're at it, "Fell For You" and "Troublemaker" from iUNO!, and "Lazy Bones" and "Wow! That's Loud" from iDOS!, because the trilogy deserves its time to shine, and to be honest, would be a pretty epic show, if for no other reason than just out of respect for criminally under-appreciated rock-n-roll, and isn't that the reason Green Day created the trilogy music in the first...
Every generation needs its collective voice to make sense of the inevitable phases in life, especially when it reaches middle-age amid the confusion we feel as we stand at that edge between the inner child still clinging to the past and the adult warily facing the...
It's like a fortress. That was my first impression as I approached JingleTown Recording Studio on this dead-end street in Oakland, California. A deceptively dilapidated building surrounded by high walls obscured by vegetation and overgrowth, and a security gate scarcely revealing the parking lot full of vintage cars and motorcycles, amid a working-class residential neighborhood, I was sure I was in the wrong place, or, at the very least, a big-ass rottweiler was coming around the corner eager to turn me into lunch. Owned by Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool of the band Green Day, and operated primarily by Grammy Award-winning audio engineer Chris Dugan, what I found on the inside was a state-of-the-art facility newly opened to the public in November 2012. Stoned out on decongestants and barely recovered from a bout with the flu, and still deaf in one ear from the subsequent sinus infection, I'm not exaggerating when I say it was a challenge to keep the fangirling at bay and stay focused as Dugan walked me through to the inner sanctum.
Purchased by Green Day before their last record 21st Century Breakdown, Dugan, a casually affable guy who graciously tolerated my befuddled, bordering on ignorant quirkiness with a grace I am forever grateful for, describes the fledgling beginnings as "more of a home base, sort of a club house for them [Green Day]" that has been refurbished into a full-blown studio they want to share with local bands, "'cause it's really cool... it's really high-end stuff and it'd be really nice to let those guys, the people who are local, use it." Not that they're limiting it to the local music scene. The studio is already booked by musicians as far away as South America and welcome to any musician who wants to make the trek to the Bay Area.
If the possibility of getting a glimpse of Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt or Tre Cool and interacting with them on any given day is enough of an incentive for up-and-coming bands to vie for a chance to record at JingleTown, the massive studio filled to the brim with top-of-the-line recording equipment and rooms designed to ensure maximum sound quality is sure to send them over the edge. Trying his hand at music producing this time around, Dugan's latest project at JingleTown is the recording of the first full-length album for Adeline Records latest find, up-and-coming Stickup Kid, a pop-punk band fresh off the underground.
Departing from their self-produced first album Nothing About Me, John, Stickup Kid's bass player, describes the new record as more diverse, "more restrained, more controlled" than the underground, straight-up punk music of their past that was recorded in their friend's garage. Taking their friends along for the ride, they laugh about how it's still the same team of engineers recording, but "just at a ridiculously nice facility."
Expected to release in the "Spring... ish," the new album and songs are still in the working title stage, incorporating the expected and much-loved snarky, angry, attitude-laden vocals in the song "Ramen (yeah, as in ramen noodles [working title])" with the more mellow, introspective style of "What's Missing [working title]" that moves into "Artistry [working title]," a song bursting with fast hooks and change-ups the audio engineer, Ben Hirschfield, describes tongue-in-cheek, as being, at one point, "too sassy."
"They're easy-going... and fun, fun to be around... we've been working together now for the past couple of months, but this is our first project together," Dugan says of Stickup Kid as they spend this particular day overdubbing guitar. He expects mixing of the record to be finished in early-to-mid-February 2013 before it's sent for mastering and produced onto CD prior to its release.
Seeing indie labels and bands becoming a more powerful force in the music industry, Dugan says without hesitation, if given the choice as a musician between a major label and an indie label "I would probably most likely go with an indie. They're sort of more out there for you, more, they can kind of sort of do more." He adds, "I think major labels, you know, are struggling as it is right now because they have so much money invested in certain things... somebody gets too much money dumped into them and somebody else doesn't get helped because there's just not enough money there... I guess I see it as less than a money game on the smaller labels and just more about helping a scene."
Moving away from JingleTown as just being about Green Day and opening it to lesser known bands, Dugan goes on to say the most important element for him as an engineer and producer is for the bands to just be prepared before stepping into the recording process. Have the songs ready to go and know what you want from the experience. In regard to Stickup Kid, "I'm really proud of them... they did a lot of work ahead of time in order to come in and be ready to go." He'd like to see more bands follow their lead and utilize the facility to its maximum potential, working together in ways that benefit indie artists and the labels that support them.
So the story goes like this: When frontmen Dan Abbott and Corbett Redford of Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits were on tour, they stayed over at a host house where a drunk, stoned-out hippy literally walked into a closet and got lost...
When folk musician and sometimes activist Bryan McPherson wrote the controversial song "What If Jesus Was Gay?" he did it in...
As I write the final review for Green Day's new album trilogy, I think it's only fitting I shamelessly plug Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe, the Oakland, Cali. restaurant partially owned by Mike Dirnt, Green Day's bass player, and a mecca to any visiting Green Day fan. I'd like...
As is usual with trilogies, the second installment of Green Day's much-anticipated album trilogy titled iDOS!, set to release at midnight on Tuesday, November 13th, is a more intense, pure garage rock blast of what Billie Joe Armstrong, frontman for Green Day, describes as being at the party, escalating the...
The Dead Dumb Happy Life - Volumes I & II are a reflection of the life of songwriter and vocalist Xavier Dphrepaulezz, otherwise known as Blood Sugar X, formerly Blood Sugar, and his journey from his beginnings as a hip-hop/punk/alternative rock artist, through the music industry and the fantasy-like reality...
As one of the greatest rock legends of all time, and one of my personal heroes, I can't help but wonder what John Lennon would think of the digital music scene that has transformed the music industry from a physical content distribution powerhouse to a crowd-sourcing, fan-driven social platform of equals, and all the technological accessories it has spawned. Would he secretly embrace the technology while publicly spurning anything short of vinyl records as a bastardization of music, claiming to be a stoic purist? Or, would he publicly welcome the changes and call it evolution, or shall we say "Revolution," of sorts for music and artists? My guess is he'd probably do a bit of both, casting aside some things while endorsing and supporting others. The charge of "sell-out" is, after all, a mainstay among rock 'n' roll purists, and even the Beatles weren't immune to the accusation.
I imagine with Lennon's free-thinking, hippie, liberal ways (he did actually live the life he preached), he'd shrug his shoulders and view the file-sharing of free, downloadable music as the unstoppable, inevitable conclusion to an archaic industry that once served its purpose but is now past its prime as the new technologically advanced industry emerges. But, what about apps that allow musicians to download and play sheet music to his lyrics on a computer they can hold in their hand? Or apps that let him write his own lyrics on his telephone? Would he use them, or stick to pen and paper? And live-streaming his concerts online for anyone with an Internet connection to watch free of charge: What would he think about that?
So, it was in the week of John Lennon's birthday that I pondered these questions, when I stumbled upon a new digital sheet music app, featuring this week music from the Beatles in honor of his birthday. Being the free-thinking liberal he was, I'd like to think this falls in the category of one of the things he'd endorse as a way to share his music with the world, mostly because I just think it's cool. Called Tonara, it partners with major sheet-music retailers to provide a variety of sheet music of every genre of major artists for musicians to download and play. And, it isn't just normal sheet music -- it actually listens to musicians as they play, follows their progress and turns the pages for them. It also allows musicians to record their work and make notes as they go along. The convenience alone, and the trees it saves along the way, makes me think John Lennon would approve.
And livestreaming? This thought makes me laugh, because there's no doubt in my mind John Lennon would be the first to lead the charge, illegally climbing to the roof of a building advertising free Wi-Fi, with cameras in tow, to play the first free concert via the Internet; and it wouldn't be preceded by ad-heavy content or a promotional roll-out or sponsorship by one of the handful of music conglomerates that dominates the industry. Just a few men and their instruments, a cheap Internet connection and a camera, gifting the world with a concert most would never get to see in reality. Supposedly a bit of a prankster, I imagine he'd consider this a real lark and laugh at the possibility.
And the other app? The one that lets him write his lyrics on a computer he holds in his hand? This one may be a little more complicated. In this one thing, I believe John Lennon would have been a stubborn purist, preferring the connection of pen to paper, resisting the move towards the convenience of digital and the environmentally friendly impact it has on the world around us. I imagine him pulling out his iPhone and jotting down a burst of inspiration that hits him while he's sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's office. Ya know, once he figured out how to work his smartphone. But, I also imagine him transferring those lyrics to paper the moment he got home, at least in the beginning, clinging to the feel of holding a pen in his hand and the way the words flow from the brain, down the arm and onto the page, a release of creative energy and brilliance.
So what would John Lennon think about the new digital music environment and other's ability to access his music instantly in a variety of formats? Alas, we'll never really know, but the speculation is as limitless as the Internet itself. Maybe they should make an app for...
BayFest 2012 is upon us this weekend! Featuring musical acts of just about every genre imaginable on seven different stages in downtown Mobile from Friday, October 5th through Sunday, October 7th, BayFest offers up something...
In my last article about Green Day, I talked about censorship and Walmart that resulted in much debate, confusion and anger about the new direction Green Day had taken with the marketing of their music. It seemed Green Day had hit an irrevocable turning...
Move over One Direction, there's a new group of boys in town, and they're not just young and hot, with vocals that'll make any teenage girl's heart melt, they actually play instruments, really, really well. Consisting of four all-American California teenagers, who spend their off-time hanging out at the beach, surfing, skating, flirting with girls and just having fun, not necessarily in that order, Fever Charm's upcoming breakout album West Coast Rock and Roll displays a talent and style beyond their years. Mixing old-school rock, pop-punk and the laid back ease of bumming around on the beach, these boys offer something truly unique that wasn't manufactured backstage at a vocal competition.
Mirroring the realities today's American teenagers and young adults face, Fever Charm's music reflects not only the tradition of young love and longing, but also the struggle of growing into adulthood amid economic uncertainty and the desire to simply "Sail Away" and forget life for a while by way of music and sex and drugs; giving their music an edgy sense of urgency that reminds us what's below the surface of all the teenage good times is a quiet desperation struggling to break through.
Consisting of Ari, lead vocalist, the studious, more serious of the four; Theo (pronounced Tao), lead guitarist, with shaggy hair and blue eyes, winning the non-existent award of Most-Likely-To-End-Up-On-The-Cover-Of-Tiger-Beat-Magazine; Yianni, bass guitarist, with an easy laugh and an infectious smile; and Kendrick, the elusive, good-natured, shy drummer of the group, Fever Charm's upcoming album West Coast Rock and Roll is a coming-of-age of sorts for a band on the edge of transition into the mainstream.
From the new album, the song "3-2 Groove 2" is a high energy dance groove about longing from afar for a girl he's too shy to approach. This song would be at home at a 1960s sock hop or in the pit of any underground club. The moment it begins it brings out a smile and the need to move. Contrasting it is the old-school rock song "Call Me When You Get Lonely," with a really cool, funky guitar lead-in and the angry, desperate vocals of lost love and misery. Just when you're ready to slit your wrists in empathetic solidarity, "Modern World" appears like a much-needed relief. The snotty, snarky attitude mocks his girlfriend and the rest of the world for being addicted to technology to the exclusion of all else, and the illusion of online social networking that encourage role-playing and games. Defiantly refusing to participate, he asserts, "No I am not a pretender/And I will not surrender."
Listing an eclectic mix of different genres of rock, the band names Jimi Hendrix, The Black Keys, Jack White and Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others, as some of their influences, and talk about surf music from the '50s and '60s with the do-whop sound scattered throughout. Passionate and excited once the conversation turns to music, with a lot of pent-up energy among them, they begin talking over each other to describe the new album West Coast Rock and Roll, "You'll hear a lot of that in the new album." According to Ari, "... We channel some of our music with that energy. It's not just one genre... really diverse. Very diverse album for sure," but they all agree it's pure rock 'n' roll.
Their easy banter and ability to finish each other's sentences comes from going through childhood together in school in Oakland, Calif. before forming the band a little over two years ago, but what amazes me most about them is their professionalism. For all their youth, they raised the funds and produced this album without a record label to help them, an impressive task emphasizing their willingness to sacrifice and devote themselves entirely to their craft.
For upcoming tour dates and pre-order info for the new album, or to contact them, check out their website